Gloriavale's Christian Community School has hit back at claims it is teaching a "sexist curriculum".

The school's principal Faithful Pilgrim said most female students chose to follow traditional and biblical roles because of their own faith, love for children, and "respect for their mothers".

Claims of sexism and domestic servitude were levelled at the school in yesterday's Herald on Sunday.

Green MP Catherine Delahunty said she was concerned the school's narrow curriculum - believed to be based on an American fundamentalist Christian course - prevented pupils, especially girls, from going on to tertiary study, and instead steered them towards domestic roles within the secretive West Coast community.


She also questioned how the Education Review Office, which recently gave Gloriavale a pass mark, could rubber-stamp a school that appeared to be in breach of human rights legislation.

Mr Pilgrim refuted those claims tonight in a statement.

"Our school is not in breach of human rights legislation," he said.

"The school curriculum does not prevent or discourage any pupils from going on to tertiary study. About 25 per cent of the adult population at Gloriavale has university or national diplomas, and many of our tradesmen have the equivalent of tertiary qualifications.

"Only a handful of people came into the community with tertiary qualifications. All the others have gained their degrees or diplomas after leaving our school or as adult learners."

Mr Pilgrim said at least 35 per cent of women in Gloriavale held level seven qualifications obtained while they were living in the community, and most of these women had completed their education at the school.

"This compares very favourably with the figures in outside society. No much for the nonsense about our girls not being able to go on to tertiary study." (sic)

He said the highest level of achievement at the school was not NCEA Level 1 as claimed by Ms Delahunty.


"Last year, all of our year 10-11 students achieved or had already achieved NCEA Level 1, 91 per cent had NCEA Level 2, and 35 per cent had NCEA Level 3."

In the latest review, ERO found little fault with the school, saying the tuition standard was suitable for teaching its curriculum.

It noted students at the 161-pupil school achieved well in reading and mathematics.
"Almost all students in the senior school achieved qualifications on the national qualifications framework.

"Older students successfully transition into the working life of the community," it said.

Ms Delahunty said she was concerned this equated to females being forced into a life of domestic servitude.

"I absolutely respect practical education but I know there will be students who have a hunger for academic learning and don't want to spend their lives ironing and having babies.

"When you see women with eight to 10 babies from an early age you wonder whether they have that choice."

Delahunty was concerned ERO was not asking Gloriavale leaders hard questions about the rights of children when it came to tertiary education options.

"The report says they are prepared for some type of transition to work but from my observations, work means girls having babies at a very young age and boys work on the farm. It may be that some young women may want to have babies and devote themselves to housework, but having an education gives choice and not all young women want to do that."

Mr Pilgrim said the girls at Gloriavale were not forced into a life of domestic servitude.
He suggested that critics should visit the community and see the situation for themselves.
"We are not a secretive community as is often claimed in the media.

"The community has about 3000 visitors a year and those who wish to are shown around the school. It is evident that many of the comments in the media are based entirely on hearsay, and that those making them have never even met the people they are accusing."

Mr Pilgrim said that the school's curriculum had not been based on an American fundamentalist course either.

"Our curriculum has been developed in New Zealand to meet the needs of the students at the school: it is not based on the curriculum of any other school.

Like most schools it used a variety of text books from New Zealand and other countries, he said.

"Those who talk about human rights should also consider that the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that everybody has the right to freedom of religion and freedom from harassment, and that parents have the right to choose the kind of education that their children receive; including those who live at Gloriavale."

The secretive Gloriavale community was founded by Neville Cooper (also known as Hopeful Christian) in the 1960s.

It has been embroiled in controversy since the 1990s, when Cooper was jailed for five years on a raft of sex offences.

Gloriavale was in the news in recent months, amid claims of brain washing and child and sex abuse. Police set up a free phone number after appealing for any information from members or former members of the sect.