Boards of trustees’ selection practices of principals in New Zealand primary schools: Will the future be female?

by Keren Brooking


This paper describes a 2002 national study that explored the ways in which boards of trustees select primary school principals. In the study the writer looked at how boards variously interpret and are influenced by policies, legislation, and popular media coverage of this area of employment. Her focus is on what impact boards’ ‘readings’ of these materials (discourses) have on how they select principals.

Brooking held 11 focus groups with a total of 36 board chairs, 30 principals, and 14 advisors to boards. These groups were used to determine whether boards were using fair, consistent, and appropriate processes in appointing principals.

Her initial findings revealed that boards were doing what they considered was their best, and all were putting exhaustive amounts of time and commitment into the appointments task. This included:

  • consulting principal advisors
  • advertising appropriately and out of the local area
  • sending out application packs
  • working to a set of criteria and person specifications
  • requesting referee’s reports
  • short-listing and interviewing applicants
  • using the same set of questions for each interview.

However, as she looked more closely at the data, Brooking discovered that despite all of this effort, the final decision on who was appointed often had very little to do with these extrinsic processes, and more to do with intrinsic personal positions held on various issues, but not overtly acknowledged, by individual board members.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this paper:

  • If you were an advisor on an appointments panel how would you ensure the board avoided the points outlined in this paper?
  • What do you believe is the best professional development for principals and boards in appointing staff? What professional development in this area has your board have? What professional development have you had?
  • What part do you feel gender plays in appointments in your school? Why?


Brooking, K. (2003, September). Boards of trustees’ selection practices of principals in New Zealand primary schools: Will the future be female? Paper presented at BERA Conference, Edinburgh.

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