Part 1: Introduction

Ministry of Education: Monitoring and supporting school boards of trustees.

The Ministry of Education (the Ministry) is responsible for leading the education sector to ensure that the education system works for all. Within the education system, each state and state-integrated school is governed by a board of trustees (board). There are about 18,500 trustees, of whom 44% were new to the role after the 2007 board elections. The Ministry is responsible for providing support to boards to enable them to govern effectively.

The Education Act 1989 (the Act) requires each board to govern its school. Unless contrary to law, a board has “complete discretion to control the management of the school as it thinks fit” (section 75 of the Act). The Act also provides for a policy and regulatory framework that boards must operate in when exercising this discretion. The framework is designed to promote effective governance and focus the board (and in turn the principal and staff) on how it can improve student achievement and best use its resources for this purpose.

Audit purpose and scope

Our performance audit assessed the effectiveness of the Ministry in supporting and monitoring boards to enable them to govern effectively.

To do this, we examined the extent to which the Ministry:

  • promotes good governance by ensuring that boards are aware of the requirements of the National Education Guidelines (consisting of the National Administration Guidelines, national education goals, and the curriculum statements);
  • monitors the extent to which boards align their planning and reporting with the National Education Guidelines;
  • provides effective resources, training, and support to boards; and
  • effectively monitors, identifies, and supports boards at risk,1 including through statutory interventions.2

Our audit did not examine:

  • how well boards govern their schools;
  • the quality of any specific training courses for boards;
  • board elections;
  • the role, functions, or effectiveness of the Education Review Office (ERO);
  • the functions or effectiveness of the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) as an industry advocacy organisation; and the school support services (such as professional development, which boards are responsible for) provided by the Ministry's Schooling Improvement Team, or its contracted providers around the country.

The statutory and policy framework for schools

The Ministry is responsible for providing advice to the Minister of Education (the Minister) on the service delivery capability and financial viability of education sector Crown entities, including state and state-integrated schools.

Each state and state-integrated school is governed by a board, and each board is a Crown entity. The Ministry reported in its publication Working in Partnership: Information for New School Trustees 2007-2010 that:

The term “governance” is not defined legislatively and there can be some disagreement about what the expression means and implies.

In general terms, a board is responsible for the governance of a school. A school principal is the board's chief executive (section 76 of the Act) and is responsible for the day-to-day management of a school. A principal must comply with a board's general policy directions and has complete discretion to manage the school's day-to- day administration.

The National Education Guidelines set out the Government's education goals, policy objectives, and priorities for the school sector and thus provide the framework that schools operate in. Figure 1 shows the accountability relationships between the Ministry, boards, and the community.

Figure 1
The accountability framework for schools

Figure 1: The accountability framework for schools.

The National Education Guidelines

The Act enables the Minister to publish National Education Guidelines. The guidelines are the main way for the Government to communicate its national education goals, policy objectives, and priorities to the school sector. This includes advising boards on the Government's expectations for student achievement and providing guidance on school administration, including a framework for the board's use of human, financial, and property resources to implement school programmes.

The components of the National Education Guidelines are:

  • the national education goals, which are statements of government policy objectives and desirable achievement aimed at the school system or an element of the school system;
  • foundation curriculum policy statements, which are statements of policy about the teaching, learning, and assessment that underpin and give direction to national curriculum statements and locally developed curriculum, and the way schools are to manage their curriculum and assessment responsibilities;
  • national curriculum statements, which define the areas of knowledge and understanding to be covered by students, the skills to be gained by students, and desirable levels of knowledge, understanding, and skill to be achieved by students during the years of schooling; and
  • National Administration Guidelines, which set out the broad requirements about teaching and assessment, staffing, health and safety, and financial affairs that a board must observe in governing the school.

The National Administration Guidelines (NAGs) focus on student achievement. NAG 1 requires schools to develop teaching and learning programmes in line with the New Zealand curriculum. NAG 2 requires boards to do strategic planning, measure their achievement against the plan, and report on this and student achievement to the students, their parents, and the local community to establish that their school is complying with the National Education Guidelines. NAGs 3 to 6 are aimed at ensuring that schools use their available resources to support student achievement. They include personnel and industrial policies, financial and property matters, health and safety, and compliance with general legislation on attendance, the length of the school day, and the length of the school year.

Responsibilities of school boards

As at March 2007, there were 2469 state and state-integrated schools. These schools spent an estimated $4.5 billion for the calendar year ended 31 December 2006. Generally speaking, boards are made up of elected parent representatives, staff, principal, and student representatives, and they can appoint and/or co-opt members.

Boards are subject to a number of legal, financial, and ethical obligations. The Act specifies some accountabilities that provide the Government with assurance that the school offers high quality learning programmes and that it uses resources (staff, finance, and property) effectively and efficiently.3

The Act requires boards to prepare and maintain a school charter (section 61) that sets out accountabilities to the Government and to the local community. The charter has a long-term strategic section that sets the board's overall goals for the next three to five years and an annually updated section that sets out the board's targets each year. Charters have to cover student achievement, general government policy objectives, and the management of the school's and board's capability, resources, and assets and liabilities. The charter must contain all the board's annual and long-term plans, or at least a summary of each plan or reference to it. It must be updated each year.

Section 63 of the Act states that the charter is an undertaking by the board to the Minister to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the school is managed in keeping with the charter, and that the school, its students, and the community achieve the aims and objectives set out in the school charter. Section 61 of the Act states that the purpose of the charter is to set the mission, aims, objectives, and directions of the board that will give effect to the Government's National Education Guidelines and the board's priorities. It also provides a base to assess the board's actual performance against. Furthermore, the board must prepare and update the school charter in keeping with the NAGs.

The Act also requires boards to publish an annual report, which must include an annual financial statement and an analysis of any variance between the school's performance and the targets set out in the annual section of the school charter.

Boards must make copies of school charters and annual reports available to the local community and the Ministry.

The Ministry of Education's role to support school boards

The role of the Ministry's School Performance Team includes ensuring that boards are provided with enough support to enable them to govern effectively. The support includes:

  • access to appropriate information and training to enable boards to understand their roles and responsibilities;
  • access to specialist advisers for support and advice where the skills required are over and above that normally expected of a board member – for example, training in strategic planning and providing industrial relations advice; and
  • taking follow-up action with boards and management to address any material problems. The Act provides for a range of statutory interventions that the Ministry may use to address risks to the operation of individual schools or to the welfare or educational performance of their students.

Figure 2 shows the Ministry's support framework. All boards have access to a range of training and support services if they wish to access them. However, if a board is identified as being at risk, further support is available. This includes training and support specific to the issues causing concern and/or statutory interventions under the Act.

Figure 2
The support framework for school boards

Figure 2: The support framework for school boards.

How we conducted our audit

We interviewed staff from the Ministry's national office and reviewed relevant reports and documents.

We also visited three of the Ministry's four regional offices and two of the Ministry's seven local offices. During these visits, we interviewed staff, reviewed relevant documents, and reviewed a sample of the Ministry's files on schools. We selected the sample of files to provide examples of boards that:

  • had a statutory intervention in place at the time of our audit;
  • had not had a statutory intervention since 2001, but had had Ministry support; and
  • had not had any statutory interventions or attracted Ministry concern.

Figure 3 lists the Ministry offices we visited and the number of the Ministry's files on schools we reviewed, ordered by the type of support provided by the Ministry. We consider that the number of files reviewed was sufficient to give us adequate coverage of the range of Ministry activities.

Figure 3
Types of support for school boards noted in our sample of Ministry of Education files

Ministry of Education office location No additional support Informal support Statutory intervention Total number of files reviewed
Whangarei 5 5 3 13
Auckland 15 20 12 47
Lower Hutt 7 6 8 21
Christchurch 10 3 10 23
Dunedin 7 2 2 11
Total number of files 44 36 35 115

We also interviewed staff from the three training providers that the Ministry contracts with to provide training to boards. We reviewed copies of board training materials, a sample of evaluations from course attendees, and accountability reports from the three training providers to the Ministry.

At the time of our audit, the Ministry was analysing their information about boards (the Ministry calls it a stocktake) and surveying boards to establish their satisfaction with the training provided. We maintained contact with Ministry staff to monitor the findings. We reflect the relevant findings of that survey and the stocktake in this report.

We also interviewed staff from other organisations to seek their views on the Ministry's performance in supporting boards to govern effectively.

1: In this report, we use the term “boards at risk” when referring to boards at risk of poor performance in terms of the welfare or educational performance of their students or school operations.

2: See paragraphs 4.15-4.16.

3: Other relevant legislation includes the State Sector Act 1988, the Crown Entities Act 2004, the Official Information Act 1982, the Privacy Act 1993, the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, the Human Rights Act 1993, and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

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