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Education Ministry boss quits after 'strained relationship'

Published: 11:45AM Wednesday December 19, 2012 Source: ONE News

The Secretary of Education Lesley Longstone has stepped down from her position after a breakdown in her relationship with Education Minister Hekia Parata.

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie announced today that he has accepted the resignation of Longstone, whose job carries a salary of around $500,000.

Longstone's early departure comes because Parata and Longstone were apparently no longer seeing eye to eye after a horror year in education, with issues including class sizes, Novopay, closing a special needs school and merging Christchurch schools all causing controversy.

"The key to any relationship succeeding is an effective relationship between a Minister and chief executive and clearly if that is not the case, as in this case, we have to contemplate a change in leadership," Rennie said.

Parata is currently on holiday and has refused to front on Longstone's resignation, but in a statement released this afternoon she thanked Longstone for her efforts in leading the Ministry.
"It has been a difficult period and there have been a series of tough issues to deal with," she said.
"Our Government is working hard to ensure that all our children get a better education. I continue to be focused on raising achievement in our schools so that our kids have the opportunities they need to reach their potential."
Parata said she would not be making any further comment on Longstone's departure, except saying she wishes "her well for the future".

Labour's Chris Hipkins says Parata should follow Longstone's lead and resign as Minister of Education.
"Hekia Parata has been a disaster as Education Minister. Everything she has touched she has stuffed up - from class sizes and school closures to Novopay and charter schools - her tenure as minister has been a series of blunders, botch-ups and bungles.
'It is just not tenable for Hekia Parata to continue as Education Minister. She is not up to the job, her credibility is shot and New Zealand's children deserve better."

"I'm not surprised the relationship between the Minister and Lesley Longstone was strained - Hekia Parata has tried to blame everyone but herself."

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Rennie said the last six months have been "especially challenging" for the Ministry of Education.

Despite the best efforts of the chief executive to work through a number of issues, "there now needs to be a focus on rebuilding the critical relationships that have been strained", he said.

"Following very careful thought and discussion, Lesley and I have decided that the best interests of the Ministry would be served by her stepping down and the appointment of a new chief executive," Rennie said.

Former Public Service chief executive Peter Hughes will be seconded from Victoria University as the acting chief executive.

Longstone was just one year into a five year contract, and her resignation will result in a taxpayer golden handshake to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Lesley and I have agreed to a package that falls within the Auditor-General's guidelines for severance payments in the public sector. Further details of this package will be released in the New Year once it is finalised," Rennie said.

Longstone took up the role in November, 2011, from her previous position as Director General for Infrastructure and Funding, in the English Department for Education in Britain.

Longstone will return to the United Kingdom for the Christmas break, as planned, and then will return to complete her role on February 8, Rennie said.

Rennie said he was grateful to Victoria University of Wellington for supporting the secondment of Peter Hughes who will take up his role from February 9.

The State Services Commission will advertise for the permanent role in the New Year, Rennie said.

Like Parata, Prime Minister John Key was not speaking publicly about the resignation today.