Fallout for southern schools

The long-term fallout of southern interventions may cost schools top teachers, a national education boss says.

The New Zealand Principals' Federation says teachers may be wary of taking jobs at southern schools following a spate of statutory interventions in the region.

While southern educators say there is nothing concerning behind the trend, five Southland and Otago schools have been placed under statutory management in the past three years.

The interventions have already cost schools thousands of dollars, but federation president Philip Harding believes the fallout could cost schools top teachers as well.

Principals and teachers could be put off taking positions at schools where relationships between staff, board and parents were complicated, Harding said.

The education community was not stupid, he said.

"If your school has a reputation of being a hotbed of complicated relationships, it takes a very brave or a very unwise person to say, ‘I can fix that'."

While many statutory interventions helped school communities solve issues, the present system could also "reward bad behaviour" by boards, parents or staff, creating long-term problems, Harding said.

Southland did seem to have more than its share of interventions but the region was just "a bit unlucky", he said.

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) immediate past-president Ian Leckie agreed interventions could affect staffing prospects at southern schools.

Teachers tended to "do their homework" before they applied for jobs, and an intervention could signal relationship issues at the school. People would think twice about applying for a job at a school "in turmoil", Leckie said.

However, educators involved did not believe the spate of interventions was a worrying sign for the region.

Former James Hargest College principal Paul O'Connor, who was acting principal during the intervention at Wakatipu High School, said he did not think there was "any sort of calamity" in schools in Southland and Otago.

There was strong support for school boards and for new principals, and in most cases there were no problems. However, there did seem to be a trend for some conflicts to grow, he said.

"Where there's a glitch, where there's a conflict, it seems, at the moment, it gets a life all of its own."

Wyndham School commissioner Paul Ferris said school boards often did not know when to seek outside help for issues.

Many waited until a problem had grown to a crisis, far outside their skill level, before seeking help, creating the need for an intervention, he said.

"Most parents don't go to boards expecting to deal with a crisis. They go because they want to actively participate in the education of their children."

Ministry of Education head of enablement and support sector Katrina Casey said the decision to intervene in a school was not taken lightly.

This year, the ministry had provided funding for the New Zealand School Trustees Association to offer training and guidance to school boards, Casey said.

A ministry review, examining the way statutory interventions are conducted, is under way.

Nationally, 60 schools are under statutory management.

What is a statutory intervention?

Schools are placed under statutory management if the ministry believes there is a risk to the operation of the school, or the welfare or educational performance of pupils. The ministry will appoint a limited statutory manager, to assist a board of trustees, or a commissioner, in place of a board of trustees, to help the school deal with health and safety, student achievement, finance or governance issues. 

Fallout for southern schools


Southern statutory interventions:

2011: Limited statutory manager Peter Macdonald is appointed to Wakatipu High School, after an ERO report highlighted communication breakdowns and a lack of trust between the principal, senior management and staff.

2012: Waiau Area School board of trustees resigns as a "last resort", raising concerns about workplace safety at the school. Dr Chris Shaw is appointed commissioner.

2012: Wyndham School board of trustees resigns, citing insurmountable problems at the school. Paul Ferris is appointed commissioner.

2012: Peter Macdonald is appointed limited statutory manager at Salford School.

2013: The board resigns and principal Marlene Campbell is sacked. Commissioner Nicola Hornsey is then appointed to the school.

2014: Limited statutory manager Cleave Hay is appointed to Wanaka Primary School after the board chairman resigns, citing concerns about how complaints from parents were being dealt with. Further board members resign in May. The Ministry of Education is in the process of appointing a commissioner.

The Southland Times