A recent Canadian Education Association (CEA) article (spring 2016; Education Canada), written by Jim Brandon, was an interesting read and examination of school governance in Canada. It discussed district leadership in strengthening governance at the different levels of education — school, school board and provincial.
I was pleased to see that it included an update on school councils in regards to school level governance. Here is one section (but please do read the entire article):
Studies and annual provincial surveys indicate a general state of comfort with and appreciation of school councils’ involvement in schools and have put to rest past concerns that that school councils would evolve into de facto school boards. To the credit of provincial governments in Alberta and Ontario, a more evidence-based policy course has been steered since the introduction of school councils in the 1990s. In contrast to policy directions in places like New Zealand and England, school councils in Canada have not wavered from the path of serving schools and districts as collective associations who work together to effectively support student learning.”
I am no longer directly involved in Ontario’s school councils, but I was for many years. I became somewhat familiar with situations and structures in some other Canadian provinces through reading and conversations within my parent advocate network in the past.
It was reassuring to read that “concerns have been put to rest about school councils becoming de facto school boards.” Should that have ever been a concern? Should it have taken over 15 years? I think it was always the intent of the Ministry to ensure that school councils would be democratic and advisory. They were first mandated in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2000 that Regulation 612/00 provided clear guidelines for their role at the school and board level. This also led to changes to Reg. 298 (Duties of Principals) in regards to school councils. I would think that the guidelines were to ensure fair and meaningful parent participation in schools, but the legislation may have been threatening at the same time. I am not sure — I was not involved with parents groups during that time of introduction.
I have also sensed an increased “comfort with and appreciation of school councils” at the school level, but I suspect there is still some variance. I have written and reflected before about their governance role here.
The author states that Canadian school councils maintained a focus on student learning. I had a discussion with a few parents on Twitter about this aspect, but it might be difficult to know the current reality, even with surveys and research. Each province is so different and it can seem that what is wanted from a school council varies as well. I am not sure what the measure of success should be, or who should determine that — the school community, the school board, or the province? All?
What will the next 15 years look like for school councils? Ontario’s history of school councils seems relatively short when compared to The Ontario Federation of Home and Schools (OFHSA). They are currently celebrating 100 years of establishment. Who will accurately summarize school council history and successes in Ontario over 100 years? Will it be possible? Will it matter?