How boards work

Learn more about the types of school board constitutions, including how to apply for an alternative or a combined board.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Boards
  • Proprietors
  • Principals and tumuaki
  • Parents, caregivers and whānau

A school board is typically elected by parents, staff, and students under a standard constitution.

To change a board’s constitution, the board should first consult the community before seeking the approval of the Minister of Education. 

Board structures

The Education and Training Act 2020 sets out the requirements of boards, including how they must be structured.

Boards usually have a standard constitution which is set out in the Act. They can also apply for the Minister of Education to approve an alternative constitution. ‘Constitution’ refers to how a board is structured, including the membership and supporting terms and conditions.

Standard board constitutions

A standard board constitution is made up of:

  • between 3 and 7 parent-elected members (most boards have 5)
  • the principal of the school/tumuaki of the kura
  • 1 staff-elected member (except where the principal/tumuaki is the only staff member)
  • 1 student-elected member (for schools/kura with students in Year 9 and above)
  • a number of co-opted members (who must be fewer in number than parent-elected members).

For state-integrated schools, a standard board constitution is made up of 4 members appointed by the proprietor (or less by agreement by proprietor).

Most parent-elected representatives are elected for a 3-year term, but schools and kura have the option of holding mid-term elections. This allows the community to elect some of the parent representatives every 18 months.

Sometimes a standard constitution does not meet the needs of a school or kura's community. Therefore, a board may apply for an alternative constitution, which gives more flexibility than the standard structure.

A guide to board structure – NZSTA(external link)

Changing the number of parent representatives

A board can change the number of its parent-elected representatives from the default of 5 to any number between 3 and 7.

Before changing the number of parent representatives, the board must:

  • give its school community reasonable notice of the time, date and place of the meeting it will hold to discuss this proposed option
  • meet and discuss the proposed change with its school community
  • listen to the feedback from the school community.

If the board governs a state-integrated school, it needs to consider the implications of reducing the number of parent representatives if the reduction would result in a greater number of proprietor’s representatives, co-opted or appointed members than parent-elected representatives.

Once any changes are made to the number of parent representatives, the board needs to advise the local Ministry office so that records can be updated.

Changes to the co-option and appointment criteria

School board co-option and appointment criteria was updated under the Education and Training Amendment Act 2023.

The main changes to co-option criteria include:

  • considering the genders, sexualities and sexes of the student body of the school and within the community served by the school, and
  • considering the diversity of disabled students at the school and the school’s disability community.

The updated criteria can be found here:

Education and Training Amendment Act 2023 – New Zealand Legislation(external link)

Definitions of terms

The Act does not include specific definitions of the terms used in the new criteria.

Board members seeking further clarification may find the following resources helpful for understanding certain terms.

Data standard for gender, sex, and variations of sex characteristics – Statistics NZ(external link)

Human Rights Act 1993: Prohibited grounds of discrimination – New Zealand Legislation(external link)

Expectations to carry out co-option processes

School boards are expected to carry out co-option processes with these new criteria in the same way they have previously, where board members may identify gaps in expertise or representation on the board and draw upon community networks to fill these gaps.

There is no expectation or requirement for boards to gather private information about individuals for the purposes of co-option or appointment. Boards are reminded of their obligations under the Privacy Act 2020.

More guidance on co-option and privacy can be found on the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) website.

Co-opting board members – NZSTA(external link)

Information, privacy and copyright – NZSTA(external link)

Alternative constitutions

A board can have an alternative constitution to give a school or kura Māori more flexibility and strengthen governance capability where the standard constitution hasn't provided the most effective way to govern the school.

An alternative constitution allows for:

  • the school community's particular character or identity to be recognised
  • the partnerships between a school or kura Māori and other groups in the community to be recognised (for example, iwi or trusts)
  • a workable or different mix or number of members to strengthen the governance capability of the board.

We can approve an alternative constitution, where it is considered to be in the best interests of the school or kura Māori and its students.

A board may request approval to have an alternative constitution, 20 percent or more of the parent community may request it or it may be recommended by the Education Review Office.

Combined boards

Boards of 2 or more schools can combine if the Minister of Education agrees.

Before the Minister considers approving a combined board, each board must consult with their school communities.

Where schools have a combined board, it means:

  • each school/kura keeps its own identity
  • policies and procedures are aligned
  • resources are pooled
  • each school/kura has separate funding entitlements (which helps promote economies of scale)
  • a shared learning community
  • a broader and more diverse mix of people participating in board elections, and serving the school communities as elected board members
  • a smoother transition for primary school children where a combined board governs a primary and secondary school.

An example of a combined board comprises:

  • 5 parent-elected members (if 2 schools) or 6 parent-elected members (if more than 2 schools)
  • the principal/tumuaki of each school/kura
  • 1 staff-elected member across all schools/kura
  • 1 student-elected member across all schools/kura (if the board governs at least 1 school with students above Year 9)
  • a number of co-opted members (who must be fewer in number than parent-elected members)
  • for state-integrated schools, 4 members appointed by the proprietor (or less by agreement by proprietor).

Boards for schools other than state schools

State-integrated schools, kura kaupapa Māori and designated character schools have boards but they are structured and/or operate slightly differently to those of ordinary state schools.

Boards of state-integrated schools or kura

In addition to other governance responsibilities, a board of a state-integrated school/kura has special responsibilities related to protecting the special character of its school. The school’s proprietor determines that special character.

The board of a state-integrated school or kura can have up to 4 proprietor's representatives. This ensures all members of the board share a common understanding of the special character and its implications for the administration of the school/kura.

Boards of kura kaupapa Māori 

The role of the board of a kura kaupapa Māori is to ensure that te reo Māori is the principal language of instruction and that the kura operates in accordance with Te Aho Matua.

Support for Te Aho Matua is available through Te Rūnanga Nui o Nga Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa.

Boards of designated character schools/kura 

In a designated character school/kura, the different character is defined when establishing the school through a notice in the New Zealand Gazette.

The special character is also reflected in the school's charter. Boards of designated character schools/kura need to consider how they foster that special character through the learning programmes and ethos of their schools.

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