A primary school's board of trustees has been taken over by the Government after refusing to implement controversial National Standards data - a move labelled alarming and heavy-handed.
Education Minister Hekia Parata ordered a statutory manager to run Wellington's Porirua School, with a roll of 155, after its board stated it did not agree with the controversial student achievement data and "decided to wait for a change in government", official documents reveal.
Sixty-five schools are under the control of commissioners or statutory managers after their boards were given their marching orders or had powers removed by the Minister of Education.
One Auckland primary school has been under emergency control since April 2006. In all, 16 schools have been under intervention for two years or longer.
Problems included unsafe school environments, low staff morale, poor teaching and student achievement, and a breakdown in relationship between board and principal.
Twenty schools had financial management issues, one college predicting a budget deficit of $247,000 and another school with unaccounted for spending and credit card use.
A report provided to the Minister of Education for sign-off on each intervention case, obtained by the Weekend Herald under the Official Information Act, outlines reasons for each intervention.
Ms Parata signed off on the Porirua School action in July last year, despite the board backing down on its refusal to implement National Standards.
The Ministry of Education said it was unconvinced the board could effectively collect the data and it had displayed unsound governance.
Yesterday, New Zealand's largest education union said the Porirua intervention was alarming and it would investigate to see if other schools were in a similar position.
"It's a huge revelation to find out that this is happening. It's a very heavy-handed tactic ... this is unfair and is about punishing and shaming a school," said NZEI president Judith Nowotarski.
A spokeswoman for Ms Parata directed all questions to the ministry. Porirua School acting principal Dino Perez said he was unable to comment.
The school's limited statutory manager, Helena Barwick, said "it would be fair to say the school initially wasn't delighted" by her presence, as they felt they were already committed to bring in National Standards.
Ms Barwick said her relationship with staff had become much more positive, and the school now fully met all reporting requirements.
Katrina Casey, deputy secretary of regional operations for the Ministry of Education, said it expected most schools under intervention to return to self-governance within two years.
"An intervention may continue, sometimes at differing levels, if the risks to the operation of the school or the welfare and education performance of its students have not been eliminated or significantly reduced."
National Standards describe what students should be able to do in reading, writing and mathematics as they progress through levels 1 to 8, the primary and intermediate years.
Education unions strongly opposed introduction, saying the unmoderated data contribute to a false impression that student achievement data are a fair measure of a school.
The action against Porirua School makes good on then-Education Minister Anne Tolley's threat to take over management of schools which vowed not to implement National Standards.
"Specialist advisers" were sent to a handful of schools to help with eventual implementation.
School on watch for 7 years
Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Otara, a primary school in Manukau, has been controlled by a commissioner since April 2006. The decile 1 school had suffered from financial mismanagement and a breakdown in governance.
The Principals' Federation recently asked the ministry to change how statutory managers and commissioners are funded. At present, schools foot the bill for those assigned to manage them from their own operations grant.
Federation president Phil Harding said lengthy interventions could be shortened if the ministry paid directly.
"I am aware of one commissioner who told their school board, for the current 2013 year, to expect an invoice in excess of $120,000 for his services," Mr Harding said. "We see a circle of conflict existing that would make it unlikely that someone drawing a $100,000 fee is going to be in any hurry to turn that tap off."
What goes wrong
There are at present 65 schools under the control of a commissioner or limited statutory manager. Risks and factors cited include:
• A breakdown in relationship between the board and principal. A manager was appointed to Levin's Horowhenua College in June after the Ministry of Education noted "there is little trust left" between board and principal.
• Poor student achievement. Henderson High School has been under a statutory manager since May last year after issues including straying from the New Zealand Curriculum and low Maori achievement.
• Financial mismanagement. South Canterbury's Opihi College has been under an intervention since November last year after a predicted budget deficit of $247,000 - the seventh year of deficits.
• No members left to sit on the board of trustees, including at Wairau Valley School (Blenheim), Southland's Wyndham School, St Joseph's School (Dargaville), and Greymouth High School.
• A limited statutory manager temporarily takes over specified powers of a board of trustees, which remains in existence.
• A commissioner is appointed when the Minister of Education chooses to completely dissolve a board.
• Such interventions are usually reserved for schools which are dysfunctional or where education is at risk.
- Source: Ministry of Education