A charter school set up to lift success, including among Maori, needed government mediation after whanau complained the school didn't have the cultural expertise required to teach their children.

Families who switched to Middle School West Auckland's Henderson site this year signed several letters alleging poor treatment at the school, including students being offered junk food and KFC as rewards, that there was bullying and drugs, a suicide attempt and a lack of cultural awareness.

The school denied the allegations but documents show around 20 students left due to the friction. When the remaining families continued to complain, particularly that their language and culture was being ignored, a ministry facilitator stepped in.

Correspondence between the facilitator and the Ministry of Education showed it took several meetings to get an agreement between the school and the families. Eventually they decided the school would provide more Te Reo, kapa haka and hui.


An extra staff member was hired to work between whanau and the school. The documents said the school would source extra professional development, including linking with the ministry's cultural inclusiveness experts.

Critics say it is unfair the school is relying so heavily on ministry assistance, when it was set up to be independent and particularly promoted its ability to change the lives of "priority students".

Charter schools were part of an election deal between the National government and the Act Party, and are publicly funded but privately run. They aim to provide opportunities for Maori, Pacific Island students, learners from low socio-economic backgrounds and those with special education needs.

PPTA president Angela Roberts said it was grating to hear about the extra support the ministry had provided.

"If they are having to be stuck together by ministry officials because they don't know what they are doing maybe they should be closed and the money given to public schools who do know about teaching and learning," she said.

"It's a sad situation that the operators of this charter were approved for this in the first place. As the Ministry noted in the application, they've got experience running a school in Remuera, but they don't have any experience with the 'priority learners' that charter schools are supposed to be for."

Ms Roberts was referring to school owner Villa Education Trust's initial ministry assessment, which said the trust understood barriers for those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, but "did not always demonstrate competency in educating Maori and Pasifika students".

Labour education Chris Hipkins said it showed a double standard, particularly as allegations about drugs and mental health had not been investigated further after the school assured the ministry everything was okay.


"They're turning a blind eye," he said. "It seems to me they're taking a very cavalier attitude."

Mr Hipkins said it wasn't surprising there were issues. "If these were easy things to deal with the state system would have sorted them out by now." He said the money should have gone to proven programmes instead.

The ministry said the cost of the facilitation would have been minimal, and as such it would not be charging for it as the administration would probably cost more than the support.

"It is part of our role to help schools to resolve issues or matters of dispute where they seek that support from us," head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said.

"It is important to be clear that there has been no intervention, and suggesting such a thing would be deliberately misleading."

She said professional development had not been made available so far but, if it was, the school would have to pay.

Middle School West Auckland is owned by the Villa Education Trust, which also owns a charter school in South Auckland and a private school in central Auckland. Middle School West Auckland said it had received positive ERO reports this year and provided several positive quotes from teachers at the school, and a video about the students.

It said it provided Te Reo for all students and at its Pohutukawa Villa in Henderson offered an extended Te Reo programme so families could attend.

The West Auckland school is split between Glendene and Henderson. Complaints were laid about the Henderson site, after the trust took on students from a now-closed Nga Kakano school.

Middle School West Auckland has around 120 pupils, of which half are Maori.