I found this article about school councils in Australia interesting. The role of school councils in Ontario is often discussed and it was interesting to compare. This article outlines new “sweeping reforms” for school councils after “two long-awaited reviews” of their roles. Their Minister of Education is quoted,
We’ve got a range of school councils that are extremely effective, but their actual governance … is actually very shallow. So we’re giving them a deeper role in a whole range of educational aspects in the school.”
The article mentions the controversy and tension surrounding the changes, especially in regards to performance of principals:
The government considered giving school councils full authority to hire and fire principals, but decided against it, averting a major backlash ahead of November’s poll. But in another move that has already proved contentious, council presidents – who are usually parents – will be able to take part in the performance management of principals, advising the education department on how they are faring and what could be improved. School councils will also provide feedback on the delivery of the school strategy, a move critics fear could lead to some principals being unfairly punished if there are personality clashes with council members.”
The article states that school councils in Australia have three broad responsibilities: Overseeing the school budget, strategic planning, and implementing policies. It also states, “But the way they operate varies depending on the school and the level of expertise on each council.” Ontario school councils don’t have those responsibilities, but the statement about the variance in the way they operate would still apply, I think. Ontario school councils can advise on many educational areas, but do not have the “powers” that are mentioned for the Australian school councils. I am not sure I fully understand the context, but the reference to merging and sharing supports and expertise sounds interesting. These responsibilities and options seem more aligned with Ontario’s boards of elected trustees though, not school councils. It was the intent initially that members of the school council would be “elected” by the school community, but again, various operations across council groups.
Ontario school councils can give input regarding the expertise and a “profile” of a principal that they believe would be suitable to their school community, but it remains just that: input and advice to senior administration to consider in the placement of principals. I suspect that participation and interest in that process varies across Ontario’s schools. The adjustment to the Australian approach became “advice and feedback” (not decision-making) which is more similar to the Ontario role in this area.
There are a number of roles that school boards and staff are required to support school councils in doing, but they are often not activities that the school council membership is interested in and/or feels prepared or supported to participate in.
I am no longer directly involved with school councils, but I still wonder if changes will ever come for their role in Ontario. People for Education initiated a dialogue in this regard, but I am still left feeling that it is a topic that few want to dig in deep about, let alone lead a full review. But where does that leave parents if that is the only formal structure in place to help them be informed about education and have input? If the input isn’t being supported or facilitated to be beneficial, should there be adjustments to the role and membership structure? Parents don’t have a lot of choice in education settings and matters, so I still think it is important to support their participation in meaningful, appropriate, and respectful ways. Some barriers and uncertainty remain, I sense though.