Howard Fancy was the Secretary for Education from July 1996 to October 2006. During this period he led a substantial reorientation of the Ministry of Education, including the merger of the Specialist Education Services and Early Childhood Development with the Ministry. Major reforms took place across the education system, including the early childhood sector, schools, special education, and tertiary and industry training. Major school sector initiatives centred on lifting the effectiveness of teaching, literacy achievement, student assessment, senior secondary qualifications, the use of ICT and the management of school property.
In 2007 Howard acted as Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment for a period of six months. Prior to joining the Ministry of Education, Howard was Chief Executive of the Ministry of Commerce, an adviser in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and a Deputy Secretary at Treasury for eight years.
Howard currently is the Director of Motu Economic and Public Policy Research. He is an external member of the State Services Commission, Department of Labour and Department of Correction's Risk and Assurance committees. He is on the Boards of Arts Access Aotearoa and Cognition Education Trust. He is a member of the Royal Society of New Zealand's education committee.