Friends and foes unite to praise MP who fought for education

By Mathew Dearnaley

Allan Peachey continued to champion teachers during his time in the House. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Allan Peachey continued to champion teachers during his time in the House. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Even his ideological foes were quick yesterday to pay tribute to the controversial politician and educationalist Allan Peachey, who died on Sunday in Auckland, aged 62.

Mr Peachey, who as principal built Rangitoto College into the country's largest school before entering Parliament in 2005 in the safe National seat of Tamaki, was marked as a potential cabinet minister before being diagnosed with cancer soon after his election.

He recovered from surgery but had to take another break of several weeks last year after a lung collapsed.

He continued to work as MP and chairman of Parliament's education and science select committee even as he became thinner and lost his hair in recent months.

Labour joined National and Act in paying tribute to Mr Peachey, as did the Post Primary Teachers Association, which opposed his introduction of bulk-funded teacher salaries to Rangitoto in the late 1990s.

Although Labour later abolished bulk funding, he remained a strong advocate of performance pay for teachers after he entered Parliament, despite being unable to push National into another battle with the education unions.

As Tamaki MP, he became embroiled in controversy by questioning the performance of Selwyn College and sent its co-principal an email for which he later apologised, in which he said he had "a knife in your back, so be careful".

PPTA chairman Robin Duff acknowledged that the union and Mr Peachey "didn't always agree with either the path or the process" of educational advancement.

"But you have to say he is a man who is admired for spending basically his lifetime working for improved education and for high standards," Mr Duff said.

"One is hopefully not that small as to not at least recognise that very significant contribution and certainly in later years when he was chairing the select committee he was particularly positive and gave every indication he was prepared to develop a cross-party approach to education."

Labour leader Phil Goff called Mr Peachey's select committee leadership "a brilliant example of an MP achieving bipartisan support for education".

Current Rangitoto principal David Hodge said Mr Peachey oversaw huge growth of the school during 12 years there.

World-class performing arts and sporting facilities were developed under him, as was the school's partnership with what became the Millennium Institute of Sport and Health.

Despite the bulk-funding spat with the PPTA, Mr Hodge said his predecessor "championed teachers like no one else".

"I remember someone telling me about hearing a kerfuffle in the corridors of Parliament and Allan was frustrated because he couldn't get anything done and was heard yelling at the top of his voice: 'I need this done, someone find me a teacher so at least I can know it will be done."'

Mr Peachey was president of the Secondary Principals' Association for three years until 2000. Its present head, Patrick Walsh, said education had lost an important advocate for the independence of schools as self-managing entities.

"He was often seen as a very controversial and colourful character but he was passionate about education - he ran an outstanding school, had a strong focus on improving the education of young people and believed in a high trust model for principals ..."

Westlake Girls' principal Alison Gernhoefer said Mr Peachey was a good man who stuck to his convictions. "A lot of people do things for the convenient moment but Allan was not one of those people. He believed in what he was doing and you have to admire people like that."

Prime Minister John Key said he planned to attend Mr Peachey's funeral, to be held at 11am on Friday at St Peter's Church, Takapuna.

Mr Hodge said Rangitoto College was arranging with Mr Peachey's family for a motorcade "to bring Allan back through the school" before the funeral.

Mr Peachey is survived by his wife of 34 years, Jeanette, and their four adult children, two sons and two daughters.

Additional reporting: Derek Cheng

- NZ Herald

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