Government still targeting Bethlehem College!

Blatant Campaign of Intimidation Against Bethlehem College

At a time when most New Zealanders believe that the Ministry of Education and Minister Jan Tinetti should be focusing on concerns over educational standards and NCEA, the flow-on effects of the many COVID lockdowns and missed learning, finding and training teachers to deal with staff shortages, disturbing levels of violence and declining behavioural standards, and ensuring that Parliament isn’t misled by ministerial statements in the House (!), the Education Review Office has decided to use their time to scrutinise… Bethlehem College. Again. 

According to a parent newsletter sent out this week and seen by Family First, the ERO has told Bethlehem College they will be visiting the school to once again review the emotional and physical safety of students, and four ERO staff will be onsite for three days next week.

Here’s the significant fact from the newsletter:

“ERO carried out an extensive evaluation last year, which included focus groups with students and the nationally recognised Wellbeing@School survey with the entire Year 7-13 student body, meetings with staff, and open access to all our policies and files.”

The results of that evaluation showed that we perform as well as, if not better than, most New Zealand schools. For example:
* 88% of the students said they felt safe at Bethlehem College, better than the 85% of students in 400 schools in a nationwide report.
* 89% of our students said students get on well with those from other cultures, compared to 82% at other schools.

That’s very impressive.

So why is ERO back again? Let’s be clear. ERO’s looking for a result to suit their agenda because those facts don’t fit their ideology. They’re being completely unreasonable and the evaluation evidence from last year proves that. Four staff for three days is intense – and a waste of taxpayer money.

It’s obvious to everyone that there’s a campaign against Bethlehem College – both by the Ministry and also by the media. 

Of course, the media has been stoking the fire and they’ve been called out. Twice. Just this week the NZ Media Council has upheld complaints against a Stuff story for a lack of fairness. (Family First was part of the complainant group, and you can see a summary of the story from our earlier McBlog below). The NZ Media Council also upheld complaintsagainst the same media outlet last year for biased coverage of Bethlehem College in another story – by the same reporter!


Here’s some important information to understand. State-integrated schools exist to provide education within the framework of a particular or general religious or philosophical belief, and associated with observances or traditions relating to that belief. The proprietor of a state-integrated school has the responsibility to supervise the maintenance and preservation of the education with a special character provided by the school.

The Ministry of Education states on their website: “State-integrated schools teach the New Zealand Curriculum, but keep their own special character (usually a philosophical or religious belief) as part of their school programme.” (our emphasis added)

And: “State-integrated schools are schools with a special character. They are funded by the government and teach the national curriculum. They’ll have their own sets of aims and objectives to reflect their own particular values and are set within a specific philosophy or religion.”

In Schedule 6 of the Education and Training Act 2020 (which specifically deals with state-integrated schools), it says:

28   Instruction of students
(1) Each State integrated school must instruct its students in accordance with the curricula and syllabuses prescribed under this Act or any regulations made under this Act.
(2) However, the general school programme must reflect the education with a special character provided by the State integrated school, and religious and other examples may be used to reinforce teaching throughout the school day.

In other words, religious state-integrated schools which have religious instruction as part of their special character also have a legal responsibility to ensure that religious instruction, in keeping with their special character, continues to form part of the  school programme of education.

Here’s some questions you might like to ask the Ministry of Education and the Minister Jan Tinetti under the Official Information Act:

* why are they conducting another review when the previous review shows that Bethlehem College is outperforming many other schools
* are they sending four staff for three days to scrutinise state schools or is this a special approach for faith-based schools? 
* is the Ministry aware of the two NZ Media Council decisions that have gone against the prejudiced and unfair media coverage of Bethlehem College?
* do they accept that State-integrated schools can keep their own special character / religious belief as part of their school programme?
* do they accept that the general school programme within State-integrated schools must reflect the education with a special character provided by the State integrated school, and religious and other examples may be used to reinforce teaching throughout the school day?

In our view, this latest action by the ERO is plain discrimination. The activists and the Government are showing their anti-religious prejudice.

We conclude with the perfect response that the Board of Trustees made when the media previously tried to target Bethlehem College.

“Paul] Shakes added that the college was continuing to engage with the Ministry of Education and its review office regarding its Christian beliefs. “But as we’ve said a number of times now, with all due respect our beliefs will not be changing. Christian beliefs have been held by people around the world for thousands of years because they bring life, hope and flourishing and continue to be just as relevant and valuable today. We know not everyone will agree with our beliefs. We respect their right to hold and express their beliefs. We just ask that respect is offered in return.”


Just finally, the Free Speech Union has an Public Letter supporting Bethlehem College. If you haven’t already signed it, please consider doing so. Sign here:

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