Tolley criticised for skipping conference

JO MCKENZIE-MCLEAN
Last updated 11:16 23/05/2011

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Unions have criticised Education Minister Anne Tolley for not attending an international summit in New York because of the Christchurch earthquake.

Tolley was to lead a delegation in mid-March to the International Summit on the Teaching Profession at the invitation of United States Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) president Ian Leckie and the Post-Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) president Kate Gainsford attended the summit, held at the New York Hilton.

Leckie has criticised Tolley in an editorial in the latest institute magazine for being a "no-show".

"NZEI and PPTA representatives were embarrassed to see our delegation excluded from direct participation in the top-table discussions," the editorial says.

"There was plenty to talk about - just nobody from the New Zealand Government or ministry to discuss it with."

However, Tolley said there was "no way" she was going to leave New Zealand after the earthquake to attend a conference.

She also questioned why the union leaders had attended the summit.

"It is up to these union leaders to justify to their members why they believe their job was to fly to New York for a conference while thousands of their members were affected by the Christchurch earthquake," Tolley said.

"With all Christchurch schools still closed, many of them seriously damaged, and students displaced and out of school, there was no way I was going to leave.

"It was my job to be in Christchurch and Wellington leading ministry officials and supporting schools to reopen, and I was hugely impressed by the determination and hard work from principals, trustees and teachers during such a distressing time.

"I've personally told the NZEI union leaders, in no uncertain terms, my feelings on this matter."

Leckie told The Press yesterday the minister should have appointed a senior government official to travel to New York.

"The international embarrassment was that other countries were surprised that the New Zealand Government didn't recognise the importance of what was a first conference of that type," he said.

Japan had suffered an earthquake and tsunami, but had still sent its deputy education minister to the summit, Leckie said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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