ERO didn’t make an error this time…
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:
I wrote a blog post a few months back posing the question – Did ERO make an error? I believed the answer was yes. They had up until then failed to see the problems with the Gloriavale School
But it appears they haven’t made the same mistake this time.
The Education Review Office (ERO) just publicly released its Special Review into the Gloriavale Christian School. It comes on top of three years of unrelenting and unfolding revelations about many aspects of the Gloriavale Christian Community. Leavers speaking up, recent court action, and media coverage have all increased the Government and Agency appetite to sit up and take notice.
The school has just failed 6/8 criteria for registration as a private school. There are now so many questions that need answering.
The first one is, did they really go from “wow to blow” in three years? We’ll get to that soon.
The report was quietly added to ERO’s website 4pm last Friday. All ERO reports are available for the public to read. Did you know that? However, 4pm Friday is a “dumping time” for hot potato issues. It slows down the media’s ability to ask questions of Government officials and buys time that something more newsworthy will come up over the weekend. (Nothing can compete with the Rugby World Cup, right?!). In Govt small issues can escalate day after day if given a free run in the news, and if the mood is right by the end of bad week, people can be packing their suitcases for good. Who wants that?
Even more curious is the timing of the report right at the point of transition to a new Government. The “Special” ERO Review wasn’t announced two years ago when Police and Oranga Tamariki stood down 10 teachers for investigation. Nor was it announced 14 months ago when a bigger pile of information was given to the school and the MOE about issues around staff and teaching practice.
But it was announced in time for the usual 3-yearly review, and perfectly timed to land on the ERO website in the THREE week interim period where NZ has no sitting Parliament. It’s a tiny window between the old Government heading out the door and the new one coming to power. There’s no place to ask questions, and there is no one to ask questions to.
Mmm … am I too suspicious?! Perhaps!
Back to the issue. The school has failed 6/8 criteria for registration as a private school. That’s quite a devastating failure. And that brings up a lot of questions. Especially because there are beautiful little children involved.
The Facts – as outlined in the ERO report.
- The provision of high-quality education for school-aged learners in the Gloriavale community, is inconsistent and uncertain.
- There is limited oversight and knowledge about every learner’s progress and achievement across the community.
- Community leaders are aware of the issues but have no planned, documented, long term approach as to how they will address the challenges currently facing them.
- Schooling is in a precarious situation and long-term planning to meet the educational needs of the community’s children and young people is essential going forward.
- ERO does not consider that the Gloriavale community has a sustainable solution to ensuring coherent, consistent, high-quality schooling for all learners.
- The school does not have staffing that is suitable. Teachers are registered. Only two have school teaching qualifications and relevant experience. The boys in Years 8 to 10 have a secondary trained teacher and the girls have an ECE trained teacher. Eight out of the 10 teachers have ECE qualifications. Children in the Awhina class are not taught by a registered teacher.
- There is no appropriate, equitable and stable curriculum and pedagogical leadership.
- There is very little assessment capability and no evidence of a cohesive programme of assessment and responsive planning for learning progression.
- Teachers are not using a suitable curriculum, valid assessment and reporting and there is very little evidence of planning based on an inclusive, differentiated approach
- Teachers had a limited capability in managing challenging behaviour or understanding and catering for children with differing needs.
- ERO is not assured that all managers are fit and proper persons (The Gloriavale Christian School Trust Board and the principal are deemed managers of the school as they control and manage the school under the Act).
- Beyond Year 10 the options and pathways are not clearly understood, and there is an unplanned approach to secondary school education. Girls were less able to talk about their future pathways than were boys.
- Primary school were not well informed about their schooling options and were vague about future studies and setting goals. Nor were they particularly well informed about their own levels of achievement.
- Overall, ERO is not assured that all children up to the age of 16 are successfully engaged in meaningful learning programmes and pathways, and progressing and achieving well, or that their health and safety while accessing education is sufficiently well monitored.
ERO recommended “community leaders urgently develop a long-term plan for high quality teaching and ensure child protection, safety and well-being, and health and safety policies were well implemented. It would review the school in another 12 months and review the early childhood centre in due course.”
Positives in the report
ERO was pleased to see they had made some efforts to establish a board and that they had some suitable policies and procedures in place. (We know some excellent external groups have assisted them). ERO recognised there was an openness to enabling parents’ involvement in their children’s learning. (This is a positive step forward as up until recently the parental engagement and interest in their children’s learning has been minimal and hampered by the busy work life in Gloriavale.) The Board has engaged with external governance expertise to build its capability, and is focussed on seeking solutions and acting with due diligence. (Read as, they were under oversight and realised they would be wise to engage and make use of the support being forced on them).
I’m pleased to see ERO choose to broaden their scope and do a Special Review of the School and it’s good to see that the Government agencies got their hands dirty and really made an effort to get past the glossy facade. It appears that there were some current members and children who felt safe to open up to ERO and shared about the state of the school. It’s also good to see evidence of the new Child Safety Policies being embedded into the culture (although no one knows how effective this is, because Gloriavale is still a place where secrets abound). ERO didn’t pack any punches, but they were still professional and didn’t kick Gloriavale too hard when they’re already down. This was gracious of them, but it left you with no question this school displeased ERO with their lack of engagement on some issues, and their overall failure to provide suitable schooling.
This review was too late. Years too late. There has been way too much damage and harm done by the school over the past few decades. And the past three years has certainly seen a landslide of problems emerge and collapse on Gloriavale all at once. But this report is too late for another generation of children Gloriavale. A year in the life of a child is a long time. And this mess will take quite some untangling.
It seemed like ERO has tried to duck for cover” by suggesting that things in the school were okay pre-2020 (when they last did their report), but that things had changed somewhat in the past three years. It’s not true. It’s just that the light has shone brighter and more relentlessly in the past three years, and finally it got too embarrassing for the Govt to ignore it any longer. These problems have been evident for many, many years.
Education was never a priority in Gloriavale. It was a means to an end to produce loyal subjects and obedient workers. Because there was little value placed on it, time in the classroom was often a bit hit and miss too. Leavers talk about days off to do moss picking, afternoons on the work-roster, no choice in education subjects, leaving at 15 or younger for full-time work. None of this was even hidden. Gloriavale used to boast about the way they used child labour during school days on promo videos etc.
Additionally the poor staff weren’t given time to plan and teach either. They had large families and often had more than one job on the go. Where was the time to pour into the school?
Hopeful Disciple recalls,
“We were tasked with upskilling the teachers with a new curriculum and we were scheduling meetings from 5-7am with teachers. That was the only time we could find to have training sessions. This is the state the school was in back then.”
Additionally the school has had staffing shortages and a lack of “fit and proper teachers” for a very long time. The MOE knew this too – and that’s why Gloriavale kept needing permission to have so many LAT’s (Limited Authority to Teach). This was an impending shortage they failed to prepare for.
Victory Disciple said,
“The school has always run on minimal staff. It always ran on minimal funding too. As a teacher I was never allowed to buy resources without knocking my head against the wall until it split open.”
Hopeful Disciple agreed saying,
“The school went from bad to worse in the past few years. Well, it was actually riding on the backs of teachers who were putting in 100-120 hours week over and above the family. Once you lose your teachers that are actually willing to do that, you don’t have a school.”
The schooling environment was harsh and full of bullying and physical harm by both staff and students across decades. Leavers had spoken out about these issues for years. ERO could have seen through Gloriavale’s façade a long time ago by doing their due diligence. So it would be nice if ERO had either remained silent on the issue in this report, or stood up and owned that they could have done better in the past. Doing a better job of this review is what is expected of ERO. It doesn’t wipe away the fact they dropped the ball on a number of reviews and it’s had real-life consequences for generations of children. A sincere apology would go a long way right now.
Victory Disciple said,
“I just wish the report had laid out the five or so ERO visits beforehand that should have seen these issues there all along. Because the culture hasn’t all of a sudden taken this downturn. It’s been like this for years. We were trained as teachers to put on this front and would pull out all their resources for the ERO visit, and then pack them away until the next one so we didn’t have to replace them. And so there was an optic show, every time ERO came. When ERO visited our school in 2020, if they had actually interviewed individual teachers and found out what life was like for them working in the school they could have found out. I would have spoken to them. The school got given the chance to write up policies and fix the report before it got published. But the actual on-the-ground safety of the children did not change.” (Victory and Hopeful left two years ago).
Finally, let’s not forget what Chief Judge Inglis said about ERO in her Courage Employment Court ruling 2022,
“It is true that the Education Review Office was apparently satisfied with what was being delivered – it is unclear why this is so, or what information it relied on in reaching its conclusions. For present purposes its apparent satisfaction must be viewed with significant caution given the evidence in relation to the rigorous management of Gloriavale’s engagement with external agencies.
In the Pilgrim Employment Court hearing, Dr Norris spoke about social entrapment that occurs in these kind of groups. Words like bullying were just casually dropped into the report, but not really attended to with the depth that might have been helpful. Why should Gloriavale be allowed to have a school inside a society that “entraps people” and uses bullying tactics to gain control? I would have liked to have seen that discussion in the ERO report.
In summary it appears Gloriavale needs trained and experienced teachers, fit Board of Managers, Principal, Administration Staff, Curriculum development, Behaviour Management Strategies, Appropriate Study spaces for children doing Te Kura and Home-Schooling, Positive and safe emotional environment.
At the moment all it seems they have is the students and a nice school building. But that doesn’t make a school.
Surely this is impossible for Gloriavale to rectify?? Even if they find a few new teachers, it doesn’t solve their problems. Even if they find a new principal, it doesn’t solve their problems. Even if they find a new board it doesn’t solve their problems.
You see, their problems are deeper than all that. I believe they have problems with their thinking patterns and their beliefs (they will deny this vehemently). Gloriavale thinks it’s always right. Gloriavale doesn’t believe that many of the accusations levelled at their teachers is true. And Gloriavale thinks the Lord is coming back really, really soon (blogpost on that one coming up soon!). This belief immobilises them and makes forward-planning virtually impossible. This thinking is played out on every stage within Gloriavale, and their school is no different. This rhetoric is still regularly espoused and I don’t think people who interface with Gloriavale have fully grasped how this belief system is limiting the community’s ability to move forward and plan for a better future.
Hopeful Disciple (a former teacher of the school until he left in 2021) said,
“The belief that the Lord is going to come back soon impacts on all that life planning – hopes, dreams, plans for the future. And that plays into that whole education, issue of future career pathways and choice. Because the kids grow up thinking, well, the Lord’s going to come back tomorrow, or in a month, or a year. Why should I even bother thinking about what career I go into?” (he also notes the children didn’t get a choice anyway)
His wife Victory Disciple (a former teacher of 17 years in the Gloriavale School), agreed saying,
“This belief really soon destroyed any cognitive development in future planning and looking ahead and predicting. I remember them talking about needing to get teachers trained so that in three years we would have more teachers, but I remember the discussion went like, ‘Oh, we’re probably not even going to be here.” And then the conversation wouldn’t go any further.”
Why should a school be allowed to indoctrinate their children with such limiting beliefs?
Former Teachers’ Responses
Victory Disciple was overall pleased with the report, although expressed concern and a healthy skepticism about some of positive aspects. She said,
“The Child Protection Policy is trumped by the culture, and so no matter how many policies they write, which are good policies and they’re actually really mind-opening to the people in there as to how keep their children safe, but in reality they can’t really put it into practice because it goes against the culture.”
“Something that frustrated me about that report was the number of statements that went along the lines that the school was formulating policy. Or they were moving towards solutions, or developing an understanding. For me, coming out of Gloriavale, what they wording simply means is that there is no plan.”
“There is a reference to “thriving in a pathway of choice. The pathway of choice actually comes right back to the culture and upbringing. Because no matter what changes they make, they will still not have a choice, because the children do not know what freedom of choice is. The parents don’t know what freedom of choice is, the leaders don’t know what freedom of choice is. And so it’s going to just keep stalling. Because they are actually afraid of freedom of choice.”
“This scope of a pathway of pathway of choice is very narrow, and it’s according to what is going to be beneficial for them as a member of the community.
Hopeful Disciple, a former teacher in the school said,
“ERO have obviously been able to go in and do a pretty good job of assessing the level of education, because that is a lot more tangible. But the psychological and emotional safety one is a lot more difficult to see. When you look at a group out here there is a basic assumption it’s a safe place until proven otherwise. But with a group like Gloriavale, a high-control, all-in life with all the issues highlighted by the court cases, you need to go in with the assumption that it’s an unsafe place until proven otherwise.”
“It seems to be that even the positive things in the report were still underpinned by words like ‘we are improving or we’re developing’ and that’s not actually good enough when it comes to kids in a school“
Why didn’t anyone respond earlier?
Why did the MOE and ERO need leavers and other outside interested parties to bring this shocking educational situation to light? Gloriavale might like to say that we have created the problem by complaining, but that’s not true. Former teachers over time have attested to the school’s constant staffing difficulties, a physically and emotionally unsafe environment, poor curriculum understanding and improper person’s managing the school. Sadly, many of the people who really did care about teaching and learning, and the children’s educational achievement have now left the community.
But that’s still not really the right question to be asking.
Where to from here?
It would seem obvious. Surely they would not be allowed to continue with the privilege of owning, managing and running a school? But there’s one thing I’ve learnt in this whole sorry Gloriavale saga, and that’s there is nothing obvious at all. I’ve become a cynic (which is wildly outside of my nature!).
This is just one report out of three compiled from Government agencies in the past several years – Charities Services 2016 and MBIE 2018/2020. They seem to correctly identify the complex issues at play, but Government agencies seem powerless to follow them up with meaningful action that actually makes a difference to the people.
It appears the trick is to write your report, ask for some new policies, promise to “oversee” for a while and hope that it goes away quietly without noise. Newsflash! The noise machine has come to town!
Two examples spring to mind of Government agencies who should have known better.
The Charities Services Investigation of 2015/2016 showed the Christian Church Community Trust “may have engaged in serious wrong-doing”. It was damning of Gloriavale in many ways, but they opted for the easy way out, requiring some paper shuffling (policy writing), some new trustees to join the board, and some oversight meetings. They thought that would solve the Community’s issues. Bad move. They even declined to reinvestigate during 2020 after being given evidence that would make your hair curl. And here we are 7 years later, and Gloriavale are still reaping the tax benefits of being a registered charity. Oddly enough the school is owned by the same Charitable Trust. The same school that just got slammed in the recent ERO report… (the same school that Gloriavale denied was linked to the Charitable Trust in the Royal Commission questioning – how confusing. I never did get to the bottom of that!).
What’s more interesting is that after losing the Employment Case in 2022, the Charities Services finally announced Gloriavale would once more come under review. More than a year later, the review continues. We wait with interest to read that report. Perhaps this ERO report will assist them?
MBIE – Ministry of Business and Innovation
The second example of another damning report was the “pre-investigation” report of 2020 by MBIE. It examined employment issues after leavers and media embarrassed the public servants about MBIE’s buried report of 2017… It appears the writers of these reports understood the issues and allegations of power and control, and suggestions of slavery and forced labour. They had good information after interviewing many leavers and people inside Gloriavale. Sadly, the reports were let down by the final paragraphs which stated on the balance of probabilities they were most likely volunteers. Oops. Good reports. Bad conclusions. Both times. And a very expensive mistake.
MBIE has since been taken to court twice by Gloriavale leavers in order to force them to do their jobs properly. And the leavers won. They were supposed to have had employee protections after all. It’s 2023 and we’re watching with great interest while these cases play out in the courts and the public gallery.
And now we have another damning report. ERO have understood the issues… But can you see with the past track record, I’m not holding my breath.
Is the Ministry of Education brave enough to go where no man has gone before?!
Back to the issue. The school has failed 6/8 criteria for registration as a private school. And the questions still remain.
In lieu of a sitting Parliament (thanks to an election and a yet-to-be decided coalition), I have some questions to ask whoever is listening…
- Can Gloriavale leavers and the public have confidence that the Government will provide suitable educational options for the children of Gloriavale?
- What will the Ministry of Education do with this report? They have been empowered by the Government to register schools to comply with minimum standards.
- What does the new incoming Government think about the ERO report? And what will they do?
- How long is too long to wait? This report recognises a dysfunctional school system, so what will the immediate practical support look like for the welfare of hundreds of children? Can we think about the children for just a minute here? How about they go to a schooling environment where they will thrive and not just survive.
I look forward to a response from the yet-to-be appointed Minster of Education when the coalition negotiations are complete next week.