To take all reasonable steps : what does this mean for school boards of trustees? : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education at Massey University
This thesis explores the meaning of the legal phrase contained in s63 of the Education Act 1989, 'to take all reasonable steps'. It questions how Boards of Trustees in New Zealand schools view it and if and how it influences the ways they control their schools. The restructuring of education resulted from the adoption of neo-liberal economic theory by the Labour government in 1984. These reforms had the effect of devolving power to Boards of Trustees through a charter that acted as an undertaking by boards to implement community derived goals and objectives within a legislative and regulatory framework. The 1989 Act introduced the legal requirement 'to take all reasonable steps' that legislatively describes the wide discretion Boards have to control their schools within the parameters of that framework. No prior research into this specific legal requirement exists, and therefore this study extends into the domains of reasonableness in law, education and law, aspects of neo-liberal theory, concepts of power and empowerment, decision-making, and compliance. These domains informed the research approach, which explored the narratives of the members of school boards. The research demonstrates tensions between the intent of the NPM model of self-governing schools and the reality of self-governance for New Zealand schools. The study reveals a generally poor understanding of the legal requirement 'to take all reasonable steps' and the consequently minimal direct impact the requirement had on the ways the participating Boards governed and managed their schools. Further investigations revealed widely differing opinions over the meaning of this legal requirement and, in particular, the strong influence of government agencies on the ways these Boards attained assurance that their governance and management practices were reasonable. The research demonstrates that alternative influences, such as common sense and altruism were informing Boards' decision-making practices. The research concludes that the complexity of the legal concept of reasonableness and the seeming reluctance of the law to define its meaning in special circumstances limits its effectiveness as a tool for devolving power and discretion to Boards of Trustees.