Five essential ideas

Effective School Governance

In a competitive and often unpredictable world, effective school governance is crucial if a school is to remain true to its mission and achieve its vision. Consilium Education’s Paul Cabrelli reflects on five essentials that sustain excellence and help governors enjoy their time in office.

The governing body of a school, whether “Board of Directors” or “Board of Governors” is arguably the most important element of any school’s organisational structure.  International school boards, which are especially prone to a high rate of governor turnover, depend even more on institutional strengths, rather than longevity of individual service to achieve effective governance. Whatever the legal structure of a school, you will see certain fundamentals at work in a board that is doing its job well. Here are five ways to promote good practice:

1. Reflect on your purpose

Confirm what you are in existence to do.  You are there to be good custodians, not to micro-manage with three principal functions to perform:

  • Responsibility to employ the Head or Director of School and to establish his/her remuneration
  • Responsibility to establish the overall direction and ethos of the school while overseeing the progress of its main policies
  • Responsibility to act as custodians of the school’s finances. You have a fiduciary responsibility and the Board must oversee the school’s annual budgets, ensuring that the school operates on a sound financial footing. Annual financial records must be produced and published in a timely fashion.  Sound investments should be made and monitored
2. Give time to the appointment and support of the school’s Head

Your most important role is to employ, manage and to hold accountable the Head of School or School Director. This involves you in establishing an appropriate recruitment process, interviewing candidates, making the appointment, designing a contract of employment and establishing an appropriate remuneration and benefits package. The board is also responsible for the Head of School’s job description and evaluation.

The Board Chair and Head of School must give themselves time to discuss school matters “off the record”. Much of the school’s success depends on their relationship.

3. Get involved without interfering

Good School Board members get actively involved in the school and they attend school events, without interfering.  This helps them to know how the school operates and they can then assess if things are going well.  Good Board members do not cultivate favourites among the school leadership or staff and treat all staff equally.  School Board meetings should be held at the school if at all possible. Examples of appropriate involvement by Board members in the school include:

  • Establishing a Board committee to find new Board members
  • Being introduced to the school at school assemblies
  • Meeting teaching and support staff at appropriate occasions
  • Meeting all new teachers at a social event at the start of the school year
  • Regular attendance at school functions e.g. Teacher Appreciation Days, graduation events, school sports days, concerts and theatre performances
  • Conducting exit interviews with teachers leaving the school
  • Reading to junior students in class
  • Speaking at school assemblies on areas of expertise
  • Presentation of a Board prize or prizes at graduation
4. Rise above detail and personal interests

Good School Board members never discuss their own children’s progress, school uniforms or bus schedules at Board meetings. They involve themselves only in the strategic vision of the school, taking a “big picture” view of operations rather than concerning themselves with the minutiae of school life.

5. Keep things moving

Board meetings must never last longer than two hours and Board members need to be kept on task. The Board Chair must take the lead in ensuring that Board agendas, minutes and reports are issued well in advance of meetings, and that discussion is restricted to agenda items. If you have sub-committees, use them. Sub-committee minutes should be issued in advance of a main board meeting, so that any subsequent discussion can be focussed on the decision making arising from their recommendations.

A rewarding role as a School Board member

Being a school Board member can be a most enjoyable, stimulating and rewarding experience.  It can also be time-consuming, exhausting and demoralising! As a School Board member you volunteer you time and energy: by focusing on the five essentials of good school governance, you have every chance of enjoying your period in office and to feel that you have made a positive contribution to the success of the school.


Paul Cabrelli

Paul Cabrelli is the former Director of Finance and Business at the Chinese International School in Hong Kong during an extended period of sustained and exciting growth. His career also includes service in the US as Director of Business at UNIS, New York and in the UK as the International Director at Wellington College.

Now, as an educational consultant based in London, Paul advises international and independent schools on a wide range of business, financial and governance issues.


To contact Paul, please e-mail


Feature Image: Lara Hughes from Pixabay