West Coast MP dismisses calls to shut Gloriavale school

A call to close Gloriavale's school over concerns of oppression has been rejected by West Coast MP Damien O'Connor.

An educational researcher has criticised Gloriavale Christian Community School for depriving young people of their human rights, and said it should be closed.

Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC) co-convenor Liz Gordon said she was concerned about oppression within the private school, which was government registered and funded $199,316 in 2014.

Being private, it only had to abide by the views of its community, which she understood included that education should stop at age 15, there was no health or sex education, no evolution lessons, and "girls were taught to be submissive housewives and boys to work on the farms".

However, Labour West Coast MP Damien O'Connor said Gloriavale Christian School raised no alarms with him.

"I have visited a number of years ago, the pre-school, but I don't have any particular issues."

He understood the community had recently built a new school facility "which is pretty amazing".

O'Connor had not seen the "fit for purpose" school building himself, but saw it under construction.

"I think they probably do get access to, I'm sure in some areas, a better education than others.

"There are many schools throughout the country that have variable levels of education output and various expertise and I guess they're just another one of those."

Ministry of Education data shows Gloriavale's roll in 2014 was 164, with just 9 pupils in Year 11, and none beyond.

The latest Education Review Office (ERO) report was in 2011. It covered the 127-pupil school and four early childcare centres. ERO is completing its 2014 report for release in about two months.

The school's premises, staffing, equipment, tuition standards, and curriculum met registration standards for a private school in 2011.

Students "use a range of dated and modern texts to meet the objectives of the school's literacy and mathematics programmes", and had "supervised access to information ICT".

"The school's curriculum suitably meets the Gloriavale philosophy. Students are well prepared to learn the necessary literacy and mathematical skills and appropriate relationships for a life of faith and practical service within the community."

Gordon, who runs research company Pukeko Research, believed Gloriavale's education "deprives young people of their human rights, supports a context that allows girls to be sexually abused and teaches young people a false curriculum – all sanctioned by the state".

The community is under the spotlight amid a spike in former members leaving and one, Julia, 22, saying she had a "wrong relationship with a married guy" within the community when she was 12 or 13. He was 10 years older. Police have called for complainants to come forward, but none yet have.

"The girls don't get a chance," Gordon said.

"Founded by convicted sex offender Neville Cooper, and run by a bunch of patriarchs, all the school has to do to maintain its registration, and get government funding, is show that it meets the standards set by its own community, no matter how unacceptable."

A Ministry of Education spokeswoman said it had "little direct involvement" with the school since it was private, but it used ERO reports to make decisions about licensing.

Its "most recent report on Gloriavale raised no significant concerns". For there to be any decision by the ministry to withdraw the school's licence, it would have to be as a result of a recommendation from ERO, or, for example, as a result of a significant incident that caused a major health and safety risk to children.

Under the Education Act all private schools, including Gloriavale, were entitled to limited annual government funding to provide their own curriculum. One of the conditions is that the education provided is of "no lower" standard than that given to students at a state school.

Gloriavale did not respond to requests for an interview. Because it is a private school it sets its own curriculum and is not measured on national standards.