25 Sep 2015

Parents fight to keep school open

9:11 pm on 25 September 2015

The students and families of a small church-run school have made an impassioned plea for the Education Minister to keep it open, after it was forced to shut its doors over safety and welfare concerns.

The Pacific Christian School in Mangere.

Students and parents hold signs urging the education minister to reverse a suspension of the school's license. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

The Pacific Christian School in Mangere has had its registration temporarily suspended following allegations of physical abuse and questions about the standard of education.

A special end of term assembly was held at the school today to celebrate the student's achievements.

But it was also tinged with sadness and it could be the last time one is held at the 75-pupil school.

The school is run by the Tokaikolo Christian Church, which is the largest Tongan church in New Zealand and has branches throughout the Pacific.

In May, the Education Review Office raised a series of questions about the teaching staff and curriculum at the church-run school, amid allegations of physical abuse.

The school was formally warned by the police after four teachers were accused of smacking pupils.

Last year, a student stabbed another child with a pair of scissors.

Pacific Christian School

Pacific Christian School (pictured) is run by the Tokaikolo Christian Church. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

Reverend Savaiinaea Tamoua said the smacking allegations were made by former church members but current parents supported the school.

"They are quite safe... very safe here, but incidents happen at any given time and any given day and we are asking the minister as parents, please intervene," he said.

Parents at the school said they were worried their children's education would suffer if they were forced to start a new school next term.

Pacific Christian School in Mangere.

Final assembly at Pacific Christian School in Mangere. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

Labour MP for Mangere Su'a William Sio was the guest of honour at the final assembly. He was presented with a petition of more than 1000 signatures to give to Education Minister Hekia Parata.

The parents were urging her to keep the school open till at least the end of the year.

Mr Sio said the request had some merit and he would ask the minister for an urgent meeting to discuss the school's future.

"My task now is to see whether the minister would be prepared to reconsider for that sake. But the school does need to address the issues that the Ministry of Education has raised and the doorway for the school remaining open is really through that pathway," he said.

No one from the school's board would speak to Radio New Zealand.

Ms Parata would also not comment. Her office said it was a matter for the ministry to consider.

In a statement, the ministry's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said it would only reopen the school if it could prove students' learning, safety and welfare was not at risk.

"The Tokaikolo Education Trust Board, which operates the school, has until the end of Term Four to provide us with a report on what action they are taking to address the issues we have raised with them, and to provide us with a plan to address what they will do to meet criteria for registration as a private school."

"After that time, we will review the school's suspension and have the option of cancelling the registration."

The ministry said it was now working with the school and board to help parents enrol their children at another school in time for term four and it was offering financial support to help buy new uniforms and stationary.

So far, only eight students have enrolled at another school.

Sir Douglas Bader Intermediate School in Mangere has offered take all year 7 and 8 pupils temporarily so all students can be kept together until they find places elsewhere.

In May, the Education Review Office said it was assured the school had the staffing suitable for the age range and levels of its students.

The report also said that two teachers had been provisionally registered for four years, but had been unable to satisfy Teacher Council requirements to move to full registration.

The principal of the school, according to the report, holds a Limited Authority to Teach.

A ministry spokeswoman said those teachers did meet the minimum legal requirements allowing them to teach.