Both the Ministerial Inquiry and Parker Report were concerned about boards’ over‑reliance on the principal’s decisions and the information provided by the principal. The Parker Report identified that the limited information that the principal provided to the board meant the board was unaware of the extent of the issue and this hindered trustees from meeting their responsibility for student safety. The Ministerial Inquiry raised concerns about boards’ capability in employment matters.
A recent study of secondary schools reported that:
The study also noted that only 33 percent of trustees viewed employing the principal as a key element of their responsibilities, and that many boards relied on the principal to inform them about personnel matters.
ERO evaluated whether a board was well prepared for their role as employer by investigating:
Eighty percent of school boards surveyed had trustees with some employment experience. Two-thirds of boards had trustees with experience as either an employer in their own business or as a manager in a workplace (see Figure 7). For example, being a chief executive office of a large organisation (public or private), owning a business, being a principal, or being responsible for human resources in a medium-sized organisation. This is consistent with the NZCER study cited previously.
Figure 7: Trustees’ experience in employment-related areas
Although boards in small schools were less likely than those in larger schools to have had most types of experience, the differences were small. Sixty-two percent of small schools had trustees with experience as an employer, 60 percent as a manager, 43 percent had attended courses related to being an employer or manager, 22 percent had worked in human resources, and 12 percent had qualifications in human resources.
Boards, including principals, had participated in online and face-to-face training provided by NZSTA and Ministry accredited board consultants. A small percentage of schools commented on the variability in the quality of training to meet particular strengths and needs. Almost 60 percent of boards had received training related to their employment responsibilities. Half had received training on their role as employer in schools, and nearly one-third in appointing a principal. Boards in small schools were close to this average, with 50 percent having had training on their role as employer in schools and 29 percent having had training on appointing a principal.
The 20 percent of boards with no relevant experience or training covered the full range of school types, size, location and decile.
Most boards sought support when they appointed a principal. ERO found 86 percent of boards surveyed had received useful information and advice from at least one person. Figure 8 shows that boards most often obtained useful information and advice from principals of other schools and/or a NZSTA adviser when appointing staff. Primary schools also used NZEI and New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) staff.
In 2010, Robertson found similar results and reported that 90 percent of board chairpersons said that the advice they received was either essential to their making an appointment or very useful.
Figure 8: External support and advice used by boards when appointing a principal
Most boards surveyed felt confident about appointing a principal. As shown in Figures 9 and 10, almost all boards were confident about each of the aspects included in the questionnaire.
Seven percent of schools (11 schools) were not confident on half of the aspects listed. These schools covered a range of school types. Boards of smaller schools tended to be less confident, even though 60 percent had experience as an employer or manager, and half had training on their role as employer.
Many boards said they were happy with the process and their selection. Fifteen percent of boards reported that their challenge in appointing a principal was selecting the best person for the job and ten percent indicated that it was their lack of professional knowledge. Other challenges identified included the lack of suitable applicants and the time trustees were involved in the process.
Figure 9: Board level of confidence in preparing to appoint a principal
Fewer boards were very confident about deciding the interview questions, checking background, verifying qualifications, and assessing applicants’ suitability to work with young children.
Figure 10: Board level of confidence in checking applicants’ background and suitability for a principal role
A large majority of principals surveyed felt confident about carrying out the processes for appointing teachers, as shown in Figure 11. They were least confident about assessing suitability, checking applicants’ background, and verifying identity and qualifications.
Figure 11: Principals’ level of confidence in aspects associated with appointing teachers
The least confident principals were usually from primary schools and tended to be from smaller schools. Principals who were less confident were also less likely to have documented checking processes in their appointment procedures, to check references, and to have found useful sources of advice and information.
Figure 12 shows the main sources of information and advice for principals when appointing staff were another principal, and personnel from NZSTA and the Teachers Council. Primary school principals also used NZEI and NZPF staff, while secondary school principals were more likely to have used Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) and New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) staff.
Figure 12: Usefulness of sources of information and advice for principals appointing staff
Note: percentages do not always add to 100 because of rounding
ERO found that boards in more than half of the schools were knowledgeable about most key employment information, such as relevant legislation, employment, and NZSTA guidelines and their implications. ERO identified far more strengths in board knowledge and skills than gaps or weaknesses.
Fewer than five percent of boards were not well prepared for their role as employer. The following gaps were identified for these schools:
A few of these schools had not had regular training on employment.
As this evaluation was undertaken one term before national board elections most board chairpersons had been in their role for three years. Many secondary school trustees also had experience as primary school trustees. A few schools had first time principals who were engaged in learning about employer responsibilities as part of their First Time Principal professional learning. The following illustrates the knowledge and experience of a board.
The board demonstrates most of the knowledge required of an employer. The trustees are experienced and confident in this role. They have a succession plan to ensure the board retains the key information about the school’s employment policies and procedures. The trustees talked knowledgably about the school’s appointment process, including recruitment, police vetting and induction procedures, and other performance management processes such as staff appraisal. The board understands the importance of professional development to further increase effective teaching practice and to lift student achievement, and resources it appropriately. (Primary school)
Boards were less likely to be knowledgeable about their role as employer where principals did not report to them on personnel matters such as appointments, teacher registration, complaints and concerns about staff, and changes to legislation.
Some principals had limited knowledge and understanding of employment responsibilities, as illustrated below.
Whilst the board (especially the chairperson) was knowledgeable about their responsibilities as an employer, the principal’s understanding of some aspects about employer responsibility was not as strong. This first time principal has not had formal training about employment matters. (Secondary school)
Some principals did not understand the need to report to the board on employment matters so that the board could carry out its required responsibilities. It is boards’ responsibility to ensure that practice follows policy but sometimes this does not happen as illustrated below.
School policy in relation to the delegation is not adhered to as written. The principal does not report appointments, teacher registration, outcomes of professional development to the board. The principal expressed the view to ERO that appointments were not the business of the board. (Secondary school)
Some reviewers noted that their discussion with trustees had resulted in boards clarifying what they expect the principal to report about personnel matters.
ERO recommends that principals and trustees have a shared understanding of what key information the principal will report to the board so the board can meet its responsibilities regarding employment and student safety.
This information should include:
Boards should be provided with annual information related to registration, attestation and police vetting about:
Information about appointments reported to the board should include:
Tools - Student Safety - Board knowledge (Excel 2007 12 kB)
Boards can use this spreadsheet to audit preparedness for employment related responsibilities