Salford: furtive meetings in cafes, stays at home, direct involvement of Hekia

[This was written a number of years ago.]

After my last posting I received letters from parents providing me with information about Peter McDonald, the statutory manager, and his behaviour at Salford (much of it I cannot reproduce).

One consistent piece of information that sat me back in my chair was that he stayed at the home of the complainant.

One parent, for instance, said: ‘It’s also worth noting that X would pick up Peter McDonald up from the airport and having him stay with her and her husband – there was no way Peter was at that school without bias!’

I decided this was no time to be a shrinking violet so I rang up my source in the ministry. From fear of identification, though, she was initially somewhat reluctant.

When I asked her about the stays at home, however, she opened up and said that was almost certainly true. As for various assignations at cafes, that was definitely true, having seen the e-mails.

But that is small beer when compared with the next piece of information: it was her absolute understanding that McDonald was chosen from Hekia Paratas office, and for his special qualities. She said that Paratas office was definitely kept up-to-date with developments.

She also said watch out for dirty tricks.

Three years ago, in a posting (Post-election thoughts) I wrote the following: 

‘Newspapers have now leaked details of a possible National reshuffle with Hekia Parata taking Education and Tolley, Police.’

‘The main point of this posting is to say that any change will be for the worse, and to remind readers that schools bring out the bully in Key.’

‘The Parata whanau is a formidable one which thrives on antagonism. The capability of Parata family members is beyond question, their open-mindedness very much in. Hekia Parata’s charisma, intelligence, drive, East Coast ego, and oratorical skills, also her personal variability, will make dealing with her, in my view, even more of a challenge than dealing with Tolley’s frumpishness.’

‘Parata family members are red-hot supporters of national standards. And, unlike Tolley, who only came to understand them, Parata family members do understand them, albeit from a mainly secondary perspective, they just refuse to countenance arguments opposing them. Any hope that she might be open to change is beyond the dangerously naive. She has a good mind but it is frozen into inflexibility.’

‘My early prediction is that having thrown a bucket of water over Tolley, we will very soon be wishing all we could see of Parata is a pair of red shoes.’

‘And my final prediction is that Parata will fall as a result of her arrogance (to protect her inflexibility) and overweening vindictiveness – a vindictiveness that can, with dangerous ease, deteriorate into searing hatred, brooking no contradiction.’

In my previous posting I suggested that Parata and her office were knee deep in this one.

At a less heightened political level, but a very important human one, are the terrible effects of this ministerial conspiracy, on parents and children.

Did anyone at the ministry give any thought to the children; you know Peter and Katrina, those little entities often found in profusion around schools.

One parent writes:

‘What people fail to see, what they don’t want to see, is the immediate cost to our kids through the implementation of this process.’

[The parent then detailed some of the terrible things that happened to children as a result of the intervention.]

The parent was critical of the commissioner, saying: ‘Nicola has supported every step of the way, at no point providing any reassurance (or even warmth in her communication) to the families involved.’

‘Our children are the immediate victims of this process, and nobody from the ministry is willing to step in to help our children. Salford was our definite choice because of Marlene and her approach to education.’

‘We have stood up, spoken out, provided eye-witnesses and evidence and none of it has been read.’

[A comment made about acting principal.]

‘It seems they are only focused on getting rid of Marlene and have lost any sense of conscience.’

‘We have sent our complaints to ERO (November last year), but they said whatever Nicola (the commissioner) finds stands. In other words, the families have no-where to go.’

[Notice the irony here: ERO and the ministry were willing to act with the full weight of government in response to a letter kept anonymous yet do nothing in response to an open letter from parents.]

‘I was slow to believe,’ the parent continued, ‘the whole conspiracy theory regarding the ministry trying to gag an outspoken principal, but the last couple of weeks, it started to look undeniable. It’s scary for parents because they know that no-one will protect them or their kids.’

‘So thank-you for highlighting corruption in the system.’

Salford is only exceptional in one respect: it wasn’t burnt off. The use of letters kept anonymous by ERO is now almost standard procedure; bullying behaviour by statutory managers is common; lying and deceitfulness is entrenched in the system; and steamrolling of teachers, children, and parents is just an unfortunate contingency.

But there is something more fundamental than all this: the intervention process has been used and developed by this government to help fix in the public mind that public schools are fault-ridden, incapable of righting themselves, and dependent on a non-education person for solution – but only after a prolonged period of attention. The situation at Salford with a little good faith help from the ministry could have been solved in a few weeks; well even before that, because there was nothing to solve.

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