In camera-time for student councils

A group of students sit at a table, involved in an intense conversation.

This article can also be found in the Connect Journal #237.

In-Camera Time isn’t about being photographed at meetings! ‘In camera’ here is a Latin term that means camera’ here is a Latin term that means ‘in private’. So, in a corporate setting, this is where, for a period of a meeting, only board members are present. That is, staff or others (eg. visitors) are not present. The purpose of in-camera time is so that confidential but honest discussion can occur, particularly regarding the operation of the leadership team within a board.

So how does this apply to the context of a student council? Often in student councils where teachers are present, students may feel uncomfortable addressing specfic concerns that question decisions of the school that the teacher liaison may be involved with, or similar issues. Therefore in-camera time can often help students to address issues that may relate to staff or to the decisions made by teacher-liaisons in regards to the student council.

In Executive meetings of the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC), in-camera time is generally always set in the agenda. Staff are automatically absent from in-camera time, allowing the Executive to discuss any issues that surround staffing, or issues that they may not want to express in the presence of staff.

At a school level, this might be useful to have meetings without the support or liaison staff member to allow free and open discussion. However, it’s not just staff who can be excused from in-camera times, but student leaders within a student council. Sometimes, this student leadership may be excused, so that the remaining student council members can discuss issues around their conduct and the governance of the council.

It is also important that in-camera time is conducted with strict and sensitive procedures. The VicSRC Executive has recently adopted a detailed policy about such conduct.

Some examples of procedures for a student council could be:

  • Minutes taken during in-camera time should be written separately from minutes sent to everyone else, maintaining the confidentiality of the in-camera time session.

  • Chairs for in-camera time should be designated to collect items to be discussed and ensure timings and discussions are on track.

  • In-camera time sessions could always be set in the agenda, regardless of whether they are requested. This allows students to avoid being uncomfortable in requesting in-camera time: where those excused may be worried why the in-camera time is being requested.

Ultimately, in-camera time sessions aren’t to exclude people from meetings, but rather to support confidential discussion around sensitive issues and in a comfortable environment. It allows students to freely discuss any concerns they may hold, without fear of being judged. It also allows for constructive criticism to be raised, and ensures that students are able to work collaboratively in dealing with sensitive issues.

About the author

Aaran VicSRC Executive Committee 2018-19