Dr Liz Gordon: Bees, guns and cults: recent happenings in education


It was reported recently that hundreds of schools are paying a private organisation to receive ‘lockdown training’.  The rationale is that schools need to be prepared for anything under health and safety law. The cost is $2,000 to $6,000 for initial training and an undisclosed sum for annual updates.

So taxpayers are forking out for a private agency to rake in a nice little fee, in total around $1 million per year in income, to teach children drills for when they are attacked in the classroom/ school environment.

I see the point of pupils knowing how to react if something happens.  In most cases, actually, the ‘drop, cover, hold’ rules of earthquake reaction is the best response. What I don’t see is why a security agency should be employed, unless schools in New Zealand are thinking that they are about to get targeted by a mad gunmen.

I am not saying this could not happen.  With the rise in mental illness in the community, especially here in Christchurch, such a scenario could occur.  Down here, we do not forget that man who stormed into the Ashburton Work and Income office and vented his frustrations in a hail of deadly fire.

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But my view is that the risk is not big enough, or proximate enough (the two criteria under the law), to warrant schools spending up on this kind of security training.  They should do it themselves as part of a ‘keeping ourselves safe’ module. In short, I think teachers should be doing this with children, not an outside agency.

Another reason for this, apart from the cost, is that children should not be taught that their community is full of risks that they need to repel.  If the risk is a swarm of bees from local apiaries, then get the beekeepers in (or go and visit them).

I was also shocked to hear about the kitset gun safes being touted to early childhood centres. Guns and the under-fives should not co-exist in any form.  At all.

As my avid followers (hi, both of you) know, I have waged a campaign for years over the provision of licensing and public funding of private schools which teach loony and dangerous ideas to young people.

Education is a powerful tool.  It can be used for emancipation or for indoctrination. Some reasons for setting up private schools are because communities do not want to expose their children to mainstream values.  Sometimes these groups are ‘creationists’ who reject the theory of evolution the underpins science teaching. Such schools often use the bible, and especially the Old Testament, as if it were a textbook and a plan for modern life (and such a brutal text it is).

I have been particularly upset that the school at Gloriavale has been endorsed on numerous occasions by the Education Review office.  The main criterion ERO brings to private school review is that the education provided meets the needs of the community. Thus Gloriavale School is able to ensure children leave school at age 15, that boys and girls are taught separately, girls for their domestic future in the kitchens and laundry and boys to run the farm, and that the curriculum mainly consists of mad Christian ideas with a pinch of cultist views.  This gets a big tick from ERO.

Since Lilia Tarawa’s book in 2017, which revealed in depth the warped thinking and predatory nature of the Gloriavale cult, my long-time view that the school should be closed, and that the children should therefore be required to attend the local state school, has even more weight. I am really happy for people to stay voluntarily in Gloriavale for their whole lives, as long as their education helps them understand there are other life options out there. That is ‘informed choice’

I am also aware that taxpayers fork out around $200,000 per year to that place to educate young minds on fixed gender destinies, low aspirations, that God made the world in six days literally, and that woman are to be subject to men and to the cult leaders.  It is pretty unbearable, really.

The new government needs to review the guidelines around inspecting private schools, close the most harmful of them (only a handful) and base decisions on not that the community is happy with a school, but that the pupils are getting a full education devoid of wacky beliefs.


Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research.  Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).


  1. Disturbing that the ERO assesses the Gloriavale school on its own terms so it escapes the rigorous scrutiny with all the critirea it normally applies.Our taxes support these children being brainwashed into a wacky cult. The possibilities of these official practices being extended to support dubious politics – what about indoctrination into Nazi propaganda? The ‘lockdown’ training could be a step in that direction.If I sound alarmist Liz Gordon’s criticisms do fill me with alarm.

  2. While I understand some of the author’s concerns, when did education become about the needs of the teacher rather than the needs of the child? I was always taught to “…make it about them, not about you”. yet so much of the dialogue recently has been about individual adult’s views of what is good for our kids. Good parenting should be about knowing when to draw that line. About when to allow kids to explore, learn, problem-solve and experience for themselves.

    Should we promote guns – definitely not. Should we endorse those that do – No. Are guns a part of our society – yes they are. Is gun safety not a responsible topic – yes it is.

    Increasingly in our society we are seeing examples of broken people taking up arms and threatening our communities. There are more examples of childcare centres being foced by Police into lockdown than I care to think about. It happens. Being prepared is essential.

  3. Agree 100% with Dr Liz Gordon, it’s an outrage.

    One of the big trends in children is anxiety. Being told again and again safety messages that schools seem to be compelled to do by government, in my mind is a big trigger for anxiety.

    The next biggest danger is obesity. Children are now encouraged to ‘stay safe’ by not exploring their environment and possibly hurting themselves and being discouraged to ‘free range’ in any capacity whether at school or outside of school. Bizarrely they are so worried about health and safety of everyday hazards but risks like playing Rugby and other sports is fine! It’s a complete double standard!

    I’d like to see the health and safety laws changed so that they prosecute Pike River executives that kill 29 people in a death trap, while reduce the stupidity of health and safety that forces a massive amount of liability on teachers and schools whose job and budgets should be 99% focused on education. Teaching common sense is a big way to avoid accidents.

    Some preschool recently has to fill out a 29 page report about health and safety before taking kids out to a park. They identified a ‘prickly’ tree as a hazard and had to seal it off. It’s ridiculous! Children are going to encounter ‘prickly trees’ so might as well get used to them – focusing on everyday normal hazards should not be the schools main issue on every trip!

    The world is not that dangerous a place and the biggest danger will be them driving/biking/walking to school due to a traffic accident or playing sports all of which are outside of the health and safety.

    As for public money teaching the more ‘cult like’ private schools should not be allowed. All kids in NZ should be going to mainstream schools and if they have a special charter (like religion) all good, BUT they have to also get a prescribed state education so they have a choice in what to believe.

  4. I placed a comment here, and I wish to know why it was not published.
    (political reasons will be keenly heard. As will any other criticisms ..
    (of said comment))

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