1.2 What school councils do

Why is this topic important?

Under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006, a school council has particular functions in setting and monitoring the school's direction. Councillors need to understand what their role is, the powers and functions of the school council and how they are required to work with the principal and the school community.

On completing this unit, councillors should understand:

  • how the designated functions of school councils translate into governance roles and responsibilities including those that require decisions of council
  • the distinctions in roles and responsibilities of school council and those of the school principal
  • how partnerships can assist the school council in undertaking its functions, powers and roles.

Functions of a school council

The functions of a school council are outlined in the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 and include:

  • establishing the broad direction and vision of the school within the school's community
  • participating in the development and monitoring of the school strategic plan
  • approving the annual budget and monitoring expenditure
  • developing, reviewing and updating school policies
  • raising funds for school-related purposes
  • maintaining the school’s grounds and facilities
  • entering into contracts (such as for cleaning or construction work)
  • reporting annually to the school community and to the Department
  • creating interest in the school in the wider community
  • informing itself of and taking into account the views of the community
  • regulating and facilitating the after hours use of school premises and grounds
  • operating a children’s service at the school or other premises controlled by the Minister.

School council may also be involved in the principal selection process. When this occurs, a panel of councillors and Departmental staff is formed to review applications, interview shortlisted applicants and recommend one or more applicants to the Secretary of the Department. The Department's regional office staff would also be involved. With principal selection, panel members would be provided with training.

The school council president, upon request from the Regional Director, provides input in principal contract renewal discussions. The president advises the school council of that input at the next school council meeting.

What school council is not authorised to do

A school council is not authorised to:

  • purchase or acquire for consideration any land or building
  • employ teachers with no fixed date for the termination of that employment.

Unless authorised by the Minister, a school council is not able to:

  • license or grant any interest in land
  • purchase a motor vehicle, boat or plane
  • enter into hire purchase agreements or obtain credit or loans
  • form or become a member of a corporation; or provide for any matter or thing outside of Victoria unless it is related to an excursion by school students or the professional development of school staff.

Distinctions in roles and responsibilities

Understanding the functional split between school council and principal is critical for the effective functioning of the school council. The school council has a governance role and the principal manages the school and is responsible for ensuring the delivery of a comprehensive education program to all students.

The following table shows, for each area of school activity, the roles and responsibilities of the council and the principal.

Area of activity

The principal …

The school council …


  • leads development of teaching and learning programs
  • determines teacher, subject and time allocations; timetable; class sizes; and structures
  • develops the broad direction and vision for the school using guidelines provided by the Department

Student management

  • implements these policies
  • considers and, where appropriate, grants exemptions to dress code
  • manages all matters of student wellbeing, discipline and academic progress
  • develops student engagement policy and student dress code
  • consults with the school community before adopting changes to these policies

Staff employment and management

  • is responsible (as delegate of the Secretary of the Department) for the employment and management of persons in the Teaching Service (including non-teaching staff)
  • approves employment of some staff e.g. casual replacement teachers, canteen staff
  • recommends to the Secretary of the Department the appointment of a principal

Buildings and grounds

  • oversees maintenance of all facilities
  • monitors implementation of contracts
  • allocates contract for school cleaning
  • enters contracts for building and grounds improvements

Strategic planning

One of the key functions of councils is to contribute to the establishment of the broad vision and direction for the school. Strategic planning is the process of reflecting on past performance, establishing future directions and deciding what will constitute success. In other words, it involves the school community considering the following questions:

  • where have we been?
  • where do we want to go?
  • how will we get there?
  • how will we know if we have been successful?

The Framework for Improving Student Outcomes outlines a clear cycle for developing the school strategic plan and planning for improving student outcomes. The cycle includes:

  • Evaluate and diagnose - monitoring and reviewing the school’s performance against its current school strategic plan through:
    • annual self-evaluation
    • conducting a school review to diagnose areas requiring attention, including undertaking a process by which schools’ compliance with registration requirements is checked
    • publishing an annual report for the school community (including parents/guardians, students and other interested people) about the school’s successes and challenges in implementing the strategic plan and improving student outcomes.
  • Prioritise and set goals - developing a four year school strategic plan that outlines goals, key improvement strategies and expected outcomes in a school-based plan that is sensitive to local needs, based on data and aligned to the four state-wide priorities and six evidence-based initiatives.
  • Develop and plan - developing annual implementation plans that describe how the key improvement strategies and other specific projects in the school strategic plan will be implemented, monitored and evaluated and developing performance and development plans for the principal and teachers.
  • Implement and monitor - collaboratively monitoring and reviewing the impact the school’s improvement strategies and initiatives are having on student learning.

The following table provides an overview of how the principal and staff, school council, and the school community would typically be involved in the strategic planning process. Senior Education Improvement Leaders, who work within each of the regions, also play an important role in the strategic planning process. These roles and responsibilities are examined in detail in the strategic planning module.



The principal …

The school council …

The Senior Education Improvement Leader …

Evaluate and diagnose

  • plans and manages the self-evaluation
  • reviews the plan the and timeline for the self-evaluation
  • supports all schools in undertaking a self-evaluation
  • organises consultations, gathers and analyses data
  • participates in working groups and involves the community in consultations
  • works with the principal to access and interpret data
  • drafts the self-evaluation report
  • endorses the final self-evaluation report
  • provides feedback on and validates the self-evaluation report prior to the school review
  • plans for the school review, briefs the reviewer and provides performance data for the review
  • participates in setting the terms of reference and review panel meetings as required
  • plays a role in reviewer selection, development of terms of reference and review activities as required

Prioritise and set goals

  • plans and manages the strategic planning process
  • supports the development of a long term view of the school’s directions
  • supports the school and school council to prepare the draft strategic plan
  • organises consultations
  • involves the community in consultations


  • prepares a draft strategic plan


  • reviews the draft strategic plan and provides advice


  • endorses the draft strategic plan
  • obtains endorsement for the plan by the Regional Director
  • communicates and implements the strategic plan
  • communicates and monitors the strategic plan


Develop and plan

  • develops the annual implementation plan
  • contributes to developing the annual implementation plan
  • supports the school and school council to prepare the draft annual implementation plan



  • reviews the draft annual implementation plan and provides advice


  • endorses the annual implementation plan
  • obtains endorsement for the plan by the Regional Director

Implement and monitor

  • keeps the school community informed about progress in implementing the plan
  • monitors progress in implementing the plan


  • drafts and signs the annual report
  • endorses and signs the annual report
  • provides quality assurance of the annual report
  • organises a public meeting to present the annual report to the school community
  • reports to the school community on the school’s performance



The school council is responsible for overseeing the school’s financial performance. It is a legal and Departmental requirement that council makes sure that monies coming into the school are being properly expended and authorised.

To ensure this happens, councils are responsible for ensuring that the school has a functioning, effective system of internal controls. Internal controls are the procedures that make sure that:

  • all financial activity within the school is sound, accurate and legal
  • the school’s assets are safe
  • council can rely on the accuracy of the financial information it receives.

Council also helps develop the school's program (non-staff) budget that shows how the school will allocate its resources to implement the key improvement strategies in the school strategic plan and annual implementation plan. Council then monitors the school’s financial performance against the budget in conjunction with the principal.

Finally, council is responsible for how the school raises income (over and above the funding provided by the government). It must manage any financial and reputational risks that could arise, and ensure that all legal and policy requirements are met.

Most school councils have a finance sub-committee which handles many of council’s routine financial responsibilities. The convener of the finance committee, as elected from council members, is preferably a non-Department parent member or a community member. The business manager/bursar should not hold this position. The convenor may be appointed by council as its treasurer.

The following table provides an overview of how the principal and staff, school council and the school community would typically be involved in school financial management. These roles and responsibilities are examined in detail in the finance module.

The principal …

The school council …

Internal controls

  • puts in place a system of internal controls
  • ensures the school has and uses a system of internal controls
  • conducts school financial business in line with the system of internal controls
  • adheres to internal controls such as:
    • appointing a councillor (normally the president or a delegated councillor) to approve payments and sign cheques, that councillor cannot be the business manager
    • approving an investment policy if appropriate
    • approving trading operations
    • ensuring issues raised by the auditor are addressed
  • provides financial reports to council
  • considers financial reports


  • develops the budget timeline
  • approves the budget timeline
  • develops program budgets with staff, and salary and revenue budgets
  • reviews budget submissions and program priority list (done by the finance sub-committee if council has one)
  • evaluates program outcomes, prepares and prioritises budget submissions
  • reviews and approves the budget
  • communicates the budget to staff

Financial reports

  • prepares financial reports
  • monitors revenue and expenditure against the budget
  • explains financial reports to the finance sub-committee and council, and recommends action as appropriate
  • implements council’s decisions
  • takes action to address issues arising from the financial reports

Investing and fundraising

  • assists with the review of fundraising proposals
  • approves fundraising activity on the school's behalf
  • advises council about available cash and recommends investments
  • develops an investment policy
  • approves amounts to be invested
  • develops a parent payments policy
  • implements policies
  • contributes to and approves the parent payments policy

Policy development and review

A school council is responsible for developing particular policies to reflect the school’s values and support the school’s broad direction, as outlined in its strategic plan. Legislation and Department imperatives require councils to develop some policies, and they may develop other policies to address local needs.

Council needs to know that policy is required when it relates to the governance of the school. This includes the implementation of government policy and guidelines.

The day-to-day operational policies and procedures in schools are managed by the principal and staff.

School council policies are documents that are made available to the school community as a means to clarify functions and responsibilities, manage change, promote consistency, meet standards and make decision-making transparent. Policy development offers council the opportunity to engage with the school community on matters of importance to that community.

Councils should review their policies regularly to ensure that they remain relevant and valid. They may decide to update a policy, bring a number of policies into a single policy or decide that a particular policy is no longer required.

The following table shows what the principal and leadership team, the school council and the school community are responsible for in terms of policy development.

The principal …

The school council …

  • advises council about the need for school policy to meet government policy and guidelines
  • determines the need for policy on local issues within its powers and functions
  • contributes to policy development as a member of council
  • develops policy, including consulting with the school community if required
  • implements policy
  • regularly reviews existing policies

Partnerships with others in the school community

In an effective school council, processes are characterised by a mutual sharing of information, knowledge and ideas. There is a focus on dialogue in which all school council members are able to exchange information, share experiences, honestly express perspectives, pose questions, clarify viewpoints, explore relevant research and develop a shared vision and way forward.

Effective school councils are also conscious of the need for positive working relationships and partnerships within the school community.

The main partnerships that school council will have are described below and will also potentially include businesses, industry, community organisations, universities, TAFEs and other schools.

The principal

The principal is the council’s executive officer and is responsible for the organisation, management and administration of the school and implementing Department and school council policies. The principal is the leader of the school and is the Department representative in the school. The principal and council must have a close working relationship to bring together the school’s strategic and operational activities.


Staff are represented on council. Staff are directly affected by council’s strategic planning work (setting the school's long-term direction), policy development and budgeting (allocating resources for their programs).


Councillors are required by legislation to keep students’ best interests in mind at all times. At times a school council will consult with students, particularly in relation to policy development on topics of interest to students. Council might also have links with the student representative body. Some school councils co-opt students into the community member category.

The school community

The school community includes staff, students and parents. The broader community may comprise of businesses, industry, services clubs, sports clubs, early childhood services and other interested individuals and organisations. Parent and community representatives on council contribute community perspectives to all deliberations. They also build links with and explain the school’s values and directions to the community.

The Department

All Victorian government school councils must comply with relevant legislation, Ministerial orders and directions, as well as guidelines and Departmental policies. 

Learning Activity