Support for principal's blunt views

00:19, Oct 07 2011

A Golden Bay principal who used a school newsletter to issue a series of attacks against Minister of Education Anne Tolley has received backing from the president of the New Zealand Principals' Federation.

Last month, Takaka Primary School principal Neil Batten harshly criticised the National-led Government and Mrs Tolley in the school's weekly newsletter to parents, Standing Tall.

Mrs Tolley's "condescension towards teachers has turned into something near hate", he said, accusing the ministry of turning public education into a scapegoat.

Right-wing blogger Whale Oil featured the newsletter in a series of posts about what he called a campaign of "dirty tricks" by teachers union New Zealand Educational Institute and the New Zealand Principals' Federation.

Mr Batten said some of the comments he made in the school newsletter were lifted from blog site Network on Net, written by retired educationalist Kelvin Smythe.

Mrs Tolley said the comments were inaccurate, offensive and completely inappropriate in a school newsletter.

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"Parents and children want to read about student achievement and all the good things going on in schools, not cheap politicking," she said.

A Ministry of Education spokesman also confirmed that the ministry had received one complaint about the earlier message.

Such complaints are usually referred back to the school's board of trustees.

Board chairwoman Kylee Reynish also declined to comment this morning.

However, New Zealand Principals' Federation president Peter Simpson said he believed such comments were completely appropriate in a school newsletter.

"Education has become very political and I believe principals are leaders in their communities and have a right to express their concerns around the part of that community they lead, which is their school and education in the kids in that community.

"If they believe, which a lot do, that the current policies of this Government are dismantling [the current system], which is the term Neil used, I would say [they are] discrediting [it] for a political agenda."

There was a lot of fear in the education sector that a lot of the world-class aspects of the New Zealand education system were under attack, he said.

"I don't consider it to be cheap politicking. It's a professional leader of a community commenting to his community about his beliefs," said Mr Simpson.

One set of comments was in the September 1 newsletter, with Mr Batten issuing a scathing diatribe, before moving on to praise the school's miniball players.

"Isn't it interesting that we have a Minister of Education at present who has little feeling for children's education; and finds it difficult to take teachers seriously?

"In fact, her condescension towards teachers has turned to something near hate."

The most recent newsletter, published last Thursday, continued this theme.

Under the heading, "Self Management of Schools", Mr Batten wrote that the Government was quietly dismantling boards of trustees, and if the process continued, tomorrow's managers "will be a system of government based on bureaucratisation, with the Minister of Education and [Ministry of Education] at the top, advised by corporations and a select group of academics supported by the Education Review Office and contracted researchers and professional providers".

This would be used to bring public education into disrepute, bringing calls for the privatisation of education, he said.

"Public education will be a scapegoat to do with a crisis of confidence in capitalism and social democracy," he said.

"But enough politicking for now! Anne Tolley (Minister of Education) is trying really hard to gag principals who speak out.

"But we all have a right of free speech and I see it as an important role of my position to let parents know what is happening in education on both sides of the political scale.

"More political stuff as we move towards the general election in November."

The Nelson Mail