Nearly half of all school heads believe that school boards are not necessary, and 60% think that it is wrong that boards decide on HR matters. Nevertheless, two thirds think that school boards are key to rooting schools in their communities. These are the findings of a survey supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).
Traditionally, Swiss school boards, composed of volunteers, have held responsibility for the management of compulsory schools. As greater autonomy has been granted to the schools, these lay boards have come under pressure. Their role as a key link between the Communal Council and new, professional school management teams is now up for debate.
School boards should not decide on HR matters
How do new school heads view the changed management structures in compulsory education? With funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), researchers at the University of Zurich and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland surveyed 270 school heads in all of the cantons in French and German-speaking Switzerland. Their findings reveal that school boards remain extremely important. 86% of the respondents report that their school communities have such boards. Moreover, 80% of school boards retain decision-making powers.
However, professional school heads have a critical opinion of school boards. 45% of those surveyed believe the boards to be unnecessary, while 60% think it is partially or completely incorrect that boards decide on HR matters. Nevertheless, two thirds consider the boards to play an important role in establishing the schools' roots in the community, and almost half think that it is appropriate for the boards to make financial decisions. According to educational sociologist Carsten Quesel, the ambivalent nature of these opinions may stem from the fact that while abolishing these lay boards will give school heads greater flexibility, it would also cause them additional work and effort, especially on behalf of the Communal Council.
Sceptical of parent councils
When asked whether parent councils represent a sensible alternative to the traditional school boards, school heads take a sceptical stance. Only 40% consider parent councils to be a useful link between the school and parents. A large majority consider that such councils would be hampered by a lack of commitment or by individual interests. Respondents to the survey were unanimous in their view that parent councils should have no decision-making powers in respect of school management. The school heads believe the role of parent councils should lie in promoting a dialogue between parents, children and teachers, and in enriching the life of the school by organising events. "School heads welcome the volunteer effort of parents, but are concerned about formalising this in the parent council, since this can lead to people getting bogged down in protocol."
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