IMPROVING SCHOOL
GOVERNANCE

5.4 Engaging the school community and beyond

Why is this topic important?

The work of school council needs to be known and understood by the school community, including families, students, staff and other stakeholders. If the community shares the vision and values of the school council and has participated in their framing, then it will offer greater support.

Council should have in place ways of communicating its decisions to the community, to enable consultation and receive feedback.

At the end of this unit, the participant will understand:

  • the importance of community consultation and engagement
  • how to establish two-way communication with the school community.

Sharing information

School council members are drawn from the key stakeholders in the school: the parents, the staff and the wider community. As individuals they bring diverse views to council but work together to develop a shared vision for the improvement of student outcomes. Council decisions affect the school and its stakeholders, and they generally need to be known and understood.

Minutes should be taken of every school council meeting and determined by the council to be a fair and accurate record of the meeting. Minutes serve as a record of all decisions, however they are not public documents.

The principal, as executive officer of and on behalf the school council, should keep the community informed about the operations of the school council by publishing a report following each meeting.

There are a few channels the principal can use to report to the community about the operations of the school council. These may include:

  • school website
  • school newsletter
  • direct mail to families
  • emails to families and students.

Councils should be wary of “word-of-mouth” communication or using third parties to broadcast decisions. At times, school council may consider the local media an appropriate channel for their news and information.

Another key opportunity for the community to be informed of the school council activities is at the public reporting meeting a school council must hold at least once each year. At this meeting the school council reports on the proceedings of council since the date of the previous public meeting. The council must present the annual report to the meeting and, if the school council accounts have been audited, present a copy of the audited accounts.

Some school councils use this public meeting as a celebration and recognition of the school’s achievements as well as an acknowledgement of those who have contributed to the school over the past year.

Interpreters may need to be provided at these meetings to ensure that all families can understand the information being presented and be engaged in the discussions.

The president as spokesperson

The school council president is spokesperson for school council, not the school. The principal has the dual responsibility to represent the school and the school council to the community.

The president should be prepared to explain school council policies, priorities and activities. Some school council presidents in consultation with the principal write articles for the school newsletter to explain council actions, or attend parent meetings.

There are occasions when the school council president may be required to speak to the community, such as:

  • at information nights for prospective students and their families. The president may be called upon to explain the role of council and its activities – and to seek parents willing to join council.
  • at graduation ceremonies. The president may take this opportunity to thank families for their support of the school and the students.
  • at special ceremonies, such as the opening of new school buildings or the dedication of new facilities.

In this role, the school council president is a key asset for the school in engaging the community.

Consultation with the community

School council should be prepared to consult with the school community and, as needed, with the local community. School council is legally required to inform itself and take into account any views of the school community for the purpose of making decisions related to the school and its students. There are some issues, such as the school dress code, into which the school community must have input.

However, consultation with the community does not mean the community makes the decision.  Council seeks the opinion, advice and views of the community and then makes its decision.

Consulting shows the community that:

  • opinions, ideas and contributions of others are valued
  • the matters discussed are not always straightforward
  • assistance is sought and welcomed
  • people have different points of view about the best way forward.

Community forums or focus meetings allow for all interested community members to contribute to school council decision-making.

In planning a forum, ensure all voices can be heard, and consider use of interpreters/translators and protocols for enabling all to participate. Other ways of consulting the community may include:

  • inviting specific individuals to a meeting to provide information or expertise to assist the council
  • online surveys.

Where councils have sub-committees, members of the wider community should be invited to participate. This can be an excellent introduction to the work of school council. Sub-committees make recommendations to council, so it is an opportunity for opinions and ideas to be voiced. Sub-committees must have at least three members including at least one school council member.

Council meetings are normally open to the school community and conducted according to standard meeting requirements. Visitors or observers can be present at council meetings with the agreement of the principal and a decision of council. Visitors have a right to speak but must do so through the person chairing the meeting (usually the school council president).

Engaging the community

Consultation gives community members an opportunity to provide input into the decision making process. However, it sometimes means only the vocal few have their ideas and opinions heard. On key issues, school council should seek direct input and engagement from its community in addition to consultation.

This personal approach to community engagement can be extended to the president and principal regularly conducting small invitee community forums.

The aim of such approaches is to engage the community in school council work and directly reflect this input through the decision-making process. The result of such actions is a greater belief and confidence by the community in its school council.

Addressing concerns and complaints

A president is likely, from time to time, to receive a complaint about the school, either verbally or in writing. Depending on the nature of the complaint, the following steps can be taken:

  • If the complaint relates to a function of the school council, then the matter should be brought to the attention of the council. Ask the complainant to put their concern in writing and address it to the council. The complaint should be discussed at a council meeting. The principal as the executive officer should contact the complainant advising how the matter has been resolved.
  • If the matter relates to the operation of the school, for example a complaint regarding a teacher, a class structure, bell times, or similar, the complainant should be advised it is not a school council matter and to approach the principal to discuss the concerns. The principal would then provide advice or action from that point. A written complaint should be noted on the meeting agenda as incoming correspondence with no further action required from the council.
  • If the complaint is about the principal, the complainant should be advised to contact the regional office.

Many complaints arise from miscommunication or lack of communication. Taking care with all communication from the council may reduce complaints.

Some concerns raised by parents are complex; however in all cases an open, consistent approach that is courteous, efficient and fair best addresses parent concerns. Such an approach provides opportunities to build partnerships between schools and families.

When dealing with complaints, the principal and the school council president must be mindful of confidentiality and privacy.

The Department requires that schools develop policy and procedures to address parent complaints. This policy should be developed in collaboration with parents and the school community so that it responds to the nature and complexity of the complaint.

Resources and links

Title

Link

School Policy and Advisory Guide – School Councils http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/governance/Pages/councils.aspx
School Councils http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/management/Pages/schoolcouncil.aspx
School Policy and Advisory Guide – Parent Complaints http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/community/pages/parentcomplaints.aspx