Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Boards of trustees: Their role and powers

What powers and responsibilities does the board of trustees have?

Education Act 1989, ss 72, 75(2), 76

Whereas the principal deals with the day-to-day management of the school, the school’s board provides overall direction for areas such as finance, property, staffing and discipline. The Education Act gives the board very wide powers and rights: it says the board has “complete discretion to control the management of the school as it thinks fit”. It also has the power to hire and dismiss teachers and other school staff.

A board can also make rules (bylaws) for the control and management of the school, but these rules will be subject to the Education Act and other Acts, and to the school’s charter.

Education Act 1989, ss 61, 63B, 75(1)

A board’s key responsibilities include:

  • making sure each student at the school is able to achieve their highest possible educational standards
  • making sure the school has a written charter, and making sure the charter is made available (see below)
  • making sure that the school provides a safe physical and emotional environment for all students
  • promoting healthy food and nutrition for all students.

Who sits on the board of trustees?

Education Act 1989, s 94

A board of trustees consists of:

  • at least three but not more than seven parent representatives (most schools have five)
  • the principal
  • if it’s an integrated school, up to four representatives appointed by the school’s owner (the owner will be a trust, church or some other body)
  • a staff representative
  • any other people co-opted by the board to be board members
  • a student representative (if the school has secondary students).

The board of trustees should tell parents when board meetings will be held, and should welcome parents to those meetings.

How are boards of trustees elected?

Education Act 1989, ss 96, 101, 101A
Education (School Trustee Elections) Regulations 2000

Parents of children in the school elect members of the board of trustees, for no longer than a three-year term. The election process is laid down in the Education Act and regulations.

Note: If you have a question about the role or governance of the board of trustees, call the Student Rights Service on 0800 499 488 or YouthLaw on 0800 UTH LAW

School charters

Education Act 1989, ss 61, 63B

A school charter is a signed agreement between the school’s board of trustees and the Government. It states the school’s aims, purposes and specific objectives, and it includes the national aims and objectives from the National Education Guidelines (NEGs).

The charter must reflect New Zealand’s cultural diversity. It should have a special emphasis on Māori culture (tikanga Māori) and language (te reo), and it must specifically include the aim of providing teaching in te reo and tikanga Māori for students whose parents ask for it.

The charter must be made available to parents. The school should also review its charter regularly to make sure it continues to reflect the changing educational needs of students.

What can happen if a board doesn’t perform adequately?

Education Act 1989, Part 7A (ss 78H-78T)

There are a range of things the Ministry of Education can do if it thinks the current board is a risk to the operation of the school or to the welfare or educational performance of its students. These include:

  • asking the board for specific information
  • requiring the board to bring in specialist help
  • requiring the board to prepare and carry out an action plan
  • appointing a limited statutory manager (an independent temporary manager who takes responsibility for particular aspects of the board’s role)
  • dissolving the board and appointing a commissioner in its place

If you think the Ministry of Education needs to intervene in the board’s running of the school, you should contact the Ministry.

I have an issue I want to take to the board – what should I do?

Usually you should try to talk the issue through with the principal first. However, if you feel you can’t approach the principal, or if after approaching them you’re not happy with their response, you could:

  • phone or write to the chairperson of the board, asking for some time to speak to the board at its next meeting, or
  • write to the chairperson explaining the issue and saying what action you would like the board to take. Mark your letter “Confidential”, and address it to the chairperson, care of the school.

I’m not happy with the way the board has dealt with an issue – what can I do?

Ask the board for a copy of its complaints procedure. Put your complaint in writing, clearly stating the facts relevant to the issue you’re complaining about, as well as what you would like done to put things right.

If you’re not satisfied with the board’s response, consider taking your concerns to one of the following government agencies or officials:

  • Ministry of Education (MOE) – The MOE oversees the conduct of all state and integrated schools. Complaints can be lodged with your local Ministry office.
  • Children’s Commissioner – The Commissioner’s role is to protect the rights of children and young people under the age of 18. They can receive complaints about schools, and can make recommendations to the school.
  • Education Review Office (ERO)ERO generally visits schools every three years to make sure they’re being run properly. ERO doesn’t deal with individual complaints, but if several complaints have been received they’ll look into the problem when they visit. All complaints will be noted and could affect the school’s ERO report, which is a public record. Complaints to ERO should be made in writing.
  • Ombudsmen – The Ombudsmen can investigate complaints about decisions made by boards of trustees, and can make recommendations to the board. While the recommendations aren’t legally binding, schools usually take them seriously. The Ombudsmen provide an annual written report to Parliament, which includes the names of schools that have ignored their recommendations.