1 Nov 2023

Resounding failure for Gloriavale school in latest ERO report

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 1 November 2023
The Gloriavale compound on the West Coast.

Hopeful and Victory Disciple left the secretive West Coast community with their six children, who they said were still recovering from the trauma they endured at the school. Photo: RNZ / Jean Edwards

Former Gloriavale members say the way children are treated at the community's school is tantamount to abuse and they want it shut down.

Their comments follow a damning Education Review Office report which identified a raft of failings at Gloriavale Christian School including not providing an adequate education for its 139 or so students.

In 2021, Hopeful and Victory Disciple left the secretive West Coast community with their six children, who they said were still recovering from the trauma they endured at the school.

"Considering the damage it's doing to children's future and education, I think that it's very irresponsible of the education department to allow this school to stay open," said Victory, a former teacher there.

According to the ERO report, the school does not meet the criteria for registration as a private school, and only two staff have primary or secondary school teaching qualifications and relevant experience.

Schooling ceases at year 10 before NCEA starts, while almost 20 percent of those enrolled did not attend classes during the ERO review period.

There are 25 students supposedly being taught at home by their mothers, but they do not have homeschool exemptions for this.

Older boys have a secondary teacher while girls of the same age are taught by an early childhood teacher.

Victory said that was just the way things were for women and girls at Gloriavale.

"As a girl growing up through that school, and still now, their future was ... working in the kitchen environment or maybe becoming an early childhood teacher at best, or an office worker or in the sewing room.

"That was literally the scope of things that you could look forward to as a girl in that school. And it hasn't changed."

Victory said that corporal punishment was regularly carried out at the school up until 2015, but she believed it no longer took place.

"And yet the underlying beliefs and bullying and harassment and psychological and emotional abuse that went alongside the physical punishment is still intact to a degree."

Victory's husband, Hopeful, said it had taken a long time for the couple's children to recover from the trauma inflicted on them at the school.

"They came out of Gloriavale School extremely traumatised about anything to do with learning so we've had to work really, really hard just opening their minds to being able to learn," he said.

"You're getting taught that education is worthless - school is just a waste of time we just have to do it because the government says we have to do it.

"Just let me out into the workforce so I can work for the community. So the whole concept of education and learning is really, really downplayed right from a young age."

He did not understand how the school was allowed to stay open.

"Children are not allowed to have their own mind in Gloriavale. Breaking of the will is an integral part of the community mindset," he said.

"Gloriavale is an all-in life. They try to make distinctions between the school, the community, the workplace and all of that but it's all in one. And so the school just literally mirrors the mindset of the community."

He believed what children went through at the school was tantamount to abuse.

"We've spent the last two years trying to undo the incredible amount of damage we've done to our children. And it's been heartbreaking as our children have become more confident to talk to us and tell us ... how afraid they were of us and how much we hurt them," he said.

"My heart breaks every time I realise that I've got 50 or so nieces and nephews still in Gloriavale and their parents still believe that this is a good and right way to treat your children."

He said the school should be shut down.

"I just can't see the changes happening that would need to happen to make it a safe school where the education of children is paramount."

Former Gloriavale leaders and members have been convicted of child abuse. The Employment Court recently ruled young people who worked long hours in extremely punishing conditions since they were children were employees and not volunteers.

ERO said it would carry out another review of Gloriavale Christian School within 12 months.