Updated: Sep 30, 2021
A small, but key group of volunteers in any school are the members of the School Board. While Board Members are often seen as the ultimate decision makers in schools, with many responsibilities, the reality is they are volunteers who give of their time to the school in serving in this capacity.
Resolve has anecdotally observed over recent years that Boards seem to be doing it tougher and tougher; not only in the issues they face but just in terms of actual board operations.
A recent survey conducted by The Bursars Forum supports the premise that School Boards are an area that may need some work to ensure they remain healthy in their critical governance role over schools. Some of the key Board operational findings of the survey included:
The most common range of Board size was between 6 members (27% of respondents) and 9 members (23% of respondents), yet the most common actual Board sizes were 6 or 8 members (each had 17% of respondents). Prima facie this would indicate that Boards are running smaller than their maximum size and in fact a significant number of Boards are right on their minimum allowable size.
Most typical Board Meetings go for 2.5 to 3 hours each, with 61% of Boards meeting for this length of time, though 4% of schools reported that their typical Board meetings go for 5 or more hours!
As to the frequency of Board Meetings, 33% of School Boards meet 10 times per annum with 73% of Boards meeting between 8 and 11 times per year. The range of Board Meeting frequency is pretty wide, with 1.5% of Boards meeting 4 times per year and another 1.5% meeting 20+ times per year!
The size of Boards (minimum, maximum or actual numbers), the average frequency of Board Meetings and the average length of Board Meetings according to the survey did not change based on school enrolment size or socio-economic levels.
In summary, most Boards are running at or close to their minimum size (which is a significant risk for a school) and most Board members are investing around 20 to 33 volunteer hours per year sitting in Board meetings; this is apart from time in sub-committee meetings, preparation time for Board meetings and any extra things they may be doing around the school. This significant time contribution by Board members is critical for the functioning of the school and as such should be acknowledged from time to time, with steps also taken to try and enhance Board meetings and their processes.
In deciding who comes to Board Meetings and what they do, the survey results were:
82% of schools reported that their Principal was not a voting member of the Board and generally those that were voting, are in smaller schools.
Apart from the Board Members and the Principal at Board Meetings, 75% of schools indicated that their Business Manager was at the whole Board Meeting and in 76% of all cases the Business Manager presented the Financial Reports to the Board.
The other person that was most often at Board Meetings was the Deputy Principal (12% of respondents).
The logistics of Board Papers is sometimes overlooked in the busyness of school life, yet getting these papers out to Board Members is often a key part in helping Board Members to fully engaged in the actual Board Meeting itself.
Most commonly, schools get their Board Papers out 7 days before a meeting (37% of survey respondents), with the next most common being 4 or 5 days in advance of the meeting, with 18% of respondents selecting each of these.
47% of schools indicated they use a Board Portal for the distribution of papers, 36% were via email and 12% used a combination of things like email, hard copy, or a system such as SharePoint or a shared drive.
In Resolve’s experience, the more time schools can give Board members to prepare for Board Meetings the better the meetings themselves run and the better consideration of issues. In terms of timing, it is often key to make sure that there is a weekend between when the papers are sent out and when the meeting is held, as this provides a greater opportunity for many Board Members to properly read and consider the board papers in advance of the meeting.
The increased use of Board Portals is interesting to see. There are now more cost effective solutions available than was the case several years ago. However, over 1/3 of schools still use email to distribute their Board Papers, which is not a secure forum for the distribution of sometimes sensitive material. We would encourage schools to consider how they can effectively distribute their Board Papers and enable better security as well as access to materials.
If you would like assistance in respect of the way your Board operates; whether it be Board Training (NESA Accredited for schools in NSW), a review of board documentation or processes in meetings, through to a Board Appraisal or longer term assistance as a board advisor, please do not hesitate to contact Resolve on firstname.lastname@example.org