8 Sep 2014

Concerns over troubled school support

3:47 pm on 8 September 2014

An Education Ministry working group says the government should pay more of the cost of the commissioners and managers it sends to fix troubled schools.

It also wanted an overhaul of the way the ministry selects people for the roles and monitors their work.

The group included the main education sector groups including teacher unions, principals organisations and the School Trustees Association.

It was set up after concerns were raised last year about the high cost to schools of having a commissioner or limited statutory manager and allegations some might be making work for themselves.

Commissioners are the most serious of the various interventions used by the ministry.

They replaced school boards of trustees, and generally work in circumstances where relationships have broken down and the Education Review Office has decided the school is not functioning well. They charged about $100 an hour, and their work can be intensive and last several years.

The Education Ministry covered some or most of the costs if schools are in financial difficulties, but schools have told Radio New Zealand they went into debt or used up all their reserves paying for a commissioner.

There were also complaints last year that a commissioner cost Northland's Moerewa School $150,000 in a single year.

The working group suggested relieving schools of some of the costs.

It said schools should not have to pay for the cost of scoping what help they need, or for their commissioner's travel, accommodation and other expenses.

The latter was a particularly big issue for small, rural schools where a commissioner was not available locally.

The working group also recommended improvements to the way the ministry selects people for these roles and that it introduce training to make sure appointees have all the skills required of them.

It wanted the ministry to ensure it staff who work with commissioners and managers so they are better able to monitor what's going on.

The group also made suggestions affecting other aspects of the education sector, including a qualification for school trustees and exit clauses that make it easier for principals to leave jobs that are not working out.

The ministry said at the middle of this year 69 schools had some sort of statutory intervention, including 26 with commissioners.

Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said over the past two years the ministry had not formally investigated any statutory appointee over concerns about their work or for any other reason.

"The Ministry does not have any evidence of any statutory appointee acting in an inappropriate manner or unnecessarily extending their work or the number of hours billed."

The working group's recommendations have been included in a report to the Education Minister Hekia Parata.

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