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Complaining NZers good news, says ombudsman

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Complaining NZers good news, says ombudsman

New Zealanders are becoming more vocal complainers and that’s a good thing, according to chief ombudsman John Belgrave.

John Belgrave is talking to delegates at the New Zealand Schools Trustees Association’s conference today about how his office works to resolve disputes between boards of trustees and students or parents.

He says that his office is dealing with more complaints from parents and students on school board decisions, and that’s because New Zealanders are becoming more informed and willing to ask hard questions.

“Any organisation that is dealing with people, whether it’s in the education sector or any other field, should expect an increasing number of questions on their decisions. It’s the year 2006 and people don’t necessarily accept things just because they are told them, and that’s a very good thing,” he says.

John Belgrave says that questioning decisions made by school boards or other groups is part of any fair, democratic process, and organisations need to ensure they have good processes in place to deal with those questions.

“Part of the job of the Ombudsmen’s Office is to help to improve processes used by organisations so that they can answer any questions in an efficient and fair way,” he says.

John Belgrave says that last year his office dealt with 50 complaints regarding board of trustee decisions on expulsions and suspensions, out of a total of 6000 complaints to the office.

“Board of trustee decisions seem to be particularly questioned in small communities where there is only one high school or in areas where there are school zones in place,” he says.

He says that in the majority of cases boards are found to have made the right decision. “In our experience boards of trustees are working really hard to be just and reasonable. Schools are complex organisations and school boards are committed to getting things right.”

John Belgrave says there are some traps for boards to be wary of when dealing with disciplinary procedures and those include giving students at least 48 hours notice of a disciplinary hearing and ensuring the hearing is held at a time that suits all parties.

The NZSTA annual conference, with the theme Strengthening governance – from good to great, is being held in Christchurch from 6 – 8 July. Other topics to be discussed at the conference include the issue of drug testing in schools, and safety and security concerns surrounding mobile phones and new technology.

ENDS

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