The school under fire for bribing its kids with takeaways says it never served fried chicken - only pizza.

Villa Education Trust, which runs Middle School West Auckland, is yet to respond to questions from the New Zealand Herald, but told the Ministry of Education today they don't use food as part of any rewards or behaviour programme at the school.

"The school had a shared lunch just before the end of term where pizza was brought in.

They have told us Kentucky Fried Chicken hasn't been served to students," the ministry said.


"This was not part of any behaviour programme. It is common for schools to have shared lunches."

The Herald revealed this morning that education minister Hekia Parata had asked the ministry to investigate after parent and teacher complaints about behaviour policies, bullying, lack of cultural awareness, safety and drugs at Middle School West Auckland.

Several of the letters said the school had served takeaways on a regular basis, and that on one occasion KFC was offered as a reward for good behaviour.

Complaints had been made to the school board and then escalated to the minister, ministry, and Education Review office after a perceived lack of action.

The school has also denied - again to the ministry - that there was bullying or any suicide attempt by a student at Middle School.

This was despite at least fifteen parents and two educators complaining about student safety, lack of cultural awareness, respect for Te Reo Maori and drugs.

Descent into chaos

Opposition parties have slammed the government for withholding information about charter schools in light of revelations about children being "rewarded" with takeaways.

Labour's education spokesman said the "experiment" had descended into chaos and it was time for the minister to release all the information she had. He accused her of trying to cover up the "full extent of the problems".


"These latest allegations that students are being bribed with fast food and trips to the beach follow revelations that another charter school was rife with drug use, absenteeism, bullying and high staff turnover. Another has stashed away millions of dollars in profits," Mr Hpkins said.

He said the government was withholding large amounts of information, and was not accountable. The Herald is also waiting on information - such as annual reports from the first charter schools that opened in 2014, and readiness reviews for the schools that opened this year.

Mr Hipkins pointed out that when the model was first mooted many people raised concern that they wouldn't be covered by the Ombudsman and Official Information Act.

He said the case of Hutt Valley High School was often cited, where serious bullying went unchecked by all of the education agencies until the Ombudsman stepped in and got to the heart of the problems.

"That isn't allowed to happen in charter schools," he said. "To top things off - and despite the major problems they're facing with the existing schools -this year's Budget allocated funding for two more to open."

Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said she would be laying a complaint with the Ombudsman over the Minister's reticence to release information which should be legally available.

"We need to know what is going on in these schools," she said.

"The justification of partnership schools was to raise the educational achievements of priority learners, including M?ori and Pasifika students. What this shows is kids are being put at risk because of the Government's partnership experiment."

About 40 children attend the Henderson school at the centre of the latest controversy, which opened in January. It shares a location with private Maori school Nga Kakano and teaches Years 7 to 10.

Documents seen by the Herald include letters signed by 15 parents, complaints from teachers and staff to the board, and to the Education Review Office. Some were also sent to the ministry, minister Hekia Parata, Undersecretary David Seymour, and to other Members of Parliament.

Drug use

"The present leadership ... is found wanting," said a letter written by Veronica Allen, a Maori educator who came from Nga Kakano to help at MSWA.

"In fact the method used is an appease system where students are bought pizza, hot chips, cakes and then taken on trips to the beach or unrelated outings to keep them happy and engaged."

Mrs Allen said that on average, each year level had been fed takeaways four times over three weeks, with some promised KFC if they scored well on behaviour tracking sheets.

Another staff member wrote to the Education Review Office, saying the behaviour policy "highlights a lack of leadership management and lack of effective teaching practices".

The staff member informed ERO that bullying was rife at the school, and that there was drug use. She said one student had attempted suicide. Students were ejected from class, and left in the hallway with no supervision.

"This has led to a fight breaking out between students, students removing fire extinguishers from the wall and using them against other students."

The letter, which included a draft of an ERO report, showed officials also had their own concerns around at-risk children, leadership, safety and responsiveness to Te Reo, marking those as "areas to be addressed". That report is yet to be made public.

Katrina Casey, head of the ministry's sector enablement and support, said the school's sponsor, Villa Education Trust, had confirmed there had not been any instances of drugs or bullying or any suicide attempt by a student at Middle School.

She said it contacted the school when it received a parent letter, and had attended meetings with those concerned to discuss their issues.

A plan was in place, she said.

"The Middle School has assured us they will work to ensure their approach includes all of its students, their identity, language and culture and have committed to holding whanau hui and professional development for staff."

Other correspondence seen by the Herald showed parents were also unhappy with the new set-up, with at least 15 signing a letter to the board with their concerns.

On top of behavioural issues and safety problems, they said their culture was not being honoured. Almost all of the children at the school are Maori.

Villa Education Trust, did not respond to emails or calls by the Herald about these concerns.

However, Education Minister Hekia Parata confirmed she received correspondence from a parent on July 6. She has asked the Ministry of Education to look into it and is awaiting the outcome of its investigations.

Act MP David Seymour, who has oversight of charter schools, said he was also advised of the concerns about Te Reo and cultural focus but understood the school was dealing with it.

ERO said it had received the comments made on its draft report. It said it had placed the comments on the school's file and would discuss them during the new school assurance review process.

Charter schools are meant to focus on the Government's priority groups: Maori, Pasifika, low socioeconomic groups and special needs children.

Villa Education's initial assessment by the ministry said while it understood barriers for those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, it "did not always demonstrate ... competency in educating Maori and Pasifika students".

The background

Charter schools were introduced as part of Act's confidence and supply agreement with National. Officially called "partnership" schools, they are privately run and publicly funded.

Villa Education Trust has contracts for two charter schools - one for a middle school in South Auckland, and one in West Auckland. Its West Auckland school has two sites, as it was unable to find anywhere big enough in time to house all its children prior to opening. One of these is in Henderson, where it is temporarily sharing a site with struggling private christian school Nga Kakano, on ministry of education land.

Nga Kakano hit headlines in February when its principal, Te Rangi Allen, appeared in court and was eventually discharged without conviction after admitting hitting a boy. The pupil had swore at his wife, a teacher at the school.

After the incident, Villa Education Trust sought to distance itself from its arrangement with Nga Kakano, telling a reporter the schools "have no relationship with each other". However documents seen by the Herald show this is not the case, with Villa proposing a relationship - including financial payments for overheads and services - with Nga Kakano as early as July last year, after Nga Kakano did not get charter school status.

The two schools agreed Villa would take on the senior students, around 30 children. Villa did not inform the education ministry about the relationship until November, after it had signed its contract for its second charter school, and reported its site in Glendene was not large enough for its students.

Questions to the minister of education Hekia Parata last week revealed Villa is yet to pay any rent at the Nga Kakano site, but a lease agreement is underway.

The Ministry of Education said any financial agreement between the two schools was "not within the formal consent of the Ministry and went beyond the scope of Nga Kakano's rights under its informal occupation arrangement with us".