IMPROVING SCHOOL
GOVERNANCE

1.3 Council operations

Why is this topic important?

Clarity in two areas assists school councils to operate effectively and efficiently:

  • the roles and responsibilities of key members
  • the way in which the council establishes a set of rules, or Standing Orders, to ensure that its meetings run smoothly and enable it to fulfil its governance functions to an optimum level.

On completing this unit, school councillors should understand:

  • the roles and responsibilities of the school principal and school council president
  • the roles and responsibilities of school council sub-committees
  • the need for Standing Orders.

Roles and responsibilities of the principal and school council president

To avoid confusion over the role of the school principal and that of the council president, the table below provides a brief outline of the differences between their respective roles and responsibilities.

The principal

School council president

As executive officer of the school council, the principal is responsible for:

  • providing council with timely advice about educational and other matters
  • preparing the council’s agenda in consultation with the president
  • reporting regularly to council about the school’s performance against its strategic plan
  • making sure that council decisions are acted on
  • providing adequate support and resources for the conduct of council meetings
  • communicating with the school council president about council business
  • attesting annually in the Annual Report to the school community that the school has met VRQA registration requirements
  • ensuring that new council members are inducted.

The principal is an ex-officio member of all council sub-committees.

The role of the school council president is to:

  • effectively chair school council meetings (ensure that everyone has a say in meetings and that decisions are properly understood and well-recorded)
  • be a signatory to contracts, the school strategic plan and financial accounts
  • together with the school council, endorse the school self-evaluation, terms of reference for school review, the school annual implementation plan and school annual report to the school community
  • ensure council stays focused on improving student outcomes
  • with the principal, be council’s spokesperson and official representative on public occasions
  • with the principal attest annually in the Annual Report to the school community that the school has met VRQA registration requirements
  • when votes are tied, have a second or casting vote.

The school council president is an ex-officio member of all council sub-committees.

Roles and responsibilities of school council sub-committees

Sub-committees assist council in the work that needs to be done and report regularly at school council meetings. They provide advice and make recommendations to school council, which has the final responsibility for making decisions.

The decision-making responsibilities of the council should not be compromised by the work of any sub-committee.

The membership, purpose and terms of reference of sub-committees are determined by the council. Members of a sub-committee may be school council and non-school council members. Sub-committees must have at least three members including at least one school council member. Sub-committees should have procedures for agendas, minutes and reporting to the council.

All school councils are encouraged to have a finance sub-committee. Some examples of other sub-committees are buildings and grounds (facilities), education policy, student leadership, information technology, community building or community relations, outside-school-hours care and canteen if the school provides such services.

Standing Orders

A school council may determine to make Standing Orders designed to assist it to operate effectively and efficiently. It is good practice to establish Standing Orders and review them each year following completion of the election process.

Standing Orders typically comprise:

  • an introduction – that outlines the purpose of the Standing Orders, their influence in promoting teamwork, avoiding conflict, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the council, the school councillors code of conduct and the importance of following the Standing Orders
  • reference to the constituting Order – which lists the membership structure (by membership category and numbers)
  • an outline of office bearer positions and sub-committees
  • a description of meeting procedures - how the school council will operate including length of meetings, agendas, minutes, quorum requirements, meeting arrangements, open and closed meetings, effective decision making, member absence from meetings, arrangements for extensions of meetings and meeting etiquette.

Legal requirements

The Education and Training Reform Regulations 2007 set out certain legal requirements in relation to the operation of school council meetings. These requirements cannot be overridden by the Standing Orders determined by a school council. Set out below are legal requirements and Department guidelines for the operation of school council meetings. School councils are also encouraged to provide additional guidelines to assist council to effectively and efficiently conduct its meetings. These guidelines might cover agendas, meeting etiquette, length of meetings and making informed decisions.

Number of school council meetings each year

A school council must meet at least eight times per year and at least once per school term.

Who presides at a meeting

The president must preside at meetings of the school council. If the president is unable to preside at a council meeting, a member of the council (other than an employee of the Department) elected by the school council must preside. A Department employee is ineligible to be school council president.

Quorum at a school council meeting

A school council meeting must operate with a quorum. A quorum requires not less than one half of school council members currently holding office to be present at the meeting and the majority of members present must not be Department employees. Any parent members on school council who also work for the Department are counted as Department employees for the purpose of a quorum.

A member of the school council may be present in person or by videoconferencing or teleconferencing.

If at the end of 30 minutes after the appointed time for a school council meeting there is not a quorum, the meeting must stand adjourned to a time and place determined by the school council members present.

Decisions and voting

Decisions of the majority of the members of the school council who are eligible to vote and are present at the school council meeting, are decisions of the whole school council. Decisions are made by voting. School councillors need to ensure their vote is based solely on the best interests of the students. All decisions of council, the motions as well as the name of the person that moved the motion and the seconder, should be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

Tied votes

When a vote is tied, the school council president has a second or casting vote.

Conflict of interest

Conflicts of interest are an inevitable part of organisational life and many arise without any wrongdoing.

The public trust us to behave in an ethical and impartial manner. Conflicts of interest that are not effectively identified or managed put our reputation at risk and jeopardise the public’s confidence in our department.

A conflict of interest occurs when an employee’s personal interests may influence, or may be seen to influence, their public duty. A personal interest may be a preference, relationship, connection, bias, personal property, hobby, or a desire to help family and friends. Personal interests can also be pecuniary (financial) or non-pecuniary.

Actual conflicts of interest occur when an employee’s private interest can influence their current public duty.

Potential conflicts of interest occur where an actual conflict of interest may arise in future.

Perceived conflicts of interest occur where a reasonable person might suspect that an employee is subject to a real conflict of interest, whether or not one actually exists. Perceived conflicts may be just as damaging as ‘actual’ conflicts. Any reasonable perception that you, or your friends or family are benefiting from the exercise of your public duty could result in the loss of public trust, both in our Department and the public service as a whole. You are obliged to identify these risks as well, and take action to mitigate them.

If a school council member or a member of his or her immediate family has an actual conflict of interest (either a pecuniary or non-pecuniary interest) in a subject or matter under discussion at a school council meeting, the member must declare the conflict of interest. Furthermore, this member must not be present during the relevant discussion unless invited to do so by the person presiding at the meeting and must not be present when a vote is taken on the matter. A member’s temporary absence for this purpose does not affect the meeting quorum. The declaration of interest should be included in the minutes of the meeting.

Member absence

If a member is unable to attend a meeting, an apology should be submitted to the executive officer (the principal) and it should be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

Minutes

Minutes are the official record of the proceedings at a meeting. Generally a designated council member records a summary of what has been discussed, any decisions made and any actions to be taken before the next meeting. The minutes are written up under the agenda item headings and circulated by the principal to members before the next school council meeting where they are considered and confirmed.

The school council should keep the community informed about its operations by publishing a report following a meeting in the school newsletter and/or on the school website.

A person does not have a right of access to the minutes of a school council meeting or other documents or records of a school council under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Public reporting meeting

A school council must call a public meeting at least once each year and report the proceedings of the council since the date of the previous public meeting. The council must present the annual report to the meeting and, if the school council accounts have been audited, present a copy of the audited accounts.

Open and closed meetings

School council meetings would normally be open to the school community and conducted according to standard meeting requirements. Visitors or observers can be present at the council meetings with the agreement of the principal and a decision of council. Visitors have a right to speak but must do so through the person chairing the meeting (usually the school council president). They have no voting rights. There may be times when, for the purpose of confidentiality or other reasons, the council meeting, or part of the meeting, needs to be closed, such as considering a principal selection report.

Extraordinary meeting

An extraordinary meeting of a school council may be held at any time decided by the council, if all members are given reasonable notice of the time, date, place and object of the meeting.

The president or in his/her absence, the principal must call an extraordinary meeting of the school council if either of them receives a written request to do so from three members of the council.

Extended leave of council member

A member of a school council may apply in writing to the president for extended leave of up to three consecutive meetings. If leave is granted to a member, his/her membership is excluded in determining the requirement for a quorum of not less than half the members of the school council currently holding office.

Casual vacancies

A school council fills a casual vacancy by co-opting an eligible person to the relevant category. A person co-opted to fill a casual vacancy serves the unexpired portion of the vacating member’s term of office.

A casual vacancy is created when a person dies, becomes bankrupt, is of unsound mind, resigns, is convicted of an indictable offence, was at the time of election or co-option ineligible, becomes ineligible, is a registrable offender within the meaning of the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004, is absent from three consecutive meetings of the school council without special leave previously granted by the school council and subject to a decision of the school council, in the Department employee member category, goes on any form of leave with or without pay, for more than six months or where the maximum number of Department employee members is exceeded.

Other considerations

Agenda

The agenda lists the business that council will consider at the meeting. Some items are for information only, some for discussion and others for decision. In order to avoid the agenda being crowded with too much business to consider, a significant amount of work may be undertaken by sub-committees. Reports from these sub-committees are considered at council meetings when appropriate.

Most information regarding agenda topics to be discussed in council meetings will be provided by the principal or in reports from relevant individuals or sub-committees. Meeting papers should be sent out prior to the meeting date to allow councillors to reflect on the issues, to gather more information if necessary and to canvass the opinions of school community members. The wisest decisions are made from a sound knowledge base.

Effective and informed decision-making

For effective and informed decision-making at council meetings, there needs to be:

  • a carefully prepared agenda and papers that are distributed at least five working days before the meeting
  • frank and open discussion
  • accurate records of decisions
  • access to independent and external professional advice where appropriate.

Meeting etiquette

When discussing a topic, it is good practice (but not necessarily documented in the Standing Orders) that:

  • only one person talks at a time
  • all requests to speak are directed to the chairperson
  • all speakers are listened to in respectful silence
  • no ‘side conversations’ are held
  • members listen to the discussion carefully in order to avoid making points that have already been made or asking questions which have already been answered
  • when the chairperson indicates that the topic of discussion is closed, no further comments are made
  • no-one uses jargon or insider knowledge
  • all electronic devices (such as mobile phones and pagers) are silenced and no calls are taken during the meeting
  • regardless of how difficult or challenging the topic, everyone stays calm.

Length of meeting

School council meetings should require no longer than 2.5 hours, regardless of the setting. If business has not been concluded by the scheduled closing time for the meeting, the chair should ask councillors whether they wish to defer the rest of the business until the next meeting or to extend the meeting by a specified period of time (for example, 15 minutes). A motion is necessary if council wants to extend the meeting.

Resources and links

Title

Link

School Policy and Advisory Guide – School Councils

http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/governance/Pages/councils.aspx
School Councils - Making the Partnership Work http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/management/Pages/schoolcouncil.aspx
School Councils – Council Meetings (including templates for meeting papers, avoiding or dealing http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/management/Pages/schoolcouncilmeet.aspx

Victorian Public Sector Commission – Public Administration Act 2004

http://vpsc.vic.gov.au/about-vpsc/legislative-framework-the-public-administration-act-2004/

 

Learning Activity