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Chapter 14 - Managing Schools

School governing bodies

One of the most important aspects of the South African Schools Act (No 84 of 1996) is the law relating to school governing bodies. At the heart of this is the idea of a partnership between all people with an interest in education. Schools will be improved only through the joint efforts of parents, educators, learners, members of their local communities and various education departments.

Types of schools

South African schools have traditionally been classified as either independent (also known as “private”) or public schools. While both types of schools receive funding from the state, private schools generally demand much higher school fees from the parents of children that attend, with the result that they are much wealthier schools.

Public schools are designed to be more inclusive, because the fees they charge are much lower.

Nevertheless, in countries with high levels of poverty, such as South Africa, even state school fees are often much higher than parents can actually afford, because they have little to no income. As a result, the necessity of paying school fees is one of the greatest obstacles preventing children from attending school.

Public Schools can be further categorised as “Section 20 or Section 21” Schools. This refers to the section in the Schools Act which allows for the establishment of the Schools Governing Body.

School governing bodies (SGBs)

The SA Schools Act Section 20 describes the functions of the school governing body. This includes:

  • promoting the best interests of the school and its development
  • adopting a constitution and mission statement
  • introducing a code of conduct
  • providing support to educators and the principal in carrying out their duties
  • determining times of the school day
  • administering and controlling the school’s property, and buildings and grounds
  • involving parents and others to undertake voluntary duties and tasks
  • recommending to the Head of Department the appointment of educators and non-educator staff at the school, subject to the relevant legislation  Educators Employment Act, 1994 (Proclamation No. 138 of 1994), and the Labour Relations Act, 1995 (Act No. 66 of 1995);
  • managing and allowing the use of school facilities for fundraising, community, and social uses.

Who sits on a SGB?

There are three groups represented on a governing body:

  1. Elected members who can be:
    • parents of learners at the school
    • educators at the school
    • staff members who are not educators, such as secretaries and gardeners
    • learners at the school who are in grade 8 or above (they must be elected by the representative council of learners)
  2. School principal
  3. Optional co-opted members, who don't have the right to vote, for example:
    • members of the community
    • the owner of the school property, or his or her representative, if the property is privately owned

The number of parents on a governing body must be one more than half of all of the members who may vote. Parents who are employed at a school can only be elected as staff members not as parents onto the governing body.

Rules guiding SGBs

Each governing body must draw up a constitution that says how it will work. The constitution must fit into the minimum requirements given by the provincial Minister of Education. The constitution must say:

  • the governing body will meet at least once every school term
  • a separate meeting will be held with each of these groups at least once a year: parents, learners, educators and other staff
  • the governing body will report to parents, learners, educators and other staff at least once a year
  • how minutes of governing body meetings must be kept

The Provincial Minister of Education will publish these details:

  • How the governing body will be elected
  • How long members and office bearers may serve on a governing body
  • How to remove a member from the governing body if there is a good reason for doing this
  • How to fill a vacancy
  • What sub-committees must be set up eg executive for day-to-day decisions, fund-raising, finance, sport, staff appointments, school environment and health

Each committee chairperson must be a member of the governing body, but other committee members need not be on the governing body.

Code of conduct for SGBs

The provincial Minister of Education must draw up a code of conduct for the members of the SGB after consultation with associations of governing bodies in each respective province. All members are required to comply with the code of conduct. The code of conduct must include provisions that allow for disciplinary action to be taken against a member of the governing body and that also protect the member who is being disciplined. The Head of Department may suspend or terminate the membership of a governing body member for breaking the code of conduct once proper disciplinary procedures in terms of the code have been followed. A member may appeal to the provincial MEC against a decision of the Head of Department regarding a suspension or termination of membership as a governing body member.

Responsibilities of SGBs

The governing body must:

  • decide on an admissions policy that doesn't go against the national Constitution
  • decide on the language policy of the school
  • decide on what religious practices will be followed at the school
    (attending any religious practices must be free and voluntary for learners and staff)
  • adopt a code of conduct for learners after consulting with learners, parents and educators

Functions of SGBs

A governing body must:

  • promote the best interests of the school and encourage its development by providing quality education for all learners
  • adopt a constitution
  • adopt the mission statement of the school (this sets out the values and beliefs of the school)
  • decide the times of the school day
  • administer the school property, buildings and grounds
  • encourage parents, learners, educators and other staff to offer voluntary services
  • recommend to provincial heads of departments on the appointment of educators at the school
  • allow school facilities to be used by the provincial education department
  • The governing body can allow the community to use its facilities for community, social and school fundraising purposes.

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 options according to provincial curriculum policy
  • buying textbooks, educational material or equipment for the school
  • paying for services to the school

Building capacity for SGB members

The provincial Head of Department must set up a programme to provide training for newly elected governing bodies to help them perform their functions.

Additional powers that can be given to SGBs

The provincial education department can decide to give additional management functions to school governing bodies that function well and have proved themselves capable of improving their schools.

The South African Schools Act identifies two kinds of schools: Section 20 and Section 21 schools. Section 21 schools have greater powers and responsibilities than Section 20 schools.

Section 20 schools receive allocations of textbooks, and stationery from government. They also have their lights and water accounts paid directly by government. When something is broken at the school, the Provincial Education Department must send someone from Public Works to do the repairs.

Section 21 allows a school to apply in writing to the Head of Department for additional powers. This gives more independence and responsibility to the SGB, but SGBs are encouraged to make application only if they have the capacity required to manage these additional functions and increased responsibility..

Section 21 schools are allocated finances by the department for additional functions which include:

  • maintaining and improving  the school's property, and buildings and grounds
  • deciding on the extra-mural curriculum of the school as well as the choice of subject options
  • purchasing textbooks, educational materials or equipment for the school;
  • paying for servicese to the school

Prefects and learner representative councils (LRCs)

To promote responsibility and involvement amongst learners in schools, all high schools must hold elections for LRCs. LRCs offer a useful opportunity for young people to learn about leadership and to understand the relationship between responsibility and authority.


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