IMPROVING SCHOOL
GOVERNANCE

4.2 Developing and reviewing policy

Why is this topic important?

The process of developing and reviewing policy provides the opportunity for a school council to engage with the school community about matters of importance to the school. It demonstrates council’s commitment to representing the views of the community and consulting widely where appropriate.

On completing this unit, school councillors should:

  • understand what is usually in a policy
  • understand the characteristics of a good policy
  • be able to contribute to developing or reviewing a policy and determine the level of consultation required within this process.

What is in a policy

The table below suggests what might be in a policy; school councils are free to structure their policies as they wish.

Section

Features

Purpose or rationale

  • briefly explains why the policy is required
  • may also explain the educational, environmental, legal, regulatory or other factors that led to the development of the policy

Policy statement

  • briefly states what the policy is intended to accomplish

Action guidelines

  • provides broad guidelines about the actions required to implement the policy and where appropriate, exemptions and discretion
  • may also set out differing requirements for various groups within the school community (students, staff or parents/guardians)
  • outlines who will be responsible for various parts of the implementation process

Monitoring, reporting and review

  • explains how the policy will be monitored for relevance, how compliance will be reported and when the policy will be reviewed

Definitions

  • only included if the use of words or concepts unfamiliar to the general public is unavoidable

References

  • references to source documents or relevant legislation are included with extracts of relevant text only being included if the policy cannot be adequately understood and implemented without this additional information.

Policy characteristics

A good school policy should be accessible to the community and:

  • be consistent with Departmental policy/guidelines
  • be compatible with human rights and antidiscrimination legislation (including the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities)
  • focus on a single topic
  • be based on a clear statement of purpose that either arises from the goals in the school strategic plan or clearly supports those goals and the underlying values of the school
  • reflect the views of the school community
  • clearly indicate what actions are required by relevant groups within the school community
  • acknowledge and take account of the rights of relevant groups
  • contain guidelines for how the stated purpose will be achieved
  • indicate what the school expects of those subject to the policy
  • be written in a style that can be readily understood by the general public
  • outline how it will be monitored and feature a date for review
  • may need to be provided in a range of community languages
  • typically be one or two pages in length.

Developing a policy

Approaches to developing school policies will vary according to the topic, the size of the school and the school council’s committee structures. For example, a policy might be developed:

  • by the council itself (such as an investment policy where council considers it is adequately informed and does not need to consult)
  • by an existing sub-committee which may be delegated this responsibility (such as a policy about a topic already being handled by that sub-committee)
  • by a working party established for the purpose of developing the policy (such as a policy that needs considerable research, consultation and small group discussion but not necessarily by the full council).

From the governance perspective, the most important thing is that councillors consider the impact on all stakeholders when developing or changing a policy. This does not mean that everyone in the school community needs to be consulted about every policy as it is being developed. Council should determine when consultation with stakeholders is appropriate.

To develop a policy, a council typically takes the following steps.

  1. The issue or topic to be addressed by the policy, and the reason for the policy, is identified. For example, it might be a requirement of the Department, or a local issue which requires clarification or guidelines to inform or influence action by the school.
  2. The purpose or rationale for the policy is identified.
  3. The council decides whether a special working party needs to be established for the purpose of developing the policy or whether the council itself, or an existing sub-committee of the council, will develop the policy.
  4. If council considers it appropriate, the school community is consulted about some or all aspects of the policy. Consultative activity may include:
    • consultations through a community meeting or through focus groups
    • distributing a survey to gather views about the topic to determine key points that need clarification and actions which should occur in the implementation of the policy
    • distributing a draft policy via the school newsletter for comment.
  5. The policy, including the policy statement, action guidelines and monitoring, reporting and review arrangements, is drafted.
  6. If council considers it appropriate, feedback on the draft policy is sought from those previously consulted.
  7. Any feedback is considered and the policy finalised and recommended to council.
  8. Council endorses, endorses as amended or does not approve the draft policy.

The following flow chart shows the steps to take in developing a new policy.

Council decides to develop a policy

(click to enlarge)

Depending on the complexity of the policy and the extent of agreement with it, the development process may follow each step in the sequence above, or take a different sequence. For example, if the topic or issue is complex, consultations might show the need for further research which may require further consultation. If it is contentious, it may need to go through several drafts, each of which council may decide to circulate for feedback.

Reviewing a policy

Councils should review their policies regularly to ensure that the school remains compliant with relevant legislation and the Department’s requirements and to ensure that each policy remains relevant and valid. As part of this review process, a council may decide to develop a new policy, update a policy, combine a number of policies into a single policy or withdraw a policy that is no longer required.

To ensure it reviews policies regularly, council should maintain a register of its existing policies noting the date that each policy was approved and the scheduled date to review it.

As with the policy development process, and depending on the policy topic, the size of the school and the structure of the school council, a review might be conducted by the council as a whole, an existing sub-committee or a sub-committee established for the purpose of reviewing a particular policy.

Similarly, depending on the policy topic, the review process may be an internal process involving the school council members and a sub-committee. Alternatively, an extensive review may be undertaken involving a formal consultation process with stakeholders.

Aside from the regular cycle of review, a policy may need to be reviewed where the circumstances which led to the original policy being established have changed. Reasons for policy review may include:

  • the policy is no longer followed as a matter of course during school operations
  • the policy is no longer effective or having the desired impact
  • individuals or groups within the school community view elements of the policy as contentious
  • new issues have arisen that the policy needs to be amended to address
  • changes to Department policy make the existing policy redundant or non compliant.

The following flow chart shows the steps in reviewing a policy. 

A policy is scheduled for review

(click to enlarge)

Resources and links

Title

Link

Victorian Government Schools Reference Guide Section 4.4 Student safety and risk management

Safety Guidelines for Education Outdoors

Bushfire information

Cultural Diversity Plan 2008-10

Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004

Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007

Learning Activity