Dear Prime Minister

Display wall at South Auckland Middle School.

Guest Post:


Dear Prime Minister

You may not remember me but we met on 27 July last year. I am a very ordinary Kiwi who has spent 28 years working for the very best of the children I get to interact with in the remarkable profession of teaching. I don’t always get it 100% right – but when I fail I reflect on it and try to improve and change.

I have also been married, through thick and thin, to a superb lady who not only combined with me to bring up three children (now all university qualified and contributing adults) but is also one of the great unsung heroes of NZ education (seriously – how many others have begun two great schools with a 4-month lead in and around 5% of the State school establishment apart from Karen Poole and Raewyn Tipene).

When we met I appreciated the conversation. You very quickly stated two important things:

  • that we will have plenty of time to “transition” and
  • that “the Charter Sshools have shown us the inadequacy of our special character school policy”.

I was impressed by the understanding shown by those comments and by your clear commitment to indicate changes to the legislation to improve designated character (the correct term) legislation.

I did intend this to be a short letter – but the more I thought about the 420 beautiful children, and their families, we work with the more I feel the need to tell you really how it is. I know that you have, by and large, worked in a political bubble during your adult life but I have viewed your passionate speech when president of the international socialist youth (where you inspired your comrades) and I was at Waitangi last weekend – where you also spoke with passion (although I have learned that the measure of a person is not what they say – but what they subsequently, actually, do).

Our Trust (if you have not heard of us) is called the Villa Education Trust. We run two Partnership/Charter schools. We opened one in 2014 (South Auckland Middle School) and one in 2015 (Middle School West Auckland). There are significant differences in our provision to State schools that aspects of the enabling legislation allow us to do.

Families have flocked to us – finding choice that was previously not available in lower socio-economic areas. SAMS has 180 students and a massive wait list (very sad). MSWA is approaching its maximum of 240 students. We use the wonderful mechanism of bulk funding to break down barriers to our families by providing uniform, stationery and IT (and asking for no donations). The children come to us, on average, measurably four years behind. That begs the immediate question of why you are focussing on us – when we are solving things – instead of the crap situations that occur in the first six years of the schooling of these children?

High-quality data through E-Asttle shows that the children with us are moving ahead approximately 1.5 years for every year with us (good news isn’t it?). We also have superb feedback and outcomes from when they leave us. We have good ERO reports and almost all of our families are fully engaged in the schools. As your Minister of Education knows, the latest Martin Jenkins external report is phenomenal with regards to the experiences of students and parents with our VET schools. The minister has clearly instructed the ministry to either sit on or bury this report. Unfortunately for him, I already have the data.

In response to a question in the House, you stated that barriers to “transition” would be very low. You stated that the only changes needed would be:

  • that we teach the NZ Curriculum
  • that we have registered teachers and
  • that we are funded no more than State schools (this would be a huge bonus for this model as it would allow a much great establishment fund and also provide for funding for expansion in the same way that State schools receive it).

Given that those are your only requirements we are delighted – we will concede those. We can do the great job we are doing within those requirements.

As you made no mention of the things that we need, and always recommend yourself as a high-integrity person, I assume that they will not be a problem for you.

They are:

  • that we can retain our ownership and governance structure
  • that we remain bulk funded and
  • that we stay outside the collective contract.

Threeall seems like a very fair result. You cannot complain that our three requirements require a law change as that is exactly what you are doing to close us down (and to take away NZers’ 1 April tax relief). We very much look forward to hearing that you will introduce these amendments – either in select committee or as a separate bill. For Mr Roberston’s benefit – they are fiscally neutral. This would be a very quick fix and a good outcome for all concerned.

We have our first meeting with the Ministry this Tuesday (13th) – please tell them not to bother to turn up without those things on the table. All take and no give from them is not the “good faith” that Mr Hipkins likes to talk about in public.

It might be also good to consider that we could become part of things that we have missed out on such as being a part of IES and being able to apply for the teacher-lead innovation fund.

Some of your behaviour has been quite disappointing so far. Our Maori and Pasifika families seem to be of no concern to you despite what you said at Waitangi when it is clear that, as Minister of Child Poverty, you are not even responding to them when they write. Hipkins (or his office) are not responding to our organisation at all and are merely sending out form letters when you send on the letters that you are receiving.

Your “Hitman Hipkins” got his process so very wrong last week. His “agree to close or I will close you anyway” announcements were atrocious and completely lacked compassion for our children and families (let alone our 60 staff). His actions were about as far away from a good-faith process as you can get. Hitman has only stated two reasons for closing us:

  •  that “we don’t like Charter schools” and
  • “why should some children do well when others aren’t.”

You would have to say that they are philosophically thin reasons.

As I said earlier – I am a very ordinary New Zealander. My mother died a few years ago (I never met my real dad) and when she did I reflected on her early life. She was born in 1933 so her first 12 years of life (with her 12 siblings) was a very basic State house existence through both the depression and WW2 subsistence. She worked incredibly hard to give me choices and an aspirational pathway ahead. I will work no less hard to bring about change for those children of 2018 who are probably no better off at times than my mother was.

At Waitangi you stated:

“I inherently believe in the power of change. And I hope not only that my child will believe in that too, but that they will see that change.”

What you do over the next few weeks for the, predominantly, Maori and Pasifika families in the Charter schools will be the first step in seeing the truth of that and of your other key statements at Waitangi:

“Hold us to account. Because one day I want to be able to tell my child that I earned the right to stand here. And only you can tell me when I have done that.”

I have done my best here. I am not that eloquent but don’t let that deceive you in terms of our passion and that of our children, staff and families. They have found a purpose, home, pathway and schools that actually work for them and we will fight so very hard to preserve and enhance that.

As I said earlier, many of our families are writing to significant people – including yourself. This lady is not only on our staff but is also the grandparent of a young man whom you recently awarded a Prime Minister’s scholarship to for the way that he has turned his life around at Middle School West Auckland.


Alwyn Poole

Villa Education Trust

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