Board sacked to protect pupils

By EMILY WATT – The Dominion Post | Friday, 30 January 2009

The Government has sacked a second school board in a fortnight after revelations its teachers were hitting, swearing at and denigrating pupils.

Education Minister Anne Tolley dissolved the board of South Auckland’s Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate yesterday and replaced it with a commissioner to safeguard pupils.

The move followed a damning Education Review Office report which raised “serious concerns about student safety and about the quality of teaching” at the school. The 1280-pupil co-ed state school is decile one, meaning it teaches pupils from the poorest and most deprived communities and homes. It is one of 10 South Auckland secondary schools that had police officers posted on the grounds as part of a pilot scheme last year to fight crime, and gather intelligence about youth gangs and drug dealing.

Mrs Tolley dissolved the board of trustees at Auckland’s Selwyn College on Tuesday last week after the office criticised differences between board members and the community which had resulted in falling enrolments.

In the latest sacking, ERO said the board had failed to provide a safe environment.

“The physical and emotional abuse of students by a few teachers is a long-standing issue that has been brought to the board’s attention in the past. This abuse by some teachers includes hitting, swearing at and denigrating students,” the report says.

Mrs Tolley said the abuse was concerning. “That is totally unacceptable. Student safety is paramount.”

Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate is effectively three schools – junior, middle and senior. ERO found a climate of mistrust among the school’s three principals and said the board’s inadequacy hindered the school’s ability to provide quality education.

Given the report’s allegations, Mrs Tolley said she had no hesitation appointing a commissioner to replace the board.

The former executive principal of Diocesan School, Gail Thomson, would take over today.

Former pupil Charles Makakea, who graduated last year, said he was surprised to hear the board was under fire.

“It was a good school,” he said.

He had heard reports of teachers hitting students, “but I didn’t know for sure”.

A former teacher said it was a low-decile school and there were a lot of tensions for teachers.

“I understand it’s also a hard-to-staff school.”

But though it was a difficult environment, there were no excuses for the behaviour described in the report.

Post Primary Teachers Association president Kate Gainsford said it was appalling that concerns had reached such serious levels without effective support for the board being put in place earlier.

“Maintaining discipline and managing safety in challenging circumstances can be difficult for trained professionals who are working full time. For volunteers devoting their spare time to shoulder such heavy responsibilities, [it] is a tall order.”

ERO will return to the school within 12 months.