Community Conversations

Different types of changes to a school are a response to changes in school rolls – and we help Boards of Trustees to consider a range of options and share them with their communities when a solution is required.

Consultation is about making good decisions and providing assurance to those affected that the decision-making process is fair and transparent and their interests have been considered. It’s not a negotiation, but is an opportunity to consider all possible options, and for communities to ask questions and have a say. In doing so, groups and individuals share their views on the future shape of the network and on education in their own communities.

The process

An effective consultation involves:

  • Clearly explaining to those involved the nature of the issue and the analysis conducted so far (including any options or proposals and the rationale for them) and providing the relevant background information.
  • Giving consultees sufficient time to prepare properly considered submissions
  • Considering submissions with an open mind
  • Clearly explaining the analysis of the submissions and the rationale for the result
  • Sometimes issuing a provisional decision and undertaking a second round of consultation to test the soundness of the decision before it’s finalised.

Early engagement

The complexity of the issues being explored influence how much consultation is required. Boards of Trustees
can help inform their communities about what’s happening with school rolls in the area by regularly updating them with the demographic information they have.

The status of their school roll, monitoring and analysis of changes in the community that could put pressure on their roll and consequently those of other schools, means issues can be identified early, before they are an issue not just for one school but other schools too.

Receiving regular updates about changes in growth impacting a school also helps school communities when it comes to formal consultations, because everyone is already aware of the issues the school and the network is facing.

Formal consultation

Formal consultation is a legislative requirement for most types of changes to the network of schools, and we support Boards of Trustees in the undertaking of their responsibilities regarding formal consultations.

Section 11H of the Education Act requires all Boards of Trustees to formally consult on the development and adoption of enrolment schemes, and the Act specifies who must be consulted.

Other changes requiring Boards of Trustees to formally consult with their communities include situations where schools might consider merging or where the Board of a primary school is considering adopting cohort entry.

Consultation roles and responsibilities

When Boards of Trustees are consulting with their communities, they should:

  1. Consider the needs of all stakeholders – these could be as wide-ranging as school staff who have employment agreements with a board, other Boards of Trustees and Communities of Learning ǀ Kāhui Ako, through to local iwi, and local businesses such as early learning services – any individual, group or organisation who might be impacted in some way by the proposed change to the school.
  2. Consider the availability of stakeholders.
  3. Consider all cultural backgrounds, histories and ties to the community, and the wellbeing, emotional and practical needs of stakeholders.
  4. Understand and appreciate the community’s perception of change, their values, interests, investments and aims for their community.
  5. Consider the length of any consultation in the context of the impact and urgency of what’s being proposed, and its size, scope and scale in terms of how many could be affected.
  6. Ensure high levels of communication and information sharing – consider what stakeholders already know and don’t know, so all gaps in facts and information can be addressed.
  7. Provide factual, accurate and timely information that’s easy to access, read and interpret, and that’s written in plain language that everyone can understand. Even when there’s no new information to report – if it’s been promised, providing an update is important.
  8. Provide the right tools for people to share their views through a range of channels and to suit their needs and availability.
  9. Provide regular updates to stakeholders on where the process is at, and plenty of notice when things (like timings) look like they might change.
  10. Methodically collect, record and acknowledge all feedback received, be mindful of the privacy and security of the information shared, use it in the consideration and evaluation of options, and let people know how their feedback contributed to decisions.
  11. Provide all documentation relating to the consultation to us, including feedback and responses to those who provided feedback, as evidence to support that the consultation process has been fairly and transparently conducted.
  12. Ensure the wellbeing of all those potentially impacted by the proposed outcome is regularly monitored and appropriate support (which might include counselling, employee assistance programmes (EAPs) or change workshops) is provided.

What good consultation looks like

There’s no one-size-fits-all for consultation – no two consultations are exactly the same, just as no two New Zealand schools or communities are the same. There will always be differences in the size, scale and complexity of the issue that’s being consulted on, the risk that’s being managed, the personal situations and circumstances of those who might be affected, and opinions and views on what’s being proposed.

Because of these differences, Boards of Trustees are responsible for ensuring the principles of good consultation are always part of their process when developing options with their community.

The principles of good consultation are that it is:

  1. Genuine – A sincere invitation to participate.
  2. Fair – Transparent, no judgement and no surprises.
  3. Local – Availability, needs, interests, situations, circumstances and cultures of everyone involved.
  4. Flexible on timeframes – Where possible the time taken to step through the process aligns with local needs.
  5. Collaborative – Working together to bring the goals and aspirations of the community to life.
  6. Well informed – Information is factual, concise, accessible and timely, and communication is regular, open and useful.
  7. Constructive – Concerns, fears and anxieties are acknowledged alongside ideas, suggestions, advice and recommendations
  8. Responsive – All feedback is captured and considered, and everyone knows how their feedback has been used.
  9. Open-minded and open-ended – A willingness to pause, change direction or start over if needed.
  10. Well supported – Everyone’s wellbeing and access to support when they need it is a priority.

Timeframes

There’s always uncertainty around what the outcomes of a consultation are going to be, but clear and realistic timeframes provide clarity and structure for those involved. Usually Boards of Trustees meet every month so 4-6 weeks is usually how long a formal consultation is set by us for a change with minimal impact on the Board that’s being consulted. Other consultations will take longer, but regardless of our suggested timeframes, Boards can always respond to us earlier or ask for more time if they need it.

When developing timeframes, Boards of Trustees should consider their community’s needs, and the size, scale and complexity of the issue they’re consulting on, to ensure the process isn’t too overwhelming for people who want to participate.

Ways to consult

It’s up to Boards of Trustees how they consult with their community. Options might include:

  1. Social media, apps, online surveys or tools and software like Consider This
    • Boards who use digital methods should also consider options for those who don’t have access to or aren’t comfortable using digital technology.
  2. Meetings
    • A public meeting for parents, caregivers, families and whānau and the wider community.
    • Meetings to which other local Boards of Trustees are invited.
    • Where there might be several Boards in an area developing enrolment schemes at the same time, coordinating meetings to jointly consult each other and the community on the overall approach.
  3. Letters, questionnaires, forms or other printed material
    • All correspondence should state a deadline for reply and ways that feedback can be provided.
    • Where possible, there could be a follow up where no response is received.

The value of information

Access to good quality information is critical to good consultation. Having the right level of detail helps people to form a view and provide a meaningful submission on what’s being proposed. Consultation documents should be clear about the consultation process, the change or changes proposed (including reasons why), the scope of influence people will have and the expected costs and benefits of what’s being proposed.

Information should be easy to understand, factual and concise. Where it contains technical or complex details (such as in relation to an enrolment scheme home zone) it should be expressed in a way that non-experts will be able to understand.

Material should also summarise the steps in the consultation process and include timeframes so people wanting to take part can prepare. Where there are any changes to what’s been publicised, these should be communicated so people are aware the process has changed.

People don’t want to be overwhelmed by too much information but they need enough to understand the issue, including what’s caused it, and ideas and suggestions for how it might be resolved.

Fairness and transparency

We require evidence of a Board of Trustees consultation process before an enrolment scheme, or change to an existing one, can be approved. Even if a proposal seems complete, it won’t be approved unless we’re satisfied the board has met its consultation responsibilities.

Evidence might include:

  1. Where consultation has been in writing:
    • Copies of all correspondence sent in relation to the consultation
    • A list of who it was sent to (including other Boards of Trustees)
    • Copies of responses received
  2. Where consultation has been by meetings:
    • Meeting details including records and copies of minutes
    • A list (or lists) of who was invited to attend
    • Summaries of how the board responded to views opposing the proposal, and copies of any subsequent correspondence with individuals about the proposal
    • An explanation where amendments have been made to the original proposal in response to feedback received.
  3. Where consultation has been by survey:
    • A copy of the survey questions
    • A list of who the survey was sent to (including other Boards of Trustees) and the response rate
    • The survey results, including an analysis of findings
    • Summaries of how the board responded to views opposing the proposal, and copies of any subsequent correspondence with individuals about the proposal
    • An explanation where amendments have been made to the original proposal in response to feedback received.
  4. Where there is opposition to a proposal:
    • Summaries of how the board responded to views opposing the proposal
    • Copies of any subsequent correspondence with individuals about the proposal
    • An explanation where amendments have been made to the original proposal in response to feedback received.

Sometimes it’s the Board and others being consulted

Managing student access to local schools, and consequently supply and demand in the network, is one of our main network responsibilities. Sometimes changes to manage growth or decline in schools across the network can be initiated by the Minister of Education, and Boards of Trustees must be consulted by the Minister in these instances under the requirements of the Education Act.

The Minister might consider options such as schools merging or closing, or changes to a Board’s constitution, and Boards of Trustees will be asked for their feedback on what’s proposed.

The Minister and proprietors of state integrated schools may negotiate and agree on changes to an integration agreement.

Support for Boards of Trustees

Supporting Boards of Trustees in their school governance and management role helps them to help their students to learn and achieve.

The New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA)

NZSTA is contracted by us to support Boards of Trustees in the undertaking of their roles and responsibilities. NZSTA provides practical support, advice, resources and professional development opportunities to help Boards govern and manage their schools.

For more on the support available for Boards of Trustees, visit NZSTA (external link)
For more on becoming a trustee and Board elections, visit NZSTA’s School Trustee Elections site (external link)  

NZSTA and ERO have produced useful guidance for Boards:

Download NZSTA’s Trusteeship – A guide for school trustees 2018

Download ERO’s School Trustees Booklet – Helping you ask the right questions

Tools for Schools

You’ll also find our resources for Boards of Trustees at Tools for schools – templates, guidance and forms to help schools with their day-to-day running of school network processes and procedures.

 

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