The schooling year between 2020 and 2021 has been such a roller-coaster ride for learners, parents, and the schooling system due to the pandemic – so it’s safe to say we’ve had several unofficial back to school seasons. With online learning and the requirements for parents to be more involved in their children’s education, we’ve seen the importance of being actively involved, beyond just the homework.

But then, how much are you vested when it comes to the policies and day to day experiences of your child in their school? Are you aware of crucial matters such as potential threats to your child’s freedom, prejudice, racism, or sexual discrimination? Or perhaps simple issues such as the quality of food that the school tuck-shop sells?

These are some of the issues that the School Governing Body, with the involvement of the school management, parents, and learners themselves need to prioritise for a healthy and safe schooling environment.

Why is it important for you as a parent to be involved as a member or in the election process? Better yet, what really is the role of the SGB and how can parents better engage and support this system, in involvement and participation?  

To unpack this, we spoke to Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) Deputy Chief Executive, Dr Jaco Deacon, Newgate College’s Principal, Antoinette Mboni and SGB Chairperson who also serves as a Treasurer for the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), Lindiwe Motshwane.

What Is The Role Of The SGB In A School?

According to Dr Jaco Deacon the primary purpose of school governing bodies is to guide public schools through efficient leadership, fair decision-making, and strategic planning. “The governing body introduces mechanisms to reduce potential risks and gives all stakeholders peace of mind, so that the school is managed accordingly. A governing body’s purpose is to improve the quality of education at the school, improve the general functioning of the school, and ensure the school’s financial stability and sustainability”, he states.

The governing body is responsible for:
  • Deciding on an admissions policy for the school.
  • Deciding on the language policy of the school.
  • Deciding on what religious practices will be followed at the school.
  • Adopting a code of conduct for learners which set out disciplinary procedures.

All these decisions and policies must be in line with national policies.

The SGB must also:
  • Adopt a constitution setting out how the SGB will operate.
  • Adopt a school mission statement setting out the values and beliefs of the school.
  • Decide the times of the school day.
  • Administer the school’s property, buildings, and grounds.
  • Make recommendations regarding the appointment of educators at the school.

In addition, a governing body can be given any of these functions:
  • Maintaining and improving the school’s property, buildings, and grounds.
  • Deciding on the extramural curriculum and the choice of subject option according to provincial curriculum policy.
  • Buying textbooks, educational material and/or equipment for the school.
  • Paying for services to the school.

“The most important functions of a school governing body are to promote the school’s interests, and to ensure that the school provides quality education and teaching. Every school governing body should accept co-ownership of and co- responsibility for their school,” he adds. 

Who Are The Members Of The SGB And What Are Their Roles?

Dr Deacon explains that the governing body members are elected in the way determined by the province’s Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for education by notice in the Provincial Gazette, in terms of section 28 of The South African Schools Act (SASA) 84 of 1996. Section 23 of SASA states that the governing bodies of ordinary public schools should consist of the following persons:

  1. Parents of learners at the school. However, a parent who is employed at the school may not represent the parents on the governing body. The number of parent members must constitute one more than the aggregate of the other voting members of the governing body. If, at any stage, the number of parents is less than the total number of other voting members, the governing body must temporarily co-opt voting parent members.

2. Educators at the school. These educators may be employed by the state or the governing body.

3. Non-educator staff members of the school

4. Learners in Grade 8 or higher at the school. These learners must be elected by the representative council of learners (RCL).

5. The principal in his/her official capacity. Section 16A of SASA provides that the principal represents the Head of the Department of Education (‘the HOD’) on the governing body when acting in an official capacity in terms of sections 23(1)(b) and 24(1)(j), of the same act. At the same time, however, the principal is a full-fledged governing body member.

6. Co-opted members. A governing body may co-opt members (i.e. solicit participation of an individual in the governing body without being elected) to help the governing body perform its functions better. Apart from co-opted members who are elected temporarily as substitutes for elected members who must vacate office, it is to be noted that co- opted members do not have voting rights on the governing body.

The Role Of The Principal In Relation To The SGB?

According to Mrs Mboni, Principals are responsible for supporting and aiding the SGB. “Principals are expected to attend and participate in all SGB meetings and inform the SGB about policy and legislation”, she explains.

The principal is responsible for:

  • Supporting and guiding the school’s expenditure in consultation with the SGB.
  • Helping the SGB keep proper records of school accounts and all school records.
  • Overseeing the drawing up of the budget.
  • Advising on textbooks, educational material, and equipment to be bought by the SGB and managing their use.
  • Ensuring controls are in place and operating for cash collection.
  • Monitoring compliance and acting on any con-compliance detected.

How Participation Can Break The Barriers Of Non-involvement

Motshwane has observed that a lot of parents abdicate their responsibilities in as far as their children’s education, and notices this in minor things such as, parents not paying school fees whereas they know that they have enrolled their children in fee paying schools. 

“Parents do not mind going as far as skipping payment from the first year till the last year without paying a cent,” she shares with concern. She adds that she participated and got elected as the chairperson for her child school’s governing body because she wanted to be part of the decision makers of the school to strengthen the participation of parents. “I do not get paid, and the South African Schools Act is clear on this issue that SGB members should not be remunerated from the coffers of the school. I’m very interested in the transformation of the former ‘Model C’ schools where in most of them, 90-99% of the learners are now black,” she elaborates.

Mrs Mboni says parents have an obligation to be interested and support their children’s wellbeing. “It’s important that parents have access to information regarding the rights and obligations of their children, in terms of the South African Schools Act, 1996”.

She emphasises that parents need to be involved in the policy development process, which includes their input to accommodate the diverse needs of families. “The parents or guardians must specifically be informed about their rights and responsibilities with regard to the governance of the school, including the process of deciding the school budget, any decision of a parent meeting relating to school fees, the code of conduct for learners, the language policy and the religion policy. 

Parents therefore need to be involved in the election process so that whoever is representing them, is a person who understands their diverse needs and is aware of their strengths and challenges, and becomes a voice for all parents,” she adds.

The Politics Around The Role Being An SGB Member
  • Members tend to not be as active as they need to be. “I’ve often had to deal with SGB Members that are not participative and not responsive when they are called to school to attend certain cases, especially concerning disciplinary issues. The SGB members prefer to be silent members who always claim to be busy when called upon to make important decisions at the school. Most of the members are inactive and only show up during consultations and we don’t hear from them again until a pressing issue arises at the school,” Mrs Mboni shares with concern.
  • Decisions are regularly questioned.  “The SGB must be in a position where they can answer and motivate every decision on rational grounds in the best interest of the school. That is why clear and regular communication is so important. Parents can and should engage with the SGB, but the final decision rests with the SGB. If a community is not satisfied with the SGB, they must elect better candidates in 3 years’ time. If the SGB fails to perform their duties, the Schools Act makes provision for a process where the HOD can remove members or even withdraw certain functions,” says Dr Deacon.
  • Parents elect the same parents all the time. Mrs Mboni highlights that she has found that parents are either scared to be part and parcel of the SGB, are too busy or do not want to take up the responsibility that comes with the role.

“If SGB’s fail to review policies and practices, fail to actively engage (and listen) to school communities, and don’t have open communication, they will face the reality of responses such as protests. If the SGB is aware of issues – they must act.  If they do not know how, they should get experts like FEDSAS (the national representative organisation for governing bodies of South African schools) to help,” Dr Deacon advises.

How Do School Policies Impact Your Child’s Schooling Culture And Influence Their Future Behaviour?

“There was a recent case of a Grade 12 boy learner who was found in the company of another boy who used to smoke marijuana in the school premises. The learner was told to bring his parents to a disciplinary hearing. He was not found in possession of the drugs but was suspected to be taking them. He was further accused of late coming. The prosecuting teacher’s attitude was clear that he wanted the learner to be dismissed. I had to come in and opine that the child can reform and in view that he’s in the final months of matric, he needed to think about his future and start doing right. I personally spoke to him and appealed that he be given seven days suspension and when he returns, I’d personally check if he’s coming to school on time and if he’s doing his schoolwork. I kept my commitment to checking on him and so far, he’s changed a lot. He is more responsible and serious about his schoolwork,” shares Motshwane.

She further explains that at times, when learners are subjected to disciplinary action and you can clearly see that the teachers have concluded that the learner be dismissed from school even when remedial action would have been to assist the child, it can have a negative impact on their future.

Dr Deacon emphasises that SGB’s must have meetings with parents and report back on their work and that parents in return should hold the SGB accountable by attending the meetings and asking the tough questions. “The Chairperson is the representative of the SGB for purposes of communication and issues should be brought to the attention of the SGB chairperson,” he concludes.

I take the following lessons from this information:

1. Take interest in your child’s schooling environment and overall well-being.

2. Attend parents’ meetings.

3. Participate in the election process of the SGB.

4. If you can, volunteer to be part of the governing body.

5. Support and raise your concerns and suggestions with the elected leaders.

6. Lastly, be the change you want to see in your child’s school and their future.

And, in conclusion, if you want your children to have an advantage in the future the above outlined SGB responsibilities should not be left to chance. It is not the government that is going to introduce a sporting code, an artistic subject and that much needed computer activity such as coding. It is the SGB, parents and school management that would need to go and raise funds if needed to achieve their own school desires for a grande future for their children and community.