education.vic.gov.au

School operations

School Council — Conduct and Conflict of Interest

Managing ongoing school council conflict or conduct issues

When working to resolve school council member conflict or misconduct, there are a range of options available.

The school principal as the executive officer of school council should contact their Senior Education and Improvement Leader (SEIL) in their Regional Office in the first instance, to seek advice on how to move forward from ongoing school council conflict matters or conduct issues.

It is also possible that, in spite of all efforts of a council to be productive and to work as a team, some council members may remain polarised on particular issues and it is difficult to move forward or make decisions.

The following options are recommended as a way of managing school council conflict.

1. Internal resolution

This involves council members reflecting on and discussing the problem. All members should be encouraged to state their concerns and viewpoints. Council members should be allowed to express how they wish to resolve problems. All proposed solutions must be listened to and acknowledged. The process should conclude with a consensus on how to move forward. This may involve the council as a whole or the president and/or principal, or the Regional Office, attempting to engage with disputing council members to try and reach a resolution.

2. Resolution led by the Regional Office

If internal resolution fails to resolve the issue, the principal should seek the support of the school’s SEIL to engage with disputing council members by:

  • acknowledging the conflict exists and determining the source of the conflict
  • planning on how to deal with the conflict
    • this would involve members reflecting on the problem and stating their concerns and viewpoints
  • allowing council members to express how they wish to resolve problems and making sure that their proposed solutions are listened to and acknowledged
  • building consensus to arrive at a positive solution for all council members involved

In the event that this fails to resolve the problem, the SEIL may recommend education and training as a means of moving forward. Depending on the issue, this may involve:

  • in relation to the whole council — attending governance training, including:
    • effective governance
    • roles and responsibilities
    • the Code of Conduct for school councillors
  • support for the president, including training on:
    • effective school council
    • relationships
    • managing conflict
    • conduct of meetings
  • in relation to the principal and/or president — training on:
    • behavioural management
    • dispute resolution
  • gender equality training with a focus on workplace issues.

3. External mediation and conciliation

This would involve engaging an external mediator to assist in resolving the dispute using techniques as described as above. The Dispute Settlement Centre of VictoriaExternal Link provides free dispute resolution services across Victoria.

4. Conducting a formal investigation

The school council president and/or principal may formally request through their SEIL, that an investigation be conducted into a certain council member’s behaviour or the council, as a whole. It should be noted that, depending on the situation, a SEIL may instigate an investigation at step 2.

The Regional Office on behalf of the Minister will manage the conduct of the investigation. When conducting an investigation, the investigator and the Regional Director must:

  • ensure that rules of procedural fairness and natural justice are complied with

The Department’s Legal Division can provide further advice on procedural fairness and natural justice, as required. Depending on the outcome of any formal investigation, a recommendation may be made to the Minister that disciplinary action should be taken which may include that the membership of the school council member is suspended or terminated.

What if a school council member refuses to participate in steps 1 to 3?

There is no explicit legislative power to require council members to mediate or undertake training. However, school council members unwilling to participate in steps 1 to 3 should be informed at step 1 that any investigation conducted, as final option could lead to a recommendation to the Minister that their membership is suspended or terminated.

The Regional Office should keep a record of all communications with any school council members.This includes:

  • letters
  • correspondence
  • file notes
  • any strategies that were recommended to the council

In addition, a record of any training undertaken should also be kept on file, as this will be important if a formal investigation is conducted.

Guidance chapter on managing ongoing school council conflict or conduct issues

Reviewed 26 May 2020

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