A board of trustees member at a top Auckland primary school has resigned after what an Educational Review Office report described as "disharmony" between senior staff members.

Chelsea Primary School - a decile 10 school in Birkenhead, North Shore - is dealing with an issue that has divided parents and the wider school community.

The Herald revealed last week that the school's latest ERO report showed there were issues within the board of trustees and senior management.

It recommended an intervention to help address these issues.


"Governance operations are compromised by disharmony within the board. These poor relationships are a barrier to school progress," it reads.

The handling of complaints has also been noted in the report.

"Not all complaints have been investigated promptly or satisfactorily resolved. Senior managers should work with parents and staff to resolve concerns.

"Improvements in managing complaints are necessary to ensure that the board is providing students and staff with a safe physical and emotional environment."

A parent initially contacted the Herald after tracking down the report, which was not made known to parents when it was released last month.

School principal Sue Mulcahy did not return a request for comment last Monday.

The board member who has stepped down, Gabrielle Buchanan, told the Herald she had been the scapegoat on many occasions. She has simply had enough and plans to make a formal complaint to the Ministry of Education.

Ms Buchanan has been a strong advocate for Maori language and kapa haka to be introduced to the school curriculum.


She has also led a move to change the school's policy on managing complaints.

In the minutes for a trustees meeting on December 12, 2011 - posted on the school's website - it shows Ms Buchanan had re-written the school's management of complaints policy and asked that it replace the current one.

The minutes show the move was seconded but in the end declined, as six members did not agree. It was decided that further adjustment was needed to Ms Buchanan's report.

She said an example of a complaint not handled properly was that from a family whose son was diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia - a condition that affects movement and co-ordination.

In a complaint to the board of trustees, the mother said she felt her son had been set exceptionally high standards to achieve, such as learning 25 words each day for spelling tests, despite his difficulties.

The woman, whose family recently migrated to New Zealand, wrote: "[My son] was failing! By the time everyone has finished to write the test, [he] just wrote his name. He was depressed ... he would come home telling me how stupid he is and that all the kids at school laughing at him and wishing to be dead."

The woman later removed both her children from the school after her concerns were not taken up.

Ms Buchanan said she had resigned after a string of incidents that included being called names like "Maori activist".

She declined to comment further about the situation, only to say that her time on the board had been extremely tough.

The school said it was inappropriate to comment about an individual board member.

The Herald has been contacted by dozens of parents from both sides of the fence.

On one side are those who say that, like its motto, the school is "simply the best". They describe a school that is focused on achieving excellence and as a result their children are thriving.

Others however tell stories of bullying and stand-off tactics and a culture that looks down at students or parents who make complaints or ask for change.

It is understood other primary schools in the area have taken in dozens of pupils from Chelsea in the past two years.


For Andrea Mercer, sending her two boys to Chelsea Primary School was the best decision she ever made.

Her younger son is in Year 6 and is doing well academically and in extra-curricular activities at the school.

Her elder son, she says, is in the top stream class of Year 10 at Birkenhead College.

"[They] achieve excellent results academically and learn a sound work ethic that succeeding schools have difficulty matching."

Ms Mercer said her children's work ethic had become stronger over the years because of the school's stress on academic excellence.

Although other parents have described this style as overbearing and in some cases damaging to their children, Ms Mercer says it has meant success for her two boys.

"I will be enormously sad to leave Chelsea at the end of this year ... I stand behind the school management 100 per cent."


Roslyn Gilmour says it is a "blessed relief" to be away from a school she says treated her disrespectfully and did not allow her child to succeed.

Mrs Gilmour says it began when a group of parents put together an extra netball team to cater to students who weren't chosen for the set team.

"I actually got quite a negative response and eventually was put under pressure. When it came to it [the school] wouldn't give us uniforms for the team. It sounds petty, but that's how it all started.

"How I was treated after that point was dreadful. There was a common thread that anyone who was questioning what was going on or challenging - their children were often getting sidelined. They would miss out on things."

Mrs Gilmour said senior staff were rude to her and in one instance was shooed out of the school hall.

She made complaints but when nothing happened, she decided to change her daughter's school.

However, none of the other local schools would take her as they said they had already taken on a huge number of ex-Chelsea students.

The family now live in Tauranga.