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Fostering Authentic Collaborations Within School Governance Structures

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In 2018, the Trevor Noah Foundation launched its pilot Khulani School, a public secondary school in Johannesburg. Within the first year, it became clear that a lack of communication and understanding roles and responsibilities were some of the school executive team’s key challenges. As we’ve learned, the absence of critical knowledge and skill directly impacts the school’s ability to effectively and efficiently manage and govern.

When a school governance structure does not have adequate training to manage its resources, it cannot function at its optimum despite funding or improved infrastructure. According to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, the most critical elements facing basic education in South Africa were capacity building and leadership development. 

What is School Governance, and why is it important?

The term school governance refers to how educational systems make decisions. It refers to the policies and programs that enable them to assign roles and duties. It includes managing financial, human and other resources to set and achieve short & long-term objectives and priorities that the school leaders have set.

Proper school governance ensures quality decision-making among the stakeholders, the transformation of the school culture, and the involvement of the entire staff, parents, and students. Where necessary, it also holds school leaders accountable if they do not adhere to systems put in place.

Meet our Stakeholders

For the successful running of any school, key stakeholders work together as a tripartite to achieve its objectives as outlined in their School Improvement Plan set out at the beginning of each year.

To understand how this comes into effect, one must first understand the role of each stakeholder:

School Governing Body (SGB)

The SGB is a statutory body comprised of the school principal, representatives (parents, teachers, RCL members in Grade 8 or above) and co-opted members (community members, owner of the school property). It has the responsibility to improve the school community’s well-being and effectiveness. It also has the responsibility to manage school finances.

School Management Team (SMT)

The SMT is the Principal, Deputy Principal and the Heads of Department of each school. They are responsible for effectively and efficiently managing their duties and functions to increase the quality of teaching and learning.

The Representative Council of Learners (RCL)

The RCL promotes school spirit and leadership by providing a strong student voice at the school. These learners assist in developing and nurturing positive concepts in the school community. As much as the RCLs aren’t part of the school executive committee, they play a crucial role in building harmonious relationships between teachers and learners. They advocate for the student’s voice and actively organise and attend school events and fundraising activities.

The Birth of the Lekgotla

With the introduction of three new Khulani Schools in 2019, and learnings from our pilot school, prevention proved better than a cure, and the concept of a Lekgotla for school executive committees was born. Lekgotla is a SeSotho word that means “a gathering”.

The Lekgotla has since become an annual three-day workshop held at the beginning of each year. It equips school executive committees with the leadership skills required to manage their schools effectively.

On 23-25 February, we held our second annual Lekgotla with a critical focus on addressing the dominant challenge raised by each school: the lack of the knowledge and financial skills to effectively and efficiently manage their finances.

We trained teams on improving organisational culture, financial management, and fundraising. Furthermore, we identified values that served as building blocks for schools. We identified these values in developing trusting and understanding connections, which are critical for good school performance. The values were ACCCT, or Accountability, Commitment, Consistency, Communication and Transparency. These values have now been defined as the new Khulani School Programme values. 

See a recap of the Lekgotla below.

The RCL Workshop

In addition to the Lekgotla, the Trevor Noah Foundation runs RCL leadership workshops. The workshops ensure that the young leaders are clear in their vision for their schools and understand their role in effective school governance. We recently had the honour of hosting 24 learners from our Khulani Schools.

During the workshop, one of the questions posed to the learners was “What does your ideal school like?”, Grade 12 pupil, Tlhalefo, a.k.a. “The Governor” as his peers called him at the workshop, responded:

It’s not always about the resources that you have. Sometimes, it’s about dedication too making a difference with the little that you have.


Effective school governance can only be achieved through effective leadership, collaboration and a unified voice between all stakeholders. As the Trevor Noah Foundation, our goal is to holistically improve the education system in underserved communities. Striking a balance is critical. If we only seek to empower the youth and neglect our school leadership teams, we risk putting the horse before the cart.

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