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Governance Offerings in 2021

Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) is committed to strengthening school governing bodies through relevant, industry-specific training and support. 

Here are a few steps to consider for your Board in 2021:

  1. Alert your new directors to the ISQ Director Induction workshops. These events will be offered three times this year, with the first session set for 30 January to be delivered face-to-face in Brisbane and providing a rare opportunity to network and learn from members of other independent school boards. Register here.
  2. Advise ISQ of changes to your board to ensure all of your directors can access the latest governance resources, industry insights and training opportunities. Email us.
  3. Sign up for our Governance Short Courses (face-to-face) and Modules (online) to become proficient in fulfilling your director duties with care and diligence. Plan your professional learning using ISQ’s 2021 Professional Learning Prospectus.
  4. Continue your board’s ongoing improvement by accessing ISQ’s Board Review Service. Our School Business Services team can facilitate external board reviews, reviews on specific governance areas such as risk frameworks, executive reviews, and strategic plans. Read more.

For any questions on ISQ’s governance services or to consult with a member of the team, contact Johannes Solymosi, Assistant Director (School Services) on 3228 1556 or

The Importance of Governance in this time of COVID 19

Boards of independent schools appropriately spend a great deal of time on compliance, financial planning and accountability to the school’s community and stakeholders. Ensuring all compliance responsibilities are met, as well as maintaining financial viability, is fundamental to any successful school.

However, as schools emerge from COVID-19 in 2020, significant learnings for schools have emerged, including how to support students remotely through online interactions and resources. Most significantly, 2020 might be described as the year in which the importance of wellbeing and human connections were paramount. The quality of teaching and learning and community relationships – perhaps described as the cultural capital of a school – have played an important role in ensuring the stability and viability of independent schools.

Independent Schools Queensland’s Executive Director, David Robertson, recently described 2020 as the Year of the Teacher (Briefings Nov/Dec 2020), noting the standing of the teaching profession, and the work of teachers collectively and individually, received a well-deserved boost in the eyes of parents and the community as they adapted to online learning and to an extensive range of restrictions and requirements placed on schools and how they operated.

There is emerging evidence that in a time of great uncertainty, parents have further embraced school choice with the quality of education being at the forefront of their decision-making. There is the recognition that schools are not just places of learning but social places where the personal, interpersonal and social skills that enrich our lives are practiced and refined.

There is a multitude of resources available to school boards to assist them in their role of ensuring compliance, sustainable financial health and strategic planning. But where do boards turn to when considering the cultural capital of their school? Do boards give enough attention to this aspect or is this perhaps an issue best left to the Principal?

ISQ has a range of programs and activities designed to support schools in the development of their school staff. For example, the Teacher Growth and Development Program supports schools to develop and implement a school-wide Teacher Development Framework. In 2021, ISQ will deliver a short course in partnership with Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Missouri, Todd Whitaker, designed to support schools as they seek to understand and develop their unique school culture.

The ISQ brochure Great Teachers in Independent Schools provides further details of services and support available from ISQ in this area.

What is important is that Boards collectively discuss staff development in the context of the cultural capital of their school, which in the future will increasingly include staff wellbeing and engagement.  

Sourcing New Board Directors

Sourcing new directors for independent school boards can be tricky but investing time at the front end of the director recruitment process can ensure boards find the right candidate to help drive the board’s strategic agenda.

A good place to start is with a formal Director Skills Audit that takes the next two to five years of the School’s strategic plan into account. A formal skills audit process should consider the existing skill profile of the board and identify any gaps. For example, if a school has identified a goal of innovation in technology-enhanced learning over the next two to five years, they may consider whether a new director with specialist ICT experience may be required to fill a technology skills gap.

The board should consider maintaining a regularly updated register of prospective board members. The Chair or a committee might, in consensus with the full board, approach prospective members, assess their skills and interest in a position on the board should one become available, and report back to the board with recommendations. Upon board approval, the future member’s name is added to the register to be considered on the retirement or unexpected resignation of a board member.

Five steps to finding the right director for a school board

  1. Do not dismiss personal and professional networks but be prepared to look further afield. This may include adopting an Expression of Interest (EOI) process that is publicised widely throughout community networks. Share the position description/EOI information on social media, job search websites and with professional search organisations to widen the search parameters.
  2. Create a position description that specifies the skills required, the duties and responsibilities that go with the role and a realistic assessment of the time involved. Be clear about any extra commitments such as sitting on committees, raising funds and hands-on involvement.
  3. Parents of past students may be a group worth exploring as a source of new directors that have a personal connection to the School and may be willing to make an ongoing commitment as a board director.
  4. Consider inviting potential directors to sit on a board committee in the first instance so they can familiarise themselves with board processes and the culture of the Board. This can help the board assess whether a candidate is a good fit and able to fulfil their fiduciary duties as a director. Some schools do this with current parents who are then considered for Board appointments upon the graduation of their child.
  5. Be open to appointing a first-time director with support mechanisms in place to ensure ongoing professional development is provided. Appropriate candidates may include members of the student alumni body looking for directorship experience. ISQ offers accessible governance training opportunities for new directors.

Gifts, Not for Profits and the Pub Test

A recent case

'Christine Holgate has resigned as Chief Executive of Australia Post after an investigation was launched into the organisation’s gift and expenses culture. Holgate has been under immense scrutiny for several weeks after it was revealed Cartier watches worth almost $20,000 were given to senior staff. Prime Minister Scott Morrison labelled the gifts disgraceful and appalling… She is standing by the purchase of luxury watches, saying the executives had sealed a banking deal worth $220 million. “However, I deeply regret that a decision made two years ago, which was supported by the chair, to recognise the outstanding work of four employees has caused so much debate and distraction,” Holgate said. “I appreciate the optics of the gifts involved did not pass the ‘pub test’ for many.”' (AAP - 2/11/2020)

What is the pub test and what can we do to pass?

The pub test describes the opinion of everyday Australians to the conduct and reputation of public figures. In a school context, it’s about how stakeholders – students, teachers, parents, school community, businesses and regulators – judge the soundness of the board and leadership team’s decisions and actions. How do boards increase their chances of passing the test? By always considering likely perceptions of their actions from every stakeholder’s viewpoint.

What are the regulatory requirements regarding gifts?

For not-for-profits registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC), the following guidelines apply:

  • Gifts should not provide any individual with a sizeable or significant personal benefit. The ACNC generally expects that gifts will be of a token nature.
  • A charity that provides a gift of significant value is at risk of not complying with its purpose and character as a not-for-profit entity.
  • It is up to a charity’s Responsible Persons to determine an acceptable value of any gift or honorarium. However, in doing so, the Responsible Persons should consider the charity’s financial position and its ability to carry out its charitable purposes.

The compliance risks arise from considerations such as the following:

  • If a gift of significant value would result in a private benefit to someone, this may breach the requirement to be a not-for-profit entity.
  • If significant gifts are provided without transparency, a charity would not comply with the expectation of accountability to stakeholders.
  • Further, if not all factors are properly considered before providing a gift, the entity may fail to act in good faith in the charity’s best interest, in breach of the ACNC Governance Standards.

What is the message for school boards?

If boards are considering the provision of gifts to individuals, the ACNC suggests asking questions such as:

  • Does the constitution allow the school to provide gifts?
  • What is the rationale about providing this gift?
  • How can we determine an appropriate value for the gift (e.g. through formal board or management-level discussions or by consulting with other similar charities)?
  • What will stakeholders or the public think of the school providing the gift (i.e. will it pass the pub test), especially if the gift is of more than tokenistic value?
  • Is the gift intended for a board member or another “responsible person”? If so, what will be the process to avoid a conflict of interest, to properly make the decision, to determine a reasonable value and to remain accountable and transparent to stakeholders?
  • If gifts are provided to board members or key management personnel, they may need to be disclosed in financial statements in accordance with the AASB Related Party Disclosures standard (AASB 124).

While it may be quite appropriate for schools to provide gifts to individuals as a gesture of gratitude and appreciation for their services, the decision needs to be properly considered in light of charity law and the pub test.

Australian Early Development Census

Boards play a critical role in setting the direction and developing their school’s strategic plan. The quality and breadth of the data that is used to inform strategic decision-making is vital to securing the long-term growth and sustainability of the school. This data should also provide information about the current and future needs of the student cohort.

The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) is a nationwide data collection of early childhood development at the time children commence their first year of full-time school. The AEDC highlights what is working well and what needs to be improved or developed to support children and their families by providing evidence to support health, education and community policy and planning.

The AEDC is held every three years, with the ​2018 AEDC data collection being the ​fourth collection. The fifth AECD data collection will take place from 4 May to 25 June 2021.

What is involved?

The AEDC involves teachers of children in their first year of full-time school completing a research tool, the Australian version of the Early Development Instrument. Schools get reimbursed for the time their teachers spend collecting the data. The instrument collects data relating to five key areas of early childhood development referred to as ‘domains’. 

  • Physical health and wellbeing
  • Social competence
  • Emotional maturity
  • Language and cognitive skills (school-based)
  • Communication skills and general knowledge.

The AEDC domains have been shown to predict later health, wellbeing, and academic success of students.

What is the value of participating?

The value of the AEDC for school boards lies in the data and evidence that can be used as a basis for planning the school’s strategic development in response to the wellbeing needs and trends of their youngest students. This supports schools in designing responsive and supportive learning programs in the early years which create the basis for educational attainment in later years.

The specific information contained in the AEDC School Profile can assist schools to:

  • Reflect on the development of children in the community as they enter school.
  • Consider and plan for optimal school transition through to the early primary years.
  • Reflect on all aspects of children’s development in the first year of school.
  • Look at the needs of students before they enter school to help plan their learning at school.

Contributing to the national dataset further allows for national and local conversations to occur within community groups and local and government agencies to help shape the future wellbeing of Australian children.

Board directors in consultation with principals serve an integral role in ensuring that the AEDC results can be integrated into school strategic planning.

For more information about AEDC please click here or contact a School Services Advisor on (07) 3228 1593.

Board Chair Interview

Jim Demack

PMSA Board member since 2013 | Somerville House School Council Chair since 2017

What excites you about your school?

I'm excited about the opportunities the school provides to students and also to its staff. The teaching and learning program, as well as the co-curricular offerings, provide a diverse range of educational options to a broad range of students, allowing them to flourish, take their place in the world with confidence and continuously feel supported by the school community even after they leave.

What prompted you to become a council member?

Through my local church, I knew that the Uniting Church was looking for people to serve on the PMSA board. After some conversations, my name was put forward and I was appointed in 2013. Being part of the PMSA board meant that opportunities for additional committee or school council work were available, so I first joined the BBC school council before moving to Somerville House in 2017, as Chair.

How would you describe an effective board?

An effective board is one that fulfils all the functions and duties it holds under legislation and governance standards. It enables the exciting things within a school to happen while holding management accountable through checks and balances. It ensures the alignment of progress with the school’s values and mission, and it appropriately manages risk. It contributes wisdom and diverse experience through the perspective of governance.

What is your advice for new school board members?

School boards are marvellous places to contribute something meaningful and see results quickly and regularly. Be cognizant of the fact that you now act as a governor, not a specialist in your area of expertise, and that your role is limited to being part of a team that governs together. Accept invitations to school functions and other opportunities to meet people as much as you can. Finally, make use of the governance training offered by ISQ to update your governance knowledge and develop a network of directors from other schools.

How can boards make good decisions despite an ambiguous and uncertain future?

Even amidst uncertainty, boards still need to plan for the future, otherwise, they will be continuously treading water. They need to access the best advice available to them, acknowledge that there are risks and mitigate them as best they can. While boards may have temporarily put future plans on hold this year, they need to be aware of the expectations of their community that things will keep on progressing, so they should keep pace and continue developing and reinvesting in their schools.

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