Wesley College kids at risk of ‘bullying and discrimination’ | #schoolsaftey

The Education Review Office (ERO) has released a damning report on Auckland’s Wesley College stating it is “not confident” that issues around student safety and wellbeing have been “sufficiently addressed” by the school.

The special review comes after multiple current and recent students contacted 1News with stories of bullying, violence and abuse, following reporting on historical violence at the special character Methodist school.

Documents obtained by 1News reveal the Ministry of Education “received a range of complaints from parents/whanau about issues with bullying over many years”.

The youngest Wesley College survivor to register with the ongoing Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse reported being gang-bashed last year as other students watched on chanting, “Wesley way”.

“Wesley way” is the term students use to describe the culture of violence at the school.

Earlier this year, three videos were sent to 1News showing senior students at the school beating other students with weapons, such as a bat or large stick, in incidents between 2021 and March 2023.

Many more students have told 1News “coverings” – where younger students were made to cover their faces before being punched, kicked and slapped by older students – still occurred almost weekly.

ERO found evidence that, although on the decline, entrenched practices and harmful traditions were still placing students “at risk of violence, bullying and discrimination”. It said it had a range of concerns regarding the health and safety of all students at the school.

Students who spoke to ERO said that at the beginning of 2023 they felt more positive about the school, its culture, and their safety. However, ERO noted it was aware of a “code of silence” that was prevalent amongst students who were reluctant to disclose information to adults.

Some staff who spoke to ERO remained concerned.

“Some staff… were less positive about culture and safety at the school and raised several concerns relating to harassment and discrimination of students,” the review stated.

One former staff member, who spoke to 1News and who we have agreed not to identify, said he had felt “disturbed” by the bullying behaviours he had witnessed at the school among some students and had raised concerns multiple times.

“It’s like people just accept that as the norm,” the former staff member said.

“Juniors aren’t safe around some of the older students if we’re not there. We have some really good students here but it’s hard to keep them safe or even to stop them from repeating the same cycle.”

One parent, who we are calling Emily, recently said her son endured months of bullying and suffered multiple beatings. She said he would return home in the weekends with bruising on his stomach and back.

Emily said she raised concerns with the school but felt it was dismissive. 1News has seen several emails to the school senior leadership staff outlining some of Emily’s concerns.

After confidentially confiding in Principal Brian Evans, Emily said she felt betrayed when her son began receiving threats the following day from students who said they had been told that her son had “narked” to the school.

“Our trust was broken,” Emily said.

The school did not directly respond to Emily’s claims around her son’s abuse when contacted by 1News earlier this year, instead giving a general statement. Limited Statutory Manager Shane Edwards said the relevant staff were uncontactable as they were on holiday leave during that school holiday period.

Edwards has since said Wesley College will not respond to requests for comment from 1News.

The Ministry confirmed the Royal Commission upheld concerns featured in a March report by 1News where the college admitted issues of bullying and abuse were an “ongoing challenge for the college” and that it was likely there were “hundreds more victims” in addition to those who had reported abuse.

In its latest review, ERO said it was concerned that the pace of change has been too slow. It said it was “not satisfied that the school is maintaining full and proper records for investigating and reporting complaints and potentially, abuse.”

ERO also said that despite existing policies, it wasn’t able to verify that the school had dealt with complaints appropriately in recent years.

Documents show the Ministry received a letter of concern from ERO after a report dated 30 March, 2023, concerning a number of issues impacting the school’s governance.

It was enough to trigger an intervention by the Ministry of Education who, within days, appointed Limited Statutory Manager Shane Edwards to help manage the school’s board.

Stand downs, suspensions and expulsion

1News can reveal 90 students have reported student-on-student abuse to the school since 2019. Nine of those reports were made in the first three months of this school year alone.

Four involved students reporting, between 2020 and 2022, that they had been sexually assaulted by another student.

Wesley College badge

School records show 22 students have been “stood down” by the school board since 2019 due to allegations of bullying, violence or abuse.

ERO’s review identified the majority of stand downs, suspensions, and expulsions in 2022 were related to “serious instances of bullying and violence between students”.

The review also identified concerns around female students being marginalised as a minority group which impacted their feelings of safety, wellbeing and opportunities for equity.

Hostel concerns

A separate ERO review into the College’s hostel criticised the school’s Trust Board, stating it had “not done enough to ensure it fulfils its duty of care for students”.

The review said boarders had not yet been provided a safe physical and emotional environment that supported their learning.

The Ministry briefly revoked the school’s hostel license in November 2022 and the school was asked to “address a number of concerns,” including any “potential breaches of the Education (Hostels) Regulations 2005”.

According to ERO’s review, the Ministry agreed to re-open the hostel at the end of January 2023 “on the condition that one of the six hostels would remain closed until refurbishments met requirements”.

A visit in March by Ministry staff found the school met “minimum standards” for five of its six hostel buildings.

It noted recent changes towards improvements had been made but stated “it is too early to know if these changes are enough to sustain a quality boarding experience”.

Read more: Exclusive: Wesley College abuse survivor breaks silence

When the Ministry raised concerns in December 2022 about a lack of overnight supervision in the hostels, it asked the school to implement “appropriate overnight supervision”.

Multiple parents and students told 1News that before the Ministry stepped in, ‘dorm parents’ would normally lock up the dorms at 10:30pm and return at 6am the next day.

One parent said their son would still be up in the wee hours.

“Our son would call us at 2am and we could hear music playing and kids talking in the background. They were just left to their own devices at night.”

A year later, the parent was contacted by staff after their son was beaten by an older student inside the dorms. They believe bullying and abuse of students often occurred during a lack of supervision inside the dorms.

The former school staff member who spoke to 1News anonymously said: “We’ve had to shuffle the senior students around because we had to close down one hostel last year, so some of them were sharing dorms with juniors.”

“From day one that was a concern for me. Especially because they would just lock up the students and then go home – with no one left to look after them at night,” the staff member said.

ERO noted that while actions to improve systems around overnight supervision were initiated in early 2023, they had not yet been fully implemented at the time of its review.

In a statement in April, Limited Statutory Manager Shane Edwards said the hostel was supervised.

“The hostel operates with ‘fully active supervision.’ A Night Supervisor is based in each dormitory. Night Supervisors do dormitory checks hourly, approximately.

“This is showing positive effects on student learning at Wesley College.

“Hostel procedure and practice ensures exterior doors are locked and alarmed for safety. Borders can safely exit bedroom areas as these are not locked and given that each dormitory has a Night Supervisor present.

“The Trust Board, the new School Board and school leadership continually reviews operations as part of internal self-review that informs improvements made to date and that are continuing. “

The review said ERO as not confident that issues in its report were being sufficiently addressed by the leadership of the hostel and was concerned that the pace of change had been too slow.

School response

The school told ERO it had a strong commitment to addressing the college’s historical challenges and was working towards improving learning and providing a safe environment for all students.

ERO acknowledged changes in recent years had resulted in some improvements but stated “the school is yet to develop effective systems and processes to ensure students are entirely safe”.

Some recently introduced initiatives and changes haven’t been in place long enough for ERO or the school to know if they are having the desired impact, according to the review.

ERO also stated recommendations from three separate reviews commissioned by the school between 2019 and 2021 were yet to be fully implemented.

Students at the school.

ERO has recommended a “thorough overhaul” of the school’s policies and procedures and said there needed to be “particular attention to developing child protection policies that align with current legislation”.

Since the review, ERO noted the Wesley College School board had taken steps to strengthen governance practice, including undertaking training and reviewing changes to policies.

School leaders have initiated a student survey to inform wellbeing and had plans for professional development of staff towards areas outlined in the report.

The Ministry of Education had also appointed a practitioner to help raise student achievement and improve the school’s capability.

ERO recommended that the Ministry continued its intervention and that the school board sought external expertise and support to strengthen governance practices and effectiveness.

The Trust Board, which is separate to the School Board and manages the school hostel responded to concerns raised by 1News in regard to overnight supervision issues in May.

“The Wesley College Trust Board employ security staff from the firm Simply Security and we can confirm all staff on site, including the security staff, comply with the regulations of The Children Act 2014,” chair Jan Tasker said in a statement.

“As a safety measure we now have an awake duty person in each of our five dormitories every night in addition to the security staff.”

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