The full report on RI classes at Fenwick School has been released (see below). I doubt they had much choice in releasing it, as it is a state school and of interest to parents and school staff nationwide. I think that there’s quite a bit of extra comment in there that the Board of Trustees would probably have preferred to keep quiet.
I still can’t see why the conflict of interest that Damien Goodsir has is not more explicitly addressed. The problem is not just that he’s a church pastor. It’s that he has a stated aim of infiltrating the school to spread his religious beliefs. Why would you “hire” someone who has a personal agenda like this?
I also thought it was a bit misleading for Cleave Hay to say that 8% of the community are opposed to RI. At best his “statistical analysis” is extremely weak. He knows that over half of the kids don’t do religious instruction at Fenwick School.
The comments about Damien Goodsir being attacked on social media seemed a little unnecessary. I’ve seen people complaining on facebook about the situation and while they may criticise him for his actions on this issue, they have also been generally positive regarding his actions within the community as a whole.
The comments about support from the NZSTA are somewhat laughable considering their supportive stance on religious instruction classes and refusal to discuss the issue.
I thought that there was a little too much emphasis on how best to “get on with the job” and not enough emphasis on resolving an issue that I believe will only continue, considering how little is actually changing. As long as religious groups continue to try and “infiltrate” state primary schools, there will be people who will oppose it. Religious faith teaching should be left in the church and not imposed on non-Christian children in their classrooms. Why should any religious group be given access to children in a secular state primary school?
Read the full report below and let me know your thoughts in the comments. You might also be interested in this report on Stuff.co.nz. The comments below the article show just how angry people are about RI.
The Board of Trustees
Fenwick School – Oamaru
I, Cleave Hay, was contracted to investigate challenges faced by the Fenwick School Board of Trustees particularly in regard to matters surrounding religious instruction, chaplaincy roles and conflicts of interest, with the following terms of reference:
- To independently research and identify the areas of concern made to the board and MOE regarding religious instruction, chaplaincy and conflicts of interest.
- To independently assess the board in their handling of the above issues.
- Develop recommendations to address any issues identified and advise the board on how to proceed in the future regarding the above issues.
- Prepare a summary report for the Board of Trustees and the Ministry of Education.
This work commenced in December 2016 with initial discussions and was completed mid February 2017.
To effect the above research and identifications I conducted meetings at the school as below:
7 parent/whanau interviews (11 persons)
Board Chair and Principal
8 parent/whanau interviews (12 persons)
Board of Trustees
34 received (not including those interviewed above)
At each meeting the interviewees generally spoke from a questionnaire made available to parents/whanau and staff prior to my visit. The questionnaire aligned with the terms of reference points.
A number of the parents also produced emails, notes and other documentation supporting their individual or family’s perspectives.
A draft report was sent to the board of trustees on the 19th of February for feedback. The board replied with further submissions on 27th February 2017. This is my final report and recommendations.
Findings and considerations
With the school having approximately 213 families, this review reflects approximately 23% through the face to face or written submissions. Although it could be argued that such a consultation will attract a greater response from those who are unhappy, and that the silent majority are comfortable or apathetic, the response can still be calculated as around 8% of the Fenwick community are opposed to religious influences at the school. This may not be considered a significant number but the effect is certainly creating a division and ongoing distraction for the board and management.
In all areas I have taken into consideration that the educational engagement, achievement and welfare of the students is the primary reason for the school’s existence and must ultimately override any adult bias or persuasions, unless these are for the benefit of the learners.
Below are my findings in each area and my considerations in italics.
There is a wide spectrum of parent feeling around the weekly provision of religious instruction at the school in Terms 2 and 3 each year from positions of complete acceptance to total rejection.
The school board and management have been meeting the legal requirements of remaining closed with all families required to make a choice, ‘opt-in’, to the RI programme, an alternative values programme or stay at home. The 3 options method is generally well accepted and even commended as a great improvement on the past.The board have worked considerably with the parent community over this issue for some time now.
However many concerns were still expressed, from those whose own values oppose RI in any form at a state school to parents expressing concern regarding separation or segregation of children based on their parents’ beliefs, to a loss of 10 hours’ curricular education, to a perspective that the school is ‘part-closed’ with RI led by volunteers and ‘part-open’ with the values programme led by school staff, to suggestions of open campaigning in the school environment against the RI programme. Other parents and submissions expressed full support for the programme and its instructors.
The numbers attending the RI programme are in the vicinity of 50% with the values programme also attracting solid attendance.
The board is entitled to offer the RI and has chosen to do so, it is meeting the requirements and has offered a 3-option choice to parents. The attendance numbers reflect an acceptance of the programme but may also be inflated for both programmes (RI and values) as they are held at 9am and parents may not want, or are unable, to have them remain at home beyond the normal times. Would the attendances be the same if held at another time? The board needs to seriously consider if the 9am programmes are appropriate for Fenwick and have a programmed review and consultation in place.
1. The board of trustees determine whether to retain Religious Instruction for 2017 based on current attendance numbers.
2. The board of trustees seriously consider moving the Religious Instruction programme to another time with voluntary attendance outside of school hours, either for 2017 (dependent on above) or for following years.
3. The board ensures RI review is included in their triennial workplan, with an annual board/principal review (including attendance statistics) and a full community consultation every third year, perhaps coinciding with their vision/mission/values review.
Ongoing complaints regarding issues
For the families involved in the complaints regarding RI, chaplaincy and board conflicts of interest, there is a definite feeling that these have not been fully resolved and that the board of trustees have been resistant to effective resolution. The board of trustees have worked with the families yet feel that there is a determined approach that will continue until the school removes the programmes and, to some extent, some of the trustees currently in office. Other parties interviewed have mixed feelings ranging from no awareness of the complaints to dissatisfaction of either or both sides.
The situation regarding these complaints is complex as both parties in each complaint are adamant of their stand; the parents that the complaints have not be adequately managed and the board in that they have worked hard on resolution and have made a number of alterations to accommodate different perspectives. There was some indication that some parents will not cease lobbying the board until the programmes are removed entirely. Resolution of some form needs negotiated and the removal of the distraction of the board and management from the school’s primary focus.
1. The board establishes a complaints handling committee, under the delegations provision of the Education Act 1989, Section 66:1(c). This committee, which must contain 1 trustee contains 2 community members with no direct association with Fenwick School but are suitably experienced, has clear terms of reference and takes responsibility to resolve existing complaints.
2. The committee invites existing complainants to meet individually or collectively to work toward resolution rather than hold continued written dialogue. Mediation may also need considered.
3. The committee manages any future complaints received on any matter, on behalf of the board of trustees, and is reviewed by the board each year.
Almost all persons interviewed feel that the concept of having additional adults around the property at lunchtimes is a valuable one, and that having options for children or families in
distress is worthwhile. However many have concerns that in a state school, which is a secular environment that:-
- The name chaplain has overtly Christian inference,
- That those who perform the role must be endorsed by a Christian organisation,
- That the organisation is part of the same that organises the RI,
- That the chaplains are also RI volunteers, and,
- That many have elected that their children are not to attend RI for their own values’ reasons, yet are subject to the same people and organisation in the playgrounds.
Many interviewed also shared that they know very little of what the role is, how the selection for these roles works, and how to access the services.
Many others shared that they value the programme.
The concept of student welfare is a commendable one and few primary schools offer this to such an extent. However, the fact that this is a Christian organisation’s service with the chaplains all having to be endorsed by a church; that the organisation is essentially the same as the RI service; that the same persons are acting in both roles; and the parents’ concerns over having a choice in one but not the other in a legislated secular environment does concern me. Changing the personnel involved would not reduce this feeling.
1) The board cease the chaplaincy roles.
2) The school maintains a relationship with the chaplains,and also maintains a list of, other local organisations and welfare related agencies. The chaplains or agencies would then be available to parents/whanau and staff if and when needed.
3) The board conducts consultation with the community in 2018 to measure any desire for a welfare programme in the school.
Conflicts of Interest by board members
This area, again, shows a great deal of divide in the parent/whanau community as many expressed they feel there is no conflict of interest (or that the board manages them well) and that they have confidence in the board, through to those who feel there is a great amount of conflict of interest and that they have lost all confidence in the board to govern. And many points in between.
Most of the mistrust has been exacerbated by the chairperson, in the role of a local church’s pastor, using the word ‘infiltrate’ in relation to his service in the school. A number of parents feel that this was inappropriate, others feel it was simply a bit foolish, others are unconcerned. Some parents and wider community, via social media have made this a personal attack on the pastor.
The board have assured me that they been managing conflicts of interest well, although they have no written procedures around this, and that the chair is not having any undue influence at the board table regarding decisions on the abovementioned programmes. They are open to advice and support in developing better practice.
Most interviewed agree that the chair was voted by the community to be a trustee and therefore is entitled to be there; some feel he should have stepped down as chair; many are not concerned by this, whilst others adamantly feel the number of areas he serves in are causing serious issues for the community. Almost all are frustrated due to the differences in perspective and the ongoing distraction of this.
In an ideal situation any one person should be able to perform in various roles without great conflict. However Fenwick’s situation, and in particular the chair’s sermon (although as a local pastor) has offended a significant portion of the community and, for many, has raised doubts regarding his motives, the board’s transparency and overall governance. Rightly or wrongly this suspicion and lack of trust is dividing the Fenwick School community and distracting the board and management from their focus. Some public use of social media debate around this has become very personal against the chairperson and, in my opinion, does not assist the school in resolving the issues it is faced with.
The chairperson fulfilling several roles, all enveloped in this dispute, is the key element. Outside of this the board, including the chair, are acting professionally in their role and have
the capability to work through these issues.
1. The board seek advice and support via NZSTA providing an extended governance support plan including the provider:- attending a series (3-5) board meetings to advise and guide the board; working with the board and complaints handling committee in establishing clear complaint handling process and understanding natural justice protocols; working with the newly formed committee to support their working through the existing complaints; assisting the board in establishing robust protocols around identifying, declaring and managing conflicts of interest; assisting
the board in ensuring their self-review processes include RI, welfare roles and community engagement.
2. That the recently re-appointed board chair seriously considers stepping down from the RI and chaplaincy roles to remove areas of potential or perceived conflict, and to assist the board and school in re-establishing strong and full community engagement.
Fenwick School exists for the education of its students and they must always be the focus of all its staff and programmes. The wide breadth of feeling at Fenwick around religious instruction, chaplaincy roles, and the board of trustees’ handling of complaints surrounding these, and of perceived conflicts of interest is certainly causing division in the parent community and diversion from its primary focus.
Although this division is difficult to accurately measure, it is nonetheless significant enough for the board and management to seriously reconsider their standing and processes in each of the disputed areas, and to make some changes in approach in order to arrest further division and for overall community engagement and confidence.
Some parents openly shared that they will not desist until RI, in particular, is removed entirely from the school, which will likely mean ongoing work for the complaints handling committee, but the board, through sound and fair governance process, must ensure their focus is not distracted from students’ educational engagement, progress and achievement.
With adequate support this can be achieved whilst still ensuring all concerns and complaints are attended to promptly, respectfully and professionally, and seek to bring effective resolution for all parties concerned.
With this support and through well considered decision making, I feel the board of trustees and management can continue to ensure every Fenwick student is actively engaged, cared for and progressing toward their individual highest level of educational achievement.
27 February 2017
What did you think of this report? Please comment below?