IMPROVING SCHOOL
GOVERNANCE

1.3 Governance - Online learning activity B - Standing Orders

Goal

To consider the Standing Orders and understand why they are important for the efficient running of council business.

Resources

Steps

  1. Read the guidelines on Standing Orders and sample Standing Orders.
  2. Consider what might be the outcome if the Standing Orders are not followed.

Question One

Why are regulations used?

Possible Answers:

  • These areas are mandatory; they are required by the Education and Training Reform Regulations 2007.
  • Standing Orders must be consistent with the regulations and legislation and with Department policy.

Question Two

What is a quorum and what happens if a quorum is not achieved?

Possible Answers:

  • A quorum requires not less than one half of councillors currently holding office to be present at the meeting in person or by teleconference or videoconference.
  • The majority of members present must not be Department employees.
  • If 30 minutes after the appointed time for a meeting of the school council there is no quorum present, the meeting must be adjourned to a time and place determined by the school council members present.

Question Three

What is an agenda and why is it important to have one?

Possible Answers:

  • The agenda lists the business that council will consider at the meeting. Items can be for information only, for discussion or for decision. The agenda is the road map for the meeting.
  • Without an agenda, councillors are not adequately prepared and cannot do reading or consultation in advance or properly consider issues. Also, conversation at the meeting would be wide-ranging, time-consuming and ineffective.

Question Four

If a council member can't attend a meeting, what should they do? What could happen to the meeting if members don't attend?

Possible Answers:

  • If a member is not able to attend a meeting, they should submit an apology to the executive officer (the principal) in advance. The apology should be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.
  • If apologies are not submitted, no one knows if there will be a quorum. If there is not, the meeting cannot proceed, wasting the time of those who attended.
  • If apologies and absences are not recorded, it is more difficult to check if there was a quorum and whether particular members do not regularly attend.
  • If a member is absent from three consecutive council meetings without council previously granting special leave, council may decide to create a casual vacancy.

Question Five

How long should a meeting go for? What can be done about meetings that are too long?

Possible Answers:

  • Council meetings should require no longer than 2.5 hours. If all agenda items have not been dealt with by the scheduled closing time for the meeting, the chair should ask the meeting if it wishes to defer the remaining items until the next meeting or extend the meeting by a specified period of time (for example, 15 minutes). A motion to extend the meeting should be put and passed.
  • If this protocol is not followed, meetings can become very long.
  • Recording the motion and its outcome in the minutes enables councillors to reflect on why meetings run over time and to take corrective action. For example, the agenda might be shortened, more reports provided for information rather than discussion and the chair might decide to limit long discussions.

Question Six

What are minutes and why must they be taken?

Possible Answers:

  • Minutes are the official record of the meeting proceedings. Generally, a designated council member records a summary of what has been discussed, any decisions made and any actions to be taken before the next meeting. The principal circulates the minutes to members and they are considered and approved at the next council meeting.
  • The principal, as Executive Officer, should keep the community informed by reporting on each meeting in the school newsletter and/or on the school website.
  • A person does not have the 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.

Question Seven

What should a member do if they think they might have a conflict of interest? What are some consequences of not declaring a conflict of interest?

Possible Answers:

  • If a councillor or a member of their immediate family has any conflict of interest (including financial) in a matter under discussion by council, the councillor must declare the conflict of interest. The councillor must not be present when the matter is discussed unless invited to be present by the chair and must not be present when council votes on the matter.
  • If a conflict of interest is not declared, the council leaves itself open to accusations of corruption, ‘jobs for the boys/girls’ and misuse of public funds. It loses credibility in the school community.

Question Eight

When would a meeting be 'open' and when might it be 'closed'?

Possible Answers:

  • School council meetings are normally open to the school community. Visitors or observers can attend with the agreement of the principal and by a decision of council. Visitors have a right to speak but must do so through the chair. They do not have the right to vote.
  • Some meetings or parts of meetings may be closed for confidentiality reasons, such as for endorsing the selection and appointment of a new principal or approving a recommendation for tender.

Question Nine

What needs to be in place for effective decisions to be made by council?

Possible Answers:

  • For effective decision-making by council meetings, there needs to be:
    • a carefully prepared agenda, with papers, circulated at least five working days before the meeting
    • frank and open discussion
    • accurate records of decisions made
    • access to independent and external professional advice where appropriate.
  • If these things do not occur, then agenda items may need to be deferred because councillors are not willing to vote on something they don’t know enough about, or their decisions may be badly informed.

Question Ten

What happens when council votes on a decision, and the vote is tied?

Possible Answers:

  • When a vote is tied (that is, when an even number of people vote for and against the decision), the school council president has a second or casting (deciding) vote.

Question Eleven

What are some of the features of good practice meeting etiquette, and why does it matter?

Possible Answers:

Meeting etiquette is that:

  • only one person talks at a time
  • all requests to speak are directed to the chair
  • all speakers are listened to in respectful silence
  • no side conversations are held
  • councillors listen to the discussion carefully to avoid making points that have already been made or asking questions which have already been answered
  • when the chair indicates that the topic of discussion is closed, no further comments are made
  • no-one uses jargon or insider knowledge
  • all electronic devices (such as mobile phones and pagers) are silenced and no calls are taken during the meeting
  • regardless of how difficult or challenging the topic, everyone stays calm.

If these rules are not followed:

  • councillors and observers may feel excluded, offended or irritated because their time is being wasted and annoyed because their opinion is not being heard
  • the meeting can descend into chaos, achieving nothing.

Conclusion

Adherence to the Standing Orders is essential to building the positive working relationships needed to successfully conduct all council business.

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