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Tag: governance

Talk-ED: A fish rots from the head: The importance of good governance


The recent events within Cricket New Zealand suggest that some organisations don’t even need an opposition to be beaten – they are able to defeat themselves without any assistance. What staggers me is that once again a staggering failure of governance is allowed to pass. Victims are strewn all over the place, reputational damage affects individuals and the organisation and yet the Board sails on, unaccountable and unscathed. Well played, chaps!

On the other hand, governance of sport is consistently of a low standard. Take your pick, swimming, Otago rugby, rugby league are just a selection of sports governance which in recent times have managed to exhibit a wide range of issues at a governance level.

Over in the finance sector, failure of governance is rife.

Some of the issues in Christchurch and the responses to the quakes have been issues of governance rather than any operational ineptitude.

And in the education sector, governance continues to provide a challenge. A report[1] estimated that at any one time there were about 15% of the 2,557 Boards of Trustees in New Zealand that had issues of Board performance. This means that about 385 schools have issues. (You might well ask whether this is a surprise in a country where governance generally is weak – how can the nation’s schools be expected to find nearly 13,000 parents who have the skills and qualities of a Board Member.)

It is my experience as an observer of many schools that the key issue is actually knowing the difference between the duties of governance and the elements of management. Where Boards run into trouble is where they want to start running the school. That is why a recurring issue in school governance is the relationship between the Principal and the Board. These sometimes spill over into rather unpleasant public spats. And communities have a varied pool of experience available for selection to these positions – a selection that is made by the community which also will exhibit a widely variable level of competence to make such selections. It is all pretty hit and miss – not unlike our cricket team.

One of the great issues of school governance, in my view is that low-decile schools in which the issues are complex and not as straightforward as they are in middle and high decile schools and yet it is these very same school communities that have to provide a board that is, until it gets into trouble, largely left to do its best. When that best is not good enough, the state intervenes.

The various levels of intervention – requested by the boards themselves in about half the cases – can result in the board being replaced by a commissioner and this happens, the report tells us, in about 30% of the interventions.

The Boards of Trustees were never intended to be as isolated as they have become. Tomorrow’s Schools (which was the policy statement following the Picot Report on the administration of education) also proposed the existence of education service centres which  would be a relatively local mechanism to create support for Boards of trustees, community education forums that would give communities wider than the single cell of the school a voice and, finally, a parent advocacy council where parents could raise issues and seek solutions. None of that happened and the greatly exposed system of devolved school governance was thrown into the feral environment of competition between schools. There had to be winners and losers in that scenario.

Perhaps it is time to review the whole Board of Trustees set-up. With the notion of clusters and new ways of working making its appearance in the Christchurch re-organisation the way might be clear for such a review. The report Shaping Education: Directions for Education Renewal in Greater Christchurch (MOE / TEC / NZ Government 2012) has in it some exciting ideas for new ways of working – sharing resources, working to different times, new structures, mixing age groups, collaboration, school operating across different sites, shared facilities, new facilities, and so on. The ideas are flowing down there. One comment in talking about new structures talks of combining a “…. junior high school / senior high school focus, academic and trades specialisation all under one governing body…”

It’s tough in Christchurch at the moment but they will be creating a great legacy for New Zealand if they get the ball rolling on genuine structural reform of education. And none of those reforms is more urgent than looking at the governance of schools.

It is the role of boards generally to increase the value of the company for the shareholders. Therefore it is the role of the Board of Trustees of a school to increase the value in terms of the educational outcomes to the government. How refreshing it is to see that finally the Boards of Trustees are to be held accountable for the educational achievement of the school. The Education Amendment Bill currently before the House is greatly to be supported in this regard. After more than 20 years, school Boards are about to get on to the real work. Now, that will add value!



[1] Wylie, Cathy (2007) School governance in New Zealand – how is it working? New Zealand Council for Educational Research Te Rünanga o Aotearoa mö te Rangahau i te Mätauranga, Wellington


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Governing principles

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.20, 29 May 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.”
Ambrose Bierce, American journalist and writer (1842-1914?), from the Devil’s Dictionary

Governance is constantly being challenged in New Zealand. The series of business failures resulting from unsound governance over the past year, the bizarre events in many prominent sports at the top level seemingly resulting from the failure of Boards, the steady trickle of education institutions that are put under notice or have commissioners suggests that the state of governance in New Zealand is not as sound as it needs to be.

Recent events highlight this and some of the political dimensions of the issues – the Rankin File saga and the hikoi in Auckland last week both have in them messages for those who design governance structures.

The two dominant patterns of selection for governance in New Zealand are the selection on the basis of who you know, the other is selection because of who you represent. The first typifies government appointments and the second reflects many typical community not-for profit groups, school boards and so on. Both are flawed.

It is all very well wanting to get supporters onto boards and into positions where favour can return favour, but it is quite another thing to think that this is a suitable replacement for fitness for purpose. People of great ability and quality might simply be unsuitable for other reasons. This was the case with Rankin – her personal skills, ability and disposition are each irrelevant to many of those reacting to her appointment because other things get in the way. This might or might not be unfair. Effectiveness requires a sound and equal equation that allows a person’s skills and abilities to be applied effectively because of the regard in which they are held or the respect that surrounds them. To reject this in favour of only one half of the governance equation is high risk.

The other key factor that makes so many groups ineffective is the representative model. Many community groups believe that to be effective, the governance group must be made up of one of that group, and one of that group, and one of each of those five groups. But this has two weaknesses embedded in it.

The nominations from the respective groups (or perhaps more often it is a case of those who are prepared to put their names forward) might not address issues related to the skills needed, the mix and balance of competencies required in the group and often does not consider, because this process is incapable of doing so, the ability to work as a team. This situation cannot usually be put right through co-option.

The second issue with the group made up of representatives is the baggage that they bring with them into the new setting. Each organisation represented has its own set of policies, strategic objectives and agendas which place a glass cage around their representative. It doesn’t work. Sometimes that glass is pretty opaque.

But there is another generic weakness in governance in New Zealand. This is evident in the events surrounding the hikoi which was ostensibly about Maori representation on the new Auckland Super City Council. Should, the discussion runs, it be through positions designated as of right and filled through a process acceptable to Maori or do Maori simply take their chances in the ruck and maul of an “at large” election?

The answer to this should in 2009 be self-evident. It should have occurred to those with influence that Maori have as one of the two treaty parties, the other being the crown, an inalienable right to be represented on any governance group established by the crown. This principle starts with parliament and should be reflected in each and every regional and local territorial authority, district health board, SOE Board, and, yes, each council of tertiary institutions and each Board of Trustees of each school.

The local government act allows for such entrenched representation in local councils and the issue is not only that it remains almost exclusively unexploited but that the press and many sections of the community want to rewind this film right back to the beginning. Usually the film, however many times it is rewound, ends up the same.

So, having said that, how is education going from a governance point of view? Not very well. It is time to take another look at the composition of governing bodies and to temper the representative model (i.e. parents elected representatives only or government appointees plus a few other representative appointments) with the ability of Boards to make appointments to fill out the governance skill sets that are required. It is pointless to object to this as a “business” model when education institutions have been required to act as businesses since 1990 or thereabouts.

Would it be a “step too far” (and how many times have we heard that lately!) to suggest that this not only be an option but in fact was mandatory. It would be easy to develop a score card of governance skills and to measure each governance group against it.

Much of the failure of governance in education has been exposed by unsustainable financial performance which is the abscess that reflects greater underlying ills – poor strategy, poor resource allocation, the ignoring of financial indicators that warn of impending trouble, weak HR policies and management of performance, a failure to secure the confidence of a community and suchlike.

But in Bierce’s words – “the strife of interests that masquerade as a contest of principles” quickly could turn such a scenario into rather ugly politics. Is it not just this that has happened with the Super City and Maori representation? Is it not just this that has seen the governance issues in education not addressed since the one-hit reforms of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s?

New Zealand is due for some clear thinking about governance and education would be a good place to start.

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