Magazine article New Zealand Management

Tomorrow's Future Today: Principals on Parade: Today's Schools Share Much with Business: Both Have a Board for Governance and an Appointed Chief Executive for Management. but Schools Face Unique Challenges: Not Least, the Incredibly Diverse Role of the Principal and the Need to Educate Volunteer Board Members from All Sectors of the Community. So How Are Our Schools Doing?

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Tomorrow's Future Today: Principals on Parade: Today's Schools Share Much with Business: Both Have a Board for Governance and an Appointed Chief Executive for Management. but Schools Face Unique Challenges: Not Least, the Incredibly Diverse Role of the Principal and the Need to Educate Volunteer Board Members from All Sectors of the Community. So How Are Our Schools Doing?

Article excerpt

Back in February this year, the Ministry of Education noted that 51 schools in New Zealand were under the governance of a limited statutory manager (LSM) and 28 schools under a commissioner appointed by the Ministry. That's 79 out of a total of 2579 schools in the country.

Some say 79 is still too high a number and a sign of weaknesses in the system. Others see that 2500 schools are being very ably run by their boards.

New Zealand is extraordinary for the degree of community participation that goes into its school boards. Chris France, former president of the New Zealand Schools Trustees Association (NZSTA) says, "It's part of the New Zealand psyche. We have a deep abiding love of education and of the care of our children, and we think we can do something by sitting on a board."

Since leaving NZSTA, France has consulted to schools and non-profit organisations with his company Governance Matters. "In four years of travelling and meeting boards all over New Zealand, I'm always absolutely amazed at the quality of people around the board table at nine o'clock on a Wednesday night."

Mike Hollings, acting chief review officer of the Education Review Office (ERO), says most boards meet the high standards of performance, accountability and behaviour set for them. "Of the 900 or so reviews in schools it carried out last year," says Hollings, "ERO returned for a follow-up review in about 17 percent." Follow-up reviews result from failure by a board to carry out its responsibilities. Reasons behind board failures varied, but one key ingredient for disaster was a misunderstanding by the board of the nature of governance.

Good governance, according to Ian King, group CEO of Auckland Colleges Group (ACG), starts with an understanding of the difference between governance and management. Add to that "a willingness to be involved in policy-setting and avoiding interfering in day-to-day management".

Sounds simple, but it's an issue many boards struggle with, according to France, who last year with professor Carol Cardno researched the perceptions of approximately 1000 principals and 800 board chairs around the country. "Trustees do an amazing job," says France. "What they miss is adequate focus and direction from the key bureaucracies to ensure what they do is govern, rather than get caught up in management."

This confusion over roles not only undermines principals, it also overloads board members who are trying to spend their few hours per week solving problems best left in the hands of a good principal.

"When I go into schools I'm finding huge policy documents that are actually operational policies about sunhats and no smoking and so on," says France. "Those are things that really apply to what the principal does day to day." He says the board doesn't need to know about these things in great detail, just that they are in place and being applied. Instead, the time can be devoted to strategy and forward planning. France says board members are often visibly relieved when they discover their true role.

Rosemary Whyte, chair of the board of governors at Rangi Ruru Girls' School in Canterbury, says good governance is planning for the future. "Often you do that in consultation with the community," she says. "We send surveys to students and parents and work with staff and the management team to plan for the future."

John Shewan, chair of both PricewaterhouseCoopers and Samuel Marsden Collegiate, says the most important aspect of governance is that the board has a very clear forward view for the school. "Boards need to have a very clear vision of where they want their school to be in five, even 10 years' time," he says.

Independent schools like Samuel Marsden and Rangi Ruru appoint board members, usually based on skills, while state schools have elected board members. Sally Dalzell, who until recently was second principal at state school Epsom Girls' Grammar and now heads independent Corran School, says state schools risk losing institutional memory because of high turnover on elected boards. …

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