Chapter Two: The Structure of Canadian Schooling

2.9 Schools and School Councils

The processes of consolidation outlined above substantially altered the balance of authority in most provincial school systems. The trend of shifting power away from the school neighbourhood or community, and away from direct public involvement, continued as the larger school divisions came to depend increasingly on the professional expertise of their superintendents and staff. A couple of decades ago, attempts began in most provinces to strengthen the role of local voices ‒ particularly those of parents ‒ in the education system. This has been done by giving legal status to a variety of parent advisory committees, school councils, and orientation committees at the school level, together with an elected membership and an expanded role in influencing the ongoing life of the school (Brien & Stelmach, 2009; Rideout, 1995).

While such initiatives have seen the inclusion of a variety of groups and the delegation of different degrees of authority over various elements of school life, most have sought to include a greater advisory or consultative role for parents in a broad range of school-related issues (see Table 2.9.1). The phrase “partners in learning” characterizes the idealized relationship between parent and teacher, family, community, and school. Justifications for such initiatives have come from at least three directions: (1) the growing research literature that indicates that parental participation has positive effects on student learning; (2) social and political arguments that support parental rights to advocate on their children’s behalf over matters of education; and (3) a pragmatic argument that suggests that the availability of the resources necessary for public schooling in the future will depend increasingly on the political support of parents in the face of increased competition from other sources.

Table 2.9.1

Parental Participation in School Level Governance in Canada

Province and Council Name Date Legislation and Background Documents Composition
British Columbia School Planning Councils 2002 Bill 34 School Board Flexibility Bill 3 parents, 1 teacher, and the school principal. Plus 1 student in high schools.



2019 Alberta Regulation 94/2019 1 principal, 1 or more teachers, 1 student (for high schools), parents of students in the school, another parent or community member.
Saskatchewan School Community Councils 1995


Education Act

Sec. 140

5-9 elected parents, guardians or community members. Members may be appointed by a board of education.
Manitoba Advisory Councils for School Leadership 1995, 1996 Education Administration Act 7 members with two-thirds parents and one-third non-parents including community members. Teachers and staff may be elected but may not number more than the community members.
Ontario School Councils 1995 Policy/Program Memorandum No. 122 Principal, 1 teacher, parent representatives, non-parent community members.
Quebec School Councils 1998 Bill 180 (1997) Students, parents, teachers, staff, and community representatives. Principal ex-officio.
New Brunswick 2001 Amendment to the Education Act Parents. District education councils.
Nova Scotia School Advisory Councils 1996 Students, parents, teachers, staff and community representatives.
Prince Edward Island School Councils 1995 Section 66 of the School Act Parents, teachers, and the principal. Students may also be represented.
Newfoundland and Labrador School Councils 1996 Royal Commission (1992); Bill 48, Section 26 of the Education Act Parents, teachers, and the principal have an advisory role.
Yukon School Councils 1990 Education Act Parent and community members. First Nations representation guaranteed.

Source. Adapted from Chan et al. 2007.

The Yukon, with the passing of the 1990 Education Act, provides an interesting example of a significant attempt to decentralize and democratize its educational system, and to establish a broad base for local participation in, and control over, schools. Under the provisions of the act, existing school committees, which prior to the act had only a limited advisory role, are encouraged to evolve into school councils or school boards with substantial authority over the operations of the local school. School councils of three to seven members (which may include guaranteed representation for Yukon First Nations populations) have substantial powers, subject to ministerial approval, over such matters as the selection of the school principal, approval of school rules, development of local curriculum, and evaluation and dismissal of teachers. After at least one year, the parents in the educational area served by the council may vote to become a school board and to assume increased powers over all areas of their school’s operations.

As another example, in Quebec parental participation and public accountability on the part of schools were along with the already mentioned reorganization of school boards, a central part of the province’s educational reform agenda a decade or so ago. To achieve this objective, provision was made for the creation of elected school governing bodies. These school governing bodies, required under the Education Act, offer a forum for community input and public accessibility, involvement, and accountability. Comprising parents, teachers, non-teaching and support staff, and, at the secondary level, students, the governing body is expected to play an important role in creating a school whose whole ethos is responsive to the community it serves (See Box 2.9.1).

After twenty years of such efforts and legislation, however, the overall impact can only be called modest.  There are more structures to involve parents, and schools are more sensitive than they used to be to the wishes and demands of local communities, but the move towards more local participation has not resulted in dramatic changes in how schools work or what they do. (Stelmach, 2016).

Box 2.9.1

Provisions for Elected School Governing Bodies in the Quebec Education Act (Selected Sections Updated to June 2014)

  1. A governing board shall be established for each school. The governing board, which shall have not more than 20 members, shall include the following persons:

(1) at least four parents of students attending the school who are not members of the school staff, elected by their peers;

(2) at least four members of the school staff, including at least two teachers and, if the persons concerned so decide, at least one non-teaching staff member and at least one support staff member, elected by their peers;

(3) in the case of a school providing education to students in the second cycle of the secondary level, two students in that cycle elected by the students enrolled at the secondary level or, as the case may be, appointed by the students’ committee or the association representing those students;

(4)  in the case of a school where childcare is organized for children at the pre-school and elementary school level, a member of the staff assigned to childcare, elected by his or her peers;

(5) two representatives of the community who are not members of the school staff.

The community representatives on the governing board are not entitled to vote.

  1. The school service centre shall determine the number of parents’ representatives and staff representatives on the governing board after consulting with each group concerned.

The total number of seats for staff representatives referred to in subparagraphs 2 and 4 of the second paragraph of section 42 must be equal to the number of seats for parents’ representatives.

  1. Where fewer than 60 students are enrolled in a school, the school service centre may, after consulting with the parents of the students attending the school and with the school staff, vary the rules governing the composition of the governing board provided in the second paragraph of section 42.

However, the total number of seats for staff representatives must be equal to the total number of seats for parents’ representatives.

  1. The principal of the school staff shall take part in the meetings of the governing board but is not entitled to vote.
  1. The governing board shall choose its chair from among the parents’ representatives.
  1. Every decision of the governing board must be made in the best interests of the students.

68. The meetings of the governing board are open to the public; however, the governing board may order that a meeting be            closed to the public if a matter is to be examined which could cause injury to a person.

  1. The governing board shall analyse the situation prevailing at the school, principally the needs of the students, the challenges tied to educational success and the characteristics and expectations of the community served by the school. Based on the analysis and taking into account the commitment-to-success plan of the school service centre, the governing board shall adopt the school’s educational project, oversee the project’s implementation and evaluate the project at the intervals specified in it.

Each of these stages shall be carried out through concerted action between the various participants having an interest in the school and in educational success. To that end, the governing board shall encourage the collaboration of students, parents, teachers, other school staff members, and community and school service centre representatives.

  1. The governing board is responsible for approving the school’s success plan, and any updated version of the plan, proposed by the principal.75.1. The governing board is responsible for approving the anti-bullying and anti-violence plan, and any updated version of the plan, proposed by the principal. The main purpose of the plan must be to prevent and stop all forms of bullying and violence targeting a student, a teacher or any other school staff member.
  1. Each year, the governing board shall inform the parents and the community served by the school of the services provided by the school and report on the level of quality of such services.

The governing board shall make public the educational project and the success plan of the school. Each year, the governing board shall report on the evaluation of the implementation of the success plan.



Share This Book