5.2 Characteristics of an effective school council

Why is this topic important?

A strong, united council with a clear vision and a willingness to contribute positively is a feature of a successful school.

On completing this unit, the participant should be able to:

  • understand what makes a school council successful
  • understand the role the president plays in an effective council.

The importance of good governance

Good governance enables the council to perform efficiently and effectively and to respond strategically to changing demands and educational challenges.

Good governance relies on the professional leadership of the principal, the president, the school council and the establishment of effective meeting procedures.

In an effective school, school council processes are characterised by a mutual sharing of information, knowledge and ideas. There is a focus on dialogue in which all members are able to exchange information, share experiences, express perspectives, pose questions, clarify viewpoints, explore relevant research and develop a shared vision and way forward.

What makes a school council effective

An effective school council is one that:

  • focuses on improving student learning outcomes
  • involves the community in conversations about key issues and challenges on education
  • is actively involved in the development of the school strategic plan
  • promotes meaningful parent and community participation and actively seeks the views of its community
  • has a clear understanding of its roles and responsibilities
  • includes members who represent the diverse views of the school community
  • has a clear and consistent process for decision-making
  • maintains high ethical standards
  • has members with trust and respect for one another
  • evaluates and communicates with the school community about its activities
  • regularly reviews and evaluates its own performance
  • trusts and delegates to individuals and its own sub-committees
  • devotes time to its own growth and development, through induction and training.

An effective school council should support the development of strategic partnerships to help the school achieve the goals set out in its school strategic plan. For example, council members should consider and discuss opportunities to work with organisations outside the school in areas such as fundraising and facilities development.

It is good practice for school council to establish Standing Orders to assist in operating effectively and efficiently. Standing Orders should be reviewed each year following completion of the election process.

The Education and Training Reform Regulations 2007 sets out certain legal requirements in relation to the operation of school council meetings. These requirements cannot be overridden by the Standing Orders determined by a school council. In addition to these legal requirements, school councils are also encouraged to provide additional guidelines which might cover agendas, meeting etiquette and length of meetings.

Roles of school council members

It is the responsibility of the principal and the president to ensure council members understand their role.

There is no legal requirement for school council to have a vice-president, but many do. The vice-president can act as chair of meetings when the president is absent if elected by the school council at the meeting. The vice-president is also a non-Department employee.

It is good practice for a council to elect a treasurer who should also be a non-Department employee.

All school council members have a responsibility to:

  • come prepared and ready to contribute at school council meetings
  • attend school events and seek to understand the school’s operations
  • support the school council president and the principal
  • actively promote the school to the community
  • comply with the code of conduct for school councillors and behavioral expectations set out in the Department’s values.

Features of an effective school council are included in the table below:



An effective council works together

The council should be seen by all members as being greater than the sum of the individuals it comprises. Discussions may be lively however the council’s decision overrides individual opinion.

Members set aside their own special interests Members add value through personal skills and experience, but must be prepared to set these aside for the good of the overall situation and any potential, perceived or real, pecuniary and non-pecuniary conflicts of interest.
Council offers strong support to the principal and school Council members should ask searching questions and provide relevant, constructive criticism; however they should avoid sharing negative perceptions and gossip.
Council stays focused on its objectives and functions Council members understand their responsibilities as distinct from those of the principal.
Council is led by a strong president Council elects a strong and capable individual to be its president, one who will have the respect of the principal and the community.
An effective council thinks strategically Decisions and actions reflect and support the future directions of the school.
Real discussions are followed by real decisions Council members attend meetings in good faith, having prepared carefully and are ready to contribute. Differences are left at the discussion table and decisions acted upon promptly.
Council builds trust in its community Council develops a record of trust through its responsible actions and good communication.

Resources and links



Education and Training Reform Act 2006

Victorian Public Sector Commission Codes and Standards - Director's Code of Conduct

School Policy and Advisory Guide – School Councils

School Councils
School Policy and Advisory Guide – Ethical Decision-making