Exclusive Brethren Will Test Govt Priorities
The Exclusive Brethren have removed their children from the state system so that they can provide an educational environment that supports their religious beliefs. They have 24 sites, or satellite schools, that operate under one school administration (Westmount School) that already receives $2.9 million of Government funding. The Decile 8 school has applied to be fully integrated at an estimated cost of an extra $7 million (or around $4,300) per student.
The Exclusive Brethren have been accused of operating as a cult and many members who have left the church have cited, bullying treatment. The story of the Brethren's treatment of gay journalist Craig Hoyle is especially shocking. The Exclusive Brethren have also had a long connection with the National Party and their privately produced election pamphlet in support of the Party for the 2005 election was mentioned in Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men. The Pamphlet was highly critical of Labour and the Greens and made a number of wild accusations that could not have been made in official material from National itself.
While the Exclusive Brethren claim that support for them is no different from the integration of Catholic schools, this isn't actually true. Some years ago in London I taught in a Catholic School (despite being an agnostic) and found their religious instruction taught tolerance of other religions and they even accepted students who had other cultural and religious backgrounds.
The Government have already provided support for the elite Wanganui Collegiate by bailing out the 400 student school by $3.9 million and committing to $3 million a year of ongoing funding. This was against the advice of the Ministry of Education and ignored the available space in the local public secondary schools. While the Government recently announced $27 million of new funding will go to those children who are 'priority learners' we must also remember the $35 million of extra funding that they gave to private schools shortly after coming to power. Given that private schools cater for only 4% of the student population they already get a fair whack of Government support.
Both the PPTA and New Zealand Educational Institute have come out strongly against supporting the sect as the $7 million would be more usefully spent elsewhere. I'm sure Christchurch communities will also be watching the decision with interest. How the Government responds to the request from the Exclusive Brethren will be a real test of priorities, does it really support struggling learners or is it more interested in propping up schools for the wealthy and rewarding coalition partners (Charter Schools) and past supporters?