Characteristics of an effective school council
An effective school council is one that:
- has a clear understanding of its role and responsibilities
- focuses on improving student learning outcomes and educational opportunities from a governance perspective
- involves the school community in conversations about key issues and challenges
- is actively involved in the development of the School Strategic Plan
- promotes parent and community participation and communicates with the community to seek views and feedback.
- includes members who represent the diverse views of the school community
- has clear and consistent processes for decision-making
- maintains high ethical standards
- has members with trust and respect for one another
- regularly reviews and evaluates its own performance
- appropriately delegates to individual members and sub-committees
- allocates time to its own growth and development, through induction and training.
An effective school council supports the development of strategic partnerships, programs and activities the school has developed to achieve the goals in the school strategic plan.
Roles and responsibilities
Effective school councils understand their roles and responsibilities. They understand the difference between their governance responsibilities and the operational responsibilities of the principal and school staff.
Reviewing how school council is operating
It is good governance for a school council to regularly review and assess how it operates. It is recommended that the council members complete a self-assessment of their knowledge, skills and operating procedures, following the election process. This could be at a council meeting in term 2. However, councils may vary this timing to suit their needs.
The assessment of skills and knowledge may also coincide with a school review, or the school development of a new strategic plan, developing a specific policy or if the council and school are beginning a major program.
As part of this review, councils may consider their Standing Orders, their sub-committee structure and the effectiveness of their meetings. It is important that school councils – and individual councillors – work effectively, but also that they know they are working effectively and efficiently.
The council might also consider the following:
- Preparation: Does our council have a clear sense of how it will conduct proper governance? Do our members have relevant governance experience and an understanding of process?
- Capacity and composition: Does our council have the diversity and experience to reflect the community and its needs and expectations? Do our councillors have the time to do the job properly? Does our council have the financial skills to oversee the school budget?
- Structure: Does our council have the best structure to be effective? Do we need a separate sub-committee or working group to consider a specific issue?
- Clarity: Does our council understand its roles and responsibilities? Are all our councillors fulfilling their role?
A strategic way to review the effectiveness of the council is to survey members, then discuss the results either in small groups, and/or as a whole. A school council self-assessment tool has been developed to support school councils with this process. The self-assessment tool is a working document for council members and can be located online in the (principal or business manager login required).
The skills and particular expertise a school council should have to assist in its key responsibilities, include:
- financial literacy
- strategic planning
- community engagement
- facility management
- policy making
- ethical decision-making.
A school council should offer all members experience and training in these key areas. Regular review of school council skills and capabilities will help determine which skills can be developed and enhanced.
The review can begin with the self-assessment tool distributed to all members of council. This tool will help members as a group, to reflect, discuss and identify their capabilities when matched against the roles and responsibilities of the council. Most school councils will identify some areas for improvement. They may agree that they wish to further develop particular capabilities. It is important all council members have an understanding of governance and that the council as a whole has the capacity to monitor and oversee strategic planning, finance and support the school priorities.
School council skills and expertise
An effective and pro-active school council is a key factor in having a successful school. The most effective school councils have a range of skills and expertise – or a good understanding of how to source additional knowledge and advice.
Reviewed 25 April 2023