Ministry of Education: Monitoring and supporting school boards of trustees

Performance audits from 2008: Follow-up report.

The Education Act 1989 created boards of trustees (boards) to govern state and state-integrated schools. At the time of our audit, there were about 18,500 trustees, of whom 44% were new to the role after the 2007 board elections. The Ministry of Education (the Ministry) is responsible for supporting and monitoring boards to enable them to govern effectively.

The scope of our audit

The purpose of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of the Ministry in supporting and monitoring boards in their governance role.

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

  • promoting good governance by ensuring that boards were aware of the requirements of the National Education Guidelines;
  • monitoring the extent to which boards were aligning their planning and reporting process with the requirements of the National Education Guidelines;
  • providing effective resources, training, and support to boards; and
  • effectively monitoring, identifying, and supporting boards at risk of poor governance performance, including through statutory interventions.

Our findings

Overall, the Ministry was providing useful training and support for all boards. It had satisfactory systems in place for supporting boards clearly identified as at risk of poor governance performance. However, we identified several aspects that the Ministry could improve.

We found that the Ministry ensured that boards were provided with information about the National Education Guidelines. However, the Ministry was not systematically reviewing School Charters and Analysis of Variance reports to assess compliance with the guidelines. As a result, opportunities to improve governance were being missed.

The Ministry also needed to improve its monitoring of the support and training needs of boards and the adequacy of the support and training provided to meet those needs. The Ministry needed to better monitor the whole school portfolio so boards at risk of poor performance were identified earlier and more consistently. Once these boards were identified, the Ministry needed to offer support more consistently. The Ministry also needed to improve the monitoring and assessment of the effectiveness of statutory interventions.

We made nine recommendations for improvement. These recommendations related to three areas – monitoring the performance of boards, the support given to boards at risk of poor performance, and the training and support given to boards.

The response to our findings and recommendations

At the time we presented our report to Parliament, the Ministry told us that it was working to address our recommendations. The Ministry has regularly updated us on its progress. From its December 2009 update, we are satisfied that the Ministry has addressed four out of the nine recommendations in our report. It is working towards addressing the other five.

Monitoring the performance of boards

The Ministry is preparing proposals to strengthen school planning and reporting requirements as part of putting in place National Standards in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics in 2010. The Ministry also plans to revise the National Education Guidelines to clarify the responsibility of boards to focus on improving student achievement. The Ministry is considering the role of regional offices in supporting schools to focus on this responsibility through the offices' work monitoring and responding to Charters and Analysis of Variance reports.

Boards at risk

The Ministry has prepared risk indicators for the early identification of boards at risk of poor governance performance. As of February 2010, the Ministry was writing an operational policy for their use. These risk indicators are part of the wider information used when identifying schools that need support or intervention. They cover the areas of finance, personnel, administration and management, student engagement, and property. Some of these indicators appear to point to the performance of the school rather than the performance of the board. However, the Ministry feels that these indicators are appropriate because boards are accountable for the performance of the school.

The Ministry now has clearer monitoring criteria for the statutory interventions of boards. Statutory appointees are now required to report monthly on progress towards outcomes. The Ministry expects that this closer monitoring will lead to shorter intervention times.

Training and support for boards

After we presented our report to Parliament, the Ministry reviewed its contracts with organisations that provide training and support to boards and identified several problems with the framework for providing this training and support. To address these problems, the Ministry set up a new framework, which was introduced in July 2009. The aim of the new framework is to provide accessible information for all boards. Training and support will be tailored for boards identified as in need or at risk. Core essential services will continue to be provided to all boards. The Ministry told us that an emphasis will be placed on results and outcomes. In Figure 1 below, we present a case study of one of the Ministry's new ways of delivering training to boards – web-based training. This appears to be a constructive initiative. However, it is unclear how the Ministry identified the needs of boards in determining the content of this training.

In our view, the Ministry has made some positive progress towards addressing our recommendations. However, the task is a large one, with almost 2500 separately governed schools. Resourcing the initiatives in an effective and efficient way will also be a challenge. We encourage the Ministry to continue to prioritise work in this area.

Figure 1
Ministry of Education's web-based training for boards of trustees

We recommended that the Ministry strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of the contracts for board training and support. We recommended that they focus on how the support provided through those contracts contributes to improved governance of schools. From the review of its contracts with training organisations, the Ministry identified several problems with the framework for providing training and support to boards. One of these problems was that there was no guarantee of consistency or clarity of the training content because each of the three organisations contracted by the Ministry to provide training created their own training content. The contracts also lacked the flexibility required to address the priorities of the school or the Government.

As a result of the review, the Ministry introduced a new way of providing training to boards – web-based training. This is part of the new framework for providing training and support to boards. The web-based training focuses on the interpretation and analysis of student achievement data at the governance level. It covers setting appropriate targets, budgeting and performance management strategies, and priorities. A focus on these is intended to improve the governance of schools. The Ministry intends to track the effect the training and support is having on improving board governance over time, and is developing measures for this purpose.

The Ministry prepares the content of the training. This ensures that all boards receive consistent information and that the Ministry can amend the content to meet board and Government priorities. The content is presented by contracted trainers.

The training is offered to all trustees. It consists of:
  • webinars (web-based seminars); and
  • e-workshops.
Webinar sessions can host up to 100 participants from anywhere in the country in a single session.

Two series of webinar training were held in July-August and September-October 2009. These series consisted of up to three webinars a day over two weeks. Trustees from 690 schools participated in this training. The Ministry reports that the response from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Another series of webinars was scheduled for February-March 2010.

E-workshops provide more in-depth and interactive follow-up on the content of webinar presentations. Up to four trustees can participate in each e-workshop. They are able to communicate with one another and the presenter throughout the workshop. A series of e-workshops have been delivered from October 2009.

Both webinars and e-workshops allow participants to ask questions during the session. The Ministry contracts guest presenters to answer these questions and offer guidance to the participants. The guest presenters must have a high level of knowledge of their particular speciality, as well as of the education sector in general and current research and practice.

From its web-based training, the Ministry will measure participants' understanding of the content. It will also identify where boards may need further tailored support. The Ministry told us that it will also track the number of boards that are accessing the training.
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