14 Oct 2015

Churches blamed for demise of Māori boarding schools

8:36 pm on 14 October 2015

The Minister of Māori Development has come out swinging at the churches that run Māori boarding schools, following the Minister of Education's interim decision to close Turakina Māori Girls' College.

Leader of the Maori Party, Te Ururoa Flavell.

Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she had initiated a second round of consultation because she was not confident the Presbyterian Church, which runs the school, could get itself into a strong enough financial position to go ahead with assessing buildings in need of upgrading and earthquake-strengthening.

The minister said the school's drop in enrolment numbers, and other information provided in submissions, suggested its financial position would only worsen.

Turakina Maori Girls College was opened in 1905 to provide an academic, Christian education for future Māori mothers.

It is one of six remaining Māori boarding schools, along with Te Aute in Hawke's Bay, Wesley College in Pukekohe, Hato Paora in Feilding, Hato Petera in Auckland and St Joseph's in Napier.

Ms Parata's announcement prompted Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell to accuse the churches of not fulfilling their obligations to the kura.

"They have not supported and fulfilled their obligation to those schools by not upgrading the facilities that are sorely needed and created a good, positive working environment with the board of trustees," Mr Flavell said.

"That's been the case for a number of the boarding schools, which has basically contributed to their demise."

National MP

Education Minister Hekia Parata Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Flavell said, if the churches wanted the schools to flourish, they had to make more of a financial contribution - and the best case scenario was that the churches would get far more heavily involved.

"[To] ensure their commitment to [the] ongoing education of Māori people that they've had the privilege of having under their auspices for the last 100-plus years. Those schools have huge history and the church[es] set them up for a particular purpose."

Mr Flavell said he had spoken to church representatives in the past about all of the Māori boarding schools, and they were aware of the issues.

"That's a discussion they're having internally and I understand there's even internal conflict - if you want to put it that way - between those who are actually clergy and the church in the wider sense about their contributions to Māori education.

"If they really want those schools to flourish they've got to kick in with some financial contribution, can't leave it to the state because the state is actually providing the resource to allow the teaching of education to happen.

"The boarding element has always been at the heart of all the issues and that's their downfall."

A Māori Boarding Schools Summit hosted by the board of proprietors of Turakina Māori Girls' College will take place on 5 and 6 November in Wellington to discuss the contribution of the kura to nation-building.

Issues 'no-one's fault'

Ms Parata said the issues facing Turakina were not new, and other Māori faith-based boarding schools have faced the same challenges.

"In terms of the Māori boarding schools, the concerns that are emerging now were ones that prefaced the closure of St Stephen's and Queen Victoria by the previous Labour government," she said.

"[Those issues are the] costs of maintaining the premises, the attracting of a viable roll so that a wide and rich curriculum can be offered to the students, and so it is something that each school has to make a decision about for themselves.

"The Māori boarding schools model is all under the State Integrated Act, so these are faith-based schools, which means that the churches are the owners of the boarding schools and therefore have the responsibilities of maintaining them, and they face challenges as well, so in that sense they're no-one's fault

"I guess I'm saying, it is 2015, there are more choices available to parents and they are making those choices."