I believe it will end up as New Zealand education’s equivalent of the Dreyfus Case, there is also a sense of Javert obsession about it.
The basis for what I write comes from knowledge accrued, not immediately obtained.
The ministry ought to act very quickly, acknowledge the original basis was wrong, the processes wrong – and issue an apology and a reinstatement. It will cost them if they don’t.
There will be people reading this who will be thinking where there is smoke there must be a fire; I want to say now, as unbelievable as it may seem – there is no fire, in the sense we understand a fire in education terms.
This, of course, goes back to the Tolley era and the fight against national standards and the authoritarian nature of its introduction. But even people who were strong opponents of national standards were sometimes taken aback at some of Marlene’s utterances. ‘What is she like?’ they asked.
Well she is the salt of the earth. She is not a raving lefty, she is a National Party voter (or was); she runs a highly modern school, highly computerised, all the buttons and bows in assessment, and so on; she is innovative if a little trendy; and in the district she has been behind a wonderful series of curriculum conferences.
Marlene is a proud New Zealand principal who wants to work in a framework of freedom incorporating reasonable oversight, then she wants the space to exercise her kind of leadership in the interests of children, the teachers, and the Salford community. She has and always had the backing of her board of trustees, though they did say to her from time to time, as I did, to tone it down.
Marlene is all of us. You might shudder a little at the thought, but she is. All principals with any sense of independence know they are subject to the review office suddenly appearing with attitude, an attitude arising from a secret letter. Often creepy allegations are made, yet the principal is not privy to the contents of the letter or who sent it. The education review office justifies this on the grounds of protecting people, but the authorities are there to do that, what this secrecy leads to is authorities being provided with secret police-type control. Schools should see the allegations and know who made them – that is a basic principle of justice. The secret letter Kafkan tactic is being pulled regularly against principals who show the faintest indications of independence. And there is little comeback.
This happened to Marlene and is one to be fought out in court, but it is one that should have already been fought by NZPF.
Then there are the commissioners and limited statutory managers (LSM). These roles are a licence to rort. They are also an exercise in near unbridled power. I suppose I should first make the commonplace that there are some fair-minded, honest commissioners out there. The way these commissioner roles are structured sends out weird signals. You see, the longer they stay in the roles the longer they will be paid. Many of them are in thereto solve difficulties that would have been sorted in a few days by the inspectorate, but they are extended for years. (You may remember I was a senior inspector of schools.) In fact, of course, most times commissioners are not there to solve real problems but to punish schools for being at all independent so they must invent problems. Then there is the signal that works against justice: LSMs are paid by the school; the children, as a result, are being punished for the actions of adults whether within schools or officials outside. In relation to justice, the costs to the school become a perverse incentive to forgo justice and go against the principal in the school.(By the way, I’m also hearing from schools about commissioner’s inflated travel and accommodation costs.)
In the Salford damages’ court case almost certain to ensue it will be necessary to go back to the shenanigans begun from Tolley’s office. As is widely known use was made of Whale Oil and the media to set up teachers and schools they decided to target.
The apparatus of the New Zealand education system is oppressive and against natural justice with the education review office central to that.
It began officially with an accusation from a letter held in the secret files of the review office. Yes – as is the way, Marlene was then accused of actions never made clear and from whom. It is so Kafkan.
Of course, the review office recommended an LSM. That LSM was Peter Macdonald, the individual around whom much rumour has swirled, particularly so when his judgement and fairness was called into question over his sacking of Prue Taylor of Christchurch Girls High. Prue Taylor you will remember was reinstated in her position.
Macdonald was appointed to Salford a year ago.
One of the first of Macdonald’s actions on being made LSM was to reinstate a teacher who had been dismissed, following due process, by the board of trustees. I suspect that reinstatement was done summarily and with little or no discussion.
When this whole matter goes to court seeking damages and Marlene’s reinstatement, I have little doubt that Macdonald’s incompetence in the primary school setting will be made clear, and that many of Macdonald’s directions will be seen as both asinine and illegal. I have little doubt that Marlene will be shown as having treaded very carefully throughout, no matter the provocation.
Let us jump forward to last week.
The board of trustees had had enough of the expenditure of money and Macdonald’s antics. They set about engineering Macdonald’s dismissal by announcing they were going to resign thus necessitating the appointment of a commissioner. The chairman added that his board retained full confidence in the principal who was highly successful and innovative. He said she had the enthusiastic support of nearly all the teachers and parents. Macdonald, he said, had done more harm than good.
Macdonald, it seems, panicked, a letter was sent to the lawyer late on Friday, 1 November, with Marlene being suspended without consultation. The manner of Macdonald’s actions in suspending her was clearly designed to cast Marlene in the worst possible light. To further set the scales against her he forbade her to say anything about it.
To suspend a principal late on Friday without notice and inform the teachers early on Monday morning, and then make announcements to the press is quite sensational. Is this an axe murderer on the rampage who must be stopped?
I now go to this morning’s Southland Times, Wednesday, 6 November.
Macdonald says he suspended the principal ‘because of concerns for the welfare of staff at the school.’
Now follow this closely.
He says: ‘an investigation into the working environment at Invercargills Salford School over the last few years was continuing.’
OK good – is the report damming of Marlene? He doesn’t say (it isn’t). This report is being done by a lawyer and the chairman. How could it be damming given the chairman’s glowing tributes to Marlene?
‘But after receiving an ‘interim summary’ of the investigation last week he had decided to take action.’
‘He declined to outline his specific concerns.’
Well, of course.
Natural justice demands that he showed those ‘concerns’ to Marlene. He didn’t. Macdonald is in deep shit here. He suspended her on Friday and announces it early on Monday morning. Such transcendental haste could only be occasioned by transcendental concerns, or by motivations unrelated to a concern for justice and fairness.
Now do you want to know what it was really about?
You are going to find this difficult to believe but the excuse for Marlene’s suspension, it seems, was a discussion by senior staff members on 30 October, with Marlene not present, and certainly not motivating the discussion, about professional behaviour in the interests of the school.
Marlene’s stance all along being that in the interests of the children she can work professionally with anybody on the staff – she has done that she said, and can continue to do that.
I’ll leave it now to the board chairman – something of a hero don’t you think?
Aaron Fox says: ‘… the school’s staff were doing a fantastic job in challenging circumstances [this is really a reference to Macdonald’s presence] and the children were enjoying their schooling.’
‘Throughout the last 12 months of a limited statutory manager they have continued to deliver quality teaching to our children, and that’s all of the staff. I see them working as a team.’
‘Mr Fox last week said the “unfortunate” statutory intervention had created more problems that it had intended to fix and had become a financial drain on the school.’
What a madness this all is.
‘The Ministry of Education indicated it had no role in the suspension of Ms Campbell.’
The ministry is as guilty as sin because of the way they set up these situations in the first place. Take my word for it, they had better act quickly to absolve themselves. Salford has all the appearance of an everyday education darkness being exposed to the light as a result of what seems a ministry appointment’s brain explosion.
Marlene must not be left hang out to dry in the way Keri was. (Oh, and by the way, where is STA in all of this?)
by Kelvin Smythe