IMPROVING SCHOOL
GOVERNANCE

1.2 What school councils do

Why is this topic important?

Under the Act, 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 legislative 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 performing its functions, powers and roles.

Functions of a school council

The functions of a school council are specified in the Act (2.3.5) and include:

  • establishing the broad direction and vision of the school within the school's community

  • participating in the development, monitoring and endorsement of the School Strategic Plan and Annual Implementation Plan

  • approving the annual budget and monitoring expenditure

  • developing, reviewing or updating school policies as required by law or DET policy

  • raising funds for school-related purposes

  • maintaining the school’s grounds and buildings

  • providing the cleaning and sanitary services that are necessary for the school

  • ensuring that all money coming into the council is used for proper purposes relating to the school

  • the provision of meals and refreshments for the staff and students of the school and charging for those meals or refreshments

  • entering into contracts (such as for cleaning in regional schools or construction work)

  • reporting annually to the school community and to the Department

  • creating interest in the school in the wider community

  • taking into account the views of the community

  • regulating and facilitating the after hours use of school premises and grounds

  • making provision for a preschool program at the school or other premises controlled by the Minister.

School council may also be involved in the school principal selection process. When this occurs, a panel of councillors and Department 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 are also involved and principal selection panel members are provided with principal selection panel training.

The school council president, on request from the Regional Director, provides input to 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 buildings

  • employ teachers with no fixed date for the termination of that employment.

Unless authorised by or under the Act, Regulations or a Ministerial Order, a school council is not able to:

  • licence or grant any interest in land, including school lands or buildings

  • purchase a motor vehicle, boat or plane for the school

  • enter into hire purchase agreements for the school

  • obtain credit facilities or loans on behalf of the school

  • form or become a member of a corporation

  • 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 the principal is critical for the effective functioning of the 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 …

Curriculum

  • 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 dress code policy

  • implements the policies developed by council

  • considers, and where appropriate, grants exemptions to dress code guidelines
  • develops student dress code policy in close consultation with the community

  • consults with the school community before adopting changes to this policy

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)

  • manages the performance, development and conduct of staff
  • approves employment of some staff e.g. casual replacement teachers, canteen staff, however, not on-going 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
  • oversees school cleaning, and in regional schools, enters into contracts for school cleaning

  • enters into contracts for building and grounds improvements

Child Safe Standards

  • implements Child Safe Standards policies and procedures

  • develops policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Child Safe Standards

  • reviews existing contracts and ensures future contracts address the requirements of the Child Safe Standards

School review

  • keeps the whole school community and council informed about the school review

  • leads the pre-review self-evaluation in consultation with the whole school community

  • is a member of the core School Review Panel

  • presents the findings of the review report to the school  staff and school council
  • participates in the pre-review self-evaluation

  • value-adds to the review as defined in the terms of reference (e.g. participation in focus groups etc.)

  • is presented with the findings of the report

    The school council president:

  • is a member of the core School Review Panel

Strategic and Annual Planning

  • engages the staff and school community in development of School Strategic Plan following review

  • engages the staff and school community in the development of the Annual Implementation Plan

  • engages the staff and school community in the monitoring of progress against annual targets

  • endorses the strategic plan and Annual Implementation Plan
  • engages in the development of the School Strategic Plan following the school review

  • engages in the development of the Annual Implementation Plan

  • school council president endorses both the strategic plan and Annual Implementation Plan

  • ensures regular monitoring of the Annual Implementation Plan

Annual Report to the school community

  • prepares, with the school council, the Annual Report

  • endorses the Annual Report

  • attests to requirements documented in the Annual Report
  • ensures the school council endorses the Annual Report (in April)

  • endorses the Annual Report on behalf of the school council

OSHC or kindegarten service

  • engages the school community in the decision-making process of an OSHC service

  • informs the community and school council of the service on a regular basis
  • decides whether to establish a service or change operating models or service provider

  • manages the operating model to ensure it is the legal entity under the National Law and therefore has the role of approved provider

  • nominates people with management or control under the NQF, noting this does not take away from the approved provider’s legal responsibilities

  • in a third-party-provider operating model, selects the preferred provider, after a robust expression of interest process.

  • endorses the licence agreement negotiated with the third party provider 

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 for reflecting on past performance, establishing future directions and deciding what will build 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 (FISO) Improvement Cycle 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

  • pre-review self-evaluation (every four years)

  • conducting a school review to examine the school’s performance over the previous strategic plan period and to plan for improvement, including undertaking a process by which the school’s compliance with registration requirements is checked (every four years)

  • 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, targets and key improvement strategies and expected outcomes in a school-based plan that is sensitive to local needs, based on data (including key risks to achievement) and aligned to FISO, including the FISO four state-wide priorities and six high-impact Improvement 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 each year. This links to 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 (including key risks to achievement).

The following table provides an overview of how the principal and staff, school council and 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 pre-review self-evaluation (in consultation with the school improvement team)
  • reviews the plan and timeline for the pre-review self-evaluation
  • supports their schools in undertaking a pre-review 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
  • oversees the drafting of the pre-review self-evaluation report
  • endorses the final pre-review self-evaluation report
  • provides feedback and endorses the pre-review self-evaluation report
  • plans for the school review and provides performance data to the School Review Panel

  • as a member of the core School Review Panel, analyses the pre-review self-evaluation report and other school data in preparation for the review
  • as a member of the core School Review Panel, the school council president analyses the pre-review self-evaluation report and other school data in preparation for the review
  • as a member of the core School Review Panel, analyses the pre-review self-evaluation report and other school data in preparation for the review

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 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

 

Implement and monitor

  • keeps the school community informed about progress in implementing the School Strategic Plan
  • monitors progress in implementing the plan, including key risks to achievement

 

  • drafts and signs the annual report
  • endorses and signs the Annual Report to the school community
  • 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

 

School council self-assessment

School councils operate effectively when there is a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities and a clear and consistent process for decision-making.

The school council self-assessment tool is designed to assist school councils in evaluating their effectiveness as a collective school council and identifying areas for improvement.

School councillors are required to undertake the school council self-assessment tool each year, as part of the school’s annual self-evaluation process.

Councillors should use this tool to reflect on their roles and the effectiveness of the school council as a whole. The council could then discuss the results in small groups or as a whole team and develop an improvement plan.

Most school councils will identify some areas for improvement. For example, they may agree that some operational practices could be refined or improved or they may wish to build particular knowledge and capabilities by undertaking training.

As a result of the self-assessment, councils may consider their Standing Orders, their sub-committees and the effectiveness of their meetings. It is important that school councils and individual councillors work collaboratively and with purpose.

The self-assessment tool can be found at: www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/school/principals/governance/schoolcouncilselfassessmenttool.docx

Finance

It is a legal and Departmental requirement that school councils ensure that funds coming into the council are being properly used and authorised.

To this end, councils are responsible for overseeing a functioning and 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.

School 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’s 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 funds (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.

It is recommended all school councils have a treasurer. Most school councils have a finance sub-committee which handles many of the council’s routine financial responsibilities. The treasurer is the convener of the finance sub-committee, and is elected from council members, is preferably a non-Department (this includes DET parents). The business manager/bursar should not hold this position. It is recommended the office bearer position of treasurer be elected at the first meeting of the school council after the declaration of the poll, in line with current practice.  

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 school council president or a delegated councillor) to approve payments and sign cheques; this councillor cannot also be the business manager

    • approving an investment policy if appropriate

    • approving trading operations

    • ensuring issues raised by the auditor are addressed

    • identifying and managing conflicts of interest
  • provides financial reports to council
  • considers financial reports

Budgeting

  • 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
 
  • review approved fundraising profit and loss

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 which policies are required. This includes the implementation of specific government policies 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 ensure decision-making is transparent. Policy development provides 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 Improving School Governance module – Policy and Review, provides further information on the school council’s role in policy development, review and approval. 

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 the 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
 
  • oversees policy compliance monitoring

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 conscious of the need for positive working relationships and partnerships within the school community.

The main partnerships that a school council will have are described below and will also potentially include partnerships with businesses, industry, community organisations, universities, TAFE's 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

Staff are represented on school councils. 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).

Students

Councillors are required by legislation to ensure that its decisions affecting students of the school are made in the best interest of the students.

Students are represented on school councils. Student members will be involved in discussions and decisions on matters relating to the school. Council might also have links with the student representative body. At times a school council will consult with all students, particularly in relation to policy development on topics which impact on students.

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.

Community members can also be represented on council if the constituting Order includes this membership category. This is an optional category. Department employees are not able to be community members.

The Department

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

High risk areas for conflicts of interest

Any interaction between the school council and school community raises the potential for conflicts of interest. Some examples of conflict of interest risks include:

  • recruitment and selection activities

  • procurement activities

  • funding allocation activities

  • previous associations

  • gifts, benefits and hospitality.

Conflicts of interest in recruitment might include:

  • family or friendship relationships with an applicant

  • close working relationship with an applicant

  • a hostile relationship with any applicant.

If you are involved in any type of recruitment or selection process, you must consider whether you have a real or perceived conflict of interest. If so, or if you are unsure, you must declare the interest to the council at the earliest possible stage.

Conflict of interest risks can affect any stage of procurement. Regardless of the monetary value, these risks must be proactively managed throughout the life of a procurement project.

Conflicts of interest in procurement or funding allocations might include:

  • gifts, benefits or hospitality being offered to employees involved in the procurement process

  • family or friendship relationships with a supplier

  • close working relationships as a result of regular business with a supplier.

Other interests and associations that generally have significant conflict of interest risks are:

  • external consulting

  • other (external) employment

  • private tutoring

  • out-of-hours sporting or community activities

  • using contractors for private works

  • personal relationships with employees

  • group affiliations

  • other public duties (e.g. member of local council or political party)

  • family and other relationships.

    For more information on conflicts of interest, see the Legal Requirements section of this Manual

Resources and links

Title

Link

Public Sector Principles and Standards for Recruitment

www.education.vic.gov.au/hrweb/employcond/Pages/principles-standards.aspx

Conflict of Interest Guide

www.education.vic.gov.au/hrweb/workm/Pages/Conflict-of-Interest.aspx
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

Risk Management Overview - Intranet

edugate.eduweb.vic.gov.au/sites/i/pages/production.aspx#/app/content/2367/support_and_service_(schools)%252Frisk_management%252Frisk_management_explained%252Frisk_management_overview
School Policy and Advisory Guide - Gifts Benefits and Hospitality www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/governance/Pages/gifts.aspx

Risk Management Policy – School Policy and Advisory Guide

www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/governance/Pages/gifts.aspx

 

Learning Activity