Strategic Thinking

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Governance and Leadership


The Governance and Leadership We Owe Our Students

If we were to ask you what you think governing bodies of schools are ultimately accountable for, what would you say?

Maybe your list might sound something like this:

  • Developing, reviewing, communicating and monitoring a strategic direction
  • Establishing structures, policies, procedures and systems
  • Managing, calculating and minimising risks
  • Overseeing fiscal responsibilities
  • Monitoring the performance of the head of the school
  • Understanding a school’s educational aims and processes for monitoring improvements

As school governors and leaders, you are accountable for a lot! In listing these responsibilities, our question to you is, how does the responsibility for DEIJ fit within this list? How is it your responsibility?

The feedback that we have received from governors is that if they were honest, they are often unsure of their role in nurturing and sustaining inclusion and belonging via diversity, equity and justice.

So how is school governance and leadership accountable for advancing DEIJ? 

This definition of governance from School Governance by CompliSpace (2021) gives us an important anchoring point for this exact discussion. They state that:

Governing bodies of schools are ultimately accountable for the safety of all students and staff and, through the principal, for the education of the children. They are also accountable for enterprise risk management, finances, teaching and learning facilities and, above all, for being the drivers of school culture.

To use this definition of school governance – the safety of students and staff should lie at the heart of what you do. The ‘safety’ of everyone in your learning community should underpin and steer all of the other responsibilities that we fulfil.

This is because you cannot have a thriving school if it isn’t a safe school.

When you think of the word ‘safety’ in the context of governance and leadership, perhaps you might recall a time when your board dealt with an incident of sexual misconduct. Or when you developed policies and procedures to deal with the identification, reporting, and handling of cases involving physical abuse, sexual abuse, and bullying.

International schools’ progress in safeguarding students through child protection policies and processes has been commendable. However, we need to ask – are all of our learners valued, celebrated, and lifted for being who they are? Is every student regardless of their intersectional identity equally safe in international schools?

We feel that Inclusive schools are ‘safe’ schools and our definition of Total Inclusivity involves:

“recognising, valuing, protecting and nurturing diverse identities, including those of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, religion and language.”

While these aspects of an individual’s identity are listed here, it is important to note that many other components contribute to one’s sense of self and how our identities impact how others see us. It is important to have an intersectional approach. While we have not listed learner variability and learning needs here, it is not to say that this is not a critical aspect of inclusion work. We recognise that, to date, learning diversity and inclusion has been more intentionally addressed in schools and continues to be an ongoing need and area of growth. By listing the identity markers above, we are highlighting that these factors also need to be at the forefront of a school’s intentionality around inclusion.

Becoming an Inclusive school takes time, intention, reflection, and personal work. It is not a destination that we move towards without intention. It is a journey that will involve challenges along the way. Challenges to our way of seeing and unseeing the world, and of learning and unlearning. Ultimately, it is a journey of change and growth.

Through the use of the Total Inclusivity continuum presented in this chapter, along with the incredibly important contributions in this handbook, we hope that this continuum can help act as a guide for you on this journey. Through the work that you undertake as part of this chapter, we hope that you will move on to:

  • Strengthen safeguarding and child protection through policies, reporting and instituting whistleblowing practices.
  • Value diversity by designing equitable systems and structures that are inclusive for all.
  • Challenge schooling models that have caused harm taking responsibility for inequitable systems and cease to uphold them
  • Redesign schooling so that all intersectional identities have equitable access to safe, secure learning environments.

Schools are key places where children learn about and evolve their identities, and school governors and leadership owe it to their students to create a place where they can enter their campuses, and do so as their diverse, authentic selves.

You owe your students and learning communities a school that is truly a safe space.


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