School structures and governance

Schools provide effective and relevant education for their students. This is governed by the board and managed by the principal and staff. There are state, state-integrated and Maori Medium schools and schools can choose to have standard or an alternative board constitution.

School structures and types

School structures in New Zealand


Known as a:


Contributing primary school


Full Primary School


Intermediate School


Secondary School (Year 9-13)


Secondary School (Year 7-13)


Middle School or Junior High School


Senior High School


Composite School (Year 1-10)


Composite (Year 1-13) or Area School

Types of schools

State schools

Most of the schools in New Zealand are owned and funded by the state. They teach the national curriculum. They are secular (non-religious).

State integrated schools

These are state schools that provide education through their 'special character'. They may have their own sets of aims and objectives to reflect their own particular values. They may teach a specific philosophy or religion.

Designated character schools

These are state schools that provide education through their particular 'designated character'. This is often a particular iwi tradition, language and culture, or a particular educational approach.

Māori-medium education (Kura Kaupapa Māori) 

These are state schools that adhere to the philosophy, principles and practices of Te Aho Mātua. These kura are established under section 155 of the Education Act 1989.

Section 155 Education Act 1989 — NZ Legislation website (external link)

Governance of schools

Constitutions of boards of trustees at a glance

Boards of trustees are made up of elected parent representatives, staff, principal and student representatives and they can appoint and/or co-opt members.

Most elected parent representatives are elected for a 3 year term. Schools may also choose a mid-term lection option. This option allows a board to have half of its parent representatives elected every 18 months.

The standard constitution of a board of trustees is:

  • 5 parent elected representatives
  • principal
  • staff representative
  • student representative (in schools with Year 9 students and above)
  • co-opted trustees, and
  • up to 4 proprietors' representatives (in integrated schools only).

This standard constitution doesn't always meet the needs of all schools and their communities and so there's some flexibility for alternative constitutions.

Alternative constitutions 

A board of trustees can alter the number of parent representatives

Before a board finally decides to alter the number of parent reps to anything between 3 and 7, it must first give its parent community reasonable notice of the time, date and place of the meeting this option will be discussed. Once this is done the board is then free to make its final decision on numbers of parent reps. The board then needs to advise its local Ministry office so that records of the board membership can be updated.

Local Ministry office

School governance options

Alternative constitutions

A board can have an alternative constitution to give a school more flexibility where the standard board of trustees' constitution hasn't been the most effective governance form. The Minister can approve an alternative constitution if they believe it's in the school's best interests. A board may request it, 20% or more of the parent community may request it, or ERO may recommend it.

Examples of some alternative constitutions are where a board is made up of:

  • up to 21 members of the community/whanau, the principal and 1 staff representative
  • 1 person appointed by the Minister with community-based committees that feed into it
  • 2 ministerial appointees with specific skills, 1 is the board chair, up to 3 trustees appointed by the runanga, the principal, 3 parent-elected representatives, 1 staff representative, 1 student representative and up to 2 other people co-opted by the board.

An alternative constitution allows:

  • the school community's particular character or identity to be recognised
  • ongoing partnerships between a school and other parties are recognised
  • a workable or different mix and/or number of trustees.

Combined boards of trustees

Boards of 2 or more schools may combine if the Minister agrees. Before the Minister considers approving a combined board, the boards need to consult with their parent communities.

An example of a combined board of trustees comprises:

  • 5 parent-elected trustees (if 2 schools)
  • 6 parent-elected trustees if more than 2 schools
  • the principal of each school
  • 1 staff-elected trustee
  • 1 student-elected trustee (if the board governs at least 1 school with students above Year 9).

A combined board offers the following benefits.

  • Each school keeps its separate identity and separate funding entitlements. This also promotes economies of scale.
  • Policies and procedures are aligned between the schools.
  • It encourages schools to be shared learning communities rather than competitors.
  • Where a combined board governs a primary and a secondary school, it helps to facilitate a seamless transition for students.
  • It can increase the pool of potential people for election to the board.
  • Resources are pooled.

Effective governance publications and resources — NZSTA website (external link)

Boards of state-integrated, designated character schools or Kura Kaupapa Maori

Boards of state integrated schools

In addition to other responsibilities, trustees on the board of a state integrated school have special responsibilities related to protecting the special character of their school.

In an integrated school the proprietor, who has an agreement with the Government through a deed of integration, determines that special character.

The board can have up to 4 proprietor's representatives. This ensures that all members of the board share a common understanding of the special character and its consequences for the administration of the school. For example, there may be restrictions on staff appointments, under some circumstances, and boards need to be aware of these.

Boards of designated character schools

In a designated character school, the special character is defined when establishing the school through a notice in the Education Gazette. The special character is also reflected in the school's charter. Boards will need to consider how they foster that special character through the learning programmes and ethos of their schools.

Boards of Kura Kaupapa Māori

The role of the board of Te Kura Kuapapa Māori is to ensure that the principles of Te Marautanga o Aotearoa are met along with the national curriculum framework.

Te Marautanga o Aotearos — TKI website (external link)

National curriculum framework — NZ Curriculum Online (external link)

Support for boards

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

Te Rūnanga Nui o Nga Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa website (external link)

NZSTA website (external link)

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