Canadian International School row highlights the role parents can play in school governance
Anjali Hazari says conflict over the management of Canadian International School underlines the complexities of adapting to 21st century best practices, where diverse stakeholders are involved
Generally for teachers and parents, a school's board of governors is a nebulous entity disconnected from everyday teaching and learning. However, issues faced by the Canadian International School serve to highlight the complicated nature of school governance involving the founding members and school management.
Governance problems tend to be the reason some Southeast Asian schools are not accredited by the Council of International Schools, says Ian Clayton, head of the international section of the French International School.
Many international schools have a two-tiered system, in which inception began as a charitable foundation established by the founding members. Once registered under the Education Ordinance, a board of managers or a board of governors was required to run the school.
This two-tiered system allows major decisions to be ratified by the trustees who have an interest in the school, but it's an objective interest, with the "role" having authority, not the person.
The Canadian International School requires that the body of governors responsible for running the school be elected by founding members, existing members and ex-officio governors. As one ex-parent-governor noted: "In practice, [some founding members] are quite involved and meddlesome at the school."
This need to set boundaries was noted by the Council of International Schools, which suggested in its audit that "a clear distinction [be] made between the governance and operational aspects" of its affairs.
The moot question is, should parents have a place in school management?
The Education Bureau gives international schools broad autonomy to operate with respect to curriculum offered, student mix as well as admission criteria. It advocates through its framework proposal of school-based management that governing bodies comprise "a strong alliance of stakeholders, including parents, teachers and community members, working in partnership to develop the potential of each and every student to the fullest extent".
A review of governing bodies of other international schools makes a compelling case for parental involvement in their children's education by giving them a voice on management boards.
While the backing of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in the early 1960s helped secure support of the Education Department, the Hong Kong International School's board of managers is a self-perpetuating board and currently comprises 14 members, including the head of school. Other members come from various stakeholder groups, including current parents, alumni and parents of alumni.
The French International School, to take another example, was created in 1962 by French parents together with the consulate as a not-for-profit association. The sponsoring body is owned and managed by parents who oversee the non-educational aspects of the school.
An executive committee is responsible for the proper management and allocation of funds of the school and comprises 16 members - 12 volunteer parents elected at the annual general meeting with a three-year mandate and the rest ex-officio.
Parental involvement at all levels, with regular communication among parents, teachers and staff, is one of the school's strengths.
Not surprisingly, there has been pressure from parents to reform governance at the Canadian International School to bring it in line with best 21st century practice, with a board of governors comprising diverse representatives of the community, including parents.
Anjali A. Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School