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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.



administrative instructions
Provides principals, governing councils and affiliated committees with the operational guidance required to facilitate good governance and local decision making arrangements and to ensure schools comply with their obligations under the Education and Children’s Services Act 2019 (the Act), Education and Children’s Services Regulations 2020 (the regulations), and other key legislative and departmental requirements.
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.

committee of council
A committee appointed by a governing council is 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 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 means governing council.

See governing council.


The Department for Education.


Education and Children's Services Act 2019
Legislation that is the legal context for the work and responsibilities of governing councils and affiliated committees.
A person employed by the 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 governing councils and affiliated committees, this is the site leader (principal or 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.


incorporated body
A not-for-profit organisation with its own legal identity and a structure regulated by legislation.


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


materials and services charge
An amount charged to parents for the cost of items and services provided to a student so they can complete their curriculum.
member (council)
A person who is elected or appointed to a council after fulfilling all eligibility requirements including any relevant history screening and RAN-EC training requirements.
model constitution
A document that sets out the responsibilities of a governing council or affiliated committee, and the rules they must follow. The content has been approved by the Minister for Education and can't be changed without further approval.


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


This includes parents, guardians, and persons standing in loco parentis to a student or child. It excludes any person whose custody or guardianship of a student or child, or whose responsibility for a student or child, has been excluded under any Act or law (for example, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)). The Act uses the term person responsible for a child or student. 
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.


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.


site governance
See governance.
school improvement plan
A site's plan for student and site success and improvement. It is sometimes called 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.

student representative council
A group of students in a school elected by other students to represent their views.
See committee of council.


terms of reference
A set of information to define the purpose, different roles and structure of a committee. These instructions cannot contradict the constitution or legislation.

See committee.


A person doing unpaid work for or at a site (school or preschool). This includes people on governing councils, as an affiliated committee and subcommittees.


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 policies.


Site Governance, Partnerships, Schools and Preschools

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