1.4 Understanding the school

Why is this topic important?

To provide good governance, councillors need to understand their school, what it seeks to achieve, and how it functions. This means knowing about the organisation itself including areas such as the curriculum, teaching and learning program, support services, staffing structure, specialist programs, student numbers and demographics and physical facilities.

On completing this unit, school councillors should:

  • be able to find information about the school

  • be able to identify who's who at the school

  • know about regional support services available to the school

  • be aware of the school's curriculum, teaching and learning program and student assessment and reporting practices.

Finding out information about the school

The principal or school council president will usually welcome new councillors with a package of information about the school. This could include:

  • promotional information given to families of prospective students

  • the school's strategic plan and annual implantation plan

  • the school’s Annual Report

  • a map of the school noting the major facilities

  • a list of any specialist programs (such as Performing Arts or English as an Additional Language)

  • minutes of the last school council meeting

  • a list of school policies and procedures.

As the council’s role is to establish the broad direction and vision for the whole school, councillors should extend their knowledge beyond one specific area. Good sources of information are the principal and the school’s most recent Annual Report to the school community.

Who's who at the school

As well as meeting the principal and teachers who are members of the school council, it is useful to find out who’s who among the teaching staff. Government schools have three classes of employee: principal class, teachers and education support.

The principal is responsible for the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum plan, governance (in conjunction with the school council) and managing financial and human resources. A school might also have one or more assistant principals responsible for significant areas or functions within the school (such as Transition, Years F-2 or VCE).

Leading teachers may have responsibilities across a range of school operations. They typically coordinate a number of staff to improve teaching and learning. Leading teachers usually have titles such as year level coordinator, transition coordinator or literacy coordinator.

The majority of teachers in a school are classroom teachers. They plan, prepare and teach programs to achieve specific student outcomes.

Each school also has education support employees who work in school administration and operations and support teachers and students in the delivery of educational programs. They include business managers, school secretaries, teachers’ assistants, library assistants, integration aides and multi-cultural aides.

When there is an agenda item concerning areas for which senior staff are responsible, school councillors may request them to address the council meeting.

Regional support services available to the school

The Department’s regional offices support early childhood services, schools and higher education and skills service providers. The Department has four regions in Victoria – North-Eastern Victoria Region, North-Western Victoria Region, South-Eastern Victoria Region and South-Western Victoria Region.

Regions are responsible for supporting and monitoring the provision of early childhood and higher education and skills services along with planning, managing, supporting and reporting on the delivery of outcomes for children and students 0-18 years. Through its regional offices, the Regional Services Group plays a key role in supporting schools by providing a range of services including facilitating the establishment of networks and services for local communities.

Regional offices offer advice and guidance in a wide range of areas including school management, workforce planning, leadership, youth pathways, transitions and student wellbeing.

Curriculum and student assessment

Foundation to Year 10


The Victorian Curriculum Foundation–10 (F–10) sets out what every student should learn during their first 11 years of schooling. The curriculum is the common set of knowledge and skills required by students for life-long learning, social development and active and informed citizenship. The Victorian Curriculum F–10 incorporates the Australian Curriculum and reflects Victorian priorities and standards.

The Victorian Curriculum F–10 sets out a single, coherent and comprehensive set of content descriptions and associated achievement standards to enable teachers to plan, monitor, assess and report on the learning achievement of every student.

Schools may also use the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) when developing teaching and learning programs for Foundation – Year 2. The VEYLDF describes the key knowledge and skills for children from birth to eight years.

Teaching and Learning program

Victorian schools value digital learning. This takes place in a technology-rich environment using computers and other devices such as iPads, digital cameras and a range of online resources and software for learning and teaching. Starting from Foundation, schools are integrating information and communication technology (ICT) into their teaching and learning program in ways that not only increase children’s digital literacy, but improve their ability to create, investigate, collaborate and share knowledge. In some cases, ICT is overcoming barriers of isolation created by living in a remote location or having a disability.

Languages education is a core part of the curriculum and all schools are provided with additional funding in their Student Resource Package (SRP) to support the provision of a languages program. Schools have the flexibility to choose the language/s they provide in consultation with their community. Advice on how to select a language is available on the Department’s website. Students (Years F–12) who do not have access to the study of a specific language in their school can attend language programs outside school hours at the Victorian School of Languages or at community languages schools.


All students are involved in an annual program of standardised assessment in addition to assessments completed by class teachers. Under the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are assessed annually on the same days using national tests in reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy. The school receives feedback about the test results. The resulting data, which identifies individual student achievement also rates the school’s performance on a national scale.

Councillors can view NAPLAN results on the MySchool website. The NAPLAN results in literacy and numeracy are presented in a way that shows each school’s performance against statistically similar schools (based on student backgrounds) and all Australian schools.

Senior secondary

Victorian government secondary schools offer a variety of curriculum options for senior secondary students to pursue interests, qualifications and their future beyond school.

Victorian Certificate of Education

The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) is a course of study designed to be completed over a minimum of two years. It is usually undertaken over Years 11 and 12. It prepares students for university and further training or employment, and is an internationally recognised qualification. There are more than 90 studies (subjects) in the VCE. Students can start their VCE as early as Year 10 and about half of Year 10 students undertake one or more VCE units. It is also possible to undertake a school-based apprenticeship or traineeship within the VCE.

A VCE ‘study’ or subject is broken up into four units over two years. Each unit is half a year or two terms in length and is numbered 1, 2, 3 or 4. Units 1 and 2 can be taken as single units, but Units 3 and 4 must be taken as a sequence of two units. Students are awarded the VCE by satisfactory completion of a minimum of 16 units. The school’s VCE coordinator ensures each student is undertaking the right number of units and the right combination of units to meet VCE requirements.

Within the 16 units students must satisfactorily complete at least three units from the English group. They also need three sequences of Units 3 and 4 studies in addition to the English requirement. These sequences can be from VCE studies or from vocational education and training (VET).

Students in Year 12 may also undertake a first year university study that counts towards satisfactory completion of their VCE; this is called the Higher Education Studies in the VCE program.

The VCE (Baccalaureate) is an additional form of recognition for those students who choose to undertake the demands of studying both a higher-level mathematics and a language in their VCE program of study. To be eligible to receive the VCE (Baccalaureate) the student must satisfactorily complete the VCE and receive a study score for each prescribed study component. The VCE program of study must include: a Units 3 and 4 sequence in English or Literature or English Language with a study score of 30 or above, or a Units 3 and 4 sequence in EAL with a study score of 33 or above; a Units 3 and 4 sequence in either Mathematics Methods (CAS) or Specialist Mathematics; a Units 3 and 4 sequence in a VCE Language; and at least two other Units 3 and 4 sequences.

Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning

The Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) is an accredited hands-on option for Years 11 and 12 students, offering practical work-related experience and learning. Like the VCE, the VCAL is an accredited secondary certificate. Students who undertake the VCAL are likely to be interested in going on to training at VET providers, doing an apprenticeship or traineeship, or getting a job directly after finishing school.

The VCAL is offered at three levels: Foundation, Intermediate or Senior. Students enrol in a VCAL learning program at the level that matches their skills and abilities. For example, a Year 11 student may study at either the Foundation or Intermediate level. Students can gain one or more VCAL qualifications at different levels depending on their abilities and learning goals.

Students in Intermediate and Senior VCAL must undertake VET studies (see following section) as part of their qualification. If students start their VCAL and then decide they would like to complete their VCE, they can transfer between certificates. The VCE and VCAL Administrative Handbook provides further advice for students wishing to transfer from the VCAL to the VCE.

The VCAL has four curriculum areas, called strands. These strands are Literacy and Numeracy Skills, Industry Specific Skills, Work Related Skills and Personal Development Skills. A student’s VCAL learning program must include at least one unit from each strand. A student is awarded a VCAL certificate when they successfully complete the course requirements outlined in the VCE and VCAL Administrative Handbook. A unit of study can be one VCAL unit, one VCE unit or approximately 90 hours of VET units of competency and/or further education modules.

The school’s VCAL coordinator is responsible for ensuring that VCAL students undertake the right number and combination of units to achieve their certificate.

Vocational Education and Training

Students who are interested in undertaking a vocationally-oriented study program in a specific industry have the option of choosing to complete a Vocational Education and Training (VET) program as part of their VCE or VCAL studies.

VET programs provide students with a nationally recognised training qualification in conjunction with their VCE or VCAL.

VET programs are typically delivered through partnerships between schools and training providers. They enable students to take part in structured workplace learning and gain practical skills in the industry in which they are interested. VET programs include school-based apprenticeships and traineeships.

Programs undertaken as part of the VCE or VCAL provide students with a pathway to university, further training or employment.

School-based apprenticeships and traineeships

In the past, many young people had to leave school to pursue an apprenticeship or traineeship. With the introduction of school-based apprenticeships and traineeships, students can have the best of both worlds. Students taking part in school-based apprenticeships and traineeships undertake part-time paid employment, and structured training, while completing their VCE or VCAL.

The student enters into a training contract with an employer, and has a training plan signed by the school that is formally registered with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA). The school-based apprenticeship and traineeship becomes part of their study timetable, with the student spending some time during the normal school week in their employment and training.

Part-time apprenticeships and traineeships undertaken outside of school can also contribute to the VCE or VCAL.

Structured workplace learning

As part of a nationally recognised VET program, secondary school students can undertake structured workplace learning to acquire skills and knowledge in an industry setting. In Victoria, structured workplace learning is an important part of VET programs undertaken by VCE and VCAL students.


The VRQA State Register provides a rich source of information on individual schools including their latest:

  • Government School Performance Summary

  • Annual Report to the school community.

Resources and links



Community Languages Schools
School-based Apprenticeships and Traineeships
F-10 Curriculum


Vocational Education and Training (VET)

Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL)
Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework
Victorian School of Languages
Victorian State Register