Fisher Leadership: A Future with Independent School Governance
Insights from Dr Amanda Bell AM
Associate Partner at Fisher Leadership
Scrutiny increasing for Independent School Councils!
In August this year, the Chief Executive of Independent Schools Victoria reviewed the governance issues leading to the resultant redistribution of students to other schools. The episode had a destabilising and traumatic impact on the entire school community.
Schools are about students, staff and families: the education, care and development of students; the welfare, professional development and leadership of staff; and the partnership with families and the communities in which they are situated. Increasingly, the time required, the risks and governance demands mean that many schools struggle to attract people willing to serve on school councils, let alone meet “good governance” goals for membership diversity.
Increasing accountability impacts governance appointments
Over the past few years, accountability for independent school councils has increased demonstrably. Members of councils are required to undertake minimum hours of governance training. This has become a baseline of school accreditation requirements. Additionally, external compliance via entities such as the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) also requires and recommends a certain type of “fit and proper person” to hold office on an NFP Board and meet guidelines for governance standards.
This is a daunting responsibility for voluntary community members of school councils. Many schools have diligently looked to their constitutions and governance structures to meet the accountability requirements, induction models and training to acquit their responsibilities professionally and comply with the relevant accreditations. Finding new members who have a sense of purpose, common sense, and wisdom and who accept their fiduciary responsibilities is not easy.
As a result, school councils are conducting independent board evaluations, developing new skills matrices and undertaking director executive searches to transparently locate and select new members with the traits needed to suit each school’s governance requirements, culture and strategic direction.
Increasingly, school communities are looking for open communication and transparency. As a result, school councils are utilising the skills of external providers to assist them in improving their policies, procedures, functionality, committee structures and member recruitment.
Creating distinctive solutions for independent school boards
To illustrate the shifting governance landscape in schools, Fisher Leadership, via the organisation’s CLA business, was asked to review board skills and capabilities for a large, high performing Sydney independent school. The board executive not only wanted an understanding of current director experience, but to identify gaps that reflected the school’s new strategic direction and the anticipated changes in teacher and student requirements in the sector.
While this may seem at first glance to be a standard board matrix exercise, the complexities of marrying director terms, current board projects, school priorities, community expectations, diversity in member composition and hard versus soft skill requirements resulted in a detailed report that was used to underpin the next project to be undertaken by Fisher Leadership: mapping and commencing new director recruitment.
Attracting new directors for school boards can be tricky. There are frequently keen community members who would eagerly join. Traditionally, often appointment have been “known” to current directors and/or referred by word-of-mouth. Transparency is much more important in today’s governance expectations and utilising independent professional services ensures a transparent recruitment and appointment process.
Community members and their engagement is vital to any school board but locating and appointing those who also match the required skills and capabilities can be a challenge. Additionally, the challenge of accessing independent directors for school boards can prove difficult – especially when experienced governance members are sought. This is why an experienced search firm can present director options which address diversity, experience, cultural fit and provide references to assist boards in augmenting their governance requirements, performance and achievements.
A successful future board roadmap
Fisher Leadership and CLA have successfully been able to provide this leading metropolitan school with a roadmap for future board succession planning, skills acquisition, and capability development over the next 4 years, corresponding to the life of the next strategic plan. The director search is underway, and the board is excited by the prospect of targeted membership renewal.
The team at Fisher Leadership is able to access the Future Leadership’s ecosystem of organisational psychologists, and transformation experts to assist clients with solving their governance evolution.