Not sure how you can be a ‘nice bloke’ when you screw kids and the NZEI protected him

Fairfax continues their revelations of the creepy sexual predator and school teacher Robert Burrett.

Robert Burrett probably never planned to be working as a caretaker and taxi driver at age 62.

He had followed his father Noel into teaching, starting his career in 1974 in a tough Auckland school catering for a poor, state-house community. Like most young teachers he would have had high hopes.

Despite some severe professional and personal shortcomings, he eventually landed senior roles in small rural North Island schools rising to the role of principal. But from 2001, his rocky career was spiralling downwards.

That last sentence right there highlights an systemic issue in the education system of protecting the incompetent, the useless and a deviant.

Nevertheless, 40 years after graduating, he was still in the school system and again working at a school catering for a poor, state-house community, this time in Christchurch. Although he was still a registered teacher, he was now a caretaker and, on the side, he drove a taxi bus transporting disabled children to school.

As a caretaker and driver he had new opportunities for gratification. The Christchurch school had a boiler room and a separate caretaker’s shed which he fitted with curtains and locks. The boiler room looked like a normal garage but the diesel boiler was about two metres below ground level in a concrete basement. It had frosted glass windows and seven wooden steps led to the boiler room floor where he molested three girls.

The shed, however, was a more dangerous lair. He put in a TV and behind the curtains and the locked door he showed girls pornographic videos. Using a video camera to record his indecencies, he then replayed the footage to his victims. He played sexual games with them.

Registration really helped those kids didn’t it.

Burrett worked only 10 hours a week as a caretaker but that was enough time to offend “multiple times”. He also set up meetings with his victims during the weekends. One girl claimed the abuse happened most days between morning tea and lunchtime.

As if the depravity at the school was not enough, Burrett was also offending against disabled girls he drove from home to school in a van equipped to take wheelchairs.

At home, Burrett, who is the father of five children and also a grandfather, was also trying to find child pornography using the internet and kept prints of cartoons showing children being sexually violated. Among his collection was a Japanese pornographic animation showing children.

A registered sicko.

In the end 12 victims ranging in age from five to 12 when the abuse happened were disclosed. The 17 charges to which he pleaded guilty on February 19 in the Christchurch District Court told of several years of secret, repeated, planned and unspeakable abuse. It included rape, sodomy, indecent touching and oral sex.

For two years, no-one at the school suspected a thing. He was a nice little guy who was good with kids. Some families blame the school, asking how this could have happened under the noses of other staff. Others blame a system which failed to pick up a bad egg like Burrett many years before he could do any damage.

The system which includes the NZEI is to blame, for sweeping this creep under the carpet…to send him away to make him someone else’s problem.

How did Burrett slip through?

The short answer is that although he was a disorganised, barely competent teacher and a drunk, that wasn’t sufficient to bring him to the attention of the authorities. People gave him second chances, lacked hard evidence and just wanted shot of him without worrying about his next school.

Opinions about him varied. He was a good sports teacher, he was popular with some students, he was just a bit different. The result was he was bumped down the rungs in the system but in the end he was still inside it.

When he taught at Howick Intermediate between 1980 and 1988 the principal Brian Pittams dealt with concerns about Burrett’s behaviour and his physical “proximity” to students. He improved although Pittams never rated him as a teacher.

Burrett had ambition beyond his competence and after Howick he landed a job as principal of the tiny Horeke School in the Hokianga in 1988. The board of trustees of the time cannot remember any concerns but parents recall a teacher who was sometimes too drunk to teach and who threw things like scissors and dusters at children.

Half way through 1990 he became the principal of Lake Rotoma School, another small primary school, in the Rotorua Lakes District.

Parents were soon trying to get rid of him. There was an odd trip to Rotorua with some girls from the school. A student would later say Burrett masturbated in class while reading erotic fiction and became aroused in the girls’ changing room. But the community was more concerned about his lousy teaching and his inability to lead and retain staff. The school role had plunged.

Burrett eventually resigned only to wash up at Pukenui School in Te Kuiti in 1993. He was deputy principal.

His old failings – disorganisation, drunkenness and unprofessional behaviour – soon emerged and the school board tried to get rid of him but ran into opposition from Burrett’s union, the NZ Educational Institute. It took seven years to oust him and even then he left with an $8000 payout.

The NZEI protected him, at least Fairfax has the courage to say that even if the embedded union shills at the Herald can’t or won’t. The system, including the teacher union let this predator continue to escalate and get his jollies using kids. The registration system failed, the school system failed and the union failed and as a result tens if not hundreds of kids have been attacked and molested by this creep. Even individual schools are to blame for simply shifting the problem on to someone else, glad to be shot of him.

When will the NZEI take some responsibility for enabling this sexual predator?


– Fairfax


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.