The Tomorrow's Schools reforms that came into effect in 1989 were designed to deliver "better educational opportunities". The restructure saw the disestablishment of the Education Department as a way to remove bureaucracy and enable schools and their parental communities to manage education delivery as a partnership.
However, for schools in low socio-economic areas, the model is flawed. It places governance in the hands of well-meaning and dedicated parents who have little or no experience for a role with huge responsibilities that is both time-consuming and complex.
In any organisation, effective performance relies on a board providing oversight and guidance to management to implement its strategic plan. In a school, the mix of skills required includes property, finance, curriculum and human resources, and at an advanced level.
Many schools are large organisations hiring more than 50 staff and controlling income and property in the millions of dollars on behalf of taxpayers and their communities. There is huge complexity involved.
Cognition Education, a global education consultancy and training provider, has a Model for Governing Schools that defines eight areas of responsibility, and more than 50 tasks associated with them. There are at least 30 essential plans and policies that the board must develop, and many more that are desirable or optional. To effectively carry this out requires time, skills, knowledge and experience. Who would want to do this for the going rate of $70 per meeting?
Boards of Trustees must show that they meet the Government's expectations, particularly in raising Maori and Pasifika achievement. Too many boards are failing in that. Yet is it any wonder, with the complexities of being the "employer" taking up a large part of any board meeting?
Education professor John Hattie's research shows that the biggest factor in raising student achievement is the quality of the teachers. Most schools do not have the expertise to manage and improve teacher capability. Boards are required to ensure they employ and manage the work of a high-quality principal. One of the processes poorly managed in schools is the annual principal's appraisal. In some schools this is left to the principal to organise - they even find their own appraiser and manage the process. How can this lead to effective performance management and quality assurance?
I find it curious that this year's introduction of Investing in Educational Success (IES), one of the most significant changes since Tomorrow's Schools, has failed to address the governance model. IES enables expert teachers and executive principals to work across a community of schools to meet achievement challenges. But which board are they going to be accountable to?
In fostering collaboration between schools and creating broader career pathways for educators, the intention is to improve outcomes for students. I have no argument with that. But let's not overlook the fundamental importance of good governance, and take a closer look at the Boards of Trustees model as part of its implementation.
There needs to be more flexibility in the model, to enable one board to oversee a community of schools. This would deliver better resource allocation, targeted to the community's needs. It could also help to optimise the expertise in low socio-economic communities, spreading it across a range of schools. This then leads to more rigour in developing community-based expectations and teacher quality.
There also needs to be proper remuneration of boards of trustees, to attract the required expertise in either finance, property, HR or curriculum.
The fact the Government is "experimenting" with charter schools is an admission that the current model of delivery of education in low-decile schools is not working. Let's have a range of new choices within the current schooling provision, and also look at fixing all parts of the educational system. We must add governance to the current focus on principals and teacher performance.
• Clyde Young is a former high school teacher, an accountant and a trustee on a number of boards. He is frequently asked to work with and on boards to resolve issues when schools are in difficulty.