Students to help hire principals under school council overhaul

Victorian students will soon have a say in hiring principals and approving school budgets as part of a shake-up that will see them appointed to every state high school council.

 From next year it will become mandatory for students to be elected to school councils and given full voting rights. 

Students will work alongside other council members to approve multi-million dollar budgets, sign off on payments, and review and update policies. They will also help establish a school’s “broad direction and view”, monitor spending and enter into contracts.

Education Minister James Merlino said students had repeatedly raised concerns about being locked out of important decisions.

“Young people should have a say in the future direction of their school,” he said.

“We want our kids to be future leaders in our communities and developing these skills is a crucial step in making that happen. These student members will have full voting rights on the council and it is our expectation will play a key role in deciding the future direction of the school.”

The Andrews government is considering whether exemptions are needed for decisions involving staff or specific students. 

Mr Merlino made the announcement at an event on Wednesday night hosted by the Victorian Student Representative Council, which has been campaigning for the changes since 2015.

In July, Fairfax Media revealed that the Andrews government was “seriously considering” the peak student body’s proposal.

Student member David Trevorrow said he was “thrilled” with the announcement and students would approach important decisions with “maturity and confidence”.

“Students a bring unique contemporary experience of school to school council meetings,” he said.

“We look forward to working with school council presidents, principals and the education sector to make sure students have a role in school council that is authentic and adds to the decision-making process.” 

Student executive Mia Sherman said students deserved to have a say about their education. 

“Putting students on school councils ensures that their voices hold the value they deserve. As a student, this is a very exciting moment that my peers and I have been advocating for.”

Training will be rolled out to prepare students for the new role and the Andrews government is still consulting with students, parents and teachers. 

Mansfield Secondary School already has two student representatives on its school council who have full voting rights. 

Parent member Allison Walker said the Year 12 students took the role very seriously and provided valuable insights. 

“They can tell us what it is like on the ground from a student perspective and what is working and what isn’t,” she said.

This has been particularly important during the planning for a new science and maths building, she said. 

“Their discussions are very considered and there is never anything flippant or not well-thought out. The concepts they put forward are very mature.”

The Opposition’s education spokesman Tim Smith hit out at the plan, saying the Andrews government was”obsessed with turning our schools into a post-modernist nirvana”.

He said the move would fail to improve education standards. 

“Daniel Andrews is receiving billions of extra dollars from the federal government for schools and yet standards and outcomes are going backwards under his watch and it’s little wonder if they think putting student representatives on school councils is the answer.”

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Judy Crowe said many schools already had students on their councils who had a “very important voice”.  

But she said it was sometimes logistically difficult for students to sit on councils – particularly in rural areas where driving at night might be required to attend meetings.

“The mandatory nature could create some difficulties,” she said.

Liana Buchanan, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, threw her support behind the initiative earlier this year, and said young people had a right to take part in decisions that affected them.

“I think we need to get much better at recognising that children and young people have expertise and can make a contribution, rather than assuming that adults know best,” she said.