The Russian School Governance study as a base for other post-socialist countries analyses

An exploration of the Russian school governance system with its challenges and possible solutions was the aim of a three day study visits conducted by a group of NEPC members held in Moscow, from October 17th  to October 19th  2017.

The participants, representative of the Centre for Education Policy (CEP), Belgrade, Serbia, of Children Are the Future (CAF), Tirana, Albania and of Centre for Education Policy, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania   visited the Moscow gymnasium #1540 where they met school principal and School Governance members as well as the school staff and pupils that are in school governance board and the “delegate” from the educational department of the city.

They discovered that the official rules on composition and role of school board members are not very strict, therefore they differ from school to school. Usually a school board consists of the school principal, one representative delegated by the educational department of the city (whose involvement is mandatory, but does not have decision-making power), and also representatives from teachers, parents, pupils and social partners.

Seeing how the pupils’ involvement works was interesting, they said: “The role of pupils in school governance is somehow questionable, as their participation is on voluntary basis and they do not have decision-making power, while there are more influential stakeholders in the school board. It should however be emphasized that pupils do not feel supressed by the presence of their adult partners to express their opinion and are encouraged to talk openly about school matters and their experiences.”

According to the attendees, the most important insight in the system of Russian school governance was the analyses of the role of the mentioned city delegate, who does not have right to vote or decide but has rather supervisory role, that involve the preparation of reports for the city educational department on the school functioning and progress.

In the frame of the round table “School Governance: challenges and solutions”, they participated in the discussion inspired by the presentation held by Elena Lenskaya, Dean of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences  (on “School Governance: Challenges and Solutions”), by Sergey Kosaretsky from the Institute of Education / Center of Social and Economic School Development (“Parental Involvement in School Governance”) and by Julia Galyamina, philology professor, and Tadey Stanislav (“Political View on SG”). These lectures were followed by the presentations of representatives of several regions from Russia (students of Master Program, MSSES) and the contributions from Albania, Lithuania and Serbia.

It’s necessary to note – they reported – that the actual powers of federal and regional authorities are vast as they determine educational policies, which schools have to follow. It clearly represents “the vertical of power” which dominates in all spheres of social life. On the other hand, the situation of school principals is very unstable, as s/he has no guarantees of permanent employment and can be dismissed anytime on the grounds of “losing the confidence of the founders”.

The third day was dedicated to the visit of the “School of Future”, a school founded by the commercial organization – joint stock company “Collective farm of V. Lenin“. The visitors reported that it is one of the best equipped and most modern schools, where pupils get to learn in a unique environment.

The parents of school pupils come mainly from the surrounding newly built district and represent the Moscovite upper middle class. The declared school policy is to accept all children without considering their socioeconomic status, and the observed practices convinced the visitors that relations between teachers and pupils are really informal and built on a democratic basis.

The great impressions of a gorgeous, newly built school furnished with high tech equipment and enriched with policies and practices of an inclusive school were accompanied by the warm climate created through a high commitment and cooperation of school administrators, teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders.

One of the policies and therefore practices in the school is the nurturing of the transparency and the quality assurance. The school has glass walls instead of brick walls, which, besides the esthetic aspect, has the function of monitoring the classes without interruption, which increases the quality assurance and positively affects  the quality of teaching.

Taking into consideration the high standards of the school, the main challenges faced are the maintenance of the huge infrastructure with sophisticated and expensive facilities and the fulfillment of very high expectations of their clients and founders.

The attendees observed that in such a school the parents’ involvement is more intense than in ordinary schools: “parents are highly motivated, and, according to the school staff, the presence of a such modern school even can determine their choice of this particular city district. By actively participating in school events, parents show that they are really an important part of a school community”.

The whole study visit – said the delegation – served as a very good exchange and learning experience for all parties involved and that they would be interested in carrying out some  follow-up analyses inspired by this experience.

Some of the follow-up activities – they explained – could be related to teaching practices explored at the “School of Future“ and their methods for getting closer to children: the teachers put in the school hall pictures of them when they were children, showing to pupils that once they were just like them. Also, the visited schools enhance activities that develop pupils’ motoric skills, using Lego bricks during the classes and within extra-curricular activities. The school uses recycling materials for different activities, linking the environment protection competences with everyday teaching.

Another possible follow-up activity – they added – could be the continuation of research initiated by Elena Lenskaya. The study of school governance in Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan could be expanded to other post-socialist countries represented at NEPC. Taking into account the number of the countries which will express their wish to participate and their specificity, certain aspects of school governance, indicated in Lenskay’s survey, could be explored in a more thorough way. A significant part of the research could be dedicated to the comparative analysis of school councils in different countries. Such analysis could lead to the exchange of positive experiences or initiating a training session for the members of school councils.

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