A new report about governance in international schools has just been released
A new survey from ISC Research throws light both on current governance practice in international schools and shows how boards may be evolving. ITM’s Andy Homden reports.
More schools, more boards
As ISC Research has already shown us earlier this year, the number of international schools still grew in 2021 -2022, despite the pandemic. With that growth comes the need for more teachers, more school leaders . . . and more governors on more school boards.
Successful international schools are invariably well-governed. Effective boards have a clear idea of their strategic and policy responsibilities, appoint good school leaders and then hold them accountable for running the school. It’s no accident that accredited international schools are required to show that they can meet high standards of governance, as laid down by accrediting agencies such as CIS, WASC, NEASC or COBIS.
Developing good practice
Reflection on good governance has always been important and as more international schools are established, setting time aside to consider best practice has never been more essential.
In this context, a new report from ISC Research that looks at governance practice in international schools is very welcome. It highlights how some international school governing bodies are responding to meet the needs of a contemporary educational community and is based on research conducted in May 2022 that follows a baseline study in 2018.
The report shares insights into typical governance practice and responsibilities of international school governing bodies in 59 different countries and offers international schools a chance to benchmark their own governance structure and practice against other schools, a useful exercise for both established and new schools.
Usefully, the report includes a commentary from one of the world’s most experienced and respected observers of international schools, Bambi Betts, founder and CEO of the Principals’ Training Center (PTC).
While not wishing to prompt boards to rush headlong into a restructuring process, Betts suggests that the survey should be prompting governors to ask themselves two questions:
“Will our current value proposition hold up if these structural trends continue?
“Is our current model of governance still the most efficient for the achievement of our mission?”
Having reviewed the data thrown up by the report, Betts thinks some “gentle alarm bells” are sounding. Firstly, she wonders if enough boards have a grasp of their strategic responsibility to promote effective learning:
”Very few boards (under 10%) responded that one of their responsibilities is to provide broad guidance and direction for the ‘learning’. However a respondent may have interpreted the question, it is concerning that so few respondents connected in any way that governance had any strategic responsibility for the nature or direction of the learning programme. A primary role of any governing school board is to design and monitor strategic policy on the key drivers of the mission. Interesting that ‘learning’ doesn’t seem to be high on that list.”
Betts is also worried about apparently low levels of board training:
“About half responded that there has been no board training in the past year- this in a year when boards were needed more than ever to assist school heads in navigating the pandemic. And there were many such opportunities available (for example, at The Governance Training Center, or GTC). Building a culture of learning in a governing board, where members feel a duty to become more skilled, is emerging as an essential design principle in the world of governance.”
Despite the concerns aired by Betts, the research shows that during the past two years there have been shifts in governance responsibilities at some international schools. The report identifies emerging responsibilities and suggests that COVID-19 has prompted some governing bodies to address leadership wellbeing and risk management for the first time, with 39% of respondents saying their governing bodies now consider leadership wellbeing a part of governance responsibility.
Other contributors to the report
Other expert contributors to the report include Vanita Uppal, Director of the British School New Delhi in India, Ian Hunt, CEO and Chair of Haileybury, Kazakhstan and David Axtell, former Parent Governor at St. Christopher’s school in Bahrain. Echoing Bambi Betts’ ‘gentle alarm bells,’ these commentators urge improved standards and accountability within international school governance and offer some recommendations for change. They would like to see schools adopt greater board diversity, embrace better board induction and training and improve their understanding of current school challenges and needs. They applaud the move to boards taking greater responsibility for Head of School wellbeing, while making the case for greater board transparency and evaluation.
Benchmarking for good governance starts here
Boards will rightly be focused on their own responsibilities for their own schools, but in thinking about how they need to change and evolve, they will want to see what is happening elsewhere. The ISC Research 2022 survey and report is a good place to start, whether or not your board is already well-established or just getting started.
You can download a free copy of the ISC Research Governance Report, here.
Andy Homden is the CEO of Consilium Education and the Editor of International Teacher Magazine
ISC Research would like to acknowledge the sponsorship of [YELLOW CAR], as a result of which their 2022 Governance report is available free-of-charge.