Apparently it’s our fault Gloriavale School failed their ERO report!?!

Apparently it’s our fault Gloriavale School failed their ERO report!?!

Opinion piece: Liz Gregory.

(Thoughts, opinions and view expressed here belong to Liz Gregory and may or may not represent the views of all leavers or current members).

Many thanks to the several leavers who have discussed ERO’s findings with me. I hope I have adequately conveyed your feelings in the post below:

My last blog post dealt with issues around the poor ERO report the Gloriavale School received, and the questions that needed to be asked around the planning for the immediate provision of quality education for the children still in there.

Since Gloriavale received the report we have heard interesting things from inside Gloriavale – not least the expected question…. who is to blame?

So who is to blame?

Well, apparently us – of course! Yes, I’ve heard that from inside Gloriavale. It was also stated loudly in the Royal Commission that the Gloriavale Leavers’ Support Trust effectively levelled the school. They echoed it in the Employment Court proceedings. And Rachel Steadfast commented publicly in a statement on Gloriavale’s website in September 2022. She said, “Recently, the wider Gloriavale community has been targeted, leading to uncertainty and a level of insecurity for our children …. A small group of people have made a coordinated effort to shut the school down and take our children away by lodging complaints against all our teachers simultaneously.  Everyone knows that a school cannot function without teachers.”

She also assured people that things that happened in the past weren’t happening now, and that significant changes had been made by the community and they had made a heartful public apology in 2022.

I don’t know why Gloriavale members keep mentioning the promise of change because most kiwis I know would never have kept their children in a school where such poor education occurred so recently, given the same people with the same ideas are still running the community. Regardless, I’ve heard the same narrative again from inside Gloriavale this past week from other sources.

Problems with this way of thinking

There are four standout problems with this. One is that in 2021 the Police and Oranga Tamariki stood down ten teachers and I don’t recall them bring accused of “targeting the Community”. It’s unfortunate that those two agencies weren’t able to get to the bottom of accusations and one-by-one most of the teachers made their way back into the school. (Keep in mind the difficulties these agencies have when interviewing current residents). It’s disappointing that leavers and others needed to resurrect the issues and dig out the truth. In fact, the small number of accusations was a drop in the ocean compared to what could have been mentioned. It’s sad when people in a Christian community can’t be honest during interviews.

The second problem is that if all your staff have accusations laid against them, it shows there is a systemic cultural problem inside Gloriavale. Gloriavale have not yet given any indication they even recognise this yet. And so leavers will keep harping on until they understand it. Thirty current residents went in to bat for Gloriavale in 2023 during the Employment Court hearing, and what we heard didn’t fill us with confidence that the current residents have understood the issues. Many were still combative, defensive, loyal and many denied the impact their no-so-distance past has had on past and present members. Additionally, it didn’t feel to most leavers I spoke to that their public heartfelt apology was a genuine recognition of the harm done, but rather an appeal to the public to keep supporting their commercial businesses, after being caught out.

The third issue is that Rachel Stedfast has fallen into the same trap of talking around and over the issues, taking a slither of one issue, and stating categorially we don’t do that anymore. For example, she is basically trying to say there are no longer any predatorial school teachers touching children anymore, and we don’t use excessive physical disciple on the children anymore. But she failed to address the myriad of other concerns that were brought to the attention of the MOE – including a continuing and pervasive attitude that education is only aimed at training people for their life inside Gloriavale, the use of bullying and harassment tactics by teachers, untrained and ill-equipped teachers, and general all-round poor management of the school. Rachel didn’t address those issues in her statement.  

But I don’t want Rachel to carry the burden of responsibility for this mess. Or the new Principal Harmony Helpful. Neither of them asked for the job. They got the “shoulder-tap” and proved their love and loyalty for the community by taking up the job they were neither trained nor prepared for.

That goes for the guy before him too.

Fourthly, it doesn’t actually matter WHEN the poor behaviours occurred. Everything that happened yesterday happened “in the past”, and actions have consequences. Consequences for wrong-doing can be quite severe. Gloriavale’s less-than-developed theological beliefs around forgiveness are likely at the heart of this attitude. They have been taught a simplistic and completely illogical view that you forgive and forget and then trust that person again. In my opinion, that only serves the abuser. Forgiveness is powerful and wonderful and deeply personal. It will take time. Forgetting something happened is actually impossible. All you actually do is pretend to forget and we all know what that does for human development and mental health. And finally trusting someone again after experiencing a breach of trust might take time, or it might be down-right idiocy depending on the issue.

If Gloriavale could find themselves a more biblically informed view around forgiveness and start to look into some bigger more nuanced words like repentance, restitution, remorse, reconciliation, then I suggest they might make more progress.

Another point to note is that some of these more severe behaviours may have stopped more recently, but you’ve still got the same people in your community, and the same ideas are being circulated and the only reason you’ve got a new guard of teachers is because people made noise and you had to move some out of their positions. You don’t need a medal on your chest or expect acclamation for standing down teachers while you investigate complaints. That’s just called due diligence. For some perspective, out here people lose their teaching jobs for flicking a child’s ear…

Truth Telling

It’s time to tell the truth. Our organisation did not do this to you.

You did it to yourselves. Leavers spoke up. We spoke up. Together we shone a light on the school across decades.

Our organisation did not run a school that had known sexual offenders working in it.

Our organisation did not run a school that did not train enough teachers

Our organisation did not run a school that used physical discipline for decades after it was outlawed

Our organisation did not run a school that had teachers who were emotionally unsafe and had no behaviour management training

Our organisation did not run a school that tapped people on the shoulder, regardless of their ability or suitability, and said they’d be starting to teach in the school the next day

Our organisation did not run a school that didn’t have a proper Board of Trustees for decades

Our organisation did not run a school that did not provide physical safety

Our organisation did not run a school that didn’t invest in a curriculum fit for NZ standards

Our organisation did not run a school that let children leave at 15

Our organisation did not run a school that didn’t take children’s special needs or giftings into account

Our organisation did not run a school that exploited the free labour of its members while expecting them to run large families

Our organisation did not run a school that didn’t have quality educational provision as its top priority

You did all that yourselves.

I’m quite frankly appalled that you would try to say that we are to blame. That shows you still aren’t a safe place to operate a school.

Gloriavale, I think it’s time to own it and to examine whether your head-in-the-sand approach over the past decade or two has led to the position you’re in now.

It’s time to stop saying that your school educates children as well, or better than the outside world. It’s not true. It hasn’t actually ever been true.

Let’s just tell the truth. And let the truth set you free.

I do appreciate it must seem devastating to those who still really believe in the Gloriavale system. We all know to gain a private school was a huge mark of success for Hopeful and the leaders. To have a community with a school meant the groundwork was laid perfectly for ideological conditioning. It was a key structure that enabled the social entrapment of children. But it’s time to re-examine that.  

Why not consider letting the children attend a school where their gifts and talents are recognised, where leadership qualities are developed, where children’s emotional needs are nurtured and where their learning needs are met? Stop believing what you’ve been told about “schools in the world”. Break out of the fear cycle you live in constantly, and take a chance that God might actually use this for good. That’s called ‘having faith’. Put some hands and legs on your Christian faith and stop being paralysed by the lies you may have been fed and trustingly believed. The Lord might not come back again next week, and so it’s time to lift your vision higher and do something God-honouring for your families.

For whatever part we have played in this mess at Gloriavale, we are happy to own it. We do hope this will bring about massive structural change within families and that the children might be offered educational provision that meets the standards of the other schools in New Zealand. We hope some people will be brave enough to move to the outskirts, and send their children to a lovely little rural West Coast school. We hope some will take up the massive challenge of home-schooling their children, and learn how to spend time with them and enjoy them. What a great joy to see parents actively interested in their children’s learning – being down on the ground and doing a jigsaw puzzle with one, while helping another with a calculus question. We hope these parents will find themselves better accommodation, away from the institutionalised hostel system, and into private homes where parents can regain their autonomy as God-ordained leaders of their homes.

These would be good changes.

What choice were we left with?

The loud criticism  from inside Gloriavale was that we “dropped a bomb on the school”. But this makes it sound like we sat on our hands and just let the children suffer, and then finally we gathered up the information we dropped it all at once with the intention of annihilating the school.

Then I guess current members aren’t aware of all the ways that leavers and others tried to get the word out to Gloriavale and the Government agencies in the past ten years. But the quiet and diplomatic ways didn’t work. Leavers went to TV, they spoke to Charities Service, we even wrote a personal letter to the leaders in 2018 which went unanswered (we will publish it soon). Many leavers had discussions with leadership while they were in there, and some after leaving. The emails to Government agencies fell on deaf ears and didn’t get traction.  Oranga Tamariki and Police couldn’t get to the bottom of it. We even asked the Principal for a meeting, but the leaders denied that too. So what was left for us? Gloriavale calls it the “BOMB that got dropped”. But a bomb sounds unexpected. There was nothing unexpected about any of this!! If they’d pieced together the Civil Court cases, the Charities Services Investigations, the Royal Commission, the documentaries, the media articles, and the criminal cases, I think pretty much anyone could have seen this one coming…

And so the bomb was dropped. And the school is front and centre this past week. It’s weak and wounded.

And Gloriavale needs to own it. Fully. No excuses.

We’ll end with a comment from an unnamed source. It’s someone in the know.

“In spite of the opinions of both leavers and current members as to whether or not the facts presented by Liz Gregory Inc hold merit or are the result of a witch hunt, this analysis of the state of the school comes from an independent authority whose decision is based on their own personal observation. Put aside all our opinions from both sides and this is what we are left with, a raw unfiltered litmus test which has shown up Gloriavale with a low pH. The question now is how to neutralize it?”

Good question. We watch with interest.