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Pitopito kōrero

Update from the Commissioner - Mike Rondel

28 May 2024

[See below for NZSL video]

Tēnā koutou katoa, warm greetings to all.

It has been some time since I have provided an update to you all on governance related matters for the School. For that I apologise.

There are a number of matters that I am aware our School community have asked for updates on, and these have also required considerable time and attention of myself and the Leadership team.

Ministry Review of Intervention/Commissioner

Currently a Commissioner is in place at Ko Taku Reo because at the time of the last triennial Board of Trustees election, insufficient parent and community candidates stood for the Board. Therefore, a Board could not be formed, and the Ministry had little choice but to appoint a Commissioner to ensure that governance of the School could continue.

The appointment of a Commissioner is always a temporary measure – a school should move back to self-governance as soon as the Ministry is confident that a stable Board can be elected and the processes in the school are such that a Board can be confident of providing strong governance and oversight.

The Ministry is currently reviewing the Commissioner arrangement and we expect the findings and any recommendations in June. I will provide an update once those findings are available.

Any decision to move back to a Board rests solely with the Ministry. As Commissioner, my role is to provide stability and ensure robust governance structures are in place so that any incoming Board has a strong basis to operate.

A key part of the Ministry’s review will be consideration of what they deem “risk factors” for a new Board. Given that a Commissioner is in place due to a lack of candidates making themselves available, the Ministry will want to be sure that there is strong support for the School from the parent and wider Deaf community. This is a risk area that needs further attention, and improved communication on behalf of myself and the School is something I am aware needs a focus and I commit to improving.

Advisory Group to the Commissioner

One of the first tasks that occurred when I was appointed Commissioner was to establish an Advisory Group. This group was made up of former Board of Trustee members, representatives from a number of Deaf community and related organisations, Turi Māori representatives, a staff representative and also a senior adviser from the NZ Schools Trustees Association.

The intention of the Group, as outlined in the agreed terms of reference, was to provide an opportunity for me to obtain input and advice from those members on governance related matters.

The Advisory Group has met on a number of occasions and has provided some valuable input to me. However, it has also become apparent that having such a large group of people from various organisations coming together all at once, has reduced the opportunity for all members to have an equitable chance to provide their input. This also includes the perspectives of the organisations that they represent.

As a result, I am currently working with the Advisory Group members to identify how we can improve the consultation processes and ensure there are opportunities for all to have their input. I will provide an update on this once the work is complete.

I remind you also that minutes of the meetings of the Advisory Group are available on our website.

Strategic Plan and Framework

Due to a change in the Education and Training Act in 2023, all schools were required to produce an updated strategic plan. The extremely tight statutory timeframes meant that there was limited time to consider a process for the development of such a plan, including time to consult and to finalise it.

Ko Taku Reo committed considerable resource to the process of developing the strategic plan and a detailed annual implementation plan. This included as much consultation as was possible in the timeframe allowed – including a mix of direct consultation and surveys with parents and whānau of Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) learners, Turi Māori, advisory group members, staff members, and our learners.

As a result of the process, we have a very high-quality strategic plan and annual plan that provides a clear direction for the School for the next two years. We have been commended by the Ministry for the work that was done and the outcome that was produced and we are already starting to see the benefits of clear direction and alignment.

I would like to thank all those that were involved in this process and strongly suggest that if you have not already done so, you look at the plan available in both NZSL and English:

During the latter half of 2024, we will start developing the consultation process to inform the next strategic plan for 2026-28.

Education Review Office

Over the last 18 months, we have been working with the Education Review Office (ERO) as they complete their various standard review processes of Ko Taku Reo. As the reviews have progressed, we have been meeting regularly to understand the ERO review processes, their draft findings and recommendations. At this stage we are not aware that ERO have identified any significant matters of non-compliance. Once ERO have finalised their report we will let our School community know and add a link to their report on our website.

Executive Principal Appointment update

Since the resignation of the former Executive Principal in late 2022, the School has been very fortunate to have Dr Denise Powell, arguably one of the most experienced and highly qualified people in the New Zealand Deaf Education sector, as Acting Executive Principal. There is a need however to make a permanent appointment into this critical leadership role.

There have been a number of reasons why the appointment process has not yet started. The most important reason is that the current level of funding and allocation of the salary level for the Principal role in the School is too low and does not sufficiently represent the scale and complexity of the role. This was one of the primary reasons for the previous Principal resigning. Without an appropriate salary to offer, it is extremely difficult to attract appropriately qualified and experienced leaders to the role.

There have been ongoing discussions on this matter with the Ministry of Education and in 2023, I wrote directly to the then Minister seeking assistance to get the salary grading reviewed and amended. Unfortunately, there has not been any movement on this to date however discussions with the Ministry are ongoing, as are plans to meet with the new Minister if possible.

While we continue to lobby for a change, I have recently received advice on a high-level process that should be followed once the recruitment process starts. This includes the establishment of a recruitment committee that has a majority of Deaf members and also requires consultation on both the recruitment process and the candidate attributes for the role.

Our hope is to start the process later this term or early term three with an appointment made before the end of the year.

Royal Commission Inquiry into Abuse in Care

The former Kelston and van Asch Deaf Education Centres were identified by witnesses to the Royal Commission as places where alleged abuse occurred. As a result, there has been a significant amount of historical information (including many thousands of pages of records) that were required to be produced for the inquiry. The School has spent considerable resources, both time and money, making the required material available, reviewing evidence and responding to inquiries.

A final report on the Commission's findings is due for release in June. We will review those findings and work with the Ministry of Education to ensure any recommendations that may be relevant to Ko Taku Reo are actioned as soon as is practical.

Ombudsman Findings in relation to the Omission by the Ministry of Education to develop an implementation framework to enable progress on its strategy on New Zealand Sign Language in education

On 22 December 2023 the Chief Ombudsman released their opinion in relation to a complaint made by Deaf Aotearoa and Deaf Children New Zealand that the Ministry’s latest strategy to progress NZSL in education – the Map – failed to adequately address the long-term issues regarding the provision of education to Deaf learners in NZSL. The Ombudsman concluded that it:

“…did not consider the evaluative framework the Ministry has implemented so far to be unreasonable, however, the Ministry should further consider how it can best monitor and evaluate its own operational responsibilities and performance, and track its own progress against the Map’s overall goals”.

Following the release of the decision, we have agreed to work closely with the Ministry as they seek to implement the recommendations, as they may relate to Ko Taku Reo. We look forward to playing a key part in ensuring that any evaluation and performance measures are implemented, and progress towards agreed goals are being measured.

Finally, a thank you

Ko Taku Reo is a large and complex organisation. With over 400 staff and around 3,600 learners that we support across the length and breadth of the country, the School relies on the hard work and dedication of many people and the support of the Deaf and wider community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those that work to support the School and our learners each day.

Ngā mihi
Mike Rondel