IMPROVING SCHOOL
GOVERNANCE

1.1 Legislative framework

Why is this topic important?

The school council operates under a legislative framework within the Victorian government school system. 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 Department values
  • meet the needs of local communities served by particular schools.

On completing this unit, school councillors should:

  • know the legal requirements relevant 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 2007 and school councillors are subject to the Code of Conduct for Directors of Victorian Public Entities made under the 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 how they 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 school council’s objectives as being to:

  • assist in the efficient governance of the school
  • ensure that its decisions affecting students of the school are made having regard, as a primary consideration, to the best interests of the students
  • enhance the educational opportunities of the students of the school 
  • ensure 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 council membership

Each school council’s constituting Order specifies its structure and membership:

  • Parent members – must be 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 so 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 DET employee electorate of the school.
  • Community members – is an optional membership category where a school council decides if it wishes to have community members. People are co-opted by the school council to a community member position to bring additional skills and perspectives to the school council. 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 2016 Directors’ Code of Conduct 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)
  • act fairly and impartially (consider all relevant facts of an issue before making a decision, seek to have a balanced view, never give special treatment to a person or group and never act from self interest)
  • 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)
  • 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).

There are also guidance notes for the Code of Conduct available on the Victorian Public Sector Commission website.

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

In other words, school councillors are not legally 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

DET has adopted the Public Sector Values as the Department's values. These are set out in the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees (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 our work. 

A failure to uphold the Values can result in employment action for the individuals concerned, reputation damage for the Department and government, and undermines confidence in democracy. The government’s immediate response to serious breaches of the Code is more monitoring and controls over the public sector. For this reason, employees within the Department must have higher standards than the private or even not-for-profit sectors, and be beyond reproach.

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 behavior 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 teacher's 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 http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/eatra2006273/
Victorian Public Sector Commission Codes and Standards - Director's Code of Conduct http://vpsc.vic.gov.au/