Part 2: Effectiveness of organisational arrangements

Ministry of Education: Management of the school property portfolio.

In this Part, we examine:

Relationship between the Property Management Group and National Operations

We expected the Ministry’s policy arm – the Property Management Group – and the operations arm – National Operations – to be working collaboratively at both national and local levels. Working collaboratively is important for ensuring that staff understand, and work together towards, common goals for property management.

We also expected that property management activities would be implemented in a way that supports the Ministry’s wider education aims and its 3 vital outcomes of:

  • effective teaching for all students;
  • family and community engagement in education; and
  • development of quality providers of education.

We found that day-to-day relationships work well in practice, but that there needs to be better collaboration between the 2 groups in setting common goals.

In the national office, the Property Management Group and National Operations function separately. However, we saw evidence that staff within the 2 groups were working closely on a day-to-day basis. There is ongoing informal communication between senior managers of the 2 groups, and the senior managers are part of a Regional Overview Group that meets every quarter to share information.

Network provision staff in regional and district offices have responsibilities for property as part of a wider role of “education improvement and support” (for example, contributing to the preparation of area strategies, monitoring demographic changes and their likely future effect on planning for schools, and advising on enrolment schemes). From a property management perspective, this integration of responsibilities appears to work well because it means that these staff understand and can address property issues as part of their wider role.

Network provision staff in regional and district offices report, and are accountable, to the Senior Manager, National Operations, with informal reporting lines to the Group Manager, Property Management Group. There are also a number of communication lines between staff in the 2 groups.

The organisational structure is complex, although it appears to work well now. This is largely because of the strong relationships that exist between the 2 sets of staff involved and because of robust formal and informal communication channels put in place by the Property Management Group. For example, the Property Management Group organises regional forums 4 times a year where policy is discussed, the Property Management Group and local offices hold fortnightly telephone conferences, and the Implementation Manager from the Property Management Group chairs a Best Practice Committee that involves representatives from the local offices and that meets every 2 to 3 months.

We consider that the ongoing effectiveness of the structure needs to be monitored.

There is evidence of the 2 groups working together on specific policy initiatives. For example, 2 Education Improvement and Support managers are members of the steering group that has been set up to develop the Performing Classrooms initiative, and an Education Improvement and Support manager has been seconded to the Property Management Group to support work on an initiative focused on facilities for children with special needs.

Although relationships between the Property Management Group and National Operations are strong, collaboration needs to be better targeted towards common goals. We expected that strategic goals set by the Property Management Group would be translated into operational targets by National Operations.

However, the Ministry has had no strategic plan for property for 4 years. Because of this, the strategic goals set by the Property Management Group have not been aligned with the targets for property management set by National Operations. We discuss this further in paragraphs 3.2-3.11.

The Property Management Group has produced a draft “Business Partnership Agreement”, which describes the class of outputs (Output Class D8) for providing the school property portfolio and includes managing the school property portfolio, purchasing and constructing new property, and disposing of surplus property.1

The draft agreement defines the respective responsibilities of the Property Management Group and local offices of National Operations for achieving each of these outputs, and includes specific and quantifiable performance targets. We consider this document to be an important first step towards improving collaboration towards common goals. However, a number of local office staff were unaware of the draft agreement, and those local staff that were aware of it were not sure of its status.

Recommendation 1
We recommend that the Ministry of Education devise common goals for managing school property within the organisation, to ensure that policy objectives are translated into operations performance targets.

Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators

Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators oversee rather than directly manage property. Essentially, their job is to facilitate property management by school boards. They do not have an inspection or regulatory role and are not expected to be technical property experts. Schools are expected to employ property experts to provide technical advice and support when necessary.

We expected the property management role of Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators to have been clearly defined in writing, and that there would be documented processes for carrying out that role.

Neither of those expectations were met:

  • Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators appear to be committed and responsive, and schools value the service that they provide; but
  • while these staff have job descriptions, setting work priorities needs to be more consistent, and documented processes and guidance need to be introduced.

The job descriptions of Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators set out their main achievement areas for property management. Network Facilitators are responsible for negotiating 10- and 5-year property plans for schools, and ensuring that projects are implemented in accordance with the Ministry’s Property Management Guidelines (see Figure 2). Network Development Officers have other property management responsibilities, described in paragraph 1.13.

We interviewed a number of Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators working in different offices, and observed the interaction between these staff and principals and school board trustees on our site visits to schools.

We observed that Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators were committed to providing a good service to schools, and that they prioritised responding to enquiries and requests from individual schools.

Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators that we interviewed identified the main day-to-day property management tasks that they undertake:

  • managing internal and external relationships between the Ministry and schools at a locallevel;
  • implementing Ministry policies through managing delivery of the capital works programme, ensuring that schools receive the right amount of funding, and other relevant policies;
  • providing advice to schools on Ministry policies, and on how to deal with issues such as capacity and growth;
  • having a good overview of education provision throughout the district;
  • encouraging schools to “look at the bigger picture” – for example, the effect that the introduction of an enrolment scheme at a neighbouring school might have on them;
  • dealing with issues between schools;
  • handling the paperwork necessary to fulfil the Ministry’s property ownership role; and
  • keeping Ministry systems up to date, including the Property Management Information System, and recording expenditure appropriately.

However, Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators that we interviewed had different views on the way that they should carry out their job. For example, on average, each Network Facilitator is responsible for 80 schools, though this number varies at different local offices. We found that the frequency of contact Network Facilitators had with these schools varied. Some said that they visited all their schools at least once a year, and others said that they only visited their schools on the basis of need.

Network Facilitators told us that, rather than actively contacting schools, they respond to enquiries from individual schools. They also said that they spend a great deal of time dealing with the paperwork required for setting up capital projects and processing invoices.

Network Facilitators said that, if they had the opportunity, they would spend more time:

  • visiting schools;
  • looking at schools’ strategic plans and how capital projects link to them;
  • supporting the preparation of 10- and 5-year property plans;
  • helping schools to make the best use of their property, such as through rationalisation;
  • spreading examples of good practice;
  • advising on property entitlements; and
  • providing other advice and solutions to schools to enable them to manage themselves.

We recognise that Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators need to have flexibility in how they carry out their role, and that priorities differ between regions. However, we consider that the Ministry needs to define in writing the main expectations and priorities of network provision staff nationally. We understand that a research project is analysing the working practices of network provision staff throughout the country, with a view to improving consistency.

The Ministry also needs to produce documented business processes and supporting guidance for Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators. This needs to include the responsibilities of these staff and their managers. These processes should be subject to quality control by, for example, authorising changes and withdrawing out-of-date versions of documents. We are aware that the Lower Hutt office has produced flowcharts of the main procedures carried out by network provision staff. In our view, they provide a useful basis for producing documented procedures and supporting guidance.

The standard of record-keeping also varies considerably between local offices. The Ministry needs to incorporate the main requirements for record-keeping when it produces documented business processes. These should apply nationally.

At the time of our audit, there was no formal induction or ongoing training programme for Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators. A number of those we interviewed considered that this would be useful. We note that a programme of competency-based personal development sessions has been introduced at quarterly staff forums since our audit.

There are also no arrangements for knowledge management. A number of interviewees commented that Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators retain knowledge in their heads. Adopting documented business processes and record-keeping requirements would help to address this.

The Ministry is responding to an identified need to increase the capability of local network provision staff in areas where significant roll growth is forecast. The Area Strategies initiative has been piloted in Auckland, which is one of the main areas of population growth. The Ministry has provided funding of $1.25 million to support this initiative, and has appointed a project manager. The Area Strategy framework is now being introduced in other regions with forecast roll growth.

Recommendation 2
We recommend that the Ministry of Education identify the main expectations of Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators nationally and ensure that these are reflected in their job descriptions.

Recommendation 3
We recommend that the Ministry of Education introduce documented business processes for Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators that define responsibilities and record-keeping requirements and that are subject to quality control. This would include:
  • management controls to ensure that these processes are complied with; and
  • arrangements for identifying ways in which processes can be continually improved.

Recommendation 4
We recommend that the Ministry of Education review the training needs of Network Development Officers and Network Facilitators in property management and introduce a formal training programme, including induction training for new staff and ongoing training for existing staff.

Support provided to school Boards of Trustees

We expected that school boards would be provided with support from the Ministry, so that they had a clear understanding of their role in managing school property and were able to carry it out effectively.

We found that:

  • The Ministry supports school boards in a number of ways, including providing clear written guidance about school property management that complies overall with good practice in the industry.
  • The degree of capability and capacity of school boards to manage their school property is always going to be a risk that needs managing. The Ministry needs to regularly evaluate and review the training on school property management provided to school boards.
  • The Ministry also needs to be more active in encouraging schools to share facilities and jointly contract for capital and maintenance work.

Existing support provided to school Boards of Trustees

After new arrangements for increased self-management of property by school boards were introduced 5 years ago, school boards have had to understand their new responsibilities and their changed relationship with the Ministry.

A number of documents govern the relationship between the Ministry and school boards, and provide guidance to school boards on their responsibilities. We show the hierarchy of documents in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Hierarchy of documents governing the relationship between the Ministry of Education and school Boards of Trustees

Hierarchy of documents governing the relationship between the Ministry of Education and school Boards of Trustees.

Property Occupancy Document: The principal document governing the relationship between the Ministry and school boards. It includes the respective obligations of the Ministry and school boards for managing school property. The Property Occupancy Document sets out the requirements for compliance with the Ministry’s Project Management System for capital projects (see paragraph 4.6).

School Property Guide: The basis for assessing property funding entitlements of individual schools, based on roll number and existing space.

Health and Safety Code: Outlines all the health and safety requirements that school boards must comply with to ensure that schools are safe for everyone, including students, staff , visitors, and contractors.

Property Management Guidelines and Project Management Guidelines: The Property Management Guidelines elaborate on terms and conditions of the Property Occupancy Document, and provide guidance on managing property projects, including capital upgrades and maintenance, and how to comply with the Ministry’s Project Management System. They are supplemented by the Project Management Guidelines, which provide detailed, comprehensive guidance on project management. These guidelines include an emphasis on the need for effective and efficient purchasing through a transparent competitive tendering process.

10-year property plan: Describes cyclical maintenance plan for the next 10 years and proposed capital projects for the next two 5-year cycles.

5-year property plan: Describes programme for capital refurbishment and replacement projects for the next 5 years. It is used as a basis for the 5-year funding agreement for capital properties between the Ministry and school boards.

Other guidance: For example, Building Design Standards, Consultants and Construction Contracts Guidelines, and Fire and Safety Design. These documents set out legislative requirements and other special requirements of the Ministry.

In our view, these documents, and the other property management guidelines produced by the Ministry that we reviewed, are written in clear, non-technical language and overall are comprehensive.

In addition to producing written guidance, the Ministry organises regular “cluster meetings” for schools in each region. For example, special meetings are held for schools that are due to submit their 5-year property plans. The Ministry also holds sector group meetings 4 times a year, which representatives with a range of educational interests are invited to. At these meetings, the Ministry introduces new policies on property and receives feedback.

Network provision staff also provide advice to individual schools, usually in response to specific requests from schools (see paragraph 2.23). We accompanied Network Facilitators on visits to schools, and it was evident that their role in interpreting Ministry policy and assessing property entitlements was of considerable help to schools.

Managing ongoing risks

Despite the Ministry’s good guidance and support, not all school boards may have the capability and capacity to manage property effectively. This is always going to be a risk that the Ministry needs to manage. The types of skills required of school board trustees can range from those needed for client management of large capital projects to a high level of contract management and financial skills. Several network provision staff told us that capability often depended on uncontrollable factors, such as the community from which trustees were drawn and the size of the school.

Even in those schools where capability exists, property management is a challenging task for part-time school board trustees. Elections every 3 years result in new, inexperienced people becoming trustees.

School boards are also operating in a constantly changing environment. They must respond to a variety of events that can have implications for property – for example, changes in the curriculum (such as the increased use of information and communications technology), demographic changes, and new regulatory requirements (such as health and safety requirements). School boards also must juggle property management with their other responsibilities for school governance.

A number of network provision staff told us that, during the last 5 years, school boards have become increasingly confident in their changed role. However, the interviewees still had concerns that principals and school boards often struggled with property management that was complex and involved a lot of money.

The Ministry has contracts with providers to train new school board trustees in carrying out their role. One of these contracts is with the New Zealand Schools Trustees Association (STA). The STA also provides training in response to requests from individual school boards. This includes training in property management. Additional, extensive training in property management was provided 5 years ago when the 5-year property plan and School Property Guide policies were introduced. This training has been reduced as school boards and principals become more knowledgeable about their new responsibilities.

Training is also focused on the “bottom 10% of schools”, though neither the Ministry nor the STA was able to define that term for us.

A number of network provision staff we interviewed considered that there would be a major benefit in providing additional intensive training in school property management to both school boards and principals.

The Ministry’s evaluation of the training currently undertaken by the STA is limited. We consider that the Ministry should assess how far existing training helps school boards to exercise their property management responsibilities, and trustees’ levels of satisfaction with the training.

The results of this evaluation should inform a review of the training in school property management provided to both school boards and principals to ensure that it is sufficient and relevant.

Recommendation 5
We recommend that the Ministry of Education regularly evaluate and review training provided to school Boards of Trustees and principals in school property management, to ensure that the training is sufficient and relevant.

Encouraging collaboration

Collaboration between schools by, for example, jointly hiring contractors and sharing resources such as sports and arts facilities should result in efficiency savings and release capital for schools to spend on other projects.

One risk identified by the Treasury2 at the time the 5-year property plans were introduced was that the policy was inconsistent with attempts to get schools to act in a collaborative manner. It encouraged schools to focus on their individual property needs rather than those of groups of neighbouring schools.

There is some evidence of collaboration. For example, clusters of schools in Palmerston North and Northland have appointed property managers to take responsibility for specific aspects of school property, such as health and safety, and preventative and remedial maintenance.

However, a number of network provision staff we interviewed gave examples of schools in their regions where they felt that further collaboration could happen. We agree that the Ministry should do more to encourage collaboration, possibly by providing incentives such as additional funding for shared facilities.

Recommendation 6
We recommend that the Ministry of Education actively encourage schools to share facilities and jointly contract for capital and maintenance work.

1: This description originates from the estimates of expenditure for Vote Education.

2: Report of Minister of Education to Cabinet Strategy Subcommittee on Expenditure Control and Government Administration.

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