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Parent Place

Welcome to the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) Parent Place.

Parents and caregivers play a crucial part in the New Zealand education system at many levels. They are involved as parents and caregivers helping and supporting their children in their day-to-day education, as active supporters of school activities, as parent helpers, as PTA members or as school board of trustees’ members. Whatever their role, it is important that parents and caregivers feel supported and empowered in their ongoing involvement in their children’s education. With this in mind, NZSTA has developed 'Parent Place' to enable parents and caregivers to access a range of information and resources that may be of interest to them.

PLEASE NOTE: NZSTA provides advice and support for boards of trustees.  It does not give advice to parents unless they are parent representatives on a school board of trustees.  For free expert advice on issues relating to your student, please go to the “Useful Links” below to access the contact details of the relevant agencies (for example the Student Rights Service and Youth Law). These organisations specialise in assisting and supporting parents and caregivers.

Guides for parents and caregivers regarding the role of boards of trustees


NZSTA has created a resource, A parents’ guide to the role of the board of trustees, to provide information and advice for parents and caregivers.

Parent guide e-book

(click on image to view the e-book)

Online module

NZSTA has created a Parent Guide so that parents and caregivers can learn more about the role of the board of trustees

Parent module large

(click on image to view the module

Partners in Learning

The document is available to view and download on our website:

Last year we published Educationally Powerful Connections with Parents and Whānau (

This report reinforced that strong connections between schools and parents and whānau are essential for the achievement of our kids, particularly those at risk of underachieving. To create effective relationships, parents and whānau must be welcomed by schools and helped to fully participate in their child’s learning.

Partners in Learning sets out what parents can expect from their child’s school and more importantly, how they can help their child do well at school. It describes what parents can do if they are concerned about their child’s learning and progress and what they can expect the school to do to help.

The booklet contains links to parent information on ERO, NZQA, the Ministry of Education and Careers New Zealand websites.


(click on image to view the pdf)

Useful links

Student Rights Service (formerly PLINFO)

0800 499488

Youth Law

0800 884 529

Citizens Advice Bureau

0800  367222

Children’s Commissioner                                    

0800  224453

Ethnic Communities - Language Line (translation service)

 0800 656 656

Ministry of Education (MOE)

04 463 8000

Education Review Office (ERO)

04 499 2489 

Tertiary Education Commission (career information and advice)

0800 222 733 

What is NZSTA?

The New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) is a membership-based organisation that:

  • represents the interest of 91% (2,200) of the approximately 2,415 school boards of trustees comprising around 18,000 individual trustees
  • NZSTA have an agreement with the Ministry of Education, is responsible for delivering a fully integrated range of services designed to support and enhance board capability in their governance and employer role
  • NZSTA is a "not for profit" incorporated society with charitable trust status.

A short video about NZSTA.

What are School boards?

The board of trustees is the a Crown entity responsible for the governance and the control of the management of the a school. The board is the employer of all staff in the school and, is responsible for setting the school's strategic direction in consultation with parents/caregivers, staff and students, and ensuring that its the school provides a safe environment and quality education for all its students. The board is also responsible for overseeing the management of personnel, curriculum, property, finance and administration.

     Parents’ guide to the role of the board of trustees

NZSTA have developed a parents’ guide to the role of the board of trustees. The parents' guide will enable parents to gain a greater understanding of the role of the board of trustees and includes information on what parents can expect from their board of trustees. You can download a copy here

Board membership

Trustees elected by the parent/caregiver community, staff members and, in the case of schools with students above Year year 9, the students. The principal is also a member of the board. The board can also co-opt additional trustees. Co-option cannot be used to fill casual vacancies on a board; a the board must hold a by-election to fill the casual vacancy or fill the casual vacancy by selection, having first considered the requirements of section 105 of the Education Act 1989.

A standard board of trustees’' membership includes:

  • between three and seven parent/caregiver-elected trustees
  • the principal of the school
  • one staff-elected trustee
  • one student-elected trustee (in schools with students above yYear 9)
  • co-opted trustees, and
  • up to four trustees appointed by the proprietor (in state-integrated schools only).

Are you interested in becoming a school trustee?

NZSTA encourages parents/caregivers to become actively involved in the goal of every student reaching their highest possible educational achievement, and an important way to contribute is to become a member of their boards of trustees.

  • This three-minute video briefly outlines what governance is all about.
  • Full information relating to becoming a school trustee is available on the School Trustee Elections Website.
  • Any parent/caregiver who considers that they have the skills and attributes for, and are interested in learning more about, governance can:


  • Help every student to reach their interest in standing for the board to the board chair, or another board member
  • Attend a board meeting (they will not be able to speak at the board meeting unless invited to, but they have every right to sit and listen to what is going on)
  • Ask to meet with the board chair or with board members to discuss the work of the board, and how they would be able to contribute, if they stood and were elected
  • Ask for a copy of the board’s key documentation, including the strategic plan, the achievement goals/targets, policies and, minutes of board meetings, and, etc.
  • Be assured that NZSTA will provide “free to boards” integrated support services to the board of trustees, and including assisting the board to adopt professional development and support plans based on continual development over during the lifecycle of the board.

Triennial elections

Triennial elections occur every three years, with the next triennial election process happening in the first six months of 2016.   Before a triennial election process is a good time for parents/caregivers interested in becoming involved in school governance to be finding out more about what school governance means and what’s involved (see above).

Casual vacancies

Another way that a parent or caregiver can get on a board of trustees is when a casual vacancy occurs. That is, when an elected or selected parent representative or an elected staff or student representative:

  1. dies, or
  2. resigns in writing to the board, or
  3. without the prior leave of the board is absent from three consecutive board meetings, or
  4. is no longer eligible to be a trustee (Section 103 Education Act 1989)

When a casual vacancy arises, a board of trustees must decide how to fill a vacancy for an elected trustee within eight weeks. The Board has two choices:

  • holding a by-election


  • selecting someone

In NZSTAs experience, where a board of trustees know of a parent/caregiver who has indicated that they are interested in being on the board, and has the enthusiasm, skills and attributes the board is after, then the board is likely to take the selection option, rather than go through a by-election.

It is, however, the board's choice, unless more than 10% of the parent community object to the board going ahead with the appointment option.

  • A board cannot fill a vacancy by selection if the effect would be that the number of elected parent representatives would be less than or equal to the number of parent representatives who are selected.
  • A board must not fill a casual vacancy for an elected parent/staff/student representative by co-option.

The term of office for the person elected or selected will be for the remainder of the vacating trustee’s term of office.

Board professional development

A common concern or fear of parents/caregivers wanting a greater involvement in the school, and through participation on a board of trustees, is that they may not, or do not, have the knowledge to be able to make a worthwhile contribution. That is a perfectly reasonable reaction, and we at NZSTA are committed to ensuring that every board, and every individual board member, can access a full range of free professional development which will fully equip all boards/trustees to become fully effective in their governance role.

Further information regarding Professional Development.

Other support for boards

Student disciplinary matters

What are stand downs, suspensions and expulsions?

     Stand downs:

A stand down is the formal removal of the student from school for a specified period. Points to note are;

  • The principal is the only person in the school that can stand down a student
  • The board is not directly involved in stand downs
  • A stand down can be no more than five days in a term or ten days in a school year
  • The principal or the student's family can ask for a meeting to discuss the stand down. If a family asks, the principal must make themselves available
  • A student may be required to go to school for guidance and counselling during a stand down
  • The student automatically goes back to school following a stand down
  • No permanent record attaches to the students records


A suspension is the formal removal of a student from school until the board of trustees decides the outcome at a suspension hearing.

Points to note are;

  • The principal is the only person who can make a decision to suspend a student
  • The board of trustees is required to hold a suspension meeting within seven school days of the suspension, or 10 calendar days if the suspension imposed within seven days of the end of the term, to decide the outcome
  • A suspended student cannot return to school until the board decides the outcome
  • A student may be required to go to school for guidance and counselling during suspension
  • Student may attend school during suspension if a reasonable request is made
  • Principal must consider particular needs of a course or study or for a student to sit an exam

     Exclusion: The formal removal of a student aged under 16 from the school

Points to note are;

  • Exclusion is for the most severe cases only
  • The student is required to enrol elsewhere
  • The assistance of the principal is required
  • The assistance of the Ministry of Education may be sought to find/enrol at another school

     Expulsion: The formal removal of a student 16 or over from the school

Points to note are;

  • Expulsion is for the most severe cases only
  • If the student wishes to continue schooling, he or she may enrol elsewhere

     Reasons for stand-downs and suspensions

Principals of state schools may stand down or suspend a student if satisfied on reasonable grounds;

  • The students gross misconduct or continual disobedience is a harmful or dangerous example to other students at the school or
  • Because of the student’s behaviour, it is likely that the student, or other students at the school, will be seriously harmed if the student is not stood down or suspended.

     Extended suspensions:

Extended suspension is when a student remains out of school for a set period of time to fulfil specific responsibilities placed on them, which aimed at facilitating their return to school.

  • The student returns to school when the conditions are met, or the extended suspension expires (whichever occurs first)
  • Appropriate guidance and counselling and an educational programme must be provided by the principal while a student is out of school.

     Principles of natural justice

  • From the time the principal begins considering if a student should be stood down or suspended, the principles of natural justice must apply
  • This principal must act fairly and reasonably in the circumstances
  • The principal cannot automatically stand-down or suspend a student just because that student has broken a school rule
  • The principal must carefully consider the evidence and all the circumstances prevailing at the time.

     The students have the right to:

  • Remain on the school register
  • Have the stand down/suspension procedure consistently applied
  • Be given notice of possible outcomes (as this could help determine the nature of representation)
  • Know the reason for the stand down suspension (know the case or charge)
  • Know all the information (evidence) on which the principal's decision to suspend was based
  • Be able to comment on/challenge that information (be heard)
  • Be able to correct adverse or biased material and challenge irrelevant material (defend oneself)
  • Have time to prepare a response to the information – therefore, the information and the principal's report is to be  available at least 48 hours before the meeting
  • Be represented at any meeting about the stand down/suspension.

     The involvement of the Board

  • A suspension must be followed by a meeting of the board of trustees (or its disciplinary committee, as set out in the board policy) to decide what the outcomes will be
  • The board of trustees must also act fairly and reasonably
  • The board must receive the principal's report  and hear with an open mind what the student or/parent or/representative has to say
  •  The chair of the committee will rule whether specific information or material presented by either the principal or the student or/parent or/representative is relevant  in considering the suspension
  • Boards are allowed to decide the process it will use to arrive at its decision on the outcome of a suspension meeting
  • The board will make its decision without the recommendation or vote of the principal, so as to ensure that natural justice  is met, that is, that the person bringing the charge (the principal) shall not be the final arbiter
  • The board may ask the principal to leave the meeting while the board makes its decision. If the principal stays, then the student and family may also stay

     Possible suspension outcomes

  • Suspension lifted without conditions
  • Suspension lifted with reasonable conditions
  • Extended with reasonable terms for a reasonable period (if longer than four weeks, the principal must monitor students’ progress and report to the board at each regular board meeting, with copies of the reports going to the family
  • Exclusion of a student under 16 (only in the most severe cases). In this instance, the principal must make efforts to find another school or tell the Ministry of Education if not successful
  • Expulsion of a student 16 and over (only in the most severe cases)

Do parents have to pay fees and donations?

All New Zealanders aged 5 to 19 are entitled to free enrolment and free education at a state school. This right to free education is guaranteed by section 3 of the Education Act 1989 and this means that there should be no enrolment or attendance fee charged to parents, by Boards of Trustees/schools. The only exception to this is that Proprietors of State Integrated schools can change attendance dues (Note that these are “dues”, not “fees”, and are compulsory).

However, almost all schools ask for financial assistance from the families of students attending the school.  Given there are no school “fees” or “levies” in state or state-integrated schools, Boards of Trustees/schools should not be using terms such  as “fees” and “levies” in communication with parents as these  terms can imply that payments sought are compulsory, when in fact they are not. Similarly, these words (“fees” and “levies”) should not be used by Boards of Trustees/schools with requests for donations, as payment of donations is entirely voluntary and parents have the absolute right to decide to pay any donations in full, in part, or not at all.

Any material/activity costs associated with the delivery of the curriculum are costs that must be met by the Board of Trustees/school, and not be charged to parents. Where activities may relate to outdoor education programmes, schools camps and so on, it may be reasonable to request parents to pay a donation to travel costs, the cost of food, etc. However, such a request is a request for a donation and is not enforceable. Nor can a student be excluded from the activity, camp, etc. because of an unwillingness by a parent to pay. In general, things not related/part of the delivery of the curriculum (e.g.  visiting drama groups, lunchtime swimming lessons and EOTC activities) are voluntary and parents have a choice as to whether their child participates or not. Should a parent elect to have their child attend activities which are not part of the curriculum (i.e., attendance is voluntary)  and participation incurs a charge, then the parent will need to pay the cost for the child to participate.

Further information on payments by parents of students can be found in the Ministry of Education circular 2013/06. This circular is primarily intended for Boards of Trustees and Principals of State and State Integrated schools, but it is also valuable to parents in that it provide clear information on what needs to be paid, those payments which parents have a choice over, and those things that parents shouldn’t pay for at all. 

You can access Ministry of Education Circular 2013/06 of 13 June 2013.

School fees, donations and charges: Ombudsman’s view

Complaint about compulsory charges

The Ombudsman received a complaint from the parent of three children at a decile 8 secondary school. That the school's required fees for workbooks, photocopying of learning resources and consumables such as cooking ingredients used in the technology curriculum were contrary to s3 Education Act 1989, which provides that education in state and state integrated schools is to be free. In addition to being contrary to the Education Act, the complainant referred to the Ministry of Education's Education Circular 1998/25:.  Payments by parents of students at state schools which specifies that boards of trustees may not demand a fee to cover the cost of either tuition or materials used in the provision of the curriculum and goes on to state. Only where there is a very clear take-home component would a board be on firm ground in levying a charge for materials.

The circular also states that photocopying charges are difficult to justify, and workbooks cannot be required to be purchased.

The complainant had raised their concerns with the school directly before approaching the Ombudsman.  Specifically relating to the required purchase of workbooks (included in an invoice referred to as "Year 9 Core Fees"), photocopying costs, and consumables for food and nutrition, textiles and science, and an unspecified "Option Fee".

School’s response

The principal's response to the concerns raised was that in relation to workbooks, the fact that students write on them and keep possession of them makes them akin to stationery.  In relation to photocopying, the school would pay for ad hoc photocopying, but would charge where the photocopying fee covered the production of a workbook, and that the option fee complained about was in relation to a workbook.   The principal went on to discuss the difficulties in breaking even financially as a decile eight school and that a scholarship trust existed for families who found the cost of education beyond their ability to pay.

In response to the Ombudsman's investigation, the school stated that all fees were for take-home components. For example, where items of food were made in food technology they would either be consumed by the student at school or taken home and, therefore, were equivalent to the timber component in hard materials technology.  The school argued that the requirement for fees, particularly in relation to options, did not interfere with a student's right to free enrolment and free education, as students had the ability to construct a course which resulted in minimal course fees, that is, by opting out of the more expensive option subjects.

Ombudsman’s opinion

The Ombudsman didn't accept the school's arguments.  The Ombudsman considered that the Ministry's position in its circular while not having the status of law or regulation, was reasonable, and the financial situation of the school did not justify it departing from the advice of the Ministry.

In relation to the three specific areas, the Ombudsman found as follows:

  1. Workbooks – workbooks are curriculum delivery items and should be funded by the school.  The fact that the workbooks could be taken home did not establish them as a "take-home component" exception.
  2. Compulsory food charges (consumables) – if the food was being used to "practice mastery of the course by way of an optional project that is related to, but not a core part, of the subject, [then] the items may be validly considered “take home” projects, for which the school could charge a fee."  The Ombudsman concluded, however, that the food charges were curriculum delivery items and ought to be funded by the school.
  3. Photocopying – the Ombudsman considered that the school had not justified its decision to depart from the advice of the Ministry by establishing that the photocopying was solely for a take-home project, and indeed the photocopying charges were in relation to photocopying workbooks which related to curriculum delivery.

What if parents agree?

One other matter was considered by the Ombudsman, which was that when parents enrol a child at the school, they signed the following agreement:

"In signing this enrolment form, I/we agree:

  1. To pay the General Purpose donation and any other fees or charges fixed from time to time by the […] Board of Trustees."

The Ombudsman found that the agreement of a parent to pay an unauthorized charge could not validate the school's unlawful act and the agreement also blurred the distinction between fees charged and donations.   The year 12 subject selection form referred to the courses having compulsory fees charged to cover material or workbooks, which indicated that the payments were not voluntary.


The Ombudsman found that the board of trustees had acted in a matter that was contrary to law in contravention of s3 Education Act 1989 and that it had acted unreasonably in refusing to apply the advice of the Ministry.  The Ombudsman recommended that the board of trustees apologise and cease its practice of compulsory charging for curriculum related material as well as review the unpaid charges it would request from parents moving forward.  The Ombudsman did not recommend that the complainant is refunded the fees because of the logistical difficulties for the school if all parents sought refunds as a result.

Rights of parents who do not have day-to-day care of their child

NZSTA is frequently asked about the level of involvement and information that parents who do not have daily care of their child should have. These parents are usually still guardians and, therefore, have a right to contribute to their child’s development and to participate in making decisions about their education. They are also entitled to contact with their child subject to any restrictions set by a court order.

As guardians, both parents are therefore entitled to:

  • copies of their child’s school report
  • attend parent/teacher meetings or discuss their child’s progress with the school
  • be consulted when the school is suggesting the need for specialist educational services for their child
  • participate in disciplinary hearings involving their child
  • opt their child out of participation in religious instruction
  • participate in parent activities/functions and receive newsletters
  • vote in elections and by-elections for boards of trustees

We strongly advise that the school is provided with a copy of any parenting order in place. Equally, if there is a protection order relating to the child the school should have a copy. If any parent seeks access to their child in breach of a protection order, the police and the other parent should be informed.

Resources/articles of interest to parents/caregiver


     Estimated costs of educating a child in New Zealand


The Australian Scholarships Group Friendly Society (ASG) have released some interesting data relating to the costs to educate a child in NZ, at a state, state integrated and private school.  This data was complied from a survey (index) of almost 2,000 responses, asking parents and families to provide data on the costs of their children’s education, covering primary and secondary school.

The index measured a range of variables, including school fees, transport, uniforms, computers, school excursions and sporting trips.

The ASG index shows the estimated costs (over 13 years) for the education of a child born in 2016 are:

-for a private school education, an estimated cost of up to $326,773

-for a state integratededucation, an estimated cost of up to $104,437

-for a state education, an estimated cost of   $37,113

The cost of primary and secondary school education in NZ will continue to rise by almost 5% per annum over the next 20 years.

NZ families could spend more than $300,000 on their children’s education. For the average size family, (based on 2013 total fertility rate of 1.95 births per woman) this means parents are forecast to spend up to $637,207 for 13 years of private schooling.

Parents are still better off than in NZ, with the average  national metropolitan average of a state education in Australia  costing parents almost  double the NZ forecast cost (ie, up to $71,288).

     ASG Parents Report Card: an executive summary

The 2016 ASG Parents Report Card investigates the state of education in New Zealand from parents’ perspectives.

The ASG Parents Report Card measured parents’ perceptions of the rule of education using three indexes: the Aspirations Index; the Educational Resources Index, and the Learning Resources Index.

Looking back, the 2015 ASG Parents Report Card revealed parental aspirations were the most important resource in their child achieving academic success. While this sentiment has not changed, this year’s report has identified potential barriers to educational achievements.

2016 key findings include:

Parents are confident that today’s current curriculum, teaching quality and access to resources are capable of delivering a beneficial learning experience to their children. However, the same cannot be said for their personal development.

Findings from the ASG Parents Report Card suggest the focus on academic excellence is overshadowing the social and emotional growth of their children.

A summary of ASG’s key insights raised in this report are as follows:

  • Parents nationwide agree that higher education is important for their children and understand that academic success stems from hard work
  • On the surface, parents believe their child has access to enough resources to support their basic educational
  • aspirations, however they would like to have more money to support their child’s long-term education
  • Many parents are confident their children have defined learning goals, however completing homework remains
  • a sore spot, even for the most motivated students
  • Parents have high aspirations for their children, with many setting their sights on children’s higher education. In fact,
  • some have earmarked a university for their child to attend
  • The increasing prevalence of digital devices at both home and school have led many parents to believe their children are spending too much time using screenbased devices
  • In comparison with Australian parents, a higher percentage of New Zealand parents agree that there is less school
  • pressure on their children, they are more focussed with clearer learning goals and believe their children are more mentally and physically fit
  • Clear learning goals by children and a motivation to succeed are key indicators of achievement
  • Parents feel time management is one of the three greatest challenges facing their child’s learning with three in 10 parents concerned with their child’s ability to balance time spent learning and time participating in extra-curricular activities.

The full report can be download 

What research says about parent involvement in children's education about academic achievement

The following comes from a Michigan Department of Education paper, looking at what research says about parent involvement in children’s education. While some of the terminology within this paper is clearly of American origin, the overall research findings are just as relevant to NZ educators/boards and principals as they are in the US (Note that references that accompanied this paper are extensive, and support every conclusion made, but have not been reproduced here).

Where Children Spend Their Time

  • School age children spend 70% of their waking hours (including weekends and holidays) outside of school.

When Parents Should Get Involved

  • The earlier in a child’s educational process parent involvement begins, the more powerful the effects
  • The most effective forms of parent involvement are those, which engage parents in working directly with their children on learning activities at home.


  • 86% of the general public believes that support from parents is the most important way to improve the schools.
  • Lack of parental involvement is the biggest problem facing public schools.
  • Decades of research show that when parents are involved students have
    • Higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates
    • Better school attendance
    • Increased motivation, better self-esteem
    • Lower rates of suspension
    • Decreased use of drugs and alcohol
    • Fewer instances of violent behavior
  • Family participation in education was twice as predictive of students’ academic success as family socioeconomic status. Some of the more intensive programs had effects that were ten times greater than other factors.
  • The more intensely parents are involved, the most beneficial the achievement effects.
  • The more parents participate in schooling, in a sustained way, at every level -- in advocacy, decision-making and oversight roles, as fund-raisers and boosters, as volunteers and paraprofessionals, and as home teachers -- the better for student achievement.

Parent Expectations and Student Achievement

  • The most consistent predictors of children’s academic achievement and social adjustment are parent expectations of the child’s academic attainment and satisfaction with their child’s education at school.
  • Parents of high-achieving students set higher standards for their children’s educational activities than parents of low-achieving students.

Major Factors of Parent Involvement

  • Three major factors of parental involvement in the education of their children
  1. Parents’ beliefs about what is important, necessary and permissible for them to do with and on behalf of their children;
  2. The extent to which parents believe that they can have a positive influence on their children’s education; and
  3. Parents’ perceptions that their children and school want them to be involved.

Type of Involvement

  • Although most parents do not know how to help their children with their education, guidance, and support, they may become increasingly involved in home learning activities and find themselves with opportunities to teach, to be models for and to guide their children
  • When schools encourage children to practice reading at home with parents, the children make significant gains in reading achievement compared to those who only practice at school
  • Parents, who read to their children, have books available, take trips, guide TV watching, and provide stimulating experiences contribute to student achievement
  • Families whose children are doing well in school exhibit the following characteristics:
  1. Establish a daily family routine. Examples: Providing time and a quiet place to study, assigning responsibility for household chores, being firm about bedtime and having dinner together
  2. Monitor out-of-school activities. Examples: Setting limits on TV watching, checking up on children when parents are not home, arranging for after-school activities and supervised care
  3. Model the value of learning, self-discipline, and hard work. Examples: Communicating through questioning and conversation, demonstrating that achievement comes from working hard
  4. Express high but realistic expectations for achievement. Examples: Setting goals and standards that are appropriate for children's age and maturity, recognizing and encouraging special talents, informing friends and family about successes
  5. Encourage children's development/ progress in school. Examples: Maintaining a warm and supportive home, showing interest in children's progress at school, helping with homework, discussing the value of a good education and possible career options, staying in touch with teachers and school staff.
  6. Encourage reading, writing, and discussions among family members. Examples: Reading, listening to children read and talking about what is being read.

Student Interest

  • Most students at all levels – elementary, middle, and high school – want their families to be more knowledgeable partners about schooling and are willing to take active roles in assisting communications between home and school
  • When parents come to school regularly, it reinforces the view in the child's mind that school and home are connected, and that school is an integral part of the whole family's life.

School and District Leadership

  • The strongest and most consistent predictors of parent involvement at school and home are the specific school programs and teacher practices that encourage parent involvement at school and guide parents in how to help their children at home
  • School initiated activities to help parents change the home environment can have a strong influence on children’s school performance
  • Parents need specific information on how to help and what to do.


  • School activities to develop and maintain partnerships with families decline with each grade level and drop dramatically at the transition to middle grades
  • Teachers often think that low-income parents and single parents will not or cannot spend as much time helping their children at home as do middle-class parents with more education and leisure time.

Tips for parents/caregivers regarding what questions to ask your child's teacher

In NZ, there is an increasing focus on parent/caregiver engagement in schools, as it has been recognized that some schools there are a significant gap separating schools and communities. For many years, the key relationships have been identified as/focused on teachers and students, and that is entirely understandable as that that relationship is the largely invisible one that occurs in the classroom. But only in more recent times have we started to acknowledge that the ultimate support system and significant influence, is not just the teacher, but an informed, engaged, and supportive family. Great schools understand this and go out of their way to be inclusive of parents/caregivers, keeping them engaged with the school in meaningful and transparent ways. In other situations, it may well be left to parent/caregivers, who may well struggle to understand what’s happening in the classroom for their child(ren), and what they can do at home to support their child’s(rens) learning. Where parents/caregivers are not engaged with the school in a transparent and positive way and are deprived of sufficient information regarding their child.  How they can assist in the child's learning, then they can of course, ask questions of the teacher(s) to try to fill the gaps in their understanding.

That then leads to what sort of question can reasonably be asked of the teacher(s)? Anything the parent/caregiver likes if it assists in their understanding for them to better assist their child(ren) at home. The following are some questions that might be useful starters (the questions may seem a little direct, but the intent is to build your knowledge, and capacity to assist your child(ren), and they are not unreasonable questions). The intention is not to ask all of these at once "maybe pick a few to get you started"

  • How does National Standards work in your school, and what do I need to know about them?
  • How are your assessments designed to promote student learning?
  • How do you measure academic success?
  • What are the most common barriers you see to academic progress in your classroom, and what are your strategies to address effectively these?
  • How will you respond if or when my child struggles to progress at the desired rate?
  • What happens if my child fails to grasp an important concept? Will you identify that and persist until the concept is understood?
  • Do you focus on strengths or weaknesses?
  • What are the most important and complex ideas my child needs to understand in this year?
  • How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom, and in the school?
  • How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  • What can I do to support literacy and numeracy at home?
  • Is there technology that you would recommend that would support my child in self-directed learning?
  • What kinds of questions do you think that I should be asking my children regarding your class?
  • What other questions should I be asking as an interested and concerned parent/caregiver
  • What are the main means of communication between the school and parents/caregivers?
  • Does your school have both high-tech and low-tech forms of communication?

(NZSTA, STAnews, January/February 2015)

Empowering community involvement

Board of Trustees are the elected representatives of the school community, entrusted to ensure that all students in the school can achieve to their potential by that community. In that role boards of trustees are in turn required to undertake community consultation. However, while almost all boards and trustees have some form of direct contact with parents at the school and/or consult its community.  This is likely to be through parents raising issues with the board/trustees or through boards sending out written questionnaires on matters such as strategic planning, school charter,  provision for Maori students, student achievement, etc.  (NZCER Primary/Intermediate Survey, 2013).

What is not so evident is that any particular importance/priority is attached to parental/community involvement on the basis that empowering the community in this way can lead to better outcomes for students. And the evidence on this is quite compelling. In 2002 Henderson and Mapp examined 31 studies that specifically addressed the connection between student achievement and various parent and community involvement activities.., and reported four key findings;

  1. Programmes and interventions that engage families in supporting their children’s learning at home are linked to higher student achievement
  2. The continuity of family involvement at home appears to have a positive influence on children as they progress through the complex education system This suggests that the more families support their children’s learning and educational success, the more their children tend to do well at school, and continue their education
  3. Families of all cultural backgrounds, education and income levels encourage their children, talk to them about school, help them plan for a higher education, and keep them focused on learning and homework. In other words, all types of families can, and often do, have a positive influence on their children’s learning
  4. Parent and community involvement that is linked to student learning has a stronger association with achievement than more general forms of involvement. This suggests that parent involvement should be focused on improving achievement and be designed to engage families and students in developing specific knowledge and skills.

Collective research indicates a strong relationship between family involvement and improved academic performance.  Family involvement is also associated with other key outcomes such as improved attendance and behavior, which are also related to achievement. Interestingly, the relationship between family involvement and performance holds for families of all backgrounds, although it is not enough in itself to necessarily overcome the deficits of low-quality schools.  In these cases, parent involvement needs to be paired with high-quality initiatives to improve the quality of teaching and learning. (Source: literature review by Patricia E. Ceperley, December 2005, Appalachia Educational Laboratory)

Dr Joyce Epstein, Director, National Network of Partnership Schools, and connected to Johns Hopkins University, established six types of parent involvement;

  1. Parenting support: Schools can offer support and assistance to parents to ensure that parents can create positive home environments that enable students to thrive and grow as students. Educators can  also encourage parents to promote family literacy  by spending time  reading with children and setting a positive example of reading, which often inspires  a love of reading in children
  2. Facilitating Communication: Two-way communication between school and parents is vital to student success. School should encourage parents to attend at least one parent–teacher conference each year. There should also be regular communication with parents about students, via email, telephone, school parent portal, etc. Parents should also be encouraged, and be provided with the opportunity, to raise any concerns or issues with teachers
  3. Encourage volunteerism: Involving Parents in children’s education typically has positive results, This might include classroom help with special projects, field trips, and so on. Parents  may have wealth of talents which  may be useful, and which can help teachers significantly in teaching students
  4. Foster home learning: Children need a positive environment for home learning. Teachers can help parents learn what works best
  5. Involve parents in decisions: Parents involved in school decisions and activities can play a vital role in achieving goals that help students. Involvement could be in fundraising,  on the PTA, ensuring participation in school /board initiated  questionnaires, focus groups and so on
  6. Community activities: Schools can work cooperatively with communities for activities that strengthen and develop strong students.  This could involve community participation in recreational, cultural and sporting programmes, all of which can provide important opportunities for students to learn and grow.

Overall then, there are many reasons why boards and schools would want to encourage greater community/parental involvement in their school. According to Henderson and Beria (1994),

the most accurate predictor of a student’s achievement in school is not income or social status but the extent to which that student's family can:

  • Create a home environment that encourages learning
  • Express high (but not unrealistic) expectations for their achievement and their future careers
  • Become involved in their children’s education at school and in the community.

(NZSTA, STAnews. November/December 2014)

Dr Anthony Muhammad on reducing the achievement gap

The 860 attendees at the NZSTA Conference in mid-July 2014 heard a keynote address by Dr Muhammad, author, and school improvement guru, which focused on school culture. Key points included:

  • Healthy school cultures are essential to provide equal opportunities and to reduce the achievement gap, but developing that healthy culture requires “will” plus “skill.
  • Teaching skills and qualifications are essential to providing equal opportunities for all students to succeed, but those skills will not be enough unless there is also a strong shared will to make the outcomes fair for every student
  • School boards in NZ (like the US) are responsible for creating a school culture where there is a strong shared will to improve outcomes that match the high levels of skill we expect from our teachers
  • The keys to developing a healthy school culture are moving the conversation from “me” to “we” and learning to see data as information, not condemnation.
  • Confidence that every student can learn and achieve at a high level becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy
  • Low expectations also become self-fulfilling
  • High achieving schools are ones that succeed in creating that confidence in students regardless of whether they get it at home
  • Schools that condemn students because they come to school less prepared, less motivated, or less compliant  have toxic cultures

(NZSTA, STAnews, August 2014)

The poverty factor excuse

We are very used to hearing poverty or social-economic disadvantage being touted as one of the prime reasons that some students are not achieving.  Indeed, that it's unfair to expect teachers to be able to make a difference when students come from broken homes, from low-income families, have parents that “don’t parent”, that don’t care, etc. While it sounds plausible, the reality is that it has become somewhat of a convenient excuse for continuing failure by some schools to make a difference for all students, and particularly those most at risk. It also ignores the fact that excellent teachers can largely negate the social-economic ills/deprivation that affect some families/students. (Note: There are many examples of research regarding this: e.g., The Myth of the Culture of Poverty, Paul Gorski; The Poverty Myth: Jacqueline Ching).

In our view,  there is a clear and urgent need for some of our boards/principals and principals to see “opportunity gaps” instead of “achievement gaps”, and to understand that “low income” does not mean “low expectations”.

(NZSTA, STAnews, August 2014)

Parental engagement

Parental engagement by boards of trustees is pretty much a given these days, as boards have come to understand that it is necessary to engage with parents, and the parent community generally, if the board is to be confident that  they are indeed representing, acting and speaking on the communities behalf. The way boards may approach this can vary significantly, with some boards adopting quite formal consultation process while others may be more topic driven in their approach. Whatever the approach, the important thing is that the board is connecting with parents/ the parent community, and by doing so, can have a degree of confidence that the direction the board has set for the school has support.

But parental involvement is not just required for board work. While that is important, boards and principals need to be also thinking about encouraging parental involvement in improving students’ academic achievements and social outcomes. The international research literature is clear and confirms what common sense tells us: student outcomes improved when parents and communities are committed and engaged in the part of their children’s life that includes school. So if parent involvement is a critical success factor in ensuring success for our students, what can we as Boards of trustees do about that?


Professor Garry Hornby of the University of Canterbury came up with some suggestions:

  • Develop a policy framework including:
    • Policies that set out the ways in which the parents can be involved in their children’s education
    • Procedures through which schools and teachers can help parents to accomplish this
  • Develop policy frameworks in collaboration with parents to ensure that the activities included will meet the needs of the different communities in which the school is based
  • Designate a parent involvement coordinator who is an experienced teacher of member of the school's senior management team
  • Audit parent involvement at the school and report to the board (including the principal) on the development of a comprehensive set of parental involvement  practices at the school
  • Develop a comprehensive system of involvement that includes key aspects
  • Consider ways in which the school can provide parent education on:
    • The importance of parents getting involved in their children’s school
    • How to provide the kind of support at home that will optimise their children’s academic achievements
    • Other relevant topics
  • Develop effective ways to reach out to such parents so they appreciate the importance of their involvement in their children’s education
  • Provide ongoing professional development for teachers on working with parents

(NZSTA, STAnews, July 2014)

Underpinning student achievement, from the NZSTA perspective

NZSTA values and practices the following beliefs;

  • Development of a meaningful vision, mission and strategic plan to improve student achievement is the clear goal
  • Student achievement the priority on every board agenda
  • A systematic approach to understanding what constitutes good governance, to ensure school governance is both strong and effective
  • High expectations for every student
  • Accountability for student outcomes
  • Strategic use of data to achieve required outcomes
  • Strong and collaborative relationships with school communities
  • Board/principal relationships based on trust, but not blind trust
  • Commitment to all boards being the best they can be, through a programme of high-quality continuous development at a place and time that best suits them
  • All boards can readily access free, high-quality support and guidance, in a way which best suits their current circumstance
  • Commitment to safe nurturing teaching environments that are conducive to excellent teaching and learning

(NZSTA, STAnews, May 2014)

High performing schools

Recent changes to the Education Act have meant a greater reinforcement of the role of a board “to ensure that every student at the school can attain his or her highest possible standard of educational achievement.”  Boards have and will continue to step up to the mark on this but what of the Sector?

The goal of the NZ education sector, (and indeed of education systems worldwide), should be to raise student achievement for all students so that they can be the best they possibly can be, but this remains stubbornly hard to achieve.

We all know what the goal is: it hasn’t changed for many years now, and we have discussed and debated it ad nauseum over a an extended period now. Not only that, but there has been a wealth of research/research reports that have identified what needs to happen or change to achieve that desired outcome. Generally within the education sector, there appears to be a general acceptance of the need to do better for our students. We know that that teacher quality/excellent leadership (and we would add excellence governance) is at the heart of making a significant difference for all students, so what then is the reason the change is so hard to achieve?

While many answers are likely to come forward, depending on particular perspectives, undoubtedly part of the issue  in NZ is  there are many different vested interest groups within the “education sector”: some whose focus is solely on improving achievement outcomes for all students, parents in respect of seeking the best outcomes for  their  child(ren), while other sector groups  may see, and even generally accept, that student achievement is (or should be) a priority but  in some of these cases, there are other competing priorities, such as membership expectations.

So is there a way through this conundrum? How do we pull it all together so that we have a clear focus on what  matters? There are several recent initiatives which give rise to which to the potential of making a significant difference to student achievement. The first being the introduction of a truly independent professional body, (ie, the proposed Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand) which would not only set high professional standards and codes of conduct that must be met and maintained by the teaching force, but would also “lead education”, and do so having regard to the wider public interest, rather than in the more narrow interests of the practitioners/sectoral interests. In other words, the quality of the system becomes “more responsive “ to the needs the parent/caregiver, users/consumers, than to the practitioners/sectoral groups within the system itself. After all, the emphasis on teaching and learning should be primarily driven by the rights and needs of students, rather than the rights of adults. 

Secondly, the recent announcement by the Government of the intention to better recognise excellent teachers and principals, keep the best teachers in the classroom, share expertise across schools, and to strengthen leadership, is a really positive move, and one which seems to have been generally (well) accepted within the sector as a positive move. The four new roles of Executive Principal, Expert Teacher, Lead Teacher and Change Principal are all about improving the quality of teaching and leadership, the two biggest influence areas in the ongoing quest to improve student achievement.

Thirdly, NZSTA is now in a position to assist boards in a more planned, comprehensive and integrated manner in moving to excellent governance. While at first glance, readers might question how governance can impact on student achievement given that boards of trustees are effectively at arm's length from teaching and learning, research does tell us that boards as governors can play a very important role in creating a climate of high expectations for all students achieving to high levels within their school, which in turn flows through to school based high expectations of quality teaching/learning and, success for all students.

The present Minister/Government has placed a high priority on high-quality education, with the aim of all students being able to achieve to their potential, and we agree with that current focus/ challenge. Funding has been made available to support these policy initiatives, and it is up to us now to collectively seize the opportunity and make a real difference to our student’s futures.

What does being on a board of trustees mean?

May it have started with a simple thought? Hmmm, maybe I’ll stand for the board of the local school, now that my kids are at school? Or maybe it was due to be “shoulder tapped “ by the principal or a board member, or possibility even come about because of a desire to “make a difference”, or to “give something back”? Maybe you just wanted to help out in some way? Whatever the way you got there, or whatever the key driver may have been, getting on the school board is certainly not to be taken lightly, or half-heartedly.

Why? Because, you and your fellow board members, working with your principal, have the power to make a very real and meaningful difference to the lives of those students that attend your school. And that power exists, whether you are on a board of a high decile school or a low decile school, and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you differently. Quite naturally, and your fellow board members are now in a position to make a significant difference for every student in your school.

So let’s have a look at why, and how, your individual contribution, working as part of the board, is so important. First up, the majority of you have been elected to the position of trustee by your school (parent) community, and as such, you carry and have accepted responsibility for, their hopes and aspirations for high achievement and other outcomes for their children/young people. This is not optional:  as while your board  has  “complete discretion to control the management of the school as its sees fit”,  your board must “perform its functions and exercise it powers in such a way as to ensure that every student in the school can attain his or her highest possible standard of educational achievement”.

Secondly, by becoming part of the board of trustees, you have also become a part of a crown entity with accountabilities to both Government  and the parent community, and thirdly, the overall powers granted by Law to the school board of trustees, are real, wide-ranging, and considerable, and includes your board having the power to appoint, suspend or dismiss staff, as the legal employer of all staff in the schools, although in practice, boards will generally delegate the day to day employment matters to the principal (the exception here is the appointment and the performance management of the principal which is certainly one of the board’s important responsibilities).

So, the board you have joined, as the governing body of the school, determines “the what” (designing the future), “the ends” (the outcomes to be achieved) and determines “board policy” (statements of what is expected). The school principal as the board’s chief executive concernin the schools control and management is required to comply with the board's general policy directions, and subject to this, has complete discretion to manage the schools day to day administration. So, your principal determines “the how” (designing how to get there), “the means” (strategies to achieve the ends) and “the procedures”, (steps to meet the expectations).

By now, it should be clear that first and foremost, your board is accountable for student achievement.  Your board will do this by providing an environment for the delivery of high-quality educational outcomes for all of your pupils. Your board has a clear responsibility for ensuring it focusses its strategic planning for improving student achievement and teaching and learning programmes, particularly for those students who are not learning as they should be.  To achieve this, your board needs to be well informed on what is happening in the school. And in particular:-

  • to ensure that your principals are providing you with up to date, externally referenced achievement information, e.g., asTTle data, NCEA results, National Standards data, etc.
  • using  that data to identify strengths and weaknesses
  • considering the performance of priority groups - Maori, Pasifika and students with special needs
  • analysing carefully and continually monitoring progress towards targets set by your board

This is the core of board work, and is required to be undertaken at the board level with skill, courage, and without fear or favour, if your board is to meet the expectations of both the government and, of course, your parent community who is entrusting you with the education of their children. Its a significant responsibility, and one not to be taken lightly.

Any board which does not feel that they are on top of the governing task in front of them should seek assistance from NZSTA, which can provide advice, professional development and support.

(NZSTA, STAnews, October 2013)

Parental engagement -> student achievement

The evidence seems clear and confirms what common sense tells us: Student outcomes improved when parents and communities are committed and engaged in the part of their children’s life that includes school.

So, if parent engagement is a critical success factor in ensuring success for our students, what can we as boards of trustees do to promote it?

Extensive international research literature now supports the potential of parental involvement in improving children’s academic achievements and social outcomes. ...In analysing this documentation, Professor John Hattie…calculated the average effect size for the impact of parental involvement on children’s academic achievement to be…bigger than the average effect size...This suggests that parental involvement has a substantial impact on children’s academic achievement.

-          Hornby (2012)

In spite of that the OECD reports that:

Despite…positive perceptions…there are problems with parental engagement in school life. …There is declining involvement the higher the level of schooling and age of the students…Some reports refer to the possibility that active participation is actually falling over time, even when the interest is there…[and] There may be perceived problems even when parental participation has gone up. …Across all countries, there are the familiar equity issues regarding who is most likely to be…exercising their “voice” in the affairs of the school, especially in the more fundamental issues concerning school educational policy...

-          OECD (2006)

The kind of parent engagement that makes a difference includes everything from help with homework to coaching sports teams to involvement on the board or in the classroom.   But what may be surprising is that evidence shows the greatest influence on student outcomes is possibly the most basic and simplest level of engagement – when parents are interested enough and well informed enough to have a genuine conversation about what’s happening in their children’s lives while they are at school.

…a recent study of parental involvement conducted in 20 secondary schools by researchers in England found that parents, teachers, and pupils agreed that parental involvement is important, but…secondary schools tended to focus on school based parental involvement and paid insufficient attention to encouraging home based parental involvement, which was considered to be at least as important for secondary school students. They concluded that it is what parents do to support learning in the school and in the home that makes the difference to achievement.

-          Hornby (2012)

Professor Garry Hornby of University of Canterbury College of Education has come up with a set of recommendations.

…Over the past four years, a research project investigated school based parental involvement in primary, intermediate, and secondary schools in the Canterbury region to find out which aspects of parental involvement are widely used by schools, identify weaknesses or gaps in the provision of parental involvement in these schools, and clarify implications for schools regarding parental involvement.

-          Hornby (2012)

The findings are summarised in this table.

The art of applied common sense

These findings and recommendations are pretty much what common sense would suggest. And that’s the really good news. Like so much of our work as trustees, what it takes to make a difference is not about huge, flashy whizz-bang “initiatives”. It’s about doing the basics well and then taking the next step and doing that well too.

That doesn’t mean it will necessarily be easy or that it will happen overnight.

What it does mean is that every board in every school, regardless of your roll, your decile, or your budget, can do something about it. Use your common sense. Go back to basics. Think about the most important assets you have in your school and your community – the people. What will work for these people – your people?

Data and outcomes and processes are important, but not as an end in themselves. In the end, our work as trustees, principals, teachers, and communities is about making a difference in people’s lives – in our students’ lives, in the lives of the people who care about them and care for them, and ultimately, in the lives of all the people around us.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?
People! People! People!


The power of parental involvement. Prof Garry Hornby, University of Canterbury College of Education

 “Parent and Community “Voice” in Schools”, in Demand Sensitive Schooling?: Evidence and Issues. OECD (2006)

(NZSTA, STAnews, September 2013)

Closing the achievement gap

We still hear from time to time that schools and teachers cannot be expected to negate the effects of poverty and other socio-economic deprivation on students.  We also hear of successes of many schools/teachers in lower socio-economic areas in lifting student achievement to levels expected of students in higher socio-economic areas, despite the apparent challenges of these students entering school at lower levels than more privileged students. So how is that explained? If things like poverty and other deprivation always overwhelms everything else, then how come some boards, schools and teachers can achieve resounding success in schools where poverty and other deprivation exists? In our experience, it will be likely attributed to the characteristics of a particular principal rather than a general acceptance or acknowledgement that excellent governance/ leadership and teaching can indeed make the difference between the students in these schools.

Evidence in NZ and elsewhere makes it very clear that good teaching matters…a lot. Interestingly, it seems parents have always known that it matters a lot which teachers their children get, and in some cases will work hard/do their very best to ensure that their children get the best teachers. However, when parents ask for their children to be assigned to a particular teacher or moved out of a classroom to another, most schools will tend to react by   reassuring the parent that the move requested is unnecessary. But while parents may not always know what teachers may actually be the best, they are right in believing that their children will learn a lot more from an excellent teacher, than they will from a mediocre or poor teacher. Eric Hanushek (Hanushek, E. A. (1992.)) says “The difference between a good and a bad teacher can be a full level of achievement in a single school year”. 

So what can we do about it?

Firstly, and perhaps the hardest step, is that we need to accept that all teachers are not equal. Just like any other workplace, the level of commitment and quality of delivery by teachers will be variable, with some being excellent, others mediocre and some that, quite frankly, shouldn’t be teaching. It is only when we are prepared to accept that quality is variable that we can then move on seriously discuss and debate what can, or needs, to be done to lift overall teacher quality so that we can meet our goals of all students receiving excellent teaching. Also, we need to be lifting our expectations of boards of trustees and principals, in order that they feel empowered to create a school climate where all students, without exception, have a real opportunity to achieve to high standards. It is only when we (the education community)  and school communities are no longer prepared to accept the excuses for poor outcomes for groups of students that real overall improvements in student achievement will occur.

On the positive side, things are happening which are heading us in the right direction. The recent introduction of greater rigour in the selection and training of teacher trainees is a good starting point,  and should continue to be built on so that teaching becomes to be viewed as  a true high-status profession, to which (over time) only the best graduates can aspire to/gain entry into (e.g., obtaining annual teacher intakes from the top 10% of graduates). Teacher training should also be an ongoing pursuit as no initial teacher education can be expected to maintain relevance across decades of teaching. After all, teachers are ideally professionals who exercise quality judgement and are not just technicians.

The recent announcement by the government of additional funding for Board PD and support will enable boards of trustees to become better governors, and to be better enabled/empowered to raise expectations, in cooperation with their principal, through demanding standards, instilling high expectations of successful outcomes for all, and not accepting excuses for failure.

Funding is also often raised as a barrier to improving student outcomes across the board. However, it does appear to be clear that it is much more important how resources are used rather than how much.

(NZSTA, STAnews, September 2013)

Student disengagement

We often hear about the issues associated with student disengagement, and without a doubt the issues are serious, and potentially, at least, long lasting. But most of what we hear tends to be “student disengagement” when we should perhaps be considering “school disengagement”. Russell Quaglia, an expert in student engagement, suggests school disengagement is a large part of the problem, but also perhaps the easiest to remedy. In a poll conducted by the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations, less than half the students surveyed agreed that “I am a valued member of my school community”. This is a tiny percentage and not a good sign that the students concerned are feeling valued, let alone engaged.

Quaglia suggests that feeling valued as a member of the school community means believing that people genuinely care about who you are as an individual and that the percentage is so low because teachers do not show students they care about them in ways that are perceptible to students. While it might seem obvious, Quaglia sees it time and time again in schools – of course, teachers care – they just need to overtly transfer this understanding to students: Such as:

  • knowing students names
  • understanding their hopes and dreams
  • understanding the connections between their lives and the curriculum
  • caring if students are away from school – and asking how they are doing when they return
  • having high expectations for the success of all students
  • helping students develop a concrete plan for achieving their dreams

Research by the Quaglia Institute has shown that students who feel they are valued members of the school community are five times more likely to be academically motivated than students who do not. 

So the question is, how can we change the disconnect between the intention to create a welcoming environment and what students experience?

Albeit well intentioned, some schools make too many assumptions. They assume that if they create an engaging learning environment, offer a multitude of co-curricular activities, and use advanced technological tools, students will feel welcome. However, without the crucial foundation of caring, this misses the mark. A welcoming environment for students is where their hopes and dreams are known, understood, and supported. It is impossible for students to feel the school is welcoming when they don’t feel valued for who they are.

Are qualities of fun, creativity, and excitement compatible with the need to raise achievement?

They are more than compatible – they can directly address the issues. The problem is that when schools become so concerned about a performance they sometimes forget about the factors that motivate students to learn. They focus on teaching content, content, and content, and forget they are working with whole people, not just their minds as machines. Students need to:

  • feel like they belong
  • experience a sense of accomplishment
  • have fun in the classroom
  • be curious and creative
  • have a spirit of adventure
  • be provided opportunities to lead genuinely with responsibility
  • have the confidence to take action

When students experience this, they will be invested learners who have self-worth, are meaningfully engaged, and have a sense of purpose. Not only that, but the improved achievement will follow.

We need to ask ourselves “are students disconnected from the school environment, or is the school environment disconnected from students?”

(Adapted from an NSBA interview with Russell Quaglia, expert on student engagement)

Performance in education

The following is taken from The Learning Curve 2012, (Pearson, 2012) and provides signposts to better educational results:

Strong relationships are few and far between education inputs and outputs

The research examined a wide range of education data, both quantitative – such as spending on pupils and class size- as well as qualitative- such as level of school choice. It also looked at numerous potential outcomes, ranging from the inculcation of cognitive skills to GPD growth. A number of inputs show a statistical link over time with certain outputs, notably between income and results, but the most striking result of the exercise is how few correlations there are. Education remains very much a black box in which inputs are turned into outputs in ways which are difficult to predict or quantify consistently. Experts point out that just pouring more resources into a system is not enough: far more important are the processes which use these resources.

Income matters, but culture may matter more

On the surface, money and education seem to create a virtuous circle, with wealthy countries – and individuals- buying a good education for their children, who in turn, benefit economically. A closer look, though, indicates that both higher income levels and better cognitive test scores are the results of educational strategies adopted, sometimes years earlier, independently of the income levels existing at the time. More important than money, say most experts, is the degree of support for education within the surrounding culture. Although cultural change is inevitably complicated, it can be brought about to promote better educational outcomes

There is no substitute for good teachers

Good teachers exercise a profound influence: having a better one is statistically linked not only to higher income later on in life but to a range of social results including lower chances of teenage pregnancy and a greater tendency to save for their retirement. The problem is that there is no agreed list of traits to define or identify an excellent teacher, let alone a universal recipe for obtaining them. That said, successful school systems have a number of things in common: they find culturally effective ways to attract the best people into the profession: they provide relevant on-going training: they give teachers a status similar to other respected professions; the system also sets clear goals and expectations but also lets teachers get on with meeting these. Higher salaries, on the other hand, accomplish little by themselves.

When it comes to school choice, right information is crucial

Recent research indicates that countries with a greater choice of schools have better education outcomes. Presumably, allowing parents to choose the best schools rewards higher quality and leads to overall improvement. In practice, however, finding the mechanism to make this happen is difficult.

Extensive studies of voucher programmes and charter schools in the United States indicate that, while both can be beneficial, neither is a magic formula. On the other hand, private for-profit education is providing students in some of the least developed areas of the world an alternative to poor state provision and showing the potential benefits of choice and accountability. Ultimately, as in any market or quasi-market, the real value of choice comes from people having the right information to select the option that is superior.

There is no single path to better labour market outcomes

Education seems to correlate with a host of personal benefits, from longer life to higher income. At a national level, too, education and revenue seem to go together. Finding the type of education that leads to the best economic outcomes, however, is far from straightforward. Differing strategies have distinct pros and cons. For example, some countries- but far from all, place considerable emphasis on vocational training as preparation for employment. Similarly, education systems cannot just educate for the present: leading ones look at what skills will be needed in future and how to inculcate them.

A global index can help highlight educational strengths and weaknesses

A significan output of The Learning Curve programme is the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, covering 40 countries.  Based on results in a variety of international tests of cognitive skills as well as measures of literacy and graduation rates. The top performers in the index are Finland and South Korea. In some ways, it is hard to imagine two more different systems: the latter is frequently characterised as test driven and rigid, with students putting in extraordinary work time: the Finnish system is much more relaxed and flexible. Closer examination, though, shows that both countries develop high-quality teachers, value accountability and have a moral mission that underlies education efforts.

So what are the lessons for education policymakers that come out of this?

  • There are no magic bullets

The small number of correlations found in this study shows the poverty of simplistic solutions. Throwing money at education by itself rarely produces results, and individual changes to education systems, however sensible, rarely do much on their own. Education requires long-term, coherent and focussed system-wide attention to achieve improvement.

  • Respect teachers

Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge educational machine.

  • Culture can be changed

The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the active elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are essential to promoting successful outcomes.

  • Parents are neither enemies nor saviours of education

Parents want their children to have a good education: pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.

  • Educate for the future, not just the present

Many of today’s job titles, and the skills needed to fill them, just did not exist 20 years ago. Education's systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly.

(NZSTA, STAnews, March 2013)

Shaping up American Kids

And from the same journal, Shape of the Nation, a report from the National Association of Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Foundation, says that most American kids under 18 spend most of their days sitting in classrooms, watching television, surfing the internet, and playing video games and do not come close to participating in regular physical exercise for an hour or more of exercise per day, every day. The report says that a required daily physical period at school would ensure that kids would get at least a portion of the physical activity recommended for them, as would unstructured play at recess.

Technology: for good or bad??

The American School Board Journal recently reported that a survey of advanced placement and National Writing Project teachers finds that 77 percent of them feel that the internet and digital search tools have had a mostly positive effect on students research efforts, but at the same time 87percent of them feel that these same technologies are making their students easily distracted and shortening their attention spans. Overall, 64 percent of the teachers surveyed felt that the technologies do more to distract students than to help them academically. Additionally 60 percent of the teachers surveyed for the Pew Research Center’s  “How teens do Research in a Digital World” felt that modern technologies actually make it harder for their students to find credible resources.

Interesting…but the $64,000 question must be “do the benefits outweigh the negatives”??

(NZSTA, STAnews, January/February 2013)

Colmar Brunton research report

The Ministry of Education recently contracted Colmar Brunton (as a third party) to undertake exploratory research that sought the views of a range of parents, families and whanau concerning their information needs. A qualitative research approach was used to explore and understand the information that parents, families and whanau seek about school and individual student performance. The research proposal also included six focus groups discussions with parents, families and whanau for year 1-8 and years, 9-13 students.

The overall conclusions tells us that the key focus needs to be on the factors that parents, families and whānau think are important in their child’s learning outcomes but, for a variety of reasons, are difficult to access and assess:-

The key focus needs to be on the factors that parents, families and whānau think are important in their child’s learning outcomes but, for a variety of reasons, are difficult to access and assess. These factors are the:

  • teaching quality
  • school culture, particularly responsiveness to multicultural or bicultural needs
  • assessment of whether their child is progressing and achieving
  • social and individual development of their child (wellbeing) and support.

Parents do not tend to be well served by information about these factors, either because it is not provided, it is seemingly difficult to provide. Parents do not know where and how to access it, it is infrequent, they do not understand the information provided or there are poor relationships and communication between teacher, student and parents, families and whanau.


Parents need to be able to access and assess the information and schools (and third parties) can help by providing information that:

  • are proactive and anticipates needs
  • is a high profile (so that parents, families and whānau know where to find it)
  • is easy to access
  • information is easy to understand (parent-friendly language used rather than jargon or education language)
  • is frequently updated
  • utilise a range of channels, e.g., text, email, phone, online, hard copy, face-to-face
  • involves and partners with parents, families, whānau and students”.


In terms of content, parents, families and whānau want information and communication about their child that is:

  • specific to their child (but also provides comparisons)
  • comprehensive (strengths and areas to develop)
  • objective
  • balanced
  • gives them an excellent insight into their child’s learning progress, achievement, next steps and wellbeing.

While the above factors are the end goals for communication and information, parents, families and whānau do not want these to compromise teaching and learning by increasing teacher workload. This means that there needs to be a trade-off approach, e.g., communication that is frequent does not always need to be comprehensive; it can be a quick and informal through email”.

The Colmar Brunton research report makes for interesting reading, and can be accessed through the Ministry’s website, (search for Colmar Brunton in the search box).

(NZSTA, STAnews, November/December 2012)

ERO booklet: How is my child doing?

ERO has a booklet (How is my child doing?: Questions to ask at school), which is aimed at everybody who parents a child and particularly those who have care and responsibility for children attending a school. Asking questions at school is one way in which parents/caregivers can find out how their child is doing, and also gives the teacher a chance to talk to them about how they can be involved. This booklet will certainly be of value to parents/caregivers, and we encourage boards/principals to make it known/available to them. (Note: In the section “Background Information for parents”, the booklet says that “Parents can attend board meetings and raise matters with the board”. Yes, parents can attend board meetings, but they can only raise issues/participate in that meeting if the board has granted them speaking rights)

Download the booklet at or order copies at

(NZSTA, STAnews, November/December 2012)

Teacher quality and student achievement

Most of us, as parents, instinctively know that the quality of teaching in our schools is imperative if our students are to achieve to their potential.  We also hear arguments to the effect that it is unfair or unreasonable to expect that teaching can overcome the impact on students of low socio-economic/disadvantaged backgrounds. So while it can be quite confusing to know what to believe, the one place we can turn to is what the research says, and in this case, research suggests that excellent teaching can indeed overcome such disadvantage.  A recent research review by the Center for Public Education bears that out.

This research review draws on the insights gained from Tennessee and Texas: - the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) and the Student Teacher Achievement Ration (STAR) project, and the Texas Schools Project undertaken by the University of Texas.

Insights from Tennessee and Texas


  • the effect of teaching on student learning is greater than student ethnicity or family income, school attended by student, or class size
  • The effect is stronger for poor and minority students than for their more affluent and/or white peers
  • The effects accumulate over the years


The Tennessee Department of Education's STAR project was an experiment designed to evaluate the effects of smaller classes on student achievement over four years. The experiment randomly assigned students from various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds to small and regular-size classes in 79 schools across the state. STAR’s reliance on randomized samples, combined with the data-tracking capacity of TVAAS, offered an important and unique opportunity to examine variations in student achievement where the only difference between classes was the teacher.

Analyses of TVAAS data indicated that teachers had a substantial effect on student achievement. While the Tennessee data from STAR showed achievements gains associated with smaller class sizes, a stronger achievement gain is related to teacher quality. (Nye, Konstantopoulos and Hedges 2004). Also, differences in student performance were more heavily influenced by the teacher than by student ethnicity or class or by the school attended by the student.

The positive effects associated with being taught by a highly effective teacher, defined as a teacher whose average student score gain is in the top 25 Percent, were stronger for poor and minority students than for their white and affluent counterparts. For example, one study of the Tennessee data found that low-income students were more likely to benefit from instruction by a highly effective teacher than were their more advantaged peers (Nye, Konstantopoulos, and Hedges 2004). Another study found that the achievement gains from having an extremely efficient teacher could be almost three times as large for African American students as for white students, even when comparing students who start with similar achievement levels (Sanders and Rivers 1996).

A second important finding from this work was that the positive effects of teacher quality appear to accumulate over the years. That is, students who were enrolled in a succession of classes taught by competent teachers demonstrated greater learning gains than did students who had the least effective teachers one after another. For example, fifth-grade math students who had three consecutive highly effective teachers scored between 52 and 54 percentile points ahead of students who had three consecutive teachers who were least effective, even though the math achievement of both groups of students was the same before entering second grade (Sanders and Rivers 1996).


Findings from the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) Texas Schools Project, lent additional credence to the Tennessee findings. This project gathered individual-level data on more than 10 million Texas students in grades K-12 from 1990 to 2002. By comparing the achievement of similar students within the same schools but assigned to different teachers, researchers were able to isolate the effects of the teacher on student achievement.

In their analysis of these data, Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain (2005) found that teacher quality differences explained the largest portion of the variation in reading and math achievement. As in the Tennessee findings, Jordan, Mendro, and Weerasinghe (1997) found that the difference between students who had three consecutive highly effective teachers (again defined as those whose students showed the most improvement) and those who had three consecutive low-effect teachers (those with the least improvement) in the Dallas schools was 34 percentile points in reading achievement and 49 percentile points in math.

(NZSTA, STAnews, October 2012)

The importance of reading

Poor reading skills is a way to failure

Ignorance is not bliss (despite the well-known saying that it is), but rather ignorance is a hidden track to poverty, devastation, tragedy and so on, only because those with reading deficiencies will be severely handicapped by them. In today's age, with technology always advancing, and the more menial unskilled jobs rapidly disappearing, those who can’t, or won't, read will be hard pressed to find long term work. Worse still, the inability to get work or to be able to make a meaningful contribution to society in general or in economic terms can lead to lower self-esteem, a lack of self-worth, or indeed delinquency, crime, or violence. It is not a matter of chance that a high percentage of inmates in NZs prisons have poor literacy. 

Those that can’t read well, or who are not encouraged/don’t take the time to read, will be condemned, or condemn themselves, to a very bleak future. As Confucius said, “no matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance”.

Reading success leads to school/academic success

Reading success is directly connected to school/academic success just as surely as lack of reading success/reading deficiencies will become a “handbrake” on not only school/academic success, but on success in later life.

Reading activity impacts on professional success

W.Fusselman proclaimed “today a reader, tomorrow a leader”. Now that may not be true, and maybe President Harry Truman got closer to it when he told everyone “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”. Whatever the belief, it does seem clear that anyone wanting to get ahead, become better, or have more, will need to be a competent, active reader.

Reading opens up a world of opportunities  

Poor readers, or those not encouraged or bothering to read, may well get by with life and work through developing some well-honed skill, but the chances are that further progress will be both difficult, and limited.

Read before you need to

For some students/people, the importance of being able to read, or to take time to read, is only realised when a bleak personal and professional future is actually being experienced, such as the inability  to get meaningful/satisfying work or the inability to function adequately in today’s world as a useful, productive member of society.

Above all, it is important for students to become skilled readers at school as there is a growing body of evidence that shows a connection between reading skills and reading activity, and work/business as well as relationship success.

(NZSTA, STAnews, November 2012)

Effective student centred learning

While the messages, and the necessary transformations, required to place the student at the heart of all teaching and learning, are gaining ground, it’s apparent there is still some way to go to achieve effective student centred learning consistently across all schools. The goal will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve while there are boards, principals or teachers operating as if the system exists for them, and those students that just happen to “fit in”, rather than focussing on the needs of all students. It’s a hearts and mind thing as much as anything.  The reality is that success will be heavily dependent on firstly the acceptance of all boards/principals/teachers that students are indeed at the centre and experiencing quality teaching and learning that suits the learner, and secondly, that the board and school are steadfast in their determination to make that happen. This culture shift to taking responsibility for all students learning, involving teachers moving from the more traditional approaches to a centred teacher role to one of involving different types of interactions with students.  The acceptance of the accountability for making a positive difference for all students is the fundamental foundation that all schools must be operating from if we are to obtain the goal of making a real and enduring difference for all pupils.

(NZSTA, STAnews, September 2012)

     Deciding which school (School Quality Checklists)

All schools exist to serve the parent community, which is not only about those who already have students at the school, but also those who are about to entrust their child(ren) to a school in the area.

At the individual level, parents have a genuine need to know which school will suit their families’ needs best.  Boards and schools don’t necessarily make it easy for them to do this because we (including boards of trustees) haven’t been effective enough at communicating with our communities about what makes a school a good school, and how to know it when you see it. In the absence of anything else, parents may well become reliant on whatever information they can get, be it from friends, the random conversations down at the supermarket or over the garden fence, or if they are reasonably well informed/in the know, by accessing ERO reports.

One thing is clear, and that is a natural desire on the part of most parents/caregivers  to want their children to succeed, and to do the best for them.

Parents should have enoug quality information to base their choices and judgements on. So how can parents of prospective students freely access to school based information that enables them a degree of confidence around what the schools can and will provide for their child?  We’ve created two possible checklists to illustrate what we mean. We’ve called them “School Quality Checklist" and "Parent Checklist” And while they may not be perfect, we think this approach has more to recommend it than just school data.

We’ve deliberately created them with a column for parents to rate the school’s performance in each category, so they can get some “solid” picture of what they think the school’s strengths and weaknesses are (yes, we all have some imperfections even if they’re very, very small ones!).

(NZSTA, July 2012)


Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but……

While the old saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” may be true enough, a study by the Georgia Department of Education shows absence can mean something quite different for students.  The Department (like many educational agencies across the world) has been trying to improve public education, and particularly to replicate pockets of excellence across the state. On finding significant difficulty in doing this, the Department moved from asking, “What are we missing” to “Who are we missing”. To answer this question, the Department shifted from focussing on truancy and started looking at state-wide attendance patterns of all students, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between student attendance at school and achievement.

The results of the study not only confirmed that student attendance impacts graduation rates and academic performance on standardised tests, but also revealed how dramatic the impact can be, and not just for truancy. Findings confirmed that missing just a few days of school, whether the absences are excused or not, can reduce a student’s chances of academic success. The analysis of the students graduation rates, ( based on the 2006-7 first time 9th graders  (approx. age 14) who were tracked until the 2010/11 year – their 4 year graduation mark) showed that for 8th graders (approx. age 13) who were absent for 15 days or more, the 4 year graduation rate dropped from 78.73% (for students with no absences) to 30.89%. For 8th graders who were absent for 11-14 days those students graduation rate dropped to 54.33% and for those absent for 6-10 days, the drop was 14% (down to 68%).

The interesting thing here is that many schools would not necessarily think that a student who misses 6-10 days of school a year is chronically truant. However the results of this study clearly indicate that those students are potentially underachieving at significant levels. Also, some schools may not consider “excused” absences when contemplating student attendance issues absences, but focus on “unexcused” absences, even though it seems that any absence from school should be considered, regardless of cause, simply because a day of lost instruction and learning has a potential negative impact on graduation rates.

For 9th graders, the impact of student absences on graduation rates was also significant. The graduation rate for 9th graders who were absent 15 days or more dropped from 76.32% to 26%, a huge difference. The graduation rate for 9th graders absent for 11-14 days declined almost 27% with graduation rates for students missing 6-10 days falling 12%.

Student absences also affected 10th graders (approx. age 15) , with a decline (for 15 days or more absence) from 79.63% to 34.45%, for absences of 11-14 days, an 18% decline in the graduation rate, and 6-10 days of absence, a decline in graduation rate of 7 %.

The study then considered whether increased attendance would improve academic achievement. The projected number of students who might have passed the subject specific tests had they increased their attendance at school by 3% (5 days in an 180-day academic calendar) was noteworthy:

  • More than 10,000 additional  students could have passed the reading test
  • More than 15,000 additional students could have passed the English/language arts test
  • More than 30,000 additional students could have passed the math  test

On other words, the researchers from the Georgia Department of Education found that increasing students attendance by five days could represent the most efficient intervention aimed at increasing student proficiency rates. Increasing the attendance had the largest effect on students who had missed between 5-10 days of school, rather than chronic truants.

NOTE: “Graduation” in the context of the above article relates to 10th grade (approx. age 15) students graduating to “high school” (years 11,12,13 in our equivalence)


Dennis A Kramer, Senior Research and Policy Analyst, Georgia Department of Education.

Gary McGiboney, Associate Superintendent for Policy, Georgia Department of Education

ReportedIn the American School Board Journal, March 2012

Lessons for NZ?

While the results of this research are fascinating, and quite dramatic, we do have to acknowledge that the American education system is quite different to ours here in NZ. For example, the American system is very much textbook driven and standardised (Statewide) testing is prevalent. However, the results are quite startling, and strongly suggest that that schools should consider any absence from school as a day of lost instruction and learning, and a potentially significant negative impact on academic performance. The findings of this research are significant, and do carry some implications for NZ schools. Given these findings, it would be fascinating for similar research to be undertaken in NZ.

(NZSTA, STAnews, April 2012)

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