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Governing council glossary of terms

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A lot of information on this website comes from legislation, acts and other important documents, including the constitution templates. This glossary pulls some of these terms together and simplifies some others.

If you can’t find the exact term you’re looking for or have questions about legal issues or these definitions, please contact us.



advisory body
A group that can only provide advice. Its decisions are not enforceable.
affiliated committee
A committee connected with a council, but that works independently. It has its own constitution that is approved the minister.

See committee.


casual vacancy
A vacancy on a council caused when a member resigns or when there aren’t enough candidates at election time to fill the required positions.
A group of people who volunteer to meet regularly and help out with a specific area or issue at a school or preschool.

See affiliated committee.
See committee of council.
See preschool management committee.

committee of council
A committee appointed by a school/governing council, sometimes called a subcommittee. This type of committee reports back to the council and has a terms of reference specified by the council. One example of a committee of council is the finance advisory committee.

See committee.

common seal
A stamp with the words 'common seal'. It can be a metal or rubber stamp. It is used when formal council documents are signed.
A legal framework for a school council, governing council, or an affiliated committee. It sets out the powers and functions of the council/committee. Each school holds a signed copy of their approved constitution.
A generic term that can mean either governing council or school council.

See governing council.
See school council.


The Department for Education and Child Development.


Education Act 1972
Legislation that is the legal context for the work and responsibilities of school councils, governing councils and affiliated committees.
A person employed by the school/governing council. This is not a member of council and not a department employee.

See volunteer.

ex officio member
A council member appointed because of being in an official position. In school and governing councils, this is the site leader (principal/director).


general meetings
A meeting of the whole school community. These meetings are held irregularly and in response to a specific and unusual issue.
A way to govern a site (preschool or school). It is about guiding and strategy. It is not about day-to-day management.
governing council
A council that shares responsibility with the site leader (principal/director) for governance of the site. Their decisions are binding. It is different to a school council.

See school council.


in loco parentis
In the position of a parent; having the same authority as a parent over a child, for example a boarding school.
incorporated body
A not-for-profit organisation with its own legal identity and a structure regulated by legislation.


legally recoverable amount
The amount of a materials and services charge that a school can legally recover.
See materials and services charge.


materials and services charge
A sum charged by a school for specific materials or services, like books or computers. A school/governing council is involved in setting the amount.
member (council)
A person who is elected or appointed to a council after fulfilling all eligibility requirements including any relevant history screening requirements.
model constitution
A standard template for school or governing council constitutions. The content has been approved by the Minister for Education and Child Development and can't be changed without getting approval.


office bearer / office holder
A member of council who is either a treasurer, secretary or chairperson.
ordinary meeting
A usual meeting of the school/governing council.


A parent of a child attending the school.
A parent of a child enrolled, but not yet attending the school.
See in loco parentis.
See parent of a child.
parent of a child
A person who has legal custody or guardianship of the child.
A person standing 'in loco parentis' to the child.
It is not a parent of a child where another parent or person has legal custody or guardianship of the child – to the exclusion of that parent.
See in loco parentis.
See parent.
polling the community
A way to ask for approval from the wider school or preschool community. It must be done in some situations, but can be done when a council is thinking about a major decision. It is usually in writing, but can be done in other ways.
preschool management committee
A body that assists in the administration of a preschool and must comply with the Children’s Services Act 1985. This is different from a governing council which works under the Education Act 1972.
See committee.
See governing council.


The minimum number of people needed at a meeting of council to make it legal. A council quorum is the majority of the filled positions on the council. If there is no quorum at a meeting after 30 minutes, the meeting must be adjourned until another time.


returning officer
A person responsible for the election, nomination and appointment of councillors. In schools, this is the principal.


school council
A council that advises the site leader (principal/director). It is different to a governing council.

See governing council.

school or governing council
A school council or a governing council, depending on what is first referred to in a specific piece of text.

See governing council.
See school council.

site governance
See governance.
site improvement plan
A site's plan for student and site success and improvement. It is sometimes called a ‘school improvement plan’ or a ‘quality improvement plan’.
site leader
A school principal or preschool director. They run the site (school/preschool).
special resolution
A formal way to amend a site's constitution
remove an office holder from their place on the council.
standard sum
An amount of money set by the department once a year that determines how much of the materials and services charge can be legally recovered.
See materials and services charge.
standing orders
A set of rules to make sure a meeting runs smoothly. These rules cannot contradict the constitution or legislation.

See constitution.

See committee of council.


A person doing unpaid work for or at a site (school/preschool). This includes people on school councils, governing councils and committees.


Many of these definitions come direct from the constitution templates, others are drawn from the Legal Services Commission’s law handbook, and some are from the Department for Education and Child Development policies.


Governing Councils, Office for Education and Early Childhood

Phone: 8226 9617
Emaildecd.sitegovernance [at] sa.gov.au