Q&As - Part Two

The following are answers to questions the PMSA has been asked following recent issues which have caused concern in the community - on email, social media and through the recent governance forums held at Brisbane Boys' College, Clayfield College and Somerville House. Questions have been grouped by topic. Click on the question and you will be taken to the answer down the page.   

If you have a question you would like answered, please email communications@pmsa-schools.edu.au.

AICD Governance Review

Forums

School Procedures

Support Organisations

Chesterman Process

Communication


AICD Governance Review

What opportunities have past students got to contribute to this process?

All school bodies and individuals have been given an opportunity to be involved in the governance review process by making a submission to the AICD’s Issues Paper. Past students have also been invited to attend the governance forums through Old Collegians / Girls Associations. Representatives from each of the school bodies (Foundations, P&F, Old Collegians / Girls) have also had the opportunity to participate in the AICD's extended consultation process.


Why is AICD not present at the forum?

The governance forums held at the schools were not a part of the AICD process, rather an initiative of the PMSA to address key questions and listen to the community. The learnings that the PMSA Council has gained from the forums have allowed the PMSA to ensure that as we work through the process with the AICD we are conscious and reflective of the community’s needs.


Why is the scope of works of the AICD governance review so limited?

The PMSA does not consider the scope of the AICD’s governance review limited. The AICD’s review covers matters of governance within the existing parameters set by the PMSA’s constitution.  The constitution was left out of the AICD’s scope as the PMSA is unable to change this without agreement of the Presbyterian and Uniting Churches. The PMSA set up a Constitutional Working Group in 2015 to work on constitutional change.


Who set the terms of reference for the AICD?

The terms of reference or ‘Statement of Work’ have been set by the AICD with input from the PMSA. The PMSA’s Constitution has not been included in the AICD’s review as this cannot be changed without the agreement of the churches.  These AICD’s terms of reference are published on the Governance Review page.


Is there going to be any further opportunity for parents and the school community to provide feedback to the PMSA during the governance process?

Representatives from each of the school bodies (Foundations, P&F, Old Collegians / Girls) have had the opportunity to participate in the AICD's extended consultation process. If parents and the school community would like to provide further feedback to the PMSA during the governance process, please email communications@pmsa-schools.edu.au


Why have a select group of parents been invited by the PMSA to have a personal meeting with the PMSA? Have they been asked to join the Working Party?

Some parents have expressed a special interest in matters affecting PMSA operations and have contacted the PMSA to discuss their concerns.  In addition, in an address by Greg Adsett published in all school newsletters in early Term 1 about the governance structure, and through the Principals, the PMSA asked of the school community “if you are interested in being involved in this reform process, you can contact me [the Principal] or contact the PMSA corporate office directly”. Several parents contacted the PMSA following this invitation. Their experience and technical backgrounds together with their first-hand knowledge of the schools has been immensely helpful to the PMSA.  We thank them for their assistance.  If anyone would like to become involved, please contact the PMSA Corporate Office on communications@pmsa-schools.edu.au. There is no “Parent Working Party” as such. The PMSA has an internal Working Group which is made up of PMSA Councillors and PMSA Corporate Office staff. Other members involved in this group at various times have included these parents as well as Principals and Business Managers.


What was the AICD’s involvement with the PMSA in 2014 – particularly in relation to the Strategic Plan 2015 – 2018? Will this impact their current position in conducting the governance review?

In 2014, PMSA Councillors undertook some governance training with the AICD to improve their skills. This was outlined in the PMSA’s 2014 Annual Report. The AICD was not involved in any way in the development of the PMSA’s Strategic Plan 2015 – 2018.


Forums

Why are the forums so limited if you are truly wanting to change and be more transparent?

We actually don’t believe that the governance forums are limited. These forums are a PMSA initiative to complement the AICD’s governance review, address key questions and listen to the community. The learnings that the PMSA Council has gained from the forums have allowed the PMSA to ensure that we are conscious and reflective of the community’s needs as we work through the governance review process.  We consider the governance review encompassing of the many issues that have arisen through the course of events of the last six to nine months. We also believe that the process of conducting these forums provided a suitable opportunity to tackle past and present issues in the context that we shape our governance framework to enable the schools to be better placed to create value now and into the future. The AICD’s Issues Paper was prepared by the AICD with input from the PMSA.


Did the PMSA hold forums in 2017?

The PMSA held a forum at each school and invited the executive of each school’s P&F Association, Old Collegians / Girls as well as school Principals and the Executive team. 


School Procedures

With a history of rash decisions, how do you expect to secure a dependable Principal of such high standards that Somerville House deserves?

To recruit the new Principal for Somerville House, the PMSA has used one of the best educational recruitment consultants – Lyngcoln Consulting. They have advertised and actively searched for a suitable candidate. Candidates were shortlisted by the recruitment consultants and interviewed by a panel consisting of PMSA Councillors and an external panel member Elaine Rae – past head of the Uniting Church Schools and Residential Colleges Commission. The panel chose from a number of outstanding candidates who have the ambition, drive, capability and Christian focus to lead Somerville House as Principal. The newly appointed Principal, Mrs Kim Kiepe, is an example of this high standard and will commence in January 2019. In addition, the PMSA does not believe any decisions we make are ‘rash’. All decisions made by the PMSA are considered and made in the best interests of the students and the schools with the information available at the time.


You mention that mistakes have been made so what are these specifically?

With the benefit of hindsight, the PMSA acknowledges that at various points in 2017, circumstances became difficult and unworkable. At the time, it was difficult to predict the ongoing and accumulating impact this situation would have on the greater school community.  The PMSA would like to reassure the community that after seeking appropriate advice, decisions and actions were taken with due consideration of all information available at the time. While it might be unclear without the benefit of full disclosure, at all stages, the best interest of the school, staff and students was always a priority.  It is important that our communities appreciate that the PMSA must responsibly protect and respect the privacy of all individuals involved in these circumstances.  As such, we will not be publicly disclosing information sensitive to the situation or that which might compromise an individual’s privacy directly.  We do acknowledge that the students, parents and staff were deeply affected by the events of 2017 and the PMSA is very sorry that the community was affected in this way.


Why have the PMSA not told the school community the details of what happened at Somerville House at the end of 2017?

Like many organisations, the PMSA is bound to respect and protect privacy obligations when dealing with sensitive issues within our ambit of operation be it staff, student, or family.  It is important that our communities understand this responsibility and support the PMSA in our determination to honour this privacy, as it remains an uncompromising cornerstone of current and future PMSA governance.  To be clear, the PMSA is not trying to hide things.  The matter is private for the people involved and the PMSA will respect this and not otherwise discuss any details.


What policies are in place to ensure other staff will not be treated in the same way as how staff were treated at the end of 2017?

The way in which the PMSA and the schools are structured is that the Principal is responsible for all staff at that school. The PMSA does not get involved in making school staffing decisions. 


You have said that the PMSA Council does not make decisions below the level of the Principal. Why did you get involved with regard to staff in late 2017?

Yes, in accordance with the current structure, the PMSA does not get involved in making decisions below the Principal level.  In instances where the Principal is unable or unavailable to make certain staffing decisions, and in accordance with policy, the delegated authority is referred and passed upwards to the PMSA.


When can I get an explanation as to process of standing down the previous staff and assurances that the process was properly followed such that I can be assured that there will not be expensive, timely and further reputation damaging litigation arising from these decisions? 

The decisions made regarding the events of 2017 remain confidential human resources issues. This is both the wishes of the individual staff involved and the PMSA. The PMSA will continue to respect this confidentiality as would be required in any organisational context. The PMSA followed their human resources process as guided by legal and human resources advisors in the course of navigating these matters in the best interest of all involved. We accept and acknowledge the pain this has caused for those involved. The PMSA is working hard to ensure that this situation does not occur again.


Was there an independent workplace investigation that supported the process of standing down previous staff as followed by the PMSA?  Which workplace consultants performed that review? 

The PMSA’s human resource process was not the subject of an independent workplace investigation at any stage. 


Support Organisations

Why will the PMSA not permit bodies such as the P&F Association to incorporate as associations, to give the committee members the legal protection which other not for profit organisations enjoy?

The PMSA was only recently made aware of the issues surrounding this and is keen to work through these issues to find a solution that works for all schools. 

Input from the governance review is anticipated to guide the PMSA and help shape an option that best reflects the needs of the schools. This would include engaging each school Principal to ensure the context and requirements are applicable.


Chesterman Process

Was the Chesterman process a review and when will the results be published?

The Hon. Richard Chesterman was engaged by the churches to conduct a facilitation process to aid healing and reconciliation between the PMSA and stakeholders, not a review, report or inquiry. The churches subsequently asked him to deliver his observations in written form. A summary has been released on both the Uniting Church and Presbyterian Church websites. We understand the churches have also sent information to the parties who were involved in the process.


Communication

What are the open channels available to parents to participate in school decisions and governance processes?

We understand from the recent events that there are not clear communication channels for parents to make contact directly with the School Council or the PMSA, and indeed who is best to contact if they want clarity on school decisions or governance processes. Each school has a grievance / complaints policy. Examples of how they can get involved include approaching the Principal or School Executive, getting involved in the P&F, School Foundation, Old Collegians / Girls, or have a say in consultation processes like this governance review.

The current governance review process highlights a need to better define delegations, procedures and process so as to support the policy framework. We are actively working with the schools to achieve this. We anticipate and believe in open School Council bodies, a group of people who are actively able to engage and listen to school matters with an intent to provide solutions. A School Council should be accessible to share issues and ideas with, and seek clarity, guidance and understanding about decisions if required. Going forward, we hope to resource the School Councils appropriately to support a higher level of communication. We would do this without taking away from the important role of the school Principal, P&F, Foundations and Old Collegians / Girls Associations.

Although the governance review may make recommendations in this regard, we are also internally looking at developing an ongoing PMSA Community Stakeholder Panel or a School Reference Group.


There’s confusion with the different terminology used – stakeholders, school community, parents, etc. Can you clarify the PMSA’s use of these words?

We understand the complexity with the language used. Below is how the PMSA defines the use of these words. Some of these definitions were also included in the Glossary of the AICD’s Issues Paper.

Stakeholders – generally these include anyone with any interest in the PMSA and our schools who are affected by the PMSA’s actions – current and past students, parents of current, past or prospective students, donors, staff and the appointing churches.

School Community – this is interchangeable with stakeholders and includes anyone with a vested interest in the PMSA and PMSA schools – current and past students, parents of current, past or prospective students, donors, staff, the appointing churches and the broader community.

Parents – these are parents of current students at PMSA schools.


As a current parent and a past student, what information I am entitled to?  Am I a customer, shareholder or stakeholder?

As pointed out in the AICD’s Issues Paper, this issue is not as straightforward as it is for other organisations. As parents of enrolled students, the PMSA understands that you place a high degree of trust that your children are in a safe environment. We understand tuition fees are a considerable investment and time dedicated to the school gives parents a sense of ownership over a school. As a past student, you may also have a deep sense of connection, loyalty and ownership to your school. But as parents or past students, you are still not a legal owner and do not have a residual claim on the assets of the PMSA or have voting rights like a shareholder in another organisation. 

We do believe, however, that going forward, the PMSA Council and the School Councils can increase transparency by improving communication with the school community. We are continually working on this.

We also believe that you a stakeholder with great interest and sense of connection with the school, and also a customer whom we want to keep. We do understand and respect that you have chosen a PMSA school over other schools.


How is the PMSA going to communicate the different character and value propositions of each of the schools?

The PMSA is working at communicating better with the school community and particularly focussing on the common values that all the PMSA schools share. Each school will continue to communicate their different character and value propositions they offer.


Why has the PMSA not responded to all questions posed to it?

The PMSA has endeavoured where possible to answer all questions posed.  We have done so in the spirit of good faith and transparency so that all our stakeholders can confidently know that the PMSA is working hard to ensure our schools operate under the best direction and governance system possible.  Questions in this Q&As have been grouped by topic, in order to provide the greatest clarity possible.  In some cases, questions asked effectively repeat the sentiments of other questions submitted.  In these cases, we have not repeated the questions and answers multiple times; rather, we have attempted to satisfy the spirit of the question once, and as closely as possible to ensure all elements of the questions have been answered.

In some cases, including past questions posted on Facebook, the PMSA cannot provide the information requested cannot as it is deemed commercial in confidence or outside what the PMSA and other like organisations would expect to be reasonable.  Stakeholders must understand that providing this information may potentially compromise the PMSA in terms of legislative or contractual breaches. As such, the PMSA has elected responsibly to not provide this information.   We appreciate that this may appear frustrating to some; however, the PMSA’s obligations to the school and church communities must be respected and acknowledged.


The PMSA promised to issue a factbook at the end of 2017. Why has this not been forthcoming?

The PMSA prepared a factbook for publication at the end of 2017 that addressed the sequence of events that occurred at Somerville House. Because information was changing rapidly, the PMSA decided to withhold publication. Since then, the factbook has metamorphosed into the Q&As on the PMSA website. The Q&As page contains both governance and non-governance related questions that were in the factbook and now contains further questions and answers from the governance forums.


Why don’t all comments appear on the PMSA’s Facebook page?

It is the PMSA’s preference to keep comments open on Facebook. However, because of regular unproductive comments and in some cases personal attacks on PMSA Councillors and Corporate Office staff by a few contributors, the PMSA continues to not publish comments on this page. Where appropriate, the PMSA shows comments and allows them to be a part of the dialogue. The PMSA will continue to do this as it is in the best interests of the schools. If you have a question you would like answered, please email communications@pmsa-schools.edu.au


In order to increase transparency, why not publish the School Charters?

In principle, the PMSA can’t see any problem with publishing the School Charters. However, as the PMSA’s governance is under review including the School Charters, we will not be publishing these documents until after the review is complete. All the relevant information drawn from the School Charters relating to the governance review has been and placed in the AICD’s Issues Paper.


How will the PMSA Council ensure the entire school community that the right governance decisions will be made going forward?

The PMSA and the school community generally want the same thing - a strong, agile and modern corporate governance framework that can facilitate excellence within our schools.  To achieve this, the PMSA has embarked on a program of works with the AICD to review and make recommendations to improve the current framework. With this assistance and expert guidance, and through positive collaboration between our Councillors, church representatives, Principals, parents and other stakeholder committees and communities, we believe the PMSA will have what's required to determine a governance framework that is fit for purpose. It will also remain under constant review to ensure it continues to meets the PMSA's needs and future governance obligations.  


What steps will the PMSA be taking to build trust which can be defined as transparency and accountability?

The PMSA is undertaking a governance review which is a fundamental step in demonstrating actions to change going forward. We believe the governance forums demonstrated the PMSA’s willingness to engage directly with and listen to the school community. There are a number of other activities that are also occurring around this review process. These include an IT and data policy review as well as a holistic review of all PMSA policies. This is significant and will take time.

The PMSA is actively involved in investing in the future of our schools including being in innovative education environments and are prioritising and focussing on items and resourcing projects that will move our schools forward. The PMSA is trying to turn quality work around faster and we need to give further consideration to the resourcing of the Corporate Office. As the PMSA is able to be more agile, we hope that we will, as a result, become more transparent.