Schools and their communities: A partnership

When the new government came into power in 1994 it had the enormous task of extending quality education to all race groups.  It did not, however, have sufficient resources to provide this education both free of cost and at a high standard. The solution it arrived at was to design public schools as a partnership between communities and the State.

The mechanism through which this partnership operates is the School Governing Body (SGB). This group is made up of parents, together with representatives of the school's staff & learner populations, and its community (although non-parent community members do not have voting rights). This body is responsible for the governing (or running) of the school, mobilising support for the school to supplement the resources provided by the State, and for holding all actors accountable to their duties under law.

While this move has the positive effect of giving communities a say in how schools are run, it also makes the success of a school largely a factor of the resources available to the school through its staff, learners and their parents. This benefits schools where the staff and parent body have the education, skills and networks; and disadvantages schools without this kind of capital - entrenching inequality in our education system.

Despite the enormous responsibility placed on SGBs, they are woefully under supported. While the Schools Act requires provincial departments of education to provide training to SGBs, the format of the training sessions is for a service provider to lecture the attendant parents and educators for a full five-hour period. There is little opportunity for feedback or dealing with individual schools’ specific issues.  The once-off, “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t adequately equip SGB members to have a real say in the running of the school, or in holding other actors accountable. The technical and legalistic content is often inaccessible, and, even when they are able to grasp its meaning, they find that once they are back in their school they struggle with the application of what they have learned.

What’s more, SGBs are isolated: there are no opportunities to for them to connect with and learn from each other, and, crucially, all contact with the State is through their principal. While circuit managers make regular visits to school principals, there is no opportunity for SGB members to voice their concerns if the relationship between them and their principal is not strong. As such, SGBs have neither adequate support nor access to the structures required to enforce accountability.

The result is that SGBs, particularly in underperforming schools, are unskilled, isolated and vulnerable to capture, thus further entrenching inequality in our education system.


NELI aims to capacitate SGBs in order to ensure well-governed schools that can best leverage stakeholder community investment.  Our theory of change argues that that good governance and community outcomes are key drivers in addressing inequality in education and, ultimately, in promoting better learner outcomes.