Officials of KHDA, members of school boards, principals and teachers during the iftar event in Dubai. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Dubai: Residents from different walks of life are volunteering their time to be on the board of private schools in Dubai out of a passion to improve schooling, a gathering of education leaders heard on Monday in Dubai.

School governors include lawyers, parents, corporate leaders, engineers and others who are lending their expertise in the steering of schools, they said during the launch of the ‘The Gift of Good Governance’ guide for school boards at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).

Over 200 school principals, school leaders and governors attended the launch event and iftar hosted by KHDA.

Although they are not required under the rules, all the 200 or so private schools in Dubai have a governing board. On Monday, the KHDA launched the 42-page guide to be a non-binding reference document for private schools to follow best practices in governance.

School boards — which are independent from school employees — set the strategic direction of the school and take decisions on significant issues such as fees, budgets and mission statement goals. The day-to-day running of the school is entrusted with staff such as the principal, administrators, head teachers etc.

Speaking at Monday’s event, Tarek Alami, chair of the board of governors of Jebel Ali School, said: “I really see the role of the board as integral as part of the school development. We’re a not-for-profit school and so we really depend largely on the volunteerism of those within the school and in the community to make a board, and make the school what it is, and what it can be.”

Alami, whose background is in strategic management, said besides the school’s “fantastic” management team, “it is important to also bring an outside perspective to what the school does”. He explained that as his school expanded, there was a need to bring in additional skills and expertise and ensure these are represented on the board.

“I’ve been asked many times from people who want to join the Jebel Ali School board and other boards, ‘what do I need to be on the board, what do I do if I’m on the board’. This guide is a fantastic starting point for that.”

Another speaker, Sue Johnston, CEO of Al Salam Private School, said being on the board “is not about prestige … it needs time and dedication”. She added: “We wanted our school governors to be part of our school, where they would come to the school, make constructive criticism, hold us accountable. We looked at our school, we have a very diverse nationality of children, and we wanted a representation of those nationalities and those cultures and religions within the school.”

Her school’s board includes experts from finance, special needs, law, engineering and other fields, and includes a governor who spends two working days a week at the school.

Dr Abdullah Al Karam, director-general of KHDA, said school governance is “something that you actually do not want to regulate, unlike anything else we have done. We took a lot of time and convinced people that is something that has to be done from within”.

He added that “our research shows that the best governors have regular interaction with their school community. This guide is an effort to showcase the positive experiences that can shape the future of our schools”.

Features of good governance

Dr Abdullah Al Karam launching ‘The Gift of Good Governance’, the 42-page guide meant to be a non-binding reference document for private schools to follow best practices in governance. Photo: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

School boards should:

■  Have authority to hire and terminate employment of school principal
■  Have authority to request any information from the principal and school management
■  Ensure compliance with applicable laws
■  Define the core values of the school, and its mission and vision
■  Understand they have obligations to school and wider society
■  Hold senior school management accountable for educational and financial performance

Source: The Gift of Good Governance/KHDA