News that a principal was awarded contracts with the Ministry of Education worth hundreds of thousands of dollars while under investigation for sleeping naked with students needs an independent investigation, National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye says.

“The Teaching Council Disciplinary Tribunal recently cancelled Principal Uenuku Fairhall’s practicing certificate after describing his conduct as ‘disgraceful’. The Tribunal found Fairhall slept in the same bed as a student while naked, asked a student to remove their underwear, and engaged in sexualised talk with students.

“Allegations against Fairhall go back to February 2017. On 31 March 2017, a Deputy Secretary, Katrina Casey confirmed to the Rotorua Daily Post that the Ministry had been made aware of the allegations on 15 March 2017.

“The Ministry previously defended using Fairhall’s company, for which he is the sole director, and said ‘we did not work with Mr Fairhall at any time’. However, his company was contracted to provide Māori medium learning resources for schools and the Ministry while he was under investigation by the Tribunal.

“Fairhall’s work for the Ministry included at least three videos that were uploaded to the Ministry of Education Vimeo page in July 2018, over a year after allegations were first made. Fairhall features in these videos and his name is included in the titles. These videos have now been taken down. The Ministry now claims this was an administrative error.

“Regardless of why this occurred it is insensitive to the children involved in this case and shows a sloppy approach. Natural justice is important, but the Ministry should not have been awarding contracts given the serious allegations.

“The Minister has taken a very relaxed approach, stating he was satisfied the Ministry had acted appropriately, and quickly enough, following the announcement of the Teaching Council decision. After further questioning by media in the last few days, the Minister has now said Fairhall should not have been contracted.

“While the Ministry has now agreed to strengthen its information sharing with the Teaching Council and review how contracts are commissioned, it should not have taken Newshub media inquiries for this to have happened.

“An independent investigation is needed to look into the Ministry’s processes given the changing nature of their statements and their systems around contracting people being investigated for serious allegations.

“I am calling on the Minister to establish an independent investigation into this issue.”

A high level timeline of Ministry of Education involvement is here.

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