The right of parents and interested citizens to play a role in the government school system has been recognised since 1848. However, the development of a highly centralised education system in the 1850s and 1860s meant that in practice the role of community organisations attached to schools became very limited.
The Board of National Education managed each school in co-operation with a group of local patrons. Each school was required to have at least three local patrons, preferably from different religious denominations. Patrons were expected to meet at least monthly and their duties included supervising school buildings, fixing the rate of school fees, reviewing complaints by parents, and generally ensuring the school operated efficiently.
School boards were constituted under the Public Schools Act, 1866. Each board was to consist of at least three local people appointed by the Council of Education and was regularly to visit, inspect and report on the school under its charge. School boards had similar managerial and supervisory roles to those of the earlier local patrons.
The Public Instruction Act, 1880 reconstituted school boards to make them responsible for all government schools in a prescribed district. The boards were retitled district school boards and were to consist of no more than seven local representatives. Their functions were no different from those of the earlier boards. From the 1890s district school boards tended to become responsible for small districts or even a single school.
Parents and Citizens Associations began to emerge, usually to raise funds for educational needs, to bring the school and parents into closer contact, and to consider issues relating to the welfare of the school. At first they were called Parents Unions but by 1908 the term Parents and Citizens Association had become general.
First Mothers Club established, at Blackfriars Public School. Other clubs were soon formed, to raise funds for educational equipment and extra amenities, especially for infants departments of public schools, and to represent to the Minister the needs of the schools.
Council of Parents and Citizens Associations in New South Wales formed; membership open to Parents and Citizens Associations, parent groups associated with non-government schools and parents and citizens who were not members of parent groups. Its major aim was to concentrate the strength of parent groups to give a more effective voice in educational matters. The Council operated until about 1920.
New regulations officially recognised Parents and Citizens Associations. While school boards continued to be appointed in the usual way, the new regulations permitted the executive of a Parents and Citizens Association to be appointed as the school board. Parents and Citizens Associations were given powers similar to the school boards to report and advise on school buildings, to review plans for new school buildings, to assist in providing educational equipment, to handle local matters referred to them by the Minister, etc.
Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations formed to promote greater unity and to give the associations a stronger voice.
Federation of Infants and Nursery School Clubs formed to make representations to the Minister on matters relating to State-wide policy and schools generally.
School boards abolished by amendment to the Public Instruction Act. They were replaced by District Councils of Parents and Citizens Associations with functions and duties narrower than the school boards, namely, to advise the Minister on all school matters except staffing, to assist in establishing scholarships for local children, to assist in arranging conveyance, and to assist in establishing and maintaining central libraries for schools in the district. The main objective was to co-ordinate the activities of Parents and Citizens Associations in each district. In the same legislation the duties of Parents and Citizens Associations and Mothers Clubs were officially defined as providing a service to the Minister upon request, helping teachers arrange public functions, providing school equipment, etc.
The title Mothers Club was changed to Infants School Club.
Department of Education attempted to introduce School Councils into all government schools. School Councils were to consist of elected teacher and parent representatives, with a non-teacher chairperson. Functions included advising the principal on educational matters affecting the school and maintaining school buildings and grounds and controlling their out-of-school-hours use. Few School Councils were formed.
Federation of Infants and Nursery School Clubs changed its name to Federation of School Community Organisations.
Working Group on the Establishment of School Councils in New South Wales State Schools recommended public discussion prior to the introduction of legislation to enable the establishment of optional School Councils.
The Premier and the Minister for Education gave an undertaking to parent organisations that schools wishing to establish a School Council would be encouraged to do so.
The Director-General of Education advised principals that he would consider applications for the establishment of School Councils. Approval has been given to four schools.
At the end of 1992 there were 944 School Councils.
At the end of 1997 about 70% of schools had School Councils.