In the European Netherlands the role of the Participation Council (PC) in Schools is described in the law WMS of November 30, 2006. However, at this moment it is not clear, if this law is currently also applicable in the Caribbean part of the Netherlands. Therefore we describe the details of this law as they are applicable in the European part of the Netherlands. It may be used as an input in upcoming meetings between the SCS School Board and Parent representations.
First, the law states that:
Every school must have a Participation Council. It is the task of the School Board to install one.
Role of the Participation Council (PC)
Participation in school
There are several parties involved in a school: staff working there, students are given lessons and parents that want their child to receive a good education. And of course there is the Board of the school.
In the Participation Council (PC) staff, parents and students discuss and take part in the decisions concerning important matters that effect the school. In this way they are able to influence the policy of the school. The ‘rules’ for this participation are defined in the Participation Act in Schools (WMS), which was introduced in 2007. The PC can talk about anything to related to the school. The PC may give solicited and unsolicited advice to the School Board.
A PC in a school is compulsory. Formally, the PC relates to the School Board. In practice, in The Netherlands, it will often be the director or principal of the school who attends the meetings of the PC, representing the School Board.
The Board(or its representative) must first submit every important decision to the PC. Without a favorable opinion or approval of the PC such decision cannot be just implemented by the School Board.
The PC consists of two sections: staff make up one section and parents and students make up the other section. The members of the PC are elected by the people they represent:
the staff chooses thee mployee representatives in the PC, parents choose the parent representatives and student representatives are elected by the students of a school. Everyone may be a candidate for the PC at school and every one at the school has the right to vote or the PC member in their PC-section..
Tasks of the PC
For every proposed decision, the school board assesses the scope of the decision they need to take. Then they need to asses if they are required to get advice from the PC or consent. Only decisions of minor importance can be directly taken and implemented by the Board.
The prime task of the PC is to agree with the strategic School Education plan. However, e.g., staff strategy may only be discussed by the PC members representing the staff.
Powers of the MR
The law WMS gives PC a number of general and special powers.
The general powers include the right of consultation, the right of initiative and the right to receive information. The special powers are the right of consent and the right to advice.
The right to consultation holds that the school board and (a relevant section of) the PC must meet if one of the parties requests this. The requesting party must indicate the reason for the consultation.
The right of initiative holds that the PC may discuss any matter related to the school. In addition, the PC may make proposals to the school board and explain its position. The PC can also use the right of initiative ,for example, if, in their view, the Board is not sufficiently proactive in certain areas or if it is of the opinion that improvements in certain areas of the school are possible.
If the PC submits a proposal, the school Board must react in writing and specify its arguments. The school board is not required to carry out a proposal, but, in that case, the board must explain why the proposal will not be implemented.
The PC needs information in order to perform its tasks properly and to be an appropriate sparring partner of the Board. Therefore the board must give the PC all the information it needs to perform its tasks and do this well in time. This is called the right of information of the PC.
The Act also lists a number of topics on which the Board must annually inform the PC in any case. These include information on the budget and rules concerning the finances that the Board receives from the Government.
Special powers relate to the right of advice and the right of consent of the PC. The Board must ask the PC for advice or consent for a large number of subjects. Actually, these special powers constitute the core of the work in the PC. In case that the Board needs a consent from the PC on a particular subject, the Board cannot take a final decision without the PC’s consent.
The advisory power of the PC has less impact. The board may simply disregard an advice of the PC. Of course, the board must submit arguments why it will not follow the advice.
The WMS law differentiates between the powers of the whole PC and the powers of the individual Sections. Many topics will be presented to the entire PC, for example, all topics related to the school Education Plan (consent of PC is required) or, e.g., the appointment of the principal of the school (advisory power of the PC).
Some specific topics may only be addressed by a specific section of the PC. For example, only the staff section of the PC may address staff education plans or work and rest periods of the staff. On the other hand, parents may discuss the school prospectus or the amount of their voluntary contribution. Finally, students have a right to consent to the student statutes or certain provisions for them. However, if a proposal for advice or consent is submitted to a specific section of the PC, the other sections need be informed simultaneously.
The Board and the PC may not always agree. In that case, as a first step, it needs to be attempted to reach consensus through negotiations. If this fails, the dispute may be referred to the arbitration committee. There is an independent committee makes a ruling that all parties must follow. Such cases may be referred to the National Commission Disputes WMS.
Working methods of the PC
Many Participation Councils react to current developments in their school or await proposals from the school board. A PC that is proactive and that wants to be better prepared does this on the basis of an annual plan and a work plan. A work plan comprises a summary of the topics that the PC wants to address in a year. In the annual plan, the meetings of the PC are scheduled accompanied by the topics to be discussed. If possible, it also shows how the content of a topic will be prepared and who is the contact person for that subject.
The work plan and annual plan ensure that all members of the PC know if an item on the agenda requires an advice or a consent from the PC. From the annual plan and work plan the Board knows when the information is to be provided to the PC and if the PC advises or their consent is required.