IMPROVING SCHOOL
GOVERNANCE

1.1 Legislative framework

Why is this topic important?

School councils operate within the Victorian government school system under a legislative framework.

The system has a strong history of establishing efficient and effective mechanisms that:

  • meet the expectations of Victorians for well-governed schools

  • reflect local and Departmentalvalues

  • meet the needs of local communities served by particular schools.

On completing this unit, school councillors should:

  • know the legal requirements which apply to school councils

  • understand the framework under which they operate.

Legislation

All school councils in Victoria are established and operate under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (the Act). Each school council is established by an Order of the Minister for Education, which specifies the council’s membership, size and configuration; its objectives, powers, functions and accountabilities; and the role of its executive officer, who is the principal.

School councils are also regulated by the Education and Training Reform Regulations 2017 (the Regulations) and school councillors are subject to the Code of Conduct for Directors of Victorian Public Entities made under Public Administration Act 2004.

It is important that school councillors understand the key features of the relevant legislation because it affects all aspects of their work: how they interact with the community, develop and consider options, make decisions and generally conduct themselves both during and outside of council meetings.

A well-informed and effective school council strengthens community confidence in the school and helps to protect and build the school’s reputation.

The Act lists a school council’s objectives as being:

  • assisting in the efficient governance of the school

  • ensuring that its decisions affecting students of the school are made having regard, as a primary consideration, to the best interests of the students

  • enhancing the educational opportunities of the students at the school

  • ensuring the school and the council comply with any requirements of the Act, the Regulations, a Ministerial Order or a direction, guideline or policy issued under the Act.

School councils that oversee or operate an outside-school-hours care (OSHC) program or kindergarten service also need to understand the different legislative framework that applies.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) provides a national approach to the regulation and quality assessment of early childhood education and care services, which includes OSHC and kindergarten. The NQF operates under the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (National Law) and the Education and Care Services National Regulations 2011 (National Regulations).

The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) oversees the implementation of the NQF and works with state and territory regulatory authorities to implement and administer the NQF.

School council membership

Each school council’s constituting Order makes provision for its structure and membership:

  • Parent members – parents of students at the school must comprise more than one third of the school council’s total membership. ‘Parent’ includes a guardian or person responsible for maintenance or with custody of a student of the school. Department employees are eligible for membership in this category as long as they have children attending the school and the Department employees do not work at the school (except for the principal who is a member of the Department employee member category) of that school council.

  • Department employee members – must not be more than one third of the school council’s total membership. The principal is automatically included in this membership category and has full voting rights. Other staff (teaching and non-teaching) are elected or co-opted to this category. To be eligible for election to this category, a person must be a member of the Department of Education and Training (DET) employee electorate of the school.

  • Student members – ‘student’ describes a student who is enrolled at and attends the school and is in year 7 or above. Students are elected to this membership category, or co-opted if a casual vacancy occurs. To be eligible for election, a student must be a member of the student body of the school. The number of student members is recorded in the Ministerial Order for the school council.

  • Community members – is an optional membership category. The council’s membership schedule may include this category. If a council has the option of community members, the council decides who to approach and co-opt into this position. People are co-opted by the school council to a community member position to bring additional skills and perspectives. Community members hold the same rights, responsibilities and terms of office as elected members. Parents are eligible to be co-opted to a community member position but Department employees are not. Students may also be co-opted to a community member position.

Code of conduct for school councillors

School councils in Victoria are public entities as defined by the Public Administration Act 2004. School councillors must abide by the Code of Conduct for Directors of Victorian Public Entities issued by the Victorian Public Sector Commission. The Code of Conduct is based on the Victorian public sector values and requires councillors to:

  • act with honesty and integrity (be truthful, open and clear about their motives and declare any real, potential or perceived conflict of interest and duty)

  • act in good faith in the best interests of the school (work cooperatively with other councillors and the school community, be reasonable, and make all decisions with the best interests of students foremost in their minds)

  • actairy andimpartialy (onsiderall relevant factsofanisuebeoemakingadecision,seek oabalanedviw,nergiespecial teatmentoapesonorgoupandner actfomself

  • use information appropriately (respect confidentiality and use information for the purpose for which it was made available)

  • use their position appropriately (not use their position as a councillor to gain an advantage)

  • act in a financially responsible manner (observe all the above principles when making financial decisions)

  • exercise due care, diligence and skill (accept responsibility for decisions and do what is best for the school)

  • comply with relevant legislation and policies (know what legislation and policies are relevant for which decisions and obey the law)
  • notify the school council if they become a candidate for an election in any state, local or federal election (not use the council’s resources in connection with their candidature)

  • demonstrate leadership and stewardship (set a good example, encourage a culture of accountability, manage risks effectively, exercise care and responsibility to keep the school strong and sustainable).

Indemnity for school council members

School councillors are indemnified against any liability in respect of any loss or damage suffered by the council or any other person in respect of anything necessarily or reasonably done, or omitted to be done, by the councillor in good faith in:

  1. the exercise of a power or the performance of a function of a councillor, or

  2. the reasonable belief that the act or omission was in the exercise of a power or the performance of a function of a councillor.

In other words, school councillors are not personally liable for any loss or damage suffered by council or others as a result of reasonable actions taken in good faith.

DET’s Values and the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees

The Department has adopted the Victorian Public Sector Values as its own values. These are set out in the Code of Conduct for Directors of Victorian Public Entities (the Code).

DET’s Values are Responsiveness, Integrity, Impartiality, Accountability, Respect, Leadership and Human Rights.

The Code is binding on all public sector employees, including all staff working in Victorian government schools. This means all employees are required to demonstrate DET’s Values in their work.

A failure to uphold DET’s Values can result in employment action for the individuals concerned, reputation damage for the Department and Government, and can undermine confidence in democracy. The Department and Government take breaches of the Code very seriously and respond appropriately.

Why do we need values?

  • Values describe a commonly understood set of expected behaviours:
    DET’s Values underpin the behaviours that the government and community expect of all school-based employees. DET’s Values should be demonstrated in everything we do.

  • Values provide guiding principles:
    DET’s Values are the guiding principles for every decision we make.

  • Values-driven behaviours increase trust and confidence in our work:
    The public expect us to act in accordance with DET’s Values. Doing so is central to building and sustaining trust in the important work we do.

  • Values-driven behaviour strengthens our capabilities and improves outcomes:
    When school employees act in accordance with DET’s Values, it strengthens the school’s capacity to operate effectively and achieve its objectives.

The DET Values complement each school’s values and teachers’ professional standards, such as the Victorian Institute of Teaching Code of Conduct and Ethics.

For all staff, behaving with integrity and respect, and embodying the values through everyday decisions and actions goes to the heart of the community's trust in our public education system. Living the values helps school staff achieve the outcomes the Department seeks in building Victoria as the Education State: the learning, engagement and development of children and young people, the growth of their skills and the broadening of their horizons.

Resources and links

Title

Link

Education and Training Reform Act 2006 www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/eatra2006273/
Victorian Public Sector Commission Codes and Standards -  Code  of Conduct for Directors vpsc.vic.gov.au/resources/code-of-conduct-for-directors/
Department of Education and Training Values - Code of Conduct for the Victorian Public Sector www.education.vic.gov.au/hrweb/workm/Pages/Public-Sector-Values.aspx
School Policy and Advisory Guide - Ethical Decision-Making www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/governance/Pages/ethicaldecisionmaking.aspx
School Policy and Advisory Guide - Gifts Benefits and Hospitality www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/governance/Pages/gifts.aspx