6 Sep 2019

Ministry apologises for continued contracts to struck-off principal

10:02 pm on 6 September 2019

The Ministry of Education has admitted it was wrong to continue giving contracts to a principal who had his registration cancelled for sleeping in bed naked with a student.

Te Kura o Te Koutu principal Uenuku Fairhall.

Uenuku Fairhall. Photo: NZME

A formal investigation into Uenuku Fairhall began in March 2017, but his company continued to be contracted for ministry work until his name was made public last month by the Teaching Council's Disciplinary Tribunal.

The tribunal's decision said Mr Fairhall breached professional boundaries during a Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu school trip to Mexico in 2017, including sleeping in the same bed as a student while naked, sexualised talk, being partially clothed in front of students and entering a bathroom and washing the back of a student.

It said Mr Fairhall accepted the incidents occurred but disputed the context or extent of the incidents.

The decision was dated 12 November 2018, but its release was delayed as Mr Fairhall tried to get name suppression. This was declined in June.

The Ministry of Education has contracted Fairhall's company Tarapō Ltd on six occasions since February 2016 to provide specialist Māori Medium Services. The total value of the contracts was about $500,000.

Five contracts were given to Tarapō Ltd since the allegations were made and all but one had been completed by the time the findings were publicly released.

The remaining contract, awarded in June 2019 to help with Strengthening Early Learning Opportunities, was cancelled.

Secretary for Education Iona Holsted said she had received assurances that Mr Fairhall has not engaged with any children or young person as part of the contract work he had done.

Ms Holsted said the ministry should not have continued to contract with Tarapō after serious allegations about Mr Fairhall's conduct were raised in 2017.

"Decisions about contracting are an operational matter and the accountability for that sits with me as the chief executive.

"I have apologised to Minister Hipkins for failing to meet the standards that he and I expect of the ministry," she said.

She had also apologised to him for not properly briefing him on the matter.

"I want to be clear that the ministry was only made aware of the Teachers Council Disciplinary Tribunal's finding about Mr Fairhall's conduct in mid-August 2019 when it was publicly released.

"I have agreed with the Teachers Council that our information-sharing agreement will be strengthened," she said.

She had commissioned a full review for the head of internal audit to look into every aspect of the procurement process for the contracts and spoken to an external auditor to ensure there were no other similar contracts in place.

"I have also asked that for assurance that our procurement guidelines are fit for purpose, and where they are not these are to be immediately revised."

Ms Holsted said she unreservedly apologised to any child, young person or family who may have been re-victimised by this renewed focus.

The Education Minister Chris Hipkins said accepted the Secretary for Education's apology.

"I do have full confidence in her, I think there are clearly lessons to be learnt here, I do expect better from the Ministry," he said.

"I have got confidence that the work the Secretary for Education is doing to tighten up things, is going to make sure this sort of thing isn't going to happen again in the future."