Marlene Campbell: the Dreyfus case of New Zealand education


Marlene Campbell and her lawyers have smashed the government’s case in triumphant style.

The initial impetus for the Salford disgrace came from Anne Tolley’s office and her secretary in some association with Cameron Slater; all this at the height of the battle over national standards. Utu stuff against teachers who ventured to speak out was right up Hekia Parata’s alley so that when she became minister full resources of the ministry were applied in an attempt to bring down this troublesome principal. The paper trail I suspect is all there.

The behaviour of the limited statutory manager, Peter McDonald (yes – him again) will certainly be looked at with a view to various repercussions; also that of Nicola Hornsey, the commissioner, who has demonstrated a lack of impartiality and judgement by defying Judge Bruce Corkill’s ruling of non-publication and released the key judgement points to the community.

The school was proceeding excellently, then one person in the school complains – yes that secret letter all schools suffer from – and Anne Tolley jumped in: we’ve got her she thought! And the rest is history.

There was no smoke!

I can vouch for the account that follows. It takes you right into the action, the key moments, in the McDonald to Hornsey regimes.

This posting alone would make a compelling short dramatic film; the book that is sure to follow, a thriller of le Carre proportions (New Zealand scale).

Marlene Campbell is a New Zealand education leader of just the sort we want; she was an absolute live-wire in the Southland region.

Which brings me to the Southland Times; instead of recognising Marlene Campbell as I did, as a terrific example of Southern Woman, the then editor sat in his office only too willing to believe the poison being delivered to him by Wellington bureaucrats and visiting carpet-baggers.

Without speaking to Marlene, I know the wider message she would want observers to take from her nightmare experience, is that to truly prosper, New Zealand schools need to be delivered from deadweight of bureaucratic authoritarianism. And at base lies the education review office. The review office is pure Kafka: the relationship of school to review office is one of unpredictability and lack of accountability leading to an overall relationship based on fear that is often sublimated by schools furiously conforming to, even beyond, review office expectations. In the complex, value-laden environment of education, there is always more a school can do, so there is always pervasive that Kafkan dread of being guilty of grievous error, of something else that needs to be done, of who knows what? Unpredictability of review office behaviour can derive from the personality or mood of the review officer, a principal being prominent in the newspaper, a principal being associated with a different philosophy of education, even just showing hints of it, a letter about the school residing in the review office’s secret file – there are multitudinous ways a review office might exploit to put a school on the rack – and there is no accountability.

Oh the heartrending tales I have been told as a result of smugly applied, casual, cruel bureaucratic action, careers ruined, families distraught, all grossly unfair. But that unfairness and unpredictability is not an unintended consequence it is the sought for means by which the job is done for bureaucrats, the fear is cast. But in this year of 2015, a brave Southland woman wouldn’t be vilified, wouldn’t be stamped on, wouldn’t be bullied while politicians and bureaucrats planned her demise – she stood up for teachers, principals, and children and took the … down.

Marlene Campbell: the Dreyfus case of New Zealand education

This posting was originally written on the 6th of November, 2013.

Today you can expect to read in the media that at last, with Marlene being heard in a regular court, she has been completely exonerated. Appeals and so forth might well be used to delay further shocking information coming out – but come out it will. The Marlene case is a signal that all is not well in our little democracy.

There have been many potential such cases but this is the one that has come through; the one that has stayed the course – because Marlene Campbell has shown the courage of a lion not to fold. Might I say I don’t criticise those who did. The pressure to do so has been close to unendurable.


(Original posting)

Let me say loud and clear the case against Marlene Campbell is a put-up job, has been engineered, opportunistically taken advantage of in an attempt to crush an outspoken educationist and to put fear into the system.

The general public and the media have been unable to truly grasp what has been going on in education.

Even in education itself there are those who won’t link the dots. They recognise that particular acts of political and bureaucratic bullying and bad faith are occurring, but won’t link them together to recognise that this government in education has been  autocratic, anti-democratic, bullying, persistent in lying and distorting, and reliant on fear and propaganda to hold sway. They won’t conceptualise because to do so would challenge them to some kind of action, pose some kind of moral dilemma.

New Zealanders are loath to believe that an agency of state and its political leaders are not acting in good faith – especially in something so precious as education. They have not grasped, are finding it difficult to believe, that in the five years of the National government, terrible things have occurred.

In the advent of a change of government, there needs to be the equivalent of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to heal the past and allow bureaucrats and others to come forward to present some of the terrible things they have been instructed or pressured to do.


Let us see how this works out in the political and bureaucratic persecution of Marlene Campbell.

One important idea to hold onto throughout is that if Marlene has been at fault in any way, that fault has been largely manufactured, in that if it occurred at a school in any other circumstances, it would not cause a blip. In other words, the bureaucracies have gone on a fishing expedition with Marlene Campbell – but pulled in nothing of significance. Yet the financial cost to Marlene Campbell, the children at the school has been hundreds of thousands, then there has been the devastating distraction to the tenor of the school – also the cost to the taxpayer.

I don’t want to get submerged in detail so I’m going to concentrate on key junctures.

Perhaps I should add one more observation before I begin: what sort of principal is Marlene Campbell? Well, how can I say this? She is very modern. You would expect the ministry to be delighted with this, it’s all there knobs and all. Marlene Campbell is clearly willing to listen to policy directions, but just as clearly she wants to do it with a sense of free will –that seems to have been at the centre of why she has been so outspoken – she’s a modern Southern woman who won’t be pushed around. She’s a strong individual.

 Key juncture one

In June, 2012, the school’s regular ERO visit took place. On the second day Marlene Campbell was told that ERO intended to use the review to investigate anonymous complaints that had been made against her. Marlene Campbell asked for details so she could respond but was refused them; she was steamrolled, the matter was then simply reported to the ministry recommending an investigation.

Predetermination laid bare,

This was a put-up job. The matter was really a carry-on from the Ann Tolley regime. Hekia Parata and the ERO and ministry bureaucrats, though, proved only too willing to continue this terrible thing.

The moment the Marlene Campbell complaint letter arrived at the ERO, the opportunity was seized by the bureaucracies as manna from heaven – and the dye was cast; the letter was quickly passed onto the ministry, being well practised in what to do.

ERO made no judgements as to the merits of the complaint because that might well have contaminated it with the odd fact or two; the intention, I suggest, being to keep the complaint free of detail so the ministry could provide its own, to be magnified beyond belief, mountained to a molehill, imaginatively reconfigured.

How on earth could anyone respond sensibly to an anonymous complaint, by definition absent of context, expressed in general terms?

This is unconscionable.

 Key juncture two

Peter McDonald was appointed limited statutory manager. He did two things.

First, he announced almost immediately and without consultation that the only way to solve the matter was for Marlene Campbell to leave. Just like that.

Predetermination laid bare.

Of course, Marlene Campbell refused.

Secondly, a teacher at the school who had, following due process, been demoted by the board of trustees with the agreement of NZEI, was reappointed to a senior position after what has the appearance of some very partial manoeuvres. Just like that.

Are you flabbergasted?

Then, amazing goings-on for a year and a half.

 Key juncture three

McDonald in the year and a half that followed, in sinister mode, tried to find fault in Marlene Campbell’s behaviour; find facts, as I see it, to fit a pre-determined judgement – but failed.

The chairperson of the board of trustees and the board then became totally exasperated at the cost and terribleness of the situation so, to force the ministry’s hand, resigned. In doing this, the chairperson reiterated his utmost confidence in Marlene Campbell, declaring her a most wonderful and exceptional principal.

McDonald seems to have panicked. Out of the blue, he accused Marlene Campbell of a specific instance of bullying. (This was, of course, later utterly disproved.)

He put her on leave.

Four days later his term as LSM ended, to be replaced by a commissioner.

 Key juncture four

The appointment of commissioner was the signal for frantic efforts to dig the ministry out of the hole it had dug itself into. That hole, however, only became a concern to the ministry when Marlene Campbell didn’t capitulate.

The commissioner said she would finish the investigatory process before the start of the school year. She failed to do so.

Marlene Campbell was dismissed on March 6, 2014.

This is all so terrible and unjust that it is difficult to take in. So gross have been the actions that some actions also serious, but to a lesser degree, can gain an element of acceptance, which they shouldn’t.

Throughout the one and a half years, the bureaucrats have, almost without exception, refused to provide details of allegations – particularly unreasonable given that on the very few occasions when they have been provided, they were proved to be nonsense. The only charges remaining are unsubstantiated generalisations.

Significantly, in her final report, the commissioner pulled back from some of the allegations previously offered as the reasons for Marlene Campbell’s suspension and made some attempts to correct gross procedural errors.

The ministry case, by these very actions, lies in shreds.

Clearly, the delay in presenting the final report involved a going to and fro about how the report could backtrack without making the LSM, the ministry, and the commissioner look complete idiots. The final report failed, because they do.


Think of the harm all this has done to the fabric of education, indeed, New Zealand society – the tearing at the threads.

It is pure Kafkan in its terribleness – and it’s here in our little country.

The motive was malice; the process travesty; the outcome horrendous.

The politicians sat back, confident that no harm would come their way. Their plan had worked before, why not with this prime target?  Send in ERO complete with anonymous letter murmuring mysteriously about matters needing investigation and then quickly hand over to the ministry to enable it to appoint a statutory manager who could proceed to take outrageous advantage of the assumption of good faith in authority. The process from there is well established: the principal muzzled; the statutory manager goes fault fishing; the principal’s position destabilised with occasional releases of information to various directions; the cost of the statutory manager is used to turn the school against the principal; time is prolonged in the hope that new elections would bring in anti-principal trustees; and, failing all that, wait for the huge legal cost to make the principal have to excruciatingly balance fighting for justice against welfare of his or her family.


But with Marlene Campbell things didn’t work out per usual. Hence the current situation. This dogged and brave principal deserves our help and support.


I accuse the ministers and ministry of ‘false accusation and misrepresentation of justice’ from ‘lurid obsession.’ An overstated analogy? I say given the New Zealand context it isn’t, and given the elements of injustice involved, worth pondering. Anyway, if you were Marlene Campbell would you be splitting hairs?

The government and the education bureaucracies have declared deep and unrelenting antipathy to the idea of public education. When is the penny going to drop?

When are we going to unite on enough is enough?

This entry was posted in Education Policy, Ministry of Education, Principals and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Marlene Campbell: the Dreyfus case of New Zealand education

  1. kellyned says:

    I look forward to finding the article. Such good news. Thanks Kelvin.

  2. Kelvin says:

    Hi Kelvin

    Nightmares revisited for me too.

    ‘In the complex, value-laden environment of education, there is always more a school can do, so there is always pervasive that Kafkan dread of being guilty of grievous error, of something else that needs to be done, of who knows what? Unpredictability of review office behaviour can derive from the personality or mood of the review officer, a principal being prominent in the newspaper, a principal being associated with a different philosophy of education, even just showing hints of it, a letter about the school residing in the review office’s secret file – there are multitudinous ways a review office might exploit to put a school on the rack – and there is no accountability.’

    Just as important is the unholy alliance between the Ministry and the (independent!) Education Review Office. What is the difference between the MOE and ERO, and associated contractors? Two of a kind – state police. I don’t think the hazards of ‘information sharing’ have been adequately explored. It is a shame that it takes a court of law to sort out pooled ignorance that you describe.

    George Burrell

  3. Melulater says:

    I read the full report from the Employment Court. It was long. It didn’t paint Marlene in a good light. But it also didn’t paint the LSM or Commissioner or the processes used in a good light either. I have also heard things from other sources. This is a complex situation and clearly Marlene was treated inappropriately. Consequently I would be interested in further revelations about the origins, motivations and actions of all involved.

  4. Kelvin says:

    Good comment Melulater: the judge had read all the government emails and documents but he had to guard against losing an appeal. As a result, he played it safe to make sure the decision that Marlene was wrongly dismissed stayed rock solid. He was also realistic about getting her job back; there are forces especially National Party ones, that meant there would a kick-back detrimental to a settled environment for the children – I never gave much credence to the job-back claim. The judges very long summing up is an indication that he saw this as a case of considerable significance and injustice. When things settle down, and costs have been calculated against the government, Marlene will open up and people will be astonished. Marlene came into the school and did a brilliant job, pressure did go on teachers and there was some restlessness, it happens to many principals. Things settle down, they learn, they accommodate – but this was the Cameron Slater period – week after week he was invidious, and that process never became available. There was Marlene speaking out for teachers in that fetid national standards atmosphere – yes sometimes injudiciously, but overall wonderfully. Tolley went for broke to get rid of her – the rest will be revealed in time. No instance of serious misconduct in the statutory manager or commissioner years was ever brought forward. The judge kept asking where is the verified serious misconduct. It was a travesty. As I suggested, it will make a great book.

    • Melulater says:

      Too many good teachers and principals have been targets since 2009 oh the government and their blogger lapdog (such as Slater). The new Code of Conduct that the Education Council intends to develop will be a lethal tool against those of us who stand up against poor policy and two or leadership of the MOE.

  5. Keith Edwards says:

    Wow – “de ja vu”. Something very similar, in almost the exact same manner happened to a friend of mine a few years back. She was the Principal of a Catholic school in Hamilton. A list of complaints was rumoured; allegations of bullying, money mis-management, nepotism, and preferential treatment were made against her; this prompted the resignation of the Board under the premise that the allegations were serious enough to warrant their action; a complaint from a teacher was added; a smear campaign that vilified her in the media, which included her photo, where the source of the reporters information was from a man who wasn’t on the BOT or PPTA and so “was not” privy to any of the facts, and this was done when a supposed media ban was in place; the appointment of an independent commissioner to investigate was made immediately after the Boards resignation; then after months of “fact finding” the investigation showing absolutely no evidence of any of the allegations. When the results of the investigation were shared, the same man who spoke to the reporter the first time reiterated that the allegations were never personal it was always “for the well being and safety of the children of the school”. The only difference is by the time of the results of the investigation, and after being on indefinite leave throughout the entire process, my friend had seen enough, and much rather than take the road Whaea Marlene took, she saw how this senseless and fictional event had divided the community, and she opted to resign from the school, and move her whanau to an entirely new country (no joke). I think the salt in the wound for her came from another newspaper quoting the commissioner who said “no fraud was found and it was disappointing ** ****** left in “circumstances you could only describe as unfortunate”.
    Now I can think of a lot of words to describe the events that occurred and “unfortunate” does not rank highly.
    Is this an actual strategy the MoE employs for Principals who don’t “play the game”? Is this similar to the “ignorance” strategies of the US insurance companies of the 70s and 80s where they knew their clients would just stop complaining as opposed to becoming involved in a lengthy and costly legal battle?

    I really enjoy your posts, and I hope you don’t mind but I have used some of your ideas to help me focus on some specific areas in my research for my Masters in Applied indigenous Knowledge.
    Nei ra aku mihia e te Rangatira.

  6. Kelvin says:

    Yes – intentional to put fear into the system, and to demonstrate how unreliable teachers are. And remember, administered by people who went into teaching to help children. Great comment.

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