IMPROVING SCHOOL
GOVERNANCE

5.3 How to run effective school council meetings

Why is this topic important?

The key to an effective school council is the conduct of its meetings. There must be at least eight meetings a year and at least one every term. The school council president, as the chair, is responsible for the conduct of the meetings.

Many school councils have sub-committees and working groups that also meet regularly. Their conduct should be no less effective than those of school council.

At the end of this unit, participants should be able to:

  • recognise the features of an effective meeting 
  • be confident in chairing successful school council meetings.

Features of an effective meeting

Meetings are held to allow council to make decisions related to its functions. Meeting dates should be set at the start of the year by the principal and the president to suit the school’s calendar. They should not clash with other important school events.

For effective and accountable decision-making in meetings there needs to be:

  • clear definition of how the council conducts its business as outlined in the Standing Orders
  • a carefully prepared agenda
  • papers relevant to particular items on the agenda circulated in advance
  • an expectation that all members will prepare adequately for the meeting
  • frank and open discussion
  • accurate, timely records of decisions
  • ability and willingness to seek independent and external professional advice when necessary
  • a structure that enables much of the work to be done in sub-committees if this structure is used by council.

Decision-making

Decisions of school council are made by a majority of the members eligible to vote and present at the meeting, provided the majority are non-Department employees and not less than one half of the members currently holding office are present.

All decisions of council are voted upon. The numbers for and against should be recorded in the minutes. The principal is a voting member. Where votes are tied, the chairperson has a casting vote.

All motions must be recorded. The motion mover and seconder, and the outcome must be minuted.

There is no provision for proxies to vote on school council matters at a meeting.

Setting the agenda

The principal in consultation with the president should set the meeting agenda with enough time to distribute it to all members of school council, along with any reports or background material prior to the meeting. As executive officer of council, it is the principal’s responsibility to ensure council members are suitably resourced.

The agenda lists business that council will discuss during the meeting. A simple agenda may include:

  • welcome and apologies
  • minutes of the previous meeting (voted upon)
  • business arising from the minutes
  • principals report
  • reports from sub-committees including finance sub-committee
  • general business
  • correspondence (incoming and outgoing)
  • close.

If a council does not have sub-committees, the finance and other reports may be introduced by the principal.

Many councils ask members to submit items for general business ahead of the meeting so they can be included on the agenda. It is for the president to determine if general business matters raised at the meeting, that are within a function of the school council, will be discussed. There may not be sufficient time for the discussion. The president should decline to discuss any matters unrelated to a function of the school council.

When discussing the proposed next meeting agenda with the principal, the president should ask:

  • Does the item fit within a function of the council?
  • Is the item operational (and thus a responsibility of the principal)?
  • Can the item be dealt with elsewhere?
  • Does the item warrant council’s time?

Chairing the meeting

As chair, the president should open the meeting on time and call council members to order. To ensure an effective meeting, the president should:

  • have a good understanding of the constituting Order of the council, the code of conduct for school councillors and the standing orders of council
  • have sought a briefing with the principal ahead of the meeting on any complex or sensitive issues
  • manage the discussions during the meetings to ensure business is expeditiously addressed. For this, the chair must understand the powers of the chair and be willing to use them judiciously to ensure that council keeps to the point. These powers include the authority to bring discussions to a conclusion and bring on a vote
  • ensure that no councillor dominates a discussion and encourage all councillors to express an opinion
  • before calling for a vote, summarise points made in the discussion
  • be prepared to delegate contentious matters to individuals or sub-committees for more research or discussion
  • keep an eye on the scheduled closing time of the meeting and try to pace the discussion to complete the business by that time
  • call for a specified extension of time if that is required
  • ensure that councillors know the date, time and venue of the next meeting before officially declaring the current meeting closed
  • ensure that the decisions of the council are correctly recorded. When council approves the minutes, the chair presiding at that meeting signs the minutes.

Stages of the meeting

School council meetings should follow a consistent format.

Minutes of the meeting

Accurate minutes should be made of every meeting of school council, and of its sub-committees. Minutes form a record of the council’s activities and decisions and reminders of actions that need to be taken.

Councils should appoint a minute-taker at the beginning of each year. If this person is not a member of school council, they should act as a silent observer without voting rights.

When school council minutes are submitted for confirmation, only questions regarding their accuracy are to be raised. The chair of that meeting must sign the minutes once council has accepted them as being a true and accurate record of the meeting.

The minutes should be sent to the principal and president as soon as possible after a meeting for comment, and then distributed, by the principal, to all members of council before the next school council meeting where they are considered and confirmed.

The school council should keep the community informed about its operations by publishing a report following each meeting in the school newsletter and/or on the school website.

A person does not have a right of access to the minutes of a school council meeting or other documents or records of a school council under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Managing conflict and the conduct of meetings

Some school councils will at times have members expressing strong conflicting views. There may be occasions where individual members are not working cooperatively with other councillors. It is for the president to manage any conflict or conduct issues that arise during the course of the meeting.

The principal is responsible for managing any matters that extend beyond the meeting. Some strategies for the chairperson dealing with difficult situations include:

  • dealing respectfully with all comments and contributions
  • using clearly understood protocols to ensure all voices get a say
  • stopping one individual dominating the meeting
  • bringing the discussion back to school council’s core objectives – 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 students of the school; and ensuring the school and the school council complies with its legal obligations
  • delegating the discussion to a sub-committee, or to a future meeting of school council
  • anticipating matters that might result in conflict between members and introducing them in a way to minimise tension
  • being prepared to let an aggrieved council member express their view, but then being prepared to shut down the debate
  • reminding members of the code of conduct for school councillors
  • not taking sides and treating an individual’s grievance as legitimate.

The school council president should be mindful of council members acting contrary to the code of conduct or speaking against council decisions to members of the community. The principal and the president may need to meet the individual separately and remind them of their obligations under the code of conduct.

Resources and links

Title

Link

Victorian Public Sector Commission Codes and Standards - Director's Code of Conduct http://vpsc.vic.gov.au/resources/code-of-conduct-for-directors/
School Policy and Advisory Guide – School Councils http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/governance/Pages/councils.aspx
Making the Partnership Work http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/management/Pages/schoolcouncil.aspx
 
School Councils http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/management/Pages/schoolcouncil.aspx

 

Learning Activity