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What Schools Have to Do

What schools have to do

Every state school in New Zealand has a board of trustees. Board of trustees are made up of parents of students at the school, school staff, community members, student representative/s (for schools with year 9 and older students), and in the case of integrated schools, proprietors’ representatives.  The board of trustees’ job is to govern the school. Under the law, board of trustees are required to make sure:

  • that all students at the school get an education and achieve to their highest standard, AND;
  • that the school is physically and emotionally safe for all students and staff, AND;
  • observe and uphold student and human rights, AND;
  • take steps to eliminate discrimination and bullying, AND;
  • be inclusive of students with different needs, AND;
  • give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

What does providing an education involve?

State schools are required to follow the New Zealand curriculum, encourage and model values contained in the curriculum, and develop key competencies.

Are students safe at school?

Schools have a responsibility to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students and staff. Keeping students safe involves making sure there are no physical hazards at school, that safety is a priority when learning, having a positive school ethos, and making students feel emotionally safe while at school.

It may also mean having a proactive policy on bullying and making sure bullying is prevented before it happens and stopped when it is reported.

What are student rights?

Schools must make sure that they respect student and human rights.

Student rights can be found under the Education and Training Act 2020. Student rights include things like:

  • the right to a free education,
  • the right to full-time attendance,
  • and the right for students with disabilities to receive the same education as students without disabilities.

Schools also need to respect students’ human rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993, such as the right to be free from discrimination.

What do schools have to do about bullying, discrimination, and racism?

Schools need to take all reasonable steps to stop racism, stigma, discrimination, and bullying. This means that if you are being bullied or discriminated against in school, that you can tell your school and they need to do something about it. Specific actions that the school must take are not prescribed by the law,   but the school is required to take “reasonable steps” to stop the behaviour.

If you have told your school about bullying, racism, or discrimination and they haven’t done anything or you’re not happy about what they have done, you can contact us for advice.

How do schools have to support students with disabilities?

Schools need to be inclusive of students with “differing needs” and provide reasonable accommodation to students with disabilities. Schools are required under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to provide reasonable accommodation to students. The Human Rights Commission have created a document about what reasonable accommodation looks like.

The government has not specified what an “inclusive” school looks like.  If you think your school is not being inclusive, you can contact us for some advice about your options.

What do schools have to do about Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi?

Under the law schools are required to put Te Tiriti o Waitangi into practice by:

  • making sure that their polices, plans, and curriculum reflect local tikanga Māori, mātauranga Māori, and te ao Māori, AND;
  • taking reasonable steps to provide teaching about tikanga Māori and te reo Māori, AND;
  • have equitable (which means fair or just) outcomes for Māori students.

This obligation was introduced to the law in 2020, so we still don’t know how exactly board of trustees should go about achieving these objectives. However, the law is clear that boards need to think about Te Tiriti when they make policies and plans and need to take “reasonable steps” to provide education about Tikanga Māori and Te Reo Māori. If your school isn’t doing this, you can contact us for more information about making a complaint.

Can schools do whatever they like to run the school efficiently?

No, schools can’t do whatever they like. School boards and principals do have a lot of power to make rules, but they cannot make rules that break the law. Schools need to be careful to observe human rights, student rights, privacy, and health and safety laws.

It is also good practice for schools to follow guidelines created by the Ministry of Education.

I attend a school and they have bible study. Can I be made to go?

No, you can’t be made to go to bible or other religious study, unless you attend a private, integrated or special character school.

If you attend a state primary or intermediate school and there is a religious session or class, you can only attend if your parents provide written consent.  If your parents don’t provide consent, you cannot be made to go. The school will also need to supervise you while the other students are at the religious class.  You should not be disadvantaged or discriminated against because you don’t take part in religious studies.

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