Dame Karen Sewell has had a career in education and public service that has spanned 50 years, most recently contributing as a consultant to a number of education and governance activities.
In acknowledgement of her distinguished career in 2012 she became a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order (QSO) for services to the State and in 2016 became a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (DNZM) for her services to education.
Dame Karen was brought up and educated in Whanganui, New Zealand. She then attended Victoria University of Wellington and Auckland Secondary Teachers’ College before becoming a teacher. Between 1966 and 1996 she taught in Wellington, England and Auckland, where she became a Secondary School PrincipaI. During her teaching career she was the recipient of a teaching fellowship at Victoria University and a Nuffield Bursary at the University of London.
In 1997 Dame Karen joined the Public Service. For six years she was Chief Executive and Chief Review Officer of the Education Review Office, a position from which she was seconded for a year in 2005-6 to take on the role of Acting Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. In 2006 she was appointed as Chief Executive and Secretary for Education at the Ministry of Education, where she led the development and implementation of Ka Hikitia, the new National Curriculum, National Standards and Youth Guarantee. She is the only New Zealander to have held all these three roles in the education sector.
In 2013 Dame Karen was the representative of the Minister of Education for the rebuilding of education in the Christchurch school sector. She is currently chairperson of Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (The Correspondence School) Board, the Audit and Risk Committee of Te Puni Kokiri, the Advisory Board of Education Infrastructure Services and a board member of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government.