School related law : do principals know what they need to know? : a report presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Educational Administration at Massey University
It is argued that the importance of the law in education has developed to the point where legal literacy for school principals is a core professional requirement. Although work to establish the level of legal literacy among principals has not been done in New Zealand, some commentators contend that a great number of school managers are still unaware of their legal obligations and duties. The assumption is made that the situation in this country is similar to that overseas as described in research carried out by a number of researchers in Australia and the United States.
This study sought to determine if there are grounds to conclude that the overseas experience with regard to legal literacy is indeed mirrored here. To achieve this a small-scale exploratory research project involving six primary school principals was carried out to determine what knowledge and understandings, views and perceptions they had of school related law, and, in particular, to answer the following questions:
1. What levels of legal literacy are evident amongst a cross section of New Zealand principals?
2. Where do these principals gain their knowledge of school-related law from?
3. What legal risk management policies and practices have these principals implemented and to what extent have they been able to determine or test their effectiveness in meeting the school's legal obligations and in providing protection from litigation?
4. How far are these principals able to determine when issues they are dealing with need professional legal advice?
5. What suggestions did the principals have for improving the current situation?
The findings of the study suggest that most have a limited knowledge of school related law and a poor understanding of the Principles of Natural Justice. If legal literacy means that they had sufficient knowledge to recognise a legal problem and to recognise the occasions for seeking professional advice then for many it would seem that they do not know what they need to know.