It’s the month of SGB elections – make your vote count By Paul Esterhuizen, CEO of School-Days

It’s the month of SGB elections – make your vote count By Paul Esterhuizen, CEO of School-Days
Paul Esterhuizen, CEO of School-Days

This month will see School Governing Body (SGB) elections held at public schools throughout the country. Every public school is required to have a SGB in place made up of elected members including parents, guardians, teachers, school staff and learners, the principal and co-opted members.


The SGB are responsible for the governance of the school and represent parental authority. They act as the guardians and gatekeepers and set the school culture and climate by determining the school’s vision, mission values, ethos and policies, including its rules of admission, language, religion and conducts. In addition, the SGB appoints and promotes teachers and manages school facilities.


By law, the Department of Basic Education is required to conduct SGB elections every three years. By now, parents should have received information from the school on the SGB elections, including the names of those who have been nominated to serve, details of the election meetings, the voter’s roll, the nomination form and the election process. The elections will be taking place at public schools throughout the country until the end of the month.


Get involved in your child’s education and consider nominating yourself for election to the SGB. Or vote in individuals who you think will make a positive impact on the school. Research shows that children whose families are involved with their school and engaged in their education are more likely to do well academically and develop self-confidence and motivation in the classroom.


Anybody wanting to stand for election to the SGB or wanting to vote in the elections needs to ensure that their names are on the voter’s roll as they can neither vote nor stand for election unless their name is on the voter’s roll. If your name is missing from the roll, alert the school immediately to this omission.


Those individuals who are prepared to serve on the SGB need to ensure that their nomination form is completed and submitted. They also need to be prepared to make a case for why they are a suitable candidate. The school is responsible for validating all nominations and making the final nominations list available to all stakeholders. It will also notify all stakeholders about the election process, any requirements and whether the elections will be held virtually or in-person.


Becoming a member of a school SGB is one way of becoming an active participant in your child’s education. Last month, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga called on eligible stakeholders to get involved, either by standing for election or casting their vote. Research, she said, has consistently shown that schools with active SGBs excel across various metrics, including academic performance, learner wellbeing and community engagement. She also revealed that schools with high SGB participation report an average 20% higher pass rate than those with lower engagement while schools with active governing bodies have lower incidences of vandalism and truancy.


Motshekga’s strong advocacy for parents to become involved in their child’s SGB’s is somewhat ironically juxtaposed with the department’s intention to amend basic education laws which, amongst others, will limit the role SGBs play if the bill is passed. The proposals in the controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill include plans to implement significant reforms of legislation governing schools and teachers. In addition to providing new powers for provincial heads of education, prison terms for parents whose children don’t attend school and tighter regulation of home schooling, the bill also makes the role of SGB’s much smaller, providing provincial heads of education the power to override governing bodies’ language and admission policies.


BELA also requires that members of a SGB declare their financial interests, including those related to their spouses and family members. This requirement is not surprising given the growing number of allegations of theft, fraud, misuse of school finances and even extortion that have been levelled at SGBs in recent years. Corruption Watch has identified close to 3,500 cases of unlawful conduct by SBGs in the last decade, with many of these incidents involving school principals. Nearly half of all unlawful conduct involves the misappropriation of resources (45%). Others includes maladministration, abuse of authority, employment and procurement irregularities. There is no question that SGB members who benefit from a school through unlawful activities should be sanctioned and prosecuted.


At the same time, we need to be questioning whether diminishing the role of SGBs benefits schools in the longer term? In a well-run school, SGBs typically play an important role and SGB members often bring valuable skills to the SGB and give of their time and expertise at no cost to the school.


However, as Jonathan Molver pointed out in an article published in Daily Maverick in 2023, there’s an inherent imbalance between schools in more privileged communities compared to those in less-privileged ones. Higher income communities elect SGB members from privileged parent communities, explains Molver, “benefiting from their expertise, resources and networks which contribute to the school’s performance and reputation.”


Less privileged communities, on the other hand, are more likely to have SGB members with more limited education and expertise to manage school affairs. Molver says that, “If we are to raise the bar for the majority of our schools and begin to eliminate inequality, we need greatly improved governance capacity in every school – not just the former Model C schools.”


He believes the BELA Bill goes some way to addressing these governance issues, but says more needs to be done, which could include providing SGB’s with additional technical capacity where it is required.


Irrespective of your personal stance, don’t miss this opportunity to make your voice heard and your vote count in this round of SGB elections. Just like every vote counts in the upcoming national elections, so too do schools need active citizenry to ensure that their SGBs are made up of capable and ethical individuals.