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Who runs a school?

By Tim Middleton

Who runs a school? On the surface, that might appear to be a very simple and obvious question, but in fact we may get a number of different answers to it, depending on whom we ask.

The most likely answer is that the Head runs a school. The Head, after all, is at the top of the ladder, is the one who ultimately makes all the decisions with regard to the activities of the school, is the one who people turn to for direction, instruction and inspiration. The Head appoints staff; the Head approves procedures; the Head awards the benefits. Who else could possibly run the school?

Some would argue that while the Head does indeed lead the school, the Deputy Head actually runs the school as he or she is the one who generally oversees and coordinates the day-to-day activities; the Deputy ensures that policies and decisions are enacted in practice; the Deputy checks that everything is running smoothly. In that sense, then, it is the Deputy who actually runs the school.

Others will counter that by saying it is all very well for the Head or the Deputy to consider they are running the school, but in truth it is the staff who are doing so; the
staff are the ones who actually “do the business” of education, who run with the curriculum, the pupils, the policies. The Head is, after all, only as good as his or her staff; the Head or Deputy may talk a good game, but it is what happens on the ground, or rather in the classroom, which actually determines the running of the school.

Then again, others will look at the question differently and argue that while the Head is the figurehead, the voice and face of the school, he or she is still accountable to
the Responsible Authority, be that be the Board of Governors or the SDC (depending on the type of school). The Board can hire and fire the Head and thus make the most important
decisions; what they decide has a massive impact in the school. They run a school. But is it not the Ministry that runs the school? They set the laws for what can and cannot happen in the schools; they have the authority to register or de-register a school. They pronounce the curriculum, the philosophy, the context for education.

No, in truth, none of these groups runs a school! Ah, then it must be the parents who run a school! The parents say what they want to happen, when and how! The parents want to decide what subjects are offered, what uniform may be worn, what fees can be charged, what times children can arrive, what rules can be changed, what … No, wrong again, it is
not the parents who run a school! Then it must be the pupils who run a school! The authorities (whoever they may be) may come up with rules, but if the pupils do not do them, then they will not happen. If things run smoothly, it is because the pupils choose to allow them to do so. They must be the ones who run a school.

No, again we must say, no — it is none of these who run a school! So who does run a school? The answer is simple: No one! Excuse me, there has to be someone who runs the school! No, no one should run a school. In actual fact, it is not any one person who runs a school, for the real question is not “who runs a school?” but “what runs a school?”

And the answer to that is simple: It is the Vision, Mission and Values of the school that should determine how the school operates (just as any company should be operating).

The Board or the Head or the staff have to fit within the particular Vision, Mission and Values of that school. They are guided, impacted, instructed, led and authorised by these vital qualities. All decisions, policies, strategies, procedures should be influenced and inspired by the need to achieve the very Vision and Values that are at the heart of the school.

There is perhaps a more important, though similar, question than “who runs a school?” It is this: Who ruins a school? Once again, we may wish to argue that all the alternatives presented above are possible candidates. The Head can ruin a school; a Deputy Head can do so; equally staff, Board, parents, pupils — all could quite easily ruin a school. We may even declare that the Vision, Mission and Values ruin a school, if they are indeed what runs a school. Again, though, we would be wrong.

Who ruins a school? I do! By that we mean that, just as when the letter “I” goes in the middle of the word “runs”, we get the word “ruins”, so when the person “I” gets in the middle of running a school, I will ruin it; when running a school becomes all about me, is centred around what I want, what is best for me, I will ruin the school. It is hard to run a school; it is easy to ruin it. I must not be in it!

 Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
website: www.atschisz.co.zw

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