Minister of Education Chris Hipkins has forcibly silenced partnership school leaders from speaking out against the shutting down of their schools, according to Sir Toby Curtis who is leading a Treaty of Waitangi claim against the Crown over its failure to consult on the closures.
Despite achieving outstanding results for students, all eleven partnership schools have received termination notices from the Minister and are being shut down by the government on 31 December.
Sir Toby says that in the past few days he has personally undertaken “more consultation with the affected schools than Minister Hipkins has done during his entire term in Parliament”.
“What I discovered shocked me. School leaders have been given clear signals from government that they are to keep quiet now or risk being cut out of consideration for starting an alternative state-controlled school for their students next year,” he says.
According to Sir Toby, direct comments from partnership school leaders include:
• ‘The Government and Minister Hipkins have put their foot on our throats.’
• ‘They have muzzled us and made us squirm.”
• ‘This is just the biggest kick in the face. They act like these 1500 kids are just a drop in the ocean and nobody will even notice what happens to them.’
• ‘One boy who is thriving at our school is the only member of his family that isn’t in jail.”
• ‘The silence of the government’s Māori MPs – who know the schools and were all for them in opposition – is one of the most stunning things I’ve seen in NZ politics.’
• ‘Make no mistake about it. All of these schools are being closed down. The talk about ‘converting’ them into something cozy run by the State is pure snake oil spin.”
• ‘The cynicism and supreme arrogance of this Minister just takes my breath away.’
• ‘I want it to go down in history that we are being forced to close a school that is turning young lives around.’
• ‘We have to find a way of keeping this kaupapa alive.’
• ‘This is purely about politics and ideology. They haven’t even acknowledged our successes. What makes me really angry is that they haven’t even got the courage to visit us and front up to our students and their parents.’
• ‘The more I think about it, the bigger I feel the injustice is.’
• ‘We want the public to know that we’re being forced to shut great schools down.’
Sir Toby says the government has tried to be clever and blur the reality of what they are doing.
“The Minister has been fooling the New Zealand public into believing the kids will be just fine, and a ‘designated character’ school is something different to what it actually is. Call them what you want, he is putting Māori children right back into a state school system that has failed them over and over again,” Sir Toby says.
“Now the school leaders tell me they have had enough. The Minister’s carrot-and-stick approach may work on his Māori MP colleagues who remain curiously silent. But the school communities and the Māori electorates those MPs serve won’t be silent for long. We’ll have those MPs all sitting up and taking notice over the coming weeks and months,” he promises.
“The Minister – and all of his ‘silent’ partners in government – needs to halt the closures, put the proposed Education Act amendments on hold, and instead undertake genuine consultation with everybody who is affected.”
“There’s a saying that just because you have silenced a person, it does not mean you have beaten or converted them. I’m confident that whatever happens now, this is a movement that will not lie down. It will continue to grow, and the Minister will soon find he’s on the wrong side of history”, says Sir Toby.