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Mistreatment of Children At Private Schools

Anne Tolley Hides Evidence of Mistreatment of Children At Private Schools

Anne Tolley’s Education Amendment Bill 2, now out of Select Committee and rushing towards being law, ignores the recommendations of the Law Commission to introduce “light-handed” legislation to deal with 100 year old gaps that leave children at private schools in a legal vacuum regarding their welfare. The reason Anne Tolley has given for this is that "no evidence exists" of any problems. We can show that this claim is totally untrue and that in fact the Government has actually hidden complaints to avoid obligating private schools to look after children properly.

Against the recommendations of the Law Commission, against all reasonable opinion, including that of Patrick Walsh, Head of the Headteachers Association, John Hancock, chief Solicitor of Youthlaw, Ced Simpson of the Rights in Education Trust and in a clear breach of Human Rights Law, the Government is about to re-legislate a system that has been failing children for the last 100 years.

Anne Tolley's refusal to obligate private schools to conform with any basic standards on the lazy pretext of "choice" is an abandonment of the 33,000 children in this country who currently use the sector, and it's happening against a backdrop of her fury with state schools who won't do as they're told.

As of right now, all you need to set up a private school in this country is nine children and two toilets. Your teachers should have some sort of qualification but your Manager can be a convicted pedophile. Well, under Education Amendment Bill 2, he or she will have to fulfil a "fit and proper" criterion, but it's analogous to the one that applies to hostels. That's it. There is no other welfare legislation governing this sector that now, let's remember, receives 20% of its running costs from tax-payers money, with more in the pipe-line.

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So why won't the Government put the reforms in? Because according to them there is "no evidence" of any problems. In this totally unregulated system, New Zealand's "high trust model" in which private schools have absolute power, with all agencies admitting that the bar is so low that it would bring tears to the eyes of a professional limbo dancer, we're expected to believe that there are no problems whatsoever.

How does Anne Tolley know this? Parliamentary questions reveal that this conclusion was arrived at simply by asking the schools. That's it. There was no call for the several branches of the Ministry to identify and collate actual complaints. Of course not. Why bother? A Minister that is asking the children of New Zealand to submit to National Standards - a system whose flaws have already been highlighted by several countries - on her narrow election-based timeframe, is already showing a complete disregard for children's welfare. Why should children at private schools fare any different?

Well they shouldn't, that's the point. Private Schools Survey 2010 found that not only did 89% of parents agree with the Law Commission that private schools should be required by law to have clear written "policies and procedures that make provision for the welfare of students" but that a shocking 63% thought that children at private schools were protected under the Education Act the same or only slightly less than children at state schools, while 21% of parents were actually living under the illusion that their children's welfare is better protected under the act than state and state-integrated school children. Another 25% of parents admit to not having any idea of the legal status of children at private schools.

The reality of course is that they are not protected under the act whatsoever, but only 13% of parents thought this to be the case.

Which is why covering up actual complaints about private schools is such a serious matter. With a whopping 91% agreeing with the Law Commission that private schools should be required by law to provide "a safe and supportive environment", the Government's statement that "no evidence exists of any problems" as their entire rationale for not correcting the situation needs some analysis at the very least; especially given all the ubiquitous rhetoric on choice and parent power.

Unsurprisingly the "no evidence" assertion doesn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny. Well it was a pretty rich claim to make in the first place. Given that the Government didn't even check with the Ministry, the arrogance of that statement is truly stellar. Clearly Anne Tolley does not want to know whether or not there are any problems at private schools or she might have to make some changes.

So what happened when Parliamentary questions prompted her to have a look?

The Minister admitted first to two complaints and then, when challenged about that number, came up with two more. She will now admit to four complaints in the last two years. Clearly four complaints is not "no evidence" of any problems. Unfortunately, it is easy to prove that this number is again completely misleading.

Following a particular "problem", the expulsion of three small children from a private school in West Auckland, has magically morphed into an issue about the school failing to look after one child sufficiently with no mention of the fact that the complaint was actually about three children being expelled.

Somewhere between the office of Mr Bruce Adin, manager of the Northern Branch of the Ministry, and Anne Tolley's office, two of the children involved in this complaint have completely disappeared; when the situation surfaced through Parliamentary questions Anne Tolley said "The October 2009 complaint relates to a parent complaining about a private school failing to meet standards of care for their child." Child, singular. No mention of expulsions, exclusions, or enrolments.

Yet Bruce Adin's correspondence with the family clearly shows the true nature of the complaint, made in October 2009. Writing to the parents of the children on the 5th of February, 2010 he said:

"The Ministry is not empowered to undertake a judicial or review process and cannot review nor amend the decisions of The Rudolph Steiner School, Titirangi regarding the enrolments of your children… The Education Act does not require private schools to follow any particular practices when ending an enrolment."

This cynical "interpretation" of complaints demonstrates a complete lack of interest in the actual effect of private school's damaging actions towards children. How many other complaints have been similarly obfuscated?

As Anne Tolley has admitted that two out of the four acknowledged complaints were about children being unfairly excluded from private schools, the real tally should be five complaints about expulsions alone. Surely a reason to require schools to inform parents about their policies and procedures at the very least, as recommended by the Law Commission and desired by 93% of surveyed parents. After all, even that legislation would only amount to a sort of disclaimer to alert and inform parents. What is choice without information?

When the Education Minister is faced with facts that don't fit with the agenda, apparently the facts have to change and sadly, given the provable reality of this cover-up, the tally could be much higher.

What is cynical and really scary is the recognition that the Government would have done this with whatever information it encountered, to follow it's own agenda. Presumably any misery inflicted on a child by a private school, even to the extent of that child losing the will to live, would be sanitised in the same way to present the desired picture.

So what is the Government's agenda on private education? Given that when this Bill becomes law (and it is about to be rushed through), private schools will still be completely free of any obligation to even inform parents about the lack of legal protection, or indeed give them any proper contracts, even though the Ministers have opined that contract law will suffice to sort out any problems, what will Education Amendment Bill 2 do to the law on private schools?

Instead of securing the welfare of children, the Bill makes provision for "conditional or unconditional grants" to be made to private schools from the public purse. The amounts of such grants will be "at the Minister's discretion".

What the redirection of public money into such an unregulated sector means is that when these schools continue to hurt children, they will be doing it with Government sanction, and using your money.

Anne Tolley is pretty confident that you're ok with that.


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