Part 2: General training and support for all school boards

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

In this Part, we discuss the framework of general training and support available to all boards.

Our expectations

We expected the Ministry to have:

  • identified board training and support needs;
  • provided training and support to meet identified needs and to which trustees had reasonable access;
  • transparent and effective policies and processes for managing contracts to provide training and support for boards; and
  • established the effectiveness of training and support in contributing to improved governance of schools.

Identifying needs for training and support

The Ministry gathered some information from boards about their needs for training and support before awarding the 2005-08 training and support contracts. The information included a 2003 survey evaluating the training and support services previously provided to boards. However, it is not clear how the survey results led to the 2005-08 contracts and the Ministry was not able to provide us with that information.

Other information on board training and support needs is available from a variety of sources, including trainers, the professional knowledge of Ministry staff, surveys of trustees, ERO reports, and research by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER).

Two Ministry initiatives happening at the time of our audit were aimed at gaining a better understanding of board needs for training and support. One initiative was a survey of board chairpersons to assess the quality and effectiveness of the Ministry's training contracts. The results of the survey indicated that the situations or issues where boards want training are when:

  • more than half of the board are first-time trustees;
  • a board decides it needs to improve its understanding of governance and management concepts;
  • there is a high degree of conflict within the board;
  • a board appoints a new principal;
  • a board deals with performance management of staff;
  • a board is subject to a supplementary ERO review;1 and
  • a board is emerging from a statutory intervention.

The other initiative was the Ministry's stocktake of boards that was aimed at understanding “how school boards can be better supported to focus on directing and supporting student engagement, achievement and retention in their school”. This work indicated opportunities for strengthening support for boards, including:

  • providing access to expert advisers/field officers;
  • making training compulsory;
  • providing pre-election training for potential trustees;
  • improving training; and
  • providing more mentoring for boards.

The stocktake identified that training could be improved by:

  • setting standards and minimum requirements;
  • targeting and tailoring training to individual boards;
  • providing training to analyse student achievement data;
  • providing training for principals in communications skills and relationship management; and
  • providing training that leads to accreditation as a trustee.

Availability of training and support

We expected the Ministry to have provided training and support to meet the needs of boards and trustees, and to have ensured that trustees have reasonable access to training and support.

The Ministry has made some training and support available to boards. In 2007/08, the Ministry was forecast to spend nearly $4.3 million on training and support for boards.2

General support

The Ministry delivers general support for boards through a “core” contract, which provides a range of free industrial and advisory services. These services include advising, representing, and advocating for boards on employment-related matters; providing an industrial relations/human resources service for boards; and an 0800 helpline to assist boards to fulfil their responsibilities.

The core contract is held by the NZSTA, which has 11 personnel/industrial relations advisers located throughout New Zealand. These advisers supported 2101 boards (85% of all boards) during 2007. The highest proportion of time was spent on issues related to disciplinary matters (14%), competency (9%), and complaints (9%) about school employees.


The Ministry contracts three organisations to provide free training to all board trustees and school principals. The three contracts were worth $1.9 million3 in 2007/08.

The purpose of this training is to assist boards to build the knowledge and skills to enable them to perform their governance role more effectively in keeping with the National Education Guidelines, and to support improved learning outcomes in their schools.

These contracts require the providers to complete an agreed number of hours for each type of training (or output). Figure 4 lists the type of training and hours purchased against each output for the past three years in all regions. The contracts require regular milestone reports on hours delivered, activities, and achievements. Each region has one main contractor, who delivers the training for the whole region.

Figure 4
Total hours and types of training purchased under the school board training contracts in 2005/06, 2006/07, and 2007/08

Outputs Type of training 2005/06 hours 2006/07 hours 2007/08 hours Total hours %
1 Training and support for individual whole boards 1743 2371 1813 5927 49.5
2 Mentoring individual board members 785 1050 1425 3260 27.2
3 Clustered training for groups of trustees with similar issues 283 362 466 1111 9.3
4a Support to run elections* 193 105 162 460 3.8
4b Basic (new) trustee training 0 311 913 1224 10.2
Total training hours contacted 3004 4199 4779 11,982 100

* Board elections were outside the scope of our audit, but we include the data here in the general context of showing how training hours are used.

The training for whole boards and individual trustees (Outputs 1 and 2) is delivered on request within the funded hours available. These hours are used to provide training to deal with extra, immediate issues that boards decide they need help with and which are not met through the other types of training provided. For example, the hours could be used for principal appraisals, disciplinary processes, budgeting, or preparing a school charter.

At the time of our audit, training contracts were focused on providing training for new trustees after the 2007 elections (Output 4b). This training is important because of the high number of new trustees after each election (44% of trustees were new to the role after the 2007 elections).

Training for new trustees involves providing courses to introduce trustees to their roles and responsibilities. These courses may address specific matters that trustees require help with. Some variation between the three contractors was evident. For example, each contractor has different training materials.

Training content offered to new trustees by each contractor covers:

  • plans and policies, student achievement, student engagement, learning programmes, employment, school climate and environment, asset management, and community consultation (contractor 1);
  • introduction to trusteeship, student achievement, effective board process, board planning and review, understanding policies, finances, property, personnel, and the role of the chairperson (contractor 2); and
  • effective trusteeship, effective key relationships and purposeful meetings, and effective measurement of performance (contractor 3).

The Ministry has a further $400,000 budgeted in 2007/084 to provide training for boards as issues arise. This funding is managed by the Ministry's regional offices. The Ministry allocates the work based on the contractor's knowledge, experience, and suitability in addressing the board issues identified at that time.

Access to training and support

In general, trustees have reasonable access to the training and support provided by the Ministry contracts.

The training courses are free and are held in a variety of locations in all regions. Boards and trustees are aware of who provides training in their area. The survey referred to in paragraph 2.5 indicated a high degree (94%) of awareness among boards of who the contracted training providers are.

Participation in the training courses is voluntary. It would be useful for the Ministry to have consistent regional information about how many boards and trustees have participated in the training courses. Only one training provider tells the Ministry how many schools are represented at training courses, rather than just how many participants attended. The provider advised that, by July 2007, between 40% and 48% of boards in its region had participated in its training.

General support services are available in all regions through the 11 personnel/ industrial relations advisers (see paragraphs 2.10-2.11) and the 0800 helpline (see paragraph 2.10).

Contract management for providing training and support

We expected the Ministry to have transparent and effective policies and processes for managing contracts to provide training and support for boards.

The Ministry manages the provision of training and support to boards through standard contracts.

Overall, the Ministry focuses its monitoring of training and support contracts on outputs, particularly contract hours delivered. The reporting requirements in these contracts include monthly reports on contract hours spent and more detailed half-yearly reports. The half-yearly reports are required to include information on significant issues, newly identified risks and trends, and contract hours used.

Each of the three contractors takes a slightly different approach to reporting to the Ministry on the contract. They all report on hours of training delivered, numbers of trustees attending, and satisfaction with the training as indicated by participant feedback. However, they all take a different approach to identifying significant issues and trends. For example, one contractor includes material identifying boards at risk and the main areas (understanding governance roles and responsibilities, and principal appraisal) where training is needed. Another reports on the boards it has worked with and the outcomes achieved. The other contractor takes a more anecdotal approach.

Effectiveness of training and support

We expected the Ministry to have established the effectiveness of training and support in contributing to improved governance of schools.

General support

Satisfaction levels with the services provided by the core contract appear to be high. NZSTA reported that, during 2007, it had contact with 85% of all schools. Most of the contacts were with principals (36%) or board chairpersons (25%). In 2006, NZSTA reported that satisfaction with timeliness and the helpfulness and accuracy of advice from the 0800 helpline was better than 98%.

At the time of our audit, the Ministry was reviewing these core contract services before the contract comes up for renewal in June 2008. The Ministry received only 470 valid responses to an email survey of 2437 schools. Overall satisfaction with the quality5 of the industrial and advisory services provided by NZSTA was 82% (47% of respondents were satisfied and 35% were very satisfied). Dissatisfaction levels were at 5%, and 13% of respondents were neutral.

Reports on monitoring of the core contract focus on outputs – for example, the number of calls to the 0800 helpline and the number of schools assisted. They also provide some information on the types of issues that have given rise to the contact. For example, more contacts arose from issues about role and responsibilities, suspensions and expulsions, and board operations than other issues.

The only information available on how effective the support was in resolving the issues or effecting change in the schools is self-reported in the satisfaction surveys noted in paragraphs 2.29 and 2.30. There is no in-depth analysis of the issues raised in contacts with the 0800 helpline or the personnel/industrial advisers to see whether they indicate the need for more or different support services for trustees, or whether the contact resolved the issues and resulted in better governance of schools.


There is some information available that indicates trustees are satisfied with the training and support provided. Course participants are routinely asked to evaluate the courses they have attended. This information is then reported to the Ministry and shows good levels of satisfaction. Some evaluation of individual board and individual trustee training is also carried out by asking participants to fill out feedback forms. Again, this shows good levels of satisfaction.

The Ministry survey of board chairpersons to assess the quality and the effectiveness of the training contracts showed that 89% of respondents found the training and support useful.

The 2007 NZCER national primary school survey included questions about trustee training.6 Seventy-two percent of trustees thought the training met their needs, 6% thought it did not, and 5% were not sure (the remaining 17% did not answer the question). The respondents to this survey also indicated that 62% of trustees would like more training and development, 19% would not, and 13% were unsure (6% did not answer this question).

The training contracts provide for independent evaluation of the services, but this has not happened. There has been no overall independent evaluation of the different approaches used by the three contractors to help establish best practice. Similarly, there seems to be no overall information available on whether the training results in more effectively governed schools.

Our conclusions

The Ministry has made some training and support available to all boards. However, we are not confident that the training and support provided meets trustee needs, because the Ministry has not systematically analysed and identified the main training and support needs of boards.

The contract management of the training and support contracts was satisfactory, except for a weak focus on outcomes and evaluating services. In our view, these areas should be strengthened to ensure that the training and support provided meets board needs and contributes to improved governance of schools. The Ministry is also missing opportunities to gather information from the core contract about the issues confronting boards, which it could use to identify training and support needs.

While the information available indicates high levels of satisfaction with the training provided, the Ministry needs to strengthen its monitoring of these contracts to include a systematic reporting of significant issues and trends. It also needs to strengthen its evaluation to measure effectiveness against defined objectives that help it assess whether the training is contributing to improved governance of schools. There is little information available at present that explicitly links to what is being done to outcomes – that is, how training is contributing to improving governance in schools.

There appears to be no overall independent evaluation of the different approaches used by the three contractors to provide training. An evaluation would establish whether board needs for training and support are being met, identify lessons learned, and help to define best practice.

We consider that there is scope to significantly improve the outcome monitoring and evaluation of the services delivered to ensure that they meet the needs of trustees and contribute to improved governance of schools.

Recommendation 1
We recommend that the Ministry of Education systematically analyse available information about what training and support school boards need so it can identify and prioritise the main needs and match services to those needs.
Recommendation 2
We recommend that the Ministry of Education strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of the contracts for school board training and support to include a focus on how the support provided by those contracts contributes to improved governance of schools.
Recommendation 3
We recommend that the Ministry of Education evaluate methods of providing school board training to identify best practice that it can use more widely.

1: See paragraph 3.49. An ERO review is an external evaluation of the education provided for school students in all state schools, including integrated schools and kura kaupapa Māori.

2: The Ministry divides its school board training budget into two pools. See paragraphs 2.12 and 2.19. The amount shown excludes GST and includes: the core contract, the contracts for Pool 1 board training and support, and the budget for Pool 2 board training and support, but not the contract to support board elections.

3: This amount excludes GST and is referred to as Pool 1 for school board training and support contracts.

4: Pool 2 of the Ministry's school board training and support budget.

5: Quality was defined as availability, responsiveness, staff knowledge, level of professionalism, reliability, and customer service.

6: This included training provided under the board training and support contract, and training from other sources such as the ERO or conferences.

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