Ministry of Education response to the allegation against Robert Burrett on 23 March 2015

Background

At 5.00pm on 23 March 2015 we were made aware by the transport operator of an allegation of inappropriate touching made against Robert Burrett. The transport operator confirmed that he had been stood down immediately. We were advised on 24 March 2015 that Burrett may have been employed by another school. We contacted the school and were advised that he was no longer employed. On the 27th March 2015 police advised us of their investigation.

During the investigation we searched our records and those of the previous Education Boards. We identified three complaints against Burrett which were investigated by the transport provider he worked for at the time. We have reviewed in detail the allegations, how they were managed and the outcomes and we are satisfied with what occurred.

Details of the complaints are as follows:

  1. May 2013, Christchurch – allegation of inappropriate comments and behaviour.
    The transport operator interviewed the driver and provided notes of the investigation to the parents. The parents accepted Burrett’s account and asked that the investigation be cancelled. The school advised the transport operator, the Ministry transport service agent and parents that they were pleased with the process followed and that the matter has been resolved. The transport operator also chose to move the driver to a different route so that he did not continue to drive the student. 
  2. September 2014, Christchurch – allegation that Burrett may have been drinking.
    A school staff member advised she thought she smelt alcohol on Burrett during the afternoon run. The associate principal of the school spoke to Burrett but could not smell it herself and stated she did not believe him to be impaired or a risk to students. She reported it to the transport operator. The employer investigated those concerns. He rode unannounced the next day with Burrett and did not see any evidence of drinking.
  3. February 2015, Christchurch – failing to unload a student from the bus.
    A school reported that Mr Burrett failed to unload a student from the bus. This was investigated by his employer, the school transport operator. Mr Burrett reported being unaware that the student was in the vehicle. Global Positioning System records show that the vehicle was at another school for three minutes before the student was then returned to the correct school. The employer investigated the incident and required Mr Burrett to attend further training. 

These are the only complaints the Ministry or its agents have received about Burrett until the time of the complaints that are now before the courts, that we are aware of.

The only other previous issue we were notified of was in April 1993, when Lake Rotoma School informed us of issues with Burrett involving friction with other staff and allegations of poor teaching. There were no other allegations. This was not a complaint. It was received after Burrett had left the school.

We received a copy of the Board of Trustees chairperson’s report from Lake Rotoma School dated 2 April 1993. The Chairperson reported that there had been friction between the parents, staff and Principal and allegations of poor teaching in 1992. The Board‘s report states that the school was receiving assistance from the Schools Trustees Association and they had put measures in place to resolve the issues. The report also states that New Zealand Education Institute was providing assistance to the staff and Principal in regards to concerns about ‘his administrative role as head of the school’. Our records show Mr Burrett left his employment at the school in the second half of 1992 and the report outlining the issues was received by us after 2 April 1993.

We along with New Zealand Police and CYF have provided families with information, including the support of Accident Compensation Corporation. START (a Non Government Organisation that works to support the victims of sexual abuse) has provided additional support to families and schools. STAND Children Services provided increased social workers in schools support for an extended time.

Timeline of the Ministry’s response when first advised of the allegation

  1. The transport operator was alerted by a family on Monday 23 March 2015 at approximately 3:30pm of an alleged incident relating to their child on a Special Education School Transport Assistance (SESTA) service to school A. The operator advised us of the alleged incident by 5.00pm that evening. This was followed up in writing the following morning, Tuesday 24 March 2015.
  2. Burrett was immediately suspended from his duties by the transport operator. Burrett then tendered his resignation which was accepted.
  3. The incident was reported to the police on Tuesday morning 24 March 2015 by the principal of school A and the parent of the child who made the allegation.
  4. We contacted school B where Burrett was reported to be a caretaker to determine if he was an employee. The school advised his contract had been terminated a month prior.
  5. Ministry Traumatic Incident teams were immediately onsite to offer support and advice to school A.
  6. The police invited the Ministry of Education and CYF to a meeting on 27 March 2015 to advise of a mass allegation investigation. Immediately following that meeting we set up a Mass Allegation Investigation planning team.
  7. Mentoring support, media support, and relief staff was provided to schools A and B, this will continue for as long as needed. Employee Assistance Programme support was arranged for staff at school A and B.
  8. On 26 March 2015 Burrett initially faced three charges and pleaded not guilty. On 23 April 2015 police laid a further 17 charges, involving children from school A and B. We worked with Police and CYF to support school A and B during scoping interviews of students by police and CYF. We also supported a community meeting for school B to update families and focus on services and support.
  9. At the time of Burrett’s scheduled court appearances we contacted schools A and B to offer support. We contacted at regular intervals all other Canterbury schools Burrett was known to have had involvement with as a driver and or relief teacher. We also contacted north island schools that Burrett was known to have been employed at.
  10. During June and July the Ministry team worked with School Support, New Zealand School Trustee Association and the Education Council to ensure we had knowledge of all information held relating to Burrett.
  11. In June we had completed the Ministry file check of its records, where Burrett was known to have worked.
  12. In August a four week trial date was set to start on the 30 May 2016.
  13. On 19 February, 2016 Burrett entered a guilty plea to 21 charges against 12 children. Details of School A and B remained suppressed.
  14. Burrett was sentenced at the Christchurch High Court on Tuesday 12 April 2016 to almost 20 years in prison.

Procedure for Managing Allegations of Abuse (MAI)

The procedure for managing allegations of abuse involving an adult working in or associated with an education setting requires an interagency approach to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has a robust process for handling allegations of abuse and this is explained in the following documents:

In June 2011, the Cabinet Social Policy Committee agreed that a Memorandum of Understanding between Child Youth and Family and the Ministry of Education could help schools, kura and early childhood services identify and assist vulnerable children and young people and strengthen the working relationship with relevant agencies. A link is attached - Memorandum of Understanding with CYF [PDF, 537 KB].

This schedule details the agreement between Child, Youth and Family, the Ministry of Education, the New Zealand Police and the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand relating to the management of allegations of abuse involved an adult working in or associated with an education setting. A copy is attached.

The parties to this Child Protection Protocol (CPP) are Child, Youth and Family and New Zealand Police. This protocol sets out the way that Child, Youth and Family and the Police will work alongside each other in situations of serious child abuse. A link is attached -The Child Protection Protocol (CPP) between Child Youth and Family and the New Zealand Police [PDF; 4.25MB].

As part of its responsibilities to students and the greater community the Ministry of Education, in partnership with individual schools, has a responsibility to ensure that learning environments are emotionally and physically safe for children and young people - National Administration Guidelines (NAGs) 5.1.

In the event of a traumatic incident involving a student at school the Ministry of Education is available to work closely with the school to manage the incident and to reduce any possibility of further harm to others by assisting the school to continue its day-to-day operations. Links are attached with more information.

Our Traumatic Incident team in Christchurch have specialists who are providing advice and support to schools that have experienced trauma. We have been working closely with the schools, families, agencies and communities involved to ensure they have the support they need. This support will continue as long as it is needed.

A set of resources to assist schools/kura to implement the Vulnerable Children Act has been developed and are published on our website.

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