Merris Murray | Supporting school boards in Jamaica
Schools in Jamaica, like businesses, are governed by boards of management. This is in keeping with the Education Act, 1965, and Regulations of 1980, popularly known as 'the Code'. The school boards, which report directly to the minister with responsibility for education, occupy the highest place of authority at the school level. Their powers are far-reaching, ranging from hiring to disengaging staff.
School board members are fiduciaries of the institution placed in their charge. Their duties are characterised by a sense of good faith, loyalty and trust. In keeping with the fiduciary principle, school board members are required to exercise a duty of care and to act prudently under all circumstances, i.e. they should not be negligent or reckless in making decisions.
This power or authority is particularly relevant to decisions in respect of the separation of staff. If carried out negligently or recklessly, or if the principles of natural justice and due process are ignored, this could prove costly to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. Given the extent of the powers of school boards, it is essential that their members are trained to carry out their responsibilities in the most efficient and effective manner.
National Council on Education
In 1993, the National Council on Education was established to provide support to school boards. The council, a non-partisan statutory body, was established to, among other things, nominate suitable persons for appointment and to train school board members. Since its establishment, the council has pursued a number of strategies to improve the appointment process and to equip school board members with the necessary tools to effectively govern the institutions. Some initiatives pursued to date are:
(i) The introduction of the cyclical appointment process in 2003, a system by which the tenure of school boards in a particular educational region commences and expires at the same time. This policy has contributed to greater levels of efficiency through the standardisation of the appointment process.
(ii) The introduction of the revised procedures in 2009, for the appointment of school board members. Through this system, the eligibility criteria for the appointment of school board members and the establishment of a review panel as the final arbiter for selecting council nominees were introduced. The aim was to improve the calibre of volunteers serving on school boards.
(iii) The implementation of a comprehensive campaign to increase awareness of the importance of school governance, and to solicit volunteers to serve on school boards. The campaign focused on promoting service to school boards as a worthwhile civic exercise.
(iv) The publication in 2012 of a handbook for school board members and the development of a modular training programme.
An important aspect of the support provided for school board members is the hosting of workshops and seminars. Recently, during the period January to March 2018, more than 900 school board members representing 489 schools in four educational regions (4, 5, 3, & 6) were trained at eight workshops. The workshops were held in collaboration with the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL), the institution for creating world-class educational leaders.
The workshops explored matters concerning creating a positive ethos in schools, the legal and regulatory framework in which schools operate, managing school finances, and the human resources management functions of school boards. Held in keeping with the Government's commitment to ensuring that our schools operate as child-friendly spaces, the workshops emphasised the constitutional rights of Jamaican children to a quality education.
Appreciation for School Boards
I wish to thank the more than 10,000 school board members, the largest corps of unpaid volunteers in our country, for their continued dedication and commitment to this vital aspect of our education system. Very often, the positive outcomes that students achieve are not connected with the contribution of school boards. This is despite the fact that research suggests that schools that are effectively governed are better able to meet the needs of students in a holistic manner.
The National Council on Education recognises that school boards in Jamaica operate within a very complex legal and regulatory environment and that good governance does not simply happen but requires:
(i) hard work;
(ii) high levels of dedication and commitment; and
((iii) the building of appropriate skills and competencies.
The council is mindful that any system of governance is only as effective as the people who administer it. It is against this background that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, through the Council, continues to invest the necessary resources to equip school board members with the vital skills to carry out their mandate in an efficient and effective manner.
I encourage the board members never to lose sight of the impact their work can have on improving the lives of Jamaican students, their families, communities and the nation as a whole. May you continue to serve our schools as we seek to maintain an enriching, learner-centred school environment, in which students can realise their fullest potential and become worthwhile citizens, recognising that "when the right to education is assured, the whole world gains" (Annan, 1999).