The ins and outs of school governing bodies
With schools across the country selecting their new governing bodies, Nicola Davies-Laubscher finds out exactly what school governing bodies do and who can serve on them.

Are you happy with the way in which your child’s school is being managed? Do you think that money for upgrading the tuckshop should rather go to art supplies or stocking the library? Do you disagree with the increase in school fees this year?

These questions all pertain to the work of the school governing body (SGB) and in the next two weeks, schools around the country will elect a new group of representatives who will serve for the next three years.

School governing bodies came into existence in 1996 through the South African Schools Act (Act 84). The purpose of this act was to get parents, teachers, principals, learners and community members to work together in the running of a school. The reasoning was that these people are best suited to understand the financial, social and cultural problems facing a particular school.  

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The main purpose of the SGB is to support the teaching staff (the principal and teachers) to ensure that pupils get the best possible education. The SGB does this through the development and implementation of a wide range of policies that govern areas such as applications, religious instruction, discipline, language policy and the learners’ code of conduct.

The second important function of the SGB is to look after the finances of the school. This includes the setting of school fees, developing and managing the school budget, and raising funds to supplement school fees. 

According to Nicole Strauss, the chairperson of the Laerskool Jan van Riebeeck’s governing body in Cape Town, parents have an important role to play in how their children’s school is run. “We all have ideas about what is important in a school and how we would like to change things for the better,” Nicole says. “Serving on your school’s governing body allows you to influence current practices at the school and to set the course for the future.”

Who are the SGB members?

The SGB consists of the following people: 

  • The school principal.
  • Elected (voting) members: this may include parents of learners at the school, teachers at the school, staff members who are not teachers such as the financial administrator and, in the case of high schools, learners at the school.
  • Co-opted (non-voting) members: these members of the SGB are usually co-opted because they have a special relationship with the school (for example the farmer on whose land a farm school is situated) or is someone who can bring a special skill to the table (for example an architect who can oversee construction projects).

In total, 51% of the voting members of the SGB must be parents at the school.

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Can anyone become a member?

It is important that parents who put their names in the hat for nomination understand the crucial role that the SGB play in the day-to-day management of the school and do so with the sole intention of working in the best interest of the school.

Many parents, especially those who work full time, worry that they will not have enough time for this level of commitment.

The sad reality is that uninvolved parents pass up on the chance to have their voices heard and to play an active role in the running of their children’s school. Even if you are not interested in becoming an elected official, you can still participate in the election by nominating a suitable candidate and voting. 

Keep in mind that members of the SGB don’t have to be educational experts to make a meaningful contribution. Nicole encourages parents with a variety of skills to serve on their SGB, saying “we need all kinds of skills in a school, be it experience in the building industry, lawyers to assist in legal matters, IT specialists or people with a strong background in education. One of the strongest assets of a governing body is a diverse group of parents with many different skills sets.”

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The bigger picture

The work of the governing body is to ultimately support the school. It is of paramount importance for the optimal running of a school to have a good relationship between the principal and the SGB, since the principal is, in his or her role of executive head of the school, responsible for the implementation of the SGB’s policies. Furthermore, the principal is responsible for the teachers’ overall welfare and quality of work.

“Parents who want to serve on the governing body must never lose respect for the system they are serving,” says Nicole. 

Are you a member of the SGB? Tell us about your experience by emailing and we may publish your comments. Please let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous. 

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