Going direct to the Secretary of the Ministry of Education

Not quite how Government departments work!
Not quite how Government departments work!
Not quite how Government departments work!

Voluntarily dealing with Government departments isn’t really my idea of a fun time, so it was with a heavy heart that I contacted the Ministry of Education directly. I’d been on this path for nearly six months now with very little to show for it other than sleepless nights! Here’s the email that I sent to Peter Hughes, the Secretary for the Ministry of Education. As you can tell, I went in with all guns blazing.

This blog is part of a story about my experience with religious education in my Daughter’s school. If you missed the start of it, you can find the beginning here.

I was looking at this as a last stand through official channels. What I had been trying to avoid throughout the whole process was making this a public issue because I didn’t want to adversely affect the school, my family or the community. I thought that if I appealed to reason and logic, I might be able to initiate change and this was my last chance.

From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Tuesday, 10 November 2015 9:44 a.m.
To: Peter Hughes
Subject: Complaint about Maungatapere School

Hi Peter,

I have a complaint about the Board of Trustees and MoE Senior Adviser (Lesley Parton) for Maungatapere School here in Whangarei.

This is regarding the “religious education” classes that the board have promoted in the 2011 and 2014 school community surveys (see attached) as being “Ministry of Education Approved”. Obviously they are not.

I presented the board with a proposal to have the classes removed (see attached “key points” Word doc) and provided them with supporting references and documentation.

  • The main point is that board has misrepresented the classes to parents using the Ministry of Education’s name.
  • The classes are also implicated to be part of the curriculum by being the only non-curriculum activity listed on their enrolment form.
  • Parents aren’t told that the school is closed, that the classes aren’t part of the curriculum and that attendance at the school isn’t required .
  • The board arrogantly responded that they have the right to approve these classes, and are using it. What they fail to do is act on behalf of the community. This is obviously impossible, as the community have been fed either no information or false information and so can’t make an informed decision when responding to the survey or filling out enrolment forms.

After failing to get any action from the board, who completely ignored the issues I raised, I complained to the school’s MoE senior adviser, Lesley Parton. She spoke to the Principal, Judy Eagles, and despite providing the same information to Lesley, she told me I was “grasping at straws” and towed the school’s line.

I’m really shocked and disgusted at the collusion that seems to be going on between the school board, the principal and the senior adviser to prevent admitting to a problem and doing something to fix it. They all seem determined to continue pushing a class that is nothing less than indoctrination of children during normal school hours where they should be free from religious influence. I think that Lesley Parton also allowed bible classes in the school she was previously principal at.

My daughter loses a minimum of 20 hours of class time a year so local church members can indoctrinate the other kids. That’s 140 hours of missed teaching time before she will get to high school. In reality, it will be much more with the disruption to the class.

Why does the MoE still allow this sort of discrimination to happen? Why should any non-Christian child miss schooling and be forced into declaring their (parents) religious beliefs to avoid a class that shouldn’t even be there? She’s only 5 at the moment and doesn’t understand what is going on, but as she gets older, she will be labelled as “different” to the other kids because she is removed from these classes. These classes are divisive and manipulate parents into allowing their kids to attend to avoid being singled out. It’s just plain wrong.

I think it is appropriate that the school do the following;

  • Inform parents that the classes are not and never have been approved by the Ministry of Education.

While I think that it is fundamentally wrong to allow evangelisation of religious beliefs of any kind during normal school hours, the classes should only be continued if;

  • Votes in favour of the classes in previous Community Surveys are disregarded due to misinformation provided to parents. The Board of Trustees has an obligation to represent the community (they said this in their letter to me), which they obviously can’t do if they gave the community the wrong information to vote on the classes in the first place.
  • A new Community Survey about the classes goes out that tells parents;
    1. That the classes are not a study of religion but are an instruction in Christian faith.
    2. That the classes are not Ministry of Education approved.
    3. That the school is closed while the classes take place and attendance is not required.
    4. People voting for the classes should give a preferred time for the class outside normal school hours or during lunchtime.

I approached the school in good faith but have been confronted only with excuses and irrelevant distractions in an attempt to avoid taking responsibility (see attached BOT response).

I have not attached all the documentation referred to in my proposal to the school but would be happy to send it if you wanted to see anything.

I am available any time if you would like to discuss this matter. You can phone me on: XXX XXX XXX.

regards,
Dave Smyth


 

I didn’t expect to get anywhere quickly with this and I was bounced around a little. Perhaps they were trying to figure out if I was a nut job, or one of those people who have nothing better to do than chase causes. My complaint did slowly move up the chain. I was contacted by an Executive Manager, Sue Wilson, who chased up my email for over a month. She contacted me several times over that time and a month and a day later, I got a reply from the man himself!

From: Peter Hughes
Sent: Friday, 11 December 2015 5:36 p.m.
To: Dave Smyth
Subject: RE: Complaint about Maungatapere School

Gidday Dave,

Thanks for your email of 10 November.  I appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns about religious instruction at Maungatapere School.

We’ve been in contact with the school about the issues you have raised.

I have asked Lisa Rodgers, Deputy Secretary, Early Learning and Student Achievement, to let you know of the outcome.

Get back to me if you need to.

Cheers,
Peter
Peter Hughes | Secretary for Education


Lisa Rodgers was in touch a few days later and we exchanged a few emails. At first, I thought I was going backwards because she sent me a sort of standard email telling me things I already knew that didn’t address the issue. However, just before Xmas, she contacted me to tell me that Northland Regional Director, Hira Gage would be contacting me in the new year to discuss the situation.

Let this be a lesson to you! If you stick with contact with a Government department, you’ll get there eventually if you’re being reasonable. Comment as usual below and find out what happened next…

 

 

2 Comments

  1. My faith in humanity is somewhat restored when I see someone reasonable standing up for what is right, children should be free to grow up as critical thinkers who can make up their own minds. Not indoctrinated from an age too young to challenge what adults say and to believe in a magic man in the sky (don’t ask too many questions thought) because otherwise you will burn in hell forever. Shocking in this day and age!

    • Thanks Mac. The school would tell you that there is no mention of hell but when some kids come from religious homes it does filter through to the playground even if it’s not in the classroom.

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