Monday, 12 November 2012

The Uniting Church and schools

Understandably the most recent issue of Crosslight (the monthly publication of the Uniting Church's Synod of Victoria) has something to say about the issues affecting MLC and Acacia College.
Obviously the substantive issues relating to each school are quite different, but I couldn't help thinking that it seems hard for the Church to get it right.  Of course, when things go wrong, it's easy to be critical, especially with the benefit of hindsight. 

There seems to be an issue of "what is a Uniting Church school?"   Both of the schools in question are described as such, but it seems that the extent of the Church's involvement with them differs greatly.

In the case of MLC, because the school is - it seems - almost completely autonomous, the Church had vitually no influence in respect of the recent events surrounding the termination of the headmistress.  Whatever the merits, or otherwise, of the decision, from the Church's perspective, it wasn't in a position to be "responsible".   Nevertheless, there were some comments that the Church "should have" been involved (admittedly, fairly muted, I think).   Of course, there were letter-writers to Crosslight asking "why is the Church 'involved' in 'elite' schools?"

On the other hand, it seems that Acacia College was in effect a part of the Church.  Thus, when the financial burden became too great, it was left to the Moderator to make the announcement that it had to close.    It seems to me that there is a lesson in corporate governance here, in that it baffles me why there wasn't (at least) a school council with responsibility for oversight of the school, particularly in financial terms.  Surely Standing Committee of Synod - the body with responsibility for oversight of the entire Church in the whole of Victoria and Tasmania - wasn't making decisions about the operations of this school? 

Yes, it was for Standing Committee to decide to turn off the money tap (presumably aware of the consequences that would follow), but surely the final decision about closing the school ought to have been at a school council level?  Yet the Moderator's letter said Standing Committee "resolved to close Acacia College".  I can't help wondering whether,  had the corporate governance issue been better handled from the outset, the problems might not have arisen in the way that they apparently did.

1 comment:

  1. I had a lot of experience with the new Anglican model as a founding director and company secretary of its Melbourne Schools Commission. Hume Anglican Grammar was the first and still the only school set up by the Commission. With a constitution I drafted it had a semi-autonomous Council responsible for everything but bound to follow Commission policy and Anglican precepts. Members of the school company were the members of the Council. The Commission approved appointments to the Council (nominated by specified stakeholders). The Council appoints the Head (who must however be approved by the Archbishop, who is the school Visitor with specific and limited powers). One aim was to limit church liability for financial failure while taking responsibility for conformity to church precepts. More recently the Commission has become the sole member of the school and the school is thus a wholly owned subsidiary of the Commission responsible in accordance with company law for liabilities of the school(and the Commission is a creature of the church and clearly responsible to the Archbishop and his Diocesan Council, who in turn are responsible to the church Synod). The current school Chair is Richard St John, a distinguished lawyer and former senior Commonwealth public servant at the centre of company law policy.