As we have seen in Unit 1, the governance of schools does not
take place in a vacuum or in a random way but rather occurs
within the context of laws, regulations, administrative instructions
and directives which issue from government. The constitutional
responsibility for educational provision rests with the state,
and the government as an agency of the state has the authority
to formulate policies and enact laws concerning education, raise
revenues and operate government schools or devolve powers to
other agencies or individuals to open and operate aided or private
schools. It is these laws enacted by government, expressed in
acts, decrees or ordinances, and reflected in various educational
by-laws, legislative and executive instruments and other regulations,
which constitute the legal basis for school governance.
The various laws and regulations on education, which themselves
derive from educational policies formulated by government,
are translated into administrative instructions, directives
and guidelines which determine how schools are governed.
The main purpose of this unit is to assist the school head
to understand the sources of authority which determine how
the school is to be governed, and through this, to be guided
as an educational manager.
Individual study time: 3 hours
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
explain what an education policy is
explain what education laws are, and identify such
acts, decrees, ordinances and by-laws as affect the governance
of your school
describe what executive and legislative instruments
on education are and how they affect the governance of your
describe what administrative instructions are and how
they affect the operations of your school
explain why your school requires its own policies and
regulations, what these are, and what procedures you have
for their further development.
Considering the way in which your school is structured and
the nature of its programmes, identify and describe how these
have been directly determined by government policy.
Some of the ways in which school structures and programmes
have been determined through government policies include the
the length of each cycle in the education system: for
example, in some countries the primary school cycle spans
six years, and therefore, consists of Grades One to Six, while
the secondary cycle spans five years and therefore consist
of Grades Seven to Eleven
the selection and content of subjects taught at each
the minimum qualifications of teachers at each level
of the education system
the age at which pupils start formal schooling
the ownership of schools
the nature and levels of school funding
the size of classes.
Education policy is the overall plan laid down by a government
embracing general goals and procedures in the provision of
education. It is intended to guide and determine present and
future decisions connected with schools and pupils, and the
roles to be played by parents and other interested bodies.
Education policies only become compulsory when included in
legislation and enforced through the courts of law.
In Unit 1 you should have listed the education acts, decrees
or ordinances which determine the way your school is operated.
(1) In what ways have these acts or laws affected the operation
of your school?
(2) To what extent have these acts or laws been successful
in achieving their objectives in the operation of your school?
For major government educational policies to be implemented,
laws in the form of acts or decrees are promulgated to back
them. These laws are the rules by which each country is governed
and which every citizen should respect. It is important to
note that such laws, including those on education, do not
become static, but are amended or changed to suit new circumstances
as a country develops.
In some situations it is possible to find schools which are
not operating within the law. For example, some schools have
class sizes which are larger than those prescribed by law.
It is often quite difficult to provide the national curriculum,
particularly in practical subjects and in languages. Another
problem is school finance, where the government sets limits
on how schools may obtain funding, but where funds have to
be raised due to a severe lack of resources.
School heads must know what the law is and they must strive
by every means to operate within it. On the other hand law
makers must understand the realities of educational provision
and must pass laws which make sense.
The first legal instruments on education were education ordinances
passed by the colonial administrations. An education ordinance
was an order, rule or regulation established by an authority
as a permanent mode of action in the field of education. Since
Independence the equivalent legal instruments are education
acts passed by National Assemblies, or education decrees when
issued by military regimes.
It is also important to note that besides major laws in the
form of acts or decrees on education which are national in
character, there may be other subordinate laws, made by local
authorities or local government bodies, which affect education
in a specific area. These are known as by-laws. In most countries
local authorities have wide powers to make by-laws on such
matters as primary education, health care and sanitation.
It is, therefore, important for you as a school head to know
what by-laws on education are in force in the area in which
your school is located.
Executive and legislative instruments on education
An executive instrument is a certificate issued by the
executive branch of government for a certain order to be carried
out in connection with a specific issue. In the field of education,
executive instruments are sometimes issued to acquire land
for the construction of schools. The land earmarked for the
construction of a new school to serve the population of an
area might belong to an individual or a family who may not
wish to release their land. If government feels that the establishment
of a school on that piece of land is for the public good,
then it will acquire the land through an executive instrument
and due compensation will be paid to the owner.
A legislative instrument is an order issued by the legislature
on an aspect of national importance which has general application.
This order which has the force of law
regulates activities within a specific domain of national
life. A legislative instrument may be issued to establish
decentralised political administration in a country in which
local authorities are given certain functions and powers with
respect to the provision of education.
In Unit 1 you should have listed the executive and legislative
instruments which affect schools in your country.
To what extent have these executive and legislative instruments
influenced the operations of schools in your country?
Perhaps the area in which changes in legisation are having
the greatest influence on schools is in the level of authority
being delegated to local or district governments with regard
to the operation of education. Decisions about the opening,
location, size and closure of schools are increasingly being
made locally. Similarly more and more matters to do with the
employment of teachers are being handled locally. Of course,
current practices vary a lot between countries, but the general
trend is for more delegated authority to local authorities
and to schools. We return to this point in Unit 4 (see Activity
One major function of government ministries or departments
involves the application of general policy to particular areas
Many administrative functions permit the exercise of discretion
by those in positions of authority, hence powers of policy
execution are exercised by a large number of officials, from
the top hierarchy of the Ministry of Education down to heads
and classroom teachers, each of whom is given some powers
of discretion. Thus senior officials usually issue administrative
instructions to schools in the form of directives. These instructions
are issued through circular letters, or at staff meetings
or even by phone.
Considering the administrative instructions which have been
recently received in your school, list them out:
- according to types;
- according to source.
One of the problems with administrative instructions is keeping
an up-to-date file of them and in ensuring that the staff
are informed of them. You should check how well these are
being kept in your school and how well your procedures for
keeping your staff informed are working.
School policies and regulations
The extent to which officials at different levels within the
education hierarchy have the power to form policies and issue
directives diminishes from top to bottom. But the distribution
of discretionary powers is not fixed and at present in the
1990s, there is a trend in most countries to devolve more
powers and responsibilities to heads of schools. Thus heads
have traditionally been expected just to do as they were told;
to react to the directives given by the central authority.
Now, more often, heads are expected to be pro-active in developing,
in consultation with others, policies and regulations for
their own school and to implement these through school-based
(1) List three areas in which you, as head of your school, have
developed policies and regulations to promote the development
of your school.
(2) Identify three more areas where you think school policies
are needed, and explain what you intend to do to develop them.
Every school needs to have its own set of policies and regulations.
You will already have regulations, or rules, governing the
behaviour of pupils and procedures for setting standards of
discipline, but do you explain the rationale or purpose of
these in a school policy statement? Schools require policies
in many areas for example, with regard to:
pupils with learning difficulties
assessment and promotion between classes
reporting pupils' progress to parents
language in and across the curriculum.
If you feel you need to know more about how to manage change
in your school, have a look at Unit
8 in Module 2, Principles of Educational Management.
In this unit, we have looked at the issue of laws and regulations
which underpin school governance. We have examined different
kinds of laws which form the basis of school governance such
as education acts, decrees and by-laws, and executive and
legislative instruments. We have considered the nature of
educational policies and how administrative instructions apply
these to particular issues. Lastly, we have noted the importance
of heads of school developing their own policies and regulations,
as part of the process of school-based planning.