By Kirsty Johnston
Complaints about a “biased” and “unprofessional” school review have seen the entire report scrapped in a highly unusual move from the Education Review Office.
The review of Opua School, a 120-pupil primary near Paihia, was shelved after the board, staff and parents raised concerns about what one board member called “cruel and bullying tactics” used during its December 2014 review.
Specific complaints are believed to centre on the lead reviewer, who had allegedly spoken to a member of the public prior to the visit and let that colour her views.
However, the ERO is refusing to elaborate on the reasons why it decided not to complete the report, instead organising another review which took place last week.
Inquiries by local MP Kelvin Davis into what went wrong have also been shot down. He has laid a complaint with the Ombudsman about the lack of access to information.
The school’s former board chair, Roger Young, who resigned after the review, is upset the reviewer at the centre of the complaints is still working in other schools despite an investigation into her conduct.
Chief review officer Iona Holsted said ERO’s focus was on the children and ensuring that their interests were well served. It did not believe further public discussion was in the best interest of the school.
“During the review, we received a complaint about how the review was being handled,” Ms Holsted said. “We paused, undertook an investigation, and took appropriate action.”
The ERO said it completed more than 2100 reviews every year. In a “handful of cases” the process was paused because of a complaint. Complaints were investigated by ERO staff who had not been involved and action was taken.
Opua School refused to comment further than to say complaints after the December review about “the quality of the review process” were immediately sent to ERO.
Mr Young, the school’s previous principal, said he had never heard of a review being scrapped.
“We as a board and staff – and parents and some community members – would have sent in about 10 complaints. Which is a huge number. The whole thing was handled very unprofessionally,” he said.
“The reviewer was biased. They made allegations about a climate of fear, bullying, conflicts of interest, and at one point said it would be better if I stood down. I resigned after that.”
Mr Young said the reviewers’ opinions had not been based on evidence. The review had upset the entire school community, he said.
Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, himself a former principal, said the whole situation was extremely unfair on the school – and other school communities, who deserved assurance that the process was sound.
“Here we have a good school, doing a good job, and ERO has turned them on their head,” he said. “They’ve pushed aside the review – which is unheard of – but what about the rest of it? How do we know the person responsible will be held to account and that this won’t happen again?”