Information for parents


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

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.

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.

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

Useful links

Student Rights Service (formerly PLINFO)

0800 499 488

Website

Youth Law

0800 884 529

Website 

Citizens Advice Bureau

0800 367 222

Website 

Children’s Commissioner                                    

0800 224 453

Website  

Ethnic Communities - Language Line (translation service)

0800 656 656

Website

Ministry of Education (MOE)

04 463 8000

Website

Education Review Office (ERO)

04 499 2489

Website 

Tertiary Education Commission (career information and advice)

0800 222 733

Website 

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 Crown entity responsible for the governance and the control of the management of 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 read more on the Parents' guide to the role of the board of trustees.

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 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 year 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:

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:

a. dies, or
b. resigns in writing to the board, or
c. without the prior leave of the board is absent from three consecutive board meetings, or
d. 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

OR

  • selecting someone

In NZSTA's 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.

Support for boards

NZSTA offers support for boards of trustees, you can contact the Advisory and Support Centre at 0800 782 435.

Further information regarding 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 student's records

Suspensions

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 a suspension
  • A student may attend school during suspension if a reasonable request is made
  • A 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 student's 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

An 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
  • The 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 provides 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 2018/01 of 22 June 2018.

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 are 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:

4. 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.

Recommendation

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.

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