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Report to the Minister of Education of the 2003 Working Party on Primary Principals Appointments

To download a full copy click on the following link - Final Report (for Appendix 2 Good Practice Process click here)


Wherever practicable an employer shall notify the vacancy or prospective vacancy in a manner sufficient to enable suitably qualified persons to apply for the position.

  1. During the negotiation of the Primary Principals’ Collective Agreement (2003-2004) it was agreed that a Working Party between NZEI Te Riu Roa (NZEI), the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) and the Ministry of Education (Ministry) would consider appointment processes for primary principals with a view to achieving agreed guidelines.
  2. The parties have agreed on a good practice process for principal appointment which is attached to this report.
  3. The Terms of Settlement note that the recommendations of this report that the parties agree on will be binding on the parties.


  1. The Ministry of Education and NZEI agreed, as set out in the Heads of Agreement of the Primary Principals’ Collective Agreement (2003-2004) to form a Working Party on appointment processes for primary principals.

    The Terms of Reference of the Working Party are attached as Appendix 1. The scope of 
    the working party was to:
  1. identify and assess relevant research and resources on the appointment of principals in primary schools
  2. identify existing practices both within the education and wider state sector for making appointments to senior management positions
  3. identify the legislative requirements on employers
  4. examine issues of process and resources which underpin and support good practice appointment processes to senior positions
  5. develop guidelines for trustees and union members incorporating agreed best practice appointment processes; and
  6. agree how best practice can be promoted effectively.
  1. Note that the parties could not reach agreement on whether area 5 of the scope meant that one guideline publication, or the basis for several guidelines, should be the desired output of the working party. It was the latter that was achieved and all parties have agreed, therefore, to base any process advice on the agreed good practice process.
  2. Note that area 6 in the scope was not covered. It was not possible during the working party to decide how the agreed good practice process could be best promoted.


  3. It was agreed that the Working Party would comprise the following members:
  1. up to four representatives from the Ministry of Education
  2. up to four representatives from the NZEI; and
  3. up to four representatives from NZSTA
  1. The Working Party was chaired by Janet Kelly, an independent education consultant.
  2. The Working Party members were unanimous that the most critical decision a board makes is the appointment of a principal. The Working Party also noted that in the majority of cases, the board members will be making their first leadership appointment in the education context. Approximately 10 per cent (220) of primary principals are appointed in any one year and approximately 59 per cent of these (130) will be first-time primary principals.
  3. The Working Party believes that principal appointments are generally managed well and result in sound appointments. The Working Party notes that little reliable information is available on whether or not the best person was appointed to any individual position. The impact of ‘poor’ appointment processes would be that the ‘best’ candidate was not selected and/or an inappropriate appointment was made.
  4. Given the importance of principal appointments to the effectiveness of schools, and the challenges inherent in all appointments, the parties strongly agree that there is value in promulgating advice on best practice in appointment on which there is a high degree of agreement. By doing so, we intend that best practice becomes common practice. NZEI Te Riu Roa considers that one binding process is the best way to enforce best practice.
  5. The Working Party met five times and worked to the following process:
  1. consideration of the following material
  1. the legislative and contractual environment
  2. recent research literature on principal appointment
  3. currently available resources and process advice
  4. a sample of principal application packs for vacancies in one issue of the Education Gazette; and
  5. The State services Commissions process for the appointment of public services chief executives

b.    synthesis of the above materiel
c.    agreement to many core elements of a good practice process; and
d.    consideration of the cost of appointment.


Legislative and contractual environment

  1. All employers have obligations under the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Privacy Act 1993. The State Sector Act 1988 adds to the responsibilities of boards of trustees by requiring that:
  1. preference shall be given to the person best suited to the position
  2. a board of trustees, or any Commissioner that replaces that board, is the legal employer of all staff
  3. a board of trustees must act independently, and others must not influence a board, in decisions on individual employees
  4. a board of trustees must operate a personnel policy that complies with the principle of being a good employer including provisions related to safe working conditions, EEO, impartial selection, and the recognition of the aspirations of various groups.
  1. A board of trustees has complete discretion to control the management of the school as it thinks fit, subject to the law.
  2. The Primary Principals’ Collective Agreement also requires the following:
  1. all positions of at least one years duration must be advertised nationally
  2. all appointments to advertised positions shall be permanent unless there are genuine reasons on reasonable grounds for appointing for a fixed term
  3. in appointing the person best-suited to the position a board will have regard to the experience, qualifications and abilities relevant to the position and such other relevant matters as it determines
  4. job descriptions must be provided to all applicants
  5. EEO principles shall be followed
  1. The Primary Principals’ Collective Agreement 2003-04 also has the agreement that principals need to:
  1. discharge well the specific responsibilities placed on the principal
  2. lead and imbue the employees with a spirit of service to the school and the community; and
  3. manage the school in a responsible manner that promotes quality education, accountability and the proper use of resources; and
  4. maintain appropriate standards of integrity and conduct among employees and ensure the well-being of students attending the school; and
  5. manage the school in a way that gives effect to the objectives of the school charter and the schools strategic direction; and
  6. meet or exceed the Professional Standards for principals; and
  7. maintain effective working relationships with the board, community, parents/caregivers, staff and students; and
  8. promote fairness, integrity and equal employment opportunities within the school.
  1. The Ministry of Education, NZEI Te Riu Roa, and NZSTA provided recent literature on school senior management appointments. The Ministry of Education provided a research report on principal appointment processes, undertaken in 1999.
  2. These principles were common:
  1. the job description and person specification are the foundation of the appointment process, so they should be based on the day-to-day reality of the job, and be clear to prospective applicants
  2. ‘fit with the school’ is a valid concept to use in appointment, provided it is closely defined at the beginning of the process and does not become shorthand for individual prejudices
  3. the understanding of fit with the school should also be communicated to applicants so they can provide relevant information
  4. past relevant performance is the best predictor of future performance, so a selection process should focus primarily on reliable information about past performance
  5. verbal interviews of referees are preferred to written referee reports as the former can be used to provide information more closely related to the selection criteria; and
  6. information from referees needs to be evaluated, so it should be standardized through planned questions.
  1. In a few instances, the literature noted that:
  1. an overly complex or overly public process is likely to put off the best candidates; and
  2. training for board members is a good investment.
  1. The key resources for boards were identified as:
  1. Hiring new employees
  2. Trustees Handbook and Advisory Services & NZSTA
  3. Employment in Education
  4. Independent consultants/local principals
  5. Other schools’ appointment policies from websites
  1. Information that is additional to currently available advice was tabled by the parties. NZSTA tabled their draft guideline ‘Appointing a Principal’, NZEI Te Riu Roa tabled ‘Successful Appointments, a 2003 report from Marshall Consulting, and a draft guideline document from the NZEI Principals Council, Appointment of Principals: best practice guidelines
  2. NZSTA is producing a guideline publication for boards of trustees on the appointment of principals. NZSTA has asked NZEI Te Riu Roa and the Ministry to review and provide comment on this in order to ensure that the agreements of the working party are reflected in the publication.
  3. Added to this material for consideration were the internal recruitment guidelines of the Ministry of Education and the State Services Commission. ‘Sample of principal application packs’
  4. The Working Party considered several recent examples of application packs for principal positions to check current practice, and the content and presentation of these packs. The significant findings were:
  1. job descriptions were done well in some cases, but were quite variable overall. In some cases the job description was actually a person specification, in others it was largely a repetition of the professional standards for principals or was omitted from the application pack altogether
  2. consent to contact a previous employer was generally sought, but some application forms carried no consent clause. One form sought permission to contact the Teachers Council
  3. EEO statements were often omitted, and in one case a question about marital status was on the application form.

State Services Commission process for the appointment of public service Chief Executives

  1. The Ministry of Education met with SSC’s Chief Executives Branch to discuss their process. In summary:
  1. the process is slow, measured and costly. In addition to a permanent specialist unit within the Commission, each appointment involves the cost of an international search and advertising effort
  2. written references are not required in applications. Applicants provide names of referees and the Commissioner generally only contacts the referees of the preferred candidate after the interview
  3. consultants conduct interviews with candidates and provide recommendations to the Commissioner, including who should be re-interviewed, and areas the interview could focus on
  4. the current needs and direction of the agency are carefully considered, and become the substance of the position description
  5. consultants use standardised role-play scenarios to identify whether an applicants basic values and behavioural responses to management situations are consistent with those they report in the interview
  1. After consideration of this material, the Working Party discussed the steps that should be included in a good process. Below are significant areas of agreement, and discussion of areas where a joint perspective was not achieved.
  2. The Working Party agreed that information from referees is crucial to decision-making.  Appointment processes in the public sector generally use verbal contact with referees to confirm information gained in the interview.  However, in almost all of the application packs sampled, three written referees’ reports were required with all applications.
  3. This is burdensome, and probably does not provide useful information. The Working Party recommends that written references not be sought, and that shortlisting decisions be based on application forms and CVs. Verbal contact with referees is better used to validate interview information and explore any areas of concern raised by an interview.

Background checking

  1. Additional information on applicants’ backgrounds is important to the appointment process.  Boards sometimes contact former employers and the New Zealand Teachers Council for information about applicants. The Working Party agreed that boards may need to seek other information, and that applicants need the ability to contextualise and/or clarify any information that is gathered.
  2. The Working Party’s advice is that the following privacy clause be added to application forms “contact with additional individuals or statutory organisations who can comment on your professional work will not be made without first notifying you”.
  3. The Working Party noted that there are a variety of approaches to notifying interviewed candidates of an appointment decision. Once an offer has been accepted, then all those interviewed should be notified immediately.

Appointment groups

  1. The Working Party agreed that the whole board, less the incumbent principal, should decide what will happen at each stage of the process. The Working Party did not consider it possible to recommend whether an appointment group/subcommittee should be appointed, or that the whole board should undertake the process together.
  2. Involving the whole board in the process may prove useful for ownership of the decision.  However, it may make for a large and potentially intimidating interview panel that is difficult to schedule.
  3. The interests of staff are important to take into consideration to provide ‘fit with the school’ and teaching and learning perspectives, and NZEI considers that a staff member should also be involved in order to assure their fellow professionals that fair process was observed and the best candidate selected.
  4. The Working Party was not able to agree whether the elected staff representative should automatically be an interviewer or one of the appointment decision-makers. There could be a conflict of interest in individual staff members being involved in the final decision. Nonetheless, the Working Party acknowledges that many boards consider that this is consistent with their school culture.


  1. The Working Party noted that if applicants are asked to make a presentation to the school community, their privacy is effectively removed. This is also true when applicants are invited to social gatherings. Although the Working Party questions the value of the practice the Working Party understands that some schools, in particular Kura Kaupapa Māori, consider this important to their appointment process.
  2. NZEI Te Riu Roa considers that public presentations and social functions should not be used in the selection process under any circumstances.
  3. NZSTA’s view is that some boards consider it in the interests of building relationships with the school community that presentations from the candidates are a part of the process, and NZSTA emphasises that where this occurs it is necessary to ensure that it is undertaken in a professional manner.
  4. The Working Party considers that information gathered at such events, should they occur, should be directly related to the selection criteria, and that a check sheet would assist in ensuring uniformity and relevance of the assessments made.

National advertising and appointment

  1. NZEI Te Riu Roa consider that because of the State Sector Act 1988 provision described in 12d and because of commitments in the collective employment agreement, the government is obliged to support nationwide applications for principal positions.
  2. NZEI Te Riu Roa considers that travel costs may pose a barrier to nation-wide applications for nationally advertised positions, and that this indicates a need to target some resources to boards to assist applicants who may be disadvantaged because of their distance from the school. NZSTA agrees that the appointment process can be costly, but that in the pre-selection phase some steps can be replaced with other methods including video-conferences.
  3. The Ministry of Education notes that in a limited number of situations, out-of district appointments can already attract funding. If a teacher or principal relocates to fill a Priority Staffing Status and gains a National Relocation Grant, then the board can gain a National Recruitment Allowance payment of $2,500 to be used in any manner, including such appointment costs as travel subsidies. These costs need not be the costs incurred by the successful applicant.
  4. All positions in decile 1-4 schools in Northland, Auckland, Tokoroa, Wairoa, Gisborne and West Coast regions of the South Island automatically have Priority Staffing Status and a board is experiencing severe difficulty in filling a position, including having to re-advertise due to lack of suitable applicants, they can gain apply to the Ministry of Education for Discretionary Priority Staffing Status to apply to that position.
  5. NZEI Te Riu Roa is concerned that boards may not get enough process and/or professional advice because of the cost of an adviser. NZEI Te Riu Roa considered that government funding should be available to employ an advisor who meets specific criteria, and suggested that a fund to assist boards be accessible to boards who gain an attestation that they have followed best practice in making an appointment.
  6. NZSTA considered that funding for advice would be appropriate, provided it was not subject to any conditions that impinge on boards’ autonomy in employment  matters.
  7. The Ministry of Education considered that any measures to support appointment processes should not be a burden on all boards, most of which who do not need additional support. Instead, any additional support would be better targeted to boards that may be at risk of not effectively managing the selection process. The viability of this targeting would depend on whether such an identification would be possible, and there was not scope within the Working Party to further consider this question.
  8. The Working Party recommends that you note that the outcomes of the working party can be summarised as follows: matters of agreement, recorded in paragraphs 27-31; an agreed good practice process for principal appointments contained in Appendix 2 of this report; agreement that the parties will reflect the matters of agreement and incorporate the good practice process into any guidelines or advice to boards, principals or teachers; and
  9. The Working Party recommends that you note: guidelines still need to be developed to reflect (47.b) above and NZEI considers that more joint work to produce a joint guideline would be desirable.

Janet Kelly Chair

Rowena Phair Ministry of Education

Colin Tarr

NZEI Te Riu Roa

Colin Davies NZSTA


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