How Boards of Trustees Work

Boards of Trustees are elected by parents and staff, and by students at schools teaching Year 9 and above, to govern and manage schools in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s network of schools

New Zealand currently has about 2,500 schools. Together they form New Zealand’s network of schools. The network includes all schools of every type and structure. State and state integrated schools are looked after by the Ministry in 10 regions, and each region has smaller local networks of schools. Every state and state integrated school has a Board of Trustees to govern and manage the school.

Boards of Trustees data and statistics

For statistical purposes, we collect national data on Boards of Trustees. This includes the total number of Boards and types of membership (eg. trustees who are parent-elected, co-opted, student-elected or proprietor-appointed, etc) and demographic information (eg. gender, position, ethnicity by school type, region, territorial authority, etc). 

What Boards do

The core role of a Board of Trustees is to govern its school. This includes planning and reporting, and employing staff who manage and run the school. Schools help students achieve and succeed to the best of their ability, and Boards have specific responsibilities under the Education Act 1989 to help them do this.

Board structures

Part 9 of the Education Act 1989 covers the requirements of Boards of Trustees, including how they must be structured. They can have a standard or alternative constitution. ‘Constitution’ refers to how a Board of Trustees is structured.

Standard constitutions

A standard Board of Trustees is made up of:

  • between three and seven parent-elected trustees
  • one staff-elected trustee (except where the principal is the only staff member)
  • one student-elected trustee (for schools with students in Year 9 and above)
  • co-opted trustees (who must be fewer in number than parent-elected trustees)
  • up to four trustees appointed by the proprietor (for state integrated schools only)
  • the principal of the school

Most parent representatives are elected for a 3 year term but schools also have the option of holding mid-term elections. This allows them to instead elect half of their parent representatives every 18 months.

Sometimes a standard constitution does not meet the needs of a school community. Alternative constitutions are available, which give flexibility to the standard structure.

Changing the number of parent representatives

A Board of Trustees can change the number of its parent representatives to anything between 3 and 7, but before deciding to do so, it must first give its school community reasonable notice of the time, date and place of the meeting it will hold to discuss this proposed option.

Having met and discussed the proposed change with its school community, and listened to the feedback, the Board is able to decide on the number of parent representatives it will have.

The Board then needs to advise the local Ministry office so that records of the Board’s membership can be updated.

Boards of Trustees for schools other than state schools

State integrated schools, Kura Kaupapa Māori and designated character schools have Boards of Trustees but they are structured and operate slightly differently to those of ordinary state schools.

Boards of state integrated schools

In addition to other responsibilities, Boards of Trustees of a state integrated school have special responsibilities related to protecting the special character of their school. In a state integrated school, the proprietor, who has an agreement with the Government through an integration agreement, determines that special character.

A state integrated school’s Board of Trustees can have up to 4 proprietor's representatives. This ensures all members of the Board share a common understanding of the special character and its consequences for the administration of the school (eg. there might be restrictions on staff appointments under some circumstances, and Boards need to be aware of these).

Boards of Kura Kaupapa Māori schools

The role of the Boards of Trustees of Kura Kaupapa Māori is to ensure that the principles of Te Marautanga o Aotearoa are met along with the national curriculum framework. Support for Te Aho Mātua is available through Te Rūnanga Nui o Nga Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa.

Boards of designated character schools

In a designated character school, the different character is defined when establishing the school through a notice in the New Zealand Gazette. The special character is also reflected in the school's charter. Boards of Trustees of designated character schools need to consider how they foster that special character through the learning programmes and ethos of their schools.

Alternative constitutions

A Board of Trustees can have an alternative constitution to give a school more flexibility where the standard constitution hasn't provided the most effective way to govern and manage the school.

An alternative constitution allows for:

  • The school community's particular character or identity to be recognised.
  • The partnerships between a school and other groups in the community to be recognised.
  • A workable or different mix or number of trustees.

The Minister will approve an alternative constitution where it is considered to be in the best interests of students.

A Board of Trustees may request approval to have an alternative constitution, 20 per cent or more of the parent community may request it, or it may be recommended by the Education Review Office (ERO).

Examples of an alternative constitution include where a Board of Trustees is made up of:

  • up to 21 members of the community and whānau, the principal and 1 staff representative
  • 1 person appointed by the Minister with community-based committees feeding into the Board
  • 2 Ministerial appointees with specific skills - 1 is appointed Board Chair, up to 3 trustees are appointed by the Runanga, the principal, 3 parent-elected representatives, 1 staff representative, 1 student representative and up to 2 other people co-opted by the Board.

Combined Boards of Trustees

Boards of Trustees of two or more schools can combine if the Minister agrees. Before the Minister considers approving a combined Board of Trustees, the Boards must consult with their school communities.

An example of a combined Board of Trustees comprises:

  • 5 parent-elected trustees (if 2 schools)
  • 6 parent-elected trustees if more than 2 schools
  • the principal of each school
  • 1 staff-elected trustee
  • 1 student-elected trustee (if the Board governs at least one school with students above Year 9).

Where schools have a combined Board of Trustees, it means:

  • Each keeps its own identity.
  • Policies and procedures are aligned.
  • Resources are pooled.
  • Separate funding entitlements (which helps promote economies of scale).
  • A shared learning community rather than competitors.
  • A broader and more diverse mix of people participating in Board elections, and serving the school community as elected trustees.
  • A smoother transition for primary school children where a combined Board governs a primary and secondary school.

Support for Boards of Trustees

Supporting Boards of Trustees in their school governance and management role helps them to help their students to learn and achieve.

The New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA)

NZSTA is contracted by us to support Boards of Trustees in the undertaking of their roles and responsibilities. NZSTA provides practical support, advice, resources and professional development opportunities to help Boards govern and manage their schools.

For more on the support available for Boards of Trustees, visit NZSTA (external link)
For more on becoming a trustee and Board elections, visit NZSTA’s School Trustee Elections site (external link)  

NZSTA and ERO have produced useful guidance for Boards:

Download NZSTA’s Making a difference - Trustee booklet (public) and Trusteeship – A guide for school Trustees (NZSTA members only) (external link)

Download ERO’s School Trustees Booklet – Helping you ask the right questions

Tools for Schools

You’ll also find our resources for Boards of Trustees at Tools for schools – templates, guidance and forms to help schools with their day-to-day running of school network processes and procedures.

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