The future of Auckland's only Maori boarding school is under threat from a falling roll, dilapidated buildings, bullying, infighting and a lack of confidence from its owner, the Catholic Church.

Police were called to at least two incidents at Hato Petera College in Northcote in the past year - one where two prefects punched and kicked junior hostel students, and another where a boy attacked a fellow student with a stick.

Fears over student safety led to the resignation of a board member, and parents removing children.

Sections of the school community, including former board members, have since spoken to the media about safety concerns, including the state of old hostel buildings.

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The school responded with legal action, including trespass notices, saying there was a "smear campaign".

Hato Petera and the Catholic Church are at odds over the lease of the school grounds. The diocese has granted the school only a five-year extension, sparking fears the church wants to shut the school and sell the land.

The Bishop of Auckland, Patrick Dunn, told the Herald the church had serious concerns about the falling roll - which is now below 100 - and wanted to do a full-scale review of Maori education.

"There are no plans to close it tomorrow," he said.

"But we don't know the way forward. My education advisers have concerns and the key one is size."

Bishop Dunn said the church was passionate about Maori education but felt boarding colleges might not be the best formula for that in the modern age.

Among its past pupils are Ranginui Walker, emeritus professor of Maori studies at Auckland University, All Black Walter Little and the late artist Ralph Hotere, above. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Among its past pupils are Ranginui Walker, emeritus professor of Maori studies at Auckland University, All Black Walter Little and the late artist Ralph Hotere, above. Photo / Otago Daily Times

"We want to support Maori education aspirations but feel we mustn't pursue personal agendas ... or a romantic attachment to the college."

Hato Petera is the sole remaining Maori boarding school in Auckland and one of only six in the country. Among its past pupils are Ranginui Walker, emeritus professor of Maori studies at Auckland University, All Black Walter Little and the late artist Ralph Hotere, ONZ.

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Two other Auckland Maori boarding schools, St Stephen's and Queen Victoria, were closed in the early 2000s.

Former board member Norm McKenzie said the great fear was that the school would go the same way. "We are all about the long-term sustainability and longevity of Hato Petera and see the current management and board as detrimental to that."

Mr McKenzie felt that despite the academic improvement noted in the 2014 ERO report, fewer students were achieving at a high level.

Health and safety concerns were not being addressed properly, he added.

There are fears the Catholic Church wants to shut the school and sell the land.
There are fears the Catholic Church wants to shut the school and sell the land.

Herald inquiries have found that the two incidents where police were called both involved violence.

The school refused to release incident reports, but a former hostel board member said the first, in June last year, involved senior prefects punching and kicking junior students to get them to "confess" to the theft of some lollies. Two prefects were suspended.

The second case, in February, where a boy was hit with a stick, saw one pupil referred to youth aid, police said.

In an interview with the Herald which involved principal John Matthews, operations manager Shanan Halbert, board of trustees chairman Mate Webb and three lawyers, the school denied it had a bullying problem. It said the incidents were "within the normal range for a school that has boarding and school facilities on the same site".

The school was more concerned about the disagreement with the diocese. Without certainty around the lease, it could not move forward.

"[It] does not allow Hato Petera to meet its strategic objective, build new accommodation and implement steps towards a viable future in the short or long term."

Ministry of Education executive Katrina Casey said officials were aware of complaints about bullying and had been working with the school to address the property and governance issues.

Hato Petera
•Roll at Catholic Maori boarding school has fallen below 100.
•Catholic Church says it will review whether keeping the school open is best for Maori education.
•Infighting among school community has led to legal action against former board members.
•Bullying incidents have seen police called twice in the past 12 months.
•Dilapidated hostel buildings need repair.