School Improvement and Governance Network


Our school council training program - seven key areas

Welcome to our school council training program. Informed by principals, teachers, parents, students and community members who shared their school council knowledge and experience with us, our training can meet your school's needs in the seven key areas below. It supports the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development school council training package. It is also informed by the Our Community Certificate IV in Governance training program.

As well, our vodcasts are a powerful training tool, and cover the seven areas with practical examples and through interviews with school council and community members.

Schools use our seven-part training program to develop their own training. Feel free to use it. For your next training, call the VICCSO office today on 0402 152 634 or e-mail us at .

Schools and other organisations also invite us to do presentations and facilitate discussions about key themes in education such as personalised learning, the Great Schools Checklist, P-12 partnerships and school clusters, school-family-community partnerships, and languages education.

Besides our training program, principals and school councils make use of our ten practical tips for improving governance in a school as well as our ten useful tools

An outline of the school council training program follows.

1. The role of a school council

The effective functioning of a school is assisted by understanding and respecting the distinction between school governance and the professional management of the school. If council members seek to micromanage the school, there is a lack of clarity about a council's role and the strategic issues for which council members' knowledge, skills and perspectives are needed. A great council is engaged in strategic discussions and decisions that make the best use of members' time.

The governance role of a school council includes three things:

  1. Vision. Setting the school's strategic direction and goals
  2. Guidance. Developing and approving plans and policies and monitoring their implementation
  3. Accountability. Overseeing the school’s performance.

What is governance? Definitions. As well, a school council is a part of a school's broader governance that includes the leadership team, parent group and SRC. Fundamental to a great school is the partnership between the principal and school council. With their distinct but complementary roles, how a principal's leadership role is enhanced through a school council that functions well.

Legislation. Accountability to the Minister. School council membership. What do school councils do?

  • Objectives
  • Functions
  • Powers.

What’s really involved as part of a council's governance role?

  • Strategic planning
  • Finance
  • Risk management
  • Policy work.

In developing a council's role, it is important to understand:

  • The practical question of why it is important for a school to be governed
  • What school councils can and should do to make a real difference
  • What a school’s ‘core business’ is, and how it is a council's focus.

How a council adds real value to a school and, via the '3Ps' of planning, policy and partnerships work, to students' learning outcomes. What is good governance and what can be improved? As the role of councils evolves, it is important to know that there are three types of governance (Stuart Ranson):

  1. Stakeholder
  2. Business
  3. Community.

Discuss your council's ideas. See our vodcast and DEECD's 'Improving school governance' - Induction.

2. Your personal role

What is your role as a school councillor? Can you make a difference? Being heard; being understood; being informed. What can your school provide to support your personal development? Importance of:

  • A school council induction package
  • Mentors for new council members
  • Effective professional learning.

Code of conduct for councilors. Director’s Code of Conduct defined in the Public Administration Act 2004. Handling conflicts of interest.

Characteristics of effective councillors:

  • Ability to relate to a wide range of people
  • Strategic thinking - seeing the 'big picture'
  • Understands a council member’s role
  • Focusing on the things that matter
  • Challenging the status quo and questioning
  • Listening so that others will talk, and talking so that others will listen
  • What you personally bring to the council.

Pivotal roles of the principal and school council president. Governance skills of the principal and school council president.

Importance of the principal's report at each council meeting covering a strategic goal and the progress being made towards the goal.     

How to build positive relations with other council and community members, and personally help prevent, diffuse, and resolve conflict when necessary.

Discuss your council's ideas. See our vodcast.

3. Planning and reporting

The meaning of strategy. The strategic and operational. Identifying strategic issues. How are you personally a strategic thinker?

 Five key documents:

  1. Self-evaluation report
  2. School review report
  3. School strategic plan
  4. Annual implementation plan
  5. Annual report.

Use of a school council workplan. A simple Word table with months along the top and focus areas along the side. Areas may include Strategic Plan, Student Progress and Achievement, Budget, Curriculum Policy, and Policy Review.

Step-by-step strategic planning process. What are good ways to develop a plan?

Understanding and using data.

Shared school-family-community goals and examples of whole school community teams:

A school's strategic plan and leadership structure - examples from schools.

How your school council monitors and evaluates progress towards the goals in the strategic plan. Three key questions:

  1. What the school is seeking to achieve over time
  2. What information is needed to monitor progress
  3. When and how best the information is presented.

Discuss your council's ideas. See our vodcast and DEECD's 'Improving school governance' - Strategic Planning.

4. Finance and budgets

Budgeting. Internal controls. Financial reports. Investing and fund-raising. Linking the school's goals and resource allocation.

 Finance sub-committee. Role of the treasurer.

 What is the budget? Budget process:

  • Council sets priorities
  • Budget submissions
  • Review of submissions.

Elements of a good budget:

  • Realistic
  • Balanced
  • Developed as a partnership
  • Projects cash flow.

Financial literacy. A school council member should be able to answer the following:

  • I know and understand the formal financial responsibilities of our council
  • I understand and carefully consider the financial reports
  • I know how our finances are linked to the strategic and implementation plans
  • I understand how to monitor school accounts to decide if there are opportunities to invest surplus funds to earn interest
  • I know how to ensure that all money coming into the hands of the council is expended for proper purposes relating to the school.

Discuss your council's ideas. See our vodcast and DEECD's 'Improving school governance' - Finance.

5. Effective meetings

How to ensure meetings aren’t a waste of time and energy. How do we all agree on things?

Preparing effective meetings. Standing orders. Outline of sample standing orders. Ground rules. Outline of sample ground rules. Guidelines, tools and resources for preventing and dealing with conflict.

Making minutes matter. Making meetings work. The agenda. Meeting papers. Role of the principal and school council president in making sure that:

  • The meeting agenda always has a focus on strategic issues such as the student outcome areas in the school's strategic plan
  • The agenda does not distract attention from the council's govenance role of setting, and monitoring progress toward, strategic goals.

Problems that can get in the way of good meetings:

  • No clear or shared goals
  • No clear agenda
  • Poor preparation
  • Poor participation
  • Getting off the subject
  • Meeting too long
  • Hidden agendas
  • Discussing trivia
  • Rubber stamping.

How does your council make a decision?

  • Consensus
  • Majority
  • Expertise
  • Time pressure
  • Driven by one person
  • Avoidance of conflict
  • What is the best way?

The chair at meetings should:

  • Start meetings promptly
  • Follow the agenda
  • Stick to standing orders and uphold ground rules for meetings
  • Manage the use of time
  • Limit/control discussion
  • Make sure everyone contributes/no-one dominates
  • Deal effectively with diverse views
  • Avoid expressing bias
  • Help resolve conflicts
  • Clarify action to be taken
  • Summarise results
  • Clear the minutes within 48 hours or no more than one week of the meeting.

Successful sub-committees and teams:

  • Clear terms of reference
  • Focus on adding value
  • Chair should be from council
  • Good mix of skills
  • Not decision-makers but provide recommendations.

Do we need to meet monthly? Discussing the idea to arrange every second meeting as a policy-focused one.

Checking your progress. What are some ways you do or could do to evaluate your council’s effectiveness? A simple evaluation sheet at the end of each council meeting. Things to look at are:

  • What worked well in this meeting?
  • Did we work well as a team?
  • Did everyone participate?
  • What didn't work well?
  • What do we need to do to improve our meetings?

Discuss your council's ideas. See our vodcast.

6. Policies to make a difference

Why does policy matter? What are school council policies? Policy topics.

A school-family-community partnerships policy. Who develops educational and curriculum policy? Developing policy that deals with: 

  • A key idea such as personalised learning at school, at home and in the community
  • A big issue such as a P-12 approach to learning (that may involve a cluster of schools)
  • The optimum and equitable use of learning technologies in the classroom and at home.

Developing a shared school community policy framework for 21st century teaching and learning.

Schools seek to have a small number of specific policies that actually affect school practice rather than a large number of policies, some of which may be largely irrelevant or of little use.

School Policy and Advisory Guide for broader Departmental policy information and advice.

Developing and reviewing policy. What is in a policy? Policy writing templates - examples.

  • Purpose
  • Statement
  • Actions
  • Monitoring, reporting and review

Policy-focused meetings at school council. Increasingly relating each council meeting agenda item to a council-approved policy.

Examples of partnerships that you may consider as key policy areas include:

Policy discussions about education more broadly, not only about your own school.

Discuss your council's ideas. See our vodcast and DEECD's 'Improving school governance'- Policy Development and Review.

7. Your community

What are school-family-community community partnerships and participation? Why are community partnerships and participation important? How can community partnerships and participation be improved? What things may hinder this?

Key community-building issues that principals, school councils, parents and teachers mention are:

Essential supports for partnerships:

  • Community-building leadership and skills of the principal and school council president - see our discussion of principals as community-builders
  • How personalised learning can help develop better, stronger partnerships
  • Policies and tools to improve school-family-community communication and conversations
  • Support for community partnership brokers and the work of partners such as local government.

Practical steps in moving from informal community links to more formal partnerships:

  1. Consider which partners
  2. Build trust and ownership
  3. Develop a practical plan.

Diversity and inclusion issues:

  • Socio-economic background
  • Ethnicity and culture
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Business/community mix.

Why is diversity important?

How do school councillors become aware of the values, views and practical suggestions of their community? Identify key ways. Engaging and communicating with your school community:

  • What has worked before?
  • School community conversations
  • Importance of both face-to-face and online conversations - Talk & Action tool
  • Resources available to the school for consultation
  • Geographic spread and diversity of the community.

What schools do:

  • Forums
  • Small group discussion
  • Working groups
  • Include summaries of council meeting agendas, reports and minutes in the school's newsletter and on its website
  • Suggestion boxes.

Discuss your council's ideas. See our vodcast.