19 Dec 2011

Former schools adviser struck off teachers' register

9:54 pm on 19 December 2011

The Labour Party is accusing the former Minister of Education of misleading the public over an expert adviser who has since been struck off the teachers' register.

The former Northland principal and her husband who taught at the school have been deregistered by the Teachers' Council Disciplinary Tribunal for serious misconduct.

The move follows a hearing in October this year at which the couple admitted the facts of the case.

Debroah Mutu was principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Kaikohe.

Ms Mutu, who was later employed by the Ministry of Education as an expert adviser to schools, admitted covering up a liaison between her husband John Mutu and an underage girl student.

The tribunal said that in 2004, Mr Mutu was found with a 15-year-old girl pupil from the kura kaupapa in Kaikohe where he taught.

The tribunal heard he had gone to the girl's house knowing that she was alone. They were discovered on a mattress on the floor by the girl's brother-in-law, who punched Mr Mutu in the face.

The tribunal found that Debroah Mutu failed to investigate the incident or report it to her board and told her staff to destroy a written statement by the girl.

It found that John Mutu had bought gifts for other female pupils, talked to them about sex and took them for rides in his car.

The tribunal also found that he and his wife failed to tell the board the kura was failing financially and academically and its NCEA accreditation was at risk.

The pair were stood down from their duties in 2007. The Ministry of Education appointed a statutory manager to the kura and a disciplinary investigation began.

Debroah Mutu told the tribunal she would never forgive herself for her actions, but had been following advice, including a request from a bishop, to keep the matter quiet to protect the 15-year-old girl.

However, the tribunal found her actions were motivated by a wish to protect herself and her husband.

It said Mrs Mutu appeared to understand the depth of her wrongdoing but her husband showed little appreciation of the seriousness of his behaviour.

The tribunal ordered the couple to pay costs of $20,000 each.

Since Debroah Mutu was relieved of her duties at the Kaikohe kura, she has been employed as principal of a Kaitaia kura and most recently as a Student Achievement Function Practitioner.

Call for further investigation

Mrs Mutu's appointment was criticised in October by Whangarei principal Pat Newman, who said the Ministry of Education was hiring specialist advisers to schools who were unfit or unqualified for the job.

Former Education Minister Anne Tolley denied that the Ministry had appointed an ex-principal who had been suspended, prompting a complaint from the Labour Party that she had misled Parliament.

Labour's education spokesperson Sue Moroney told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Monday that Prime Minister John Key needs to be looking into whether Mrs Tolley had all the information about the case.

"Anne Tolley stood in Parliament and misled the public by saying that there was no principal who had been suspended who was employed in this role.

"Either she hadn't checked her facts correctly or she knew the information and was deliberately misleading."

Debroah Mutu's contract with the Ministry recently ended. John Mutu resigned two months ago from his job as chief executive of Te Runanga Nui o Nga Kura Kaupapa Maori o Aotearoa, the national co-ordinating body for Maori schools.

He recently directed a kapa haka festival for Northland schools in Whangarei. The couple separated in 2009.

Publishing names a rare move

Harry Waalkens, QC, who represented the Teachers Council at the disciplinary hearing, said that because the teachers' disciplinary process is private by statute - unlike the process for doctors or lawyers - there was no way of alerting parents to the serious concerns about Mr Mutu and his wife.

Mr Waalkens said it defies logic that the teaching profession should be different to the others.

The council usually publishes the outcomes of cases against teachers without naming them. Mr Waalkens says the only reason the Mutus' names have now been published is that the Teachers' Council asked the tribunal to name the couple in the public interest.