In the past few days, the news of the interdiction of the Aburi Girls’ headmistress, Mrs Alice Prempeh-Fordjour, has led to a sober reflection for leaders.
The case brings to life the dilemma leaders are constantly faced with, to choose what is best for the institution and their customers or to simply ‘follow orders’.
The news detailed the fact that the headmistress had to undergo punitive measures for charging illegal fees and asking parents to pay for items provided for by government for free.
Although it can be argued that the motivation was to better support the students and teachers, this is debatable. As the woman ‘in-charge’, the headmistress has been made to take the fall for corporate agreed decisions.
A critical assessment of the case brings out some key lessons for all leaders, especially educational leaders and indeed implementers of flagship public policies such as the free senior high school policy (FSHS).
A few of these lessons are discussed below, however, it is hoped these lessons and many others to follow will be validated as the story unfolds.
Public policy, interest
The case appears simple on the surface. The PTA agreed to pay extra to motivate teachers and to support other expenditure of the school. It can be argued that the decision was taken with the interest of the students and teachers in mind.
There were parents who thought that they could support government efforts to improve the quality of services their wards received. On the other hand, some parents clearly felt the tenets of the FSHS policy, which promised a three-year free secondary education for their students, were being violated.
The FSHS policy introduced in 2018 is geared towards absorbing cost of secondary school education for qualified students who gain admission to public schools.
The policy prescribes the absorption of costs of examination, entertainment, library, Students Representative Council (SRC) dues, sports, culture, science and mathematics quiz, information communication technology (ICT) and co-curricular fees for day-students in public SHSs. Subsequently, the cost absorption has been extended to boarding house students and covers feeding, accommodation and provision of some basic textbooks recommended for study.
So, you can imagine how some parents will feel, if they are asked to pay extra fees, irrespective of the motivation for such directives. The payment of unauthorised fees led to dissatisfaction among parents. They felt the need to call the school authorities to order, hence the purported reporting of the school to the Ghana Education Service (GES).
The truth of the matter is, in the implementation of any policy, there can be winners, losers or sometimes both. Policies may not always please the people for whom they are made.
The FSHS policy is a good one, however, due to several challenges associated with its implementation, some parents felt the need to provide extra support to government’s effort. The introduction of the extra fees to support students on campus was good news for parents, however, not all of them liked the idea.
It is the task of a leader to ensure that in decision making, the greatest number of people will benefit from decisions. Those who may not be in favour should not be victimised or made to feel that they are ‘enemies of progress’. Their opinions matter, just as much as those who support the decisions.
A proper engagement of stakeholders helps to bring out dissatisfaction or disagreement and highlighted ways that management can help resolve challenges that are likely to affect the sustainability of policies.
Leaders take responsibility
Leadership involves exerting authority and taking control. However, it also involves an invisible sense of responsibility that a leader assumes, if things do not go as planned. It is this role of taking responsibility for all decisions, good or bad that makes leadership daunting. People who run institutions, not just the leaders, however, the responsibility for the decisions lie squarely on the leaders.
In the Aburi Girls case, although the decision to charge extra fees was agreed at the PTA level, the headmistress was made to take responsibility for their actions.
It is unclear whether the headmistress sanctioned such payments, however, in cases where things go wrong, as depicted in this case, it is the leaders who take the fall on behalf of the other decision makers. When it comes to governance, the voice of the people is not necessarily the voice of God
This case vividly typifies intricate governance dynamics. Leaders enjoy the full benefits of their positions; however, a key role is to take responsibility for successes and failures of decisions.
A leader must, therefore, be proactive to sense the mind of the people and ensure that decisions taken are defensible and do not break any regulations or go against the ethics of the profession.
Leaders are advised that when cornered to take a decision on behalf of the institution, they should first ask themselves if they can confidently defend the decision. Such reflection will help them probe further into options and ensure that the best line of action is chosen.
The case also sends a clarion call to all leaders to be weary of the fact that as much as they have the interest of their clients at heart, there are officials with the purse who call the shots and demand compliance to their directives.
The headmistress obviously appears to have the success of students and teachers at heart, however, public institutions, such as Aburi Girls, operate within the confines of the regulatory authority and framework.
The GES has the regulatory mandate to ensure that policies and directives are followed to the latter. Additionally, they are given legal powers to met out sanctions where non-compliance is observed.
Charging of extra fees, although intentions appeared laudable, were in clear contravention to the GES directive and hence attracted sanctions.
As leaders, it is best to seek the interest of the institution, but always bear in mind the wishes of the appointing authority. It is easy to go off on a mission to save a crippled system with innovative and brilliant ideas, however, keep in mind the objectives of the regulatory bodies and what the limitations of your powers are so you do not get on their wrong side.
The author is a Senior Assistant Registrar at Ghana Communication Technology University/Educational Leadership & Governance postgraduate student at University of Ghana, Legon.