Boards get warning over standards

BY TOM HUNT
Last updated 09:21 19/02/2010

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The School Trustees Association has denied accusations of bullying after it sent an email to school boards warning of consequences if national standards were not implemented.

School board members have been warned not to sign a petition protesting against national standards, even if they personally object to them.

Boards have also been reminded they are legally bound to implement the standards and can take employment action against principals who block their introduction.

Opponents of national standards' immediate implementation have called the warnings an affront to democracy.

The Dominion Post has obtained a copy of the email, addressed to board chairs and sent by School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr this week. Principals were excluded from distribution.

Mrs Kerr confirmed yesterday the email's intention was in part to tell board members that even if they opposed the standards they were legally obliged to implement them.

It would be "unwise" for any board member to sign a petition against national standards, the email said.

It also contained the association's "legal perspective". "Employees of the board will need to do what the board requires to implement the national standards, and they will ultimately have to comply with any lawful instruction or face the potential consequences."

Principals are employed by school boards.

Mrs Kerr told The Dominion Post these consequences involved firing principals who opposed the implementation, but only as a "last resort".

The email said boards could be disestablished and replaced by commissioners if they refused to implement national standards.

"Obviously, this would be an extreme situation we would all hope that the situation would be resolved satisfactorily long before this point," the email said.

Boards were allowed to discuss national standards, however, board chairs had to control discussions to stop them becoming a "principal outburst or propaganda exercise".

The association represents the boards of 2260 schools.

Educational Institute president Frances Nelson, who represents primary teachers, said the association's warning against signing petitions was an affront to democracy.

"What have we got to be fearful about that we would give such harsh instructions?"

The tone of Mrs Kerr's email "won't sit well" with many boards and school staff, she said.

As well as the union's petition calling for the standards to be trialled before being nationally implemented, she was aware of two other similar parent-driven petitions.

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Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld said the email was a "veiled threat" to make principals behave.

Through specifically not addressed to principals, the email would doubtlessly end up in the hands of principals, who were board members. "She is saying trustees can't have an opinion. To me it's overstepping the mark a wee bit."

He accused the association of doing Education Minister Anne Tolley's bidding, rather than representing its own members – around half of whom were concerned about the standards' hasty implementation.

However School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr has denied accusations, saying the email was intended to clarify boards' obligations in introducing the standards.

"I don't believe I am being a bully. How can you be a bully if really all you're quoting are facts?"

National standards were law and there would be legal consequences if they were not implemented, she said.

"We're just simply saying to boards, be very careful if you make a decision that's contrary to legislation."

Of the 2260 members of the School Trustees Association, 20 schools had called Mrs Kerr to thank her for the advice, while only about 18 had indicated they would not implement the standards, she said.

The email was necessary because boards were concerned that principals were sending out copies of a national standards survey to parents.

"This was purely about the survey that the Principals Federation put out," Mrs Kerr said.

The survey features questions such as, "Do you think it is wrong that children as young as 5 and 6 years should be labelled as failing?" and, "Does it concern you that your elected board of trustees (who are parents of the school and represent you) has been threatened with being sacked if it disagrees with implementing the standards?"

Mrs Tolley would not comment on the stoush last night, but said: "Lots of parents have been complaining to me about the misinformation and tactics being used by the unions and principals federation, who attack anyone that disagrees with them."

- with NZPA

- The Dominion Post

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