The network works
Council has regular input into emerging education policies and practices as well as a range of associated issues which affect schools. Council executives meet regularly with the Education Minister and senior officials from the Education and Training Directorate (ETD) to raise issues experienced across ACT public schools and voice the concerns of parents.
Our members are also involved in many decision-making groups and government committees where they represent parents. Examples include the ACT Curriculum Taskforce (commenting on curriculum changes), a Disability Education Reference Group (providing parent’s input on disability issues) and groups working on the design of several new schools in Canberra. In addition, Council writes formal submissions representing the views and concerns of parents to official inquiries and government bodies, and makes a submission each year prior to the ACT Government’s budget, presenting programs and areas in need of funding.
How do we gather parents’ views and concerns in order to represent them? Through Council meetings and via Council delegates!
At the beginning of the year, each P&C elects a Council delegate. Delegates can gather issues and concerns from the P&C and then voice these when they attend Council meetings. Because of the wealth of experience present at meetings, these concerns can often be answered. However, if delegates from other schools share the concern, together the meeting will decide how Council can best take up the issue.
Ideas into actions
There are many recent examples of Council responding to delegate concerns and representing parents to bringing about change:
- influencing ETD’s new policy on gifted and talent students (see the article on page 9 for more)
- successfully lobbying the ACT Education Minister to look more carefully at applications for new private schools which affect public school enrolments
- initiating a major project to help school canteens in response to ongoing concerns from delegates about their financial viability (as detailed in our last issue)
- responding to frustrations about the dispersed nature of information on disability services by collating a comprehensive booklet of ACT services.
Council lobbying was a major factor behind the ACT Government’s new project in parental engagement. Also, parent representatives pushed for information sessions to assist parents of children with learning difficulties. ETD are now running these workshops which are proving popular with parents.
In this way, Council draws in voices from across ACT schools and acts on them.
The network of delegates, regularly informing Council about parent opinion, is vital to the way Council works and essential for its credibility.
It works both ways
Council meetings include a range of announcements on new information, events and services of interest to school parents and P&Cs. There are also guest speakers from the ETD and elsewhere who provide details on new developments. The second important role of Council delegates is to report this useful information back to their P&C. Ideally, there should be a place on each P&C agenda for the delegate to report on Council happenings and to gather any feedback from those at the P&C meeting. In this way, delegates can inform and consult with their P&C associations on the matters discussed by Council and gather views for the next Council meeting.
If possible, delegates should also help inform the wider school community on what is happening in the educational arena by conveying information from Council, for example through the school’s newsletter. When feedback is asked for, or there is a current campaign, delegates have a role in creating interest and action in their schools.
In this way, Council delegates are the conduit, connecting parents with Council’s lobbying abilities, experience and information. They link Council to the broad base of parents’ opinions on the education of their children.
Interesting, not onerous
Council meetings are held at the Hedley Beare Centre in Stirling on the fourth Tuesday of each month during school terms (two per term). They start at 7pm and end at 9:30 sharp. A standing agenda item ‘Issues from Schools’ enables delegates to raise matters on behalf of their school community for discussion and action.
It may be helpful to share the load by appointing an alternate delegate so that if delegates cannot attend a meeting for some reason, the P&C is still represented. P&C presidents and secretaries are also encouraged to attend Council meetings should their delegate not be able to attend.
Most delegates, once they have been to a few meetings and understand more about the school system, find the discussions about educational issues very interesting and informative. They may even feel inspired to stand for a position on the Council executive!
We look forward to seeing more of our delegates during the year.
This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 2, 2014. See other past editions of our quarterly magazine.