- Last Updated: 27 January 2017
The New Zealand principal’s experience of the school board as employer
(Carol Anderson, October 2009)
Survey report to the New Zealand Secondary Principals’ Council and the New Zealand Principals’ Federation
A nationwide electronic survey of all state and state integrated principals was conducted in June and July 2009. The survey sought principals’ observations of the way in which the board-principal employment relationship works within the governance framework which operates in New Zealand schools.
Principals’ experiences of the board as employer appeared to depend to some extent on the size of the school and to a lesser extent on the decile and location. While employment relations problems resulting from personality clashes and ‘hidden agendas’ were liable to turn up in any school board regardless of size (and may be difficult to prevent or deal with), the data tended to show other problems related to non-performance or poor performance of employer and governance tasks appeared to occur more frequently in smaller and low decile schools.
The larger the school the more likely the board was perceived to be effective and knowledgeable about both its employment and its governance responsibilities and statistically significant differences are evident, though the magnitudes of these differences are small. There was more likelihood that the board provided the principal with professional challenge and stimulation and also high quality support. Respondents who were lucky enough to have this kind of board valued it highly.
The smaller the school the more it appeared to suffer from one or more of the following: difficulty getting sufficient candidates to stand for election, a narrower range of skills and experiences brought to the board table; reluctance to take on employer responsibilities for performance management; support and development of the principal; and less confidence or willingness to take responsibility for governance tasks. Turnover in board members may also create a greater training burden for the
principal and increase the likelihood of ‘rogue’ board members and unpredictable demands from the employer. The latter may also increase the likelihood of principal-board conflict in these schools.
For principals in smaller schools this may mean inconsistent performance expectations over time, reduced likelihood of good quality professional development and support, and a greater administrative workload on the principal. Many in this group felt that they had a good relationship with their employer but the principal often did the employer’s job as well as his or her own and carried the burden of responsibility for the school.