Parent Story: Fixing the Mess

I removed my child from the Maharishi School at the end of last year. At that stage we were told she was working a year ahead of her class level and was considered to be performing at a very high standard. But she seemed to us to be struggling. A lot. We have now been in our (lovely) new school community for two school terms and we have just received our first school report from the new school. After two terms of assistance from a classroom aide and after-school private tutoring and lots of work at home on the Mathletics program (paid for by the school but available for use by students at home – something which the Maharishi School never offered) my child is now considered to be perfectly average and working at a LOWER standard than the Maharishi School claimed her to be 12 months ago. So after 2 school terms of hard work from everyone and lots of standardised testing (which we have been welcomed to view regularly) she is feeling MUCH better about her academic competency but is still being assessed at a LOWER standard that her teachers at the Maharishi School “guessed” her to be at 12 months ago. What does that tell you about that school? We got out in time to fix the mess that was caused by the Maharishi School but I feel so sorry for the (lovely) kids who remain. They will only find out how behind they are when they get to high school and by then it might be too late.

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Crikey: A further twist to the tale of David Feeney and the Maharishi School

First published in Crikey on June 2, 2016.

The controversial school has long connection with Labor frontbencher David Feeney.

We reported earlier this week that Labor’s David Feeney had got himself into yet another spot of bother over his spruiking of a $500,000 grant to the Maharishi School in Reservoir, a private school with fewer than 50 students that is currently under investigation. A tipster tells us that Feeney’s connection with the school actually goes way back:

“There’s a further twist to this. The Maharishi school was for years run out of the old Loyola seminary in Watsonia, owned by the Grollo family. Patriarch Bruno Grollo had become a keen follower of Maharishi yoga, and urged everyone to practice transcendental meditation. The Grollos gave generously to the Natural Law Party, an outfit which ran candidates in every lower house seat in the 1996 election (the Natural Law foundation is the holding body for the school). But the Grollos also had good relations with the union movement, and Labor – and one of the architects of Progressive Business for Labor, a donations-funnelling group established in the 1990s was … David Feeney.”

Herald Sun: Labor and Greens candidates criticised for attending official opening at Maharishi School

First published at the Herald Sun on 31 May 2016.

A SEEMINGLY ordinary school building opening in Reservoir has tripped up the two front runners in the race to win the federal seat of Batman.

Batman federal Labor MP David Feeney and Greens candidate Alex Bhathal on Tuesday came under fire on social media for attending the opening of new administration building at the Maharishi School in Reservoir on Monday.

The school was this year reviewed for a possible breach of the minimum standards for school registration, and was down to just 49 enrolments after losing half of its student population in a mass exodus last year.

Mr Feeney today came under fire after incorrectly posting to Facebook that the Maharishi School had “today secured $500,000 for new facilities”.

The slip up — where the school actually received no new funding, with the $500,000 first announced in 2014 — led to angry responses on social media.

“A school, under investigation, with dwindling numbers, receives a massive grant … While our local public schools get almost nothing. Shame,” Sara Allen commented.

Greens candidate Alex Bhathal, who also attended the building opening, didn’t escape unscathed either.

“I’m confused why you’d support a school currently under investigation and has received $2 million in 5 years over state schools?” Amy Gray tweeted.

“I’m really disappointed to hear this as a Darebin greens member. Are/were you aware the school is under investigation?” Lefa Singleton Norton, a past parent of the school, tweeted.

The school visit was the latest slip for Mr Feeney, after it was revealed he hadn’t declared a $2.3 million house on his interest register, failed to know Labor policies in an interview, and left Labor’s confidential “talking points” on a desk at Sky News.

Dee Cakir, Mr Feeney’s spokeswoman, said: “He was there in his capacity as a local member alongside Greens and government representatives doing his job as a local MP.”

Ms Bhathal has also been approached for comment.

The Department of Education has been contacted to find out if its investigation into the school is ongoing.

New Matilda: Six Times David Feeney Proved He Is The Hapless Anti-Hero This Election Needs

First published at New Matilda on 31 May 2016.

Not all heroes wear capes. And neither do all tragicomic factional warlords, apparently.

After the weekend’s leadership debate saw ennui crowned the winner, it seems only appropriate to pay tribute to the one man giving voters a reason to stay tuned in to the increasingly bland 2016 campaign.

David Feeney, the Labor MP for Batman, is a campaigner who can’t help but lose even after he has already declared victory. His heroic determination to trip over every hurdle placed in his way – and then double back, drag a further obstacle into his path, and ram headfirst into that too – has made his race to be returned in what should be a safe Labor seat a joyous spectacle to behold. He’s the reverse Daniel Ricciardo of Australian politics – instead of having a certain victory dashed by his hapless assistants, he’s doing the necessary damage from behind the wheel.

Here’s to Feeney, the people’s powerbroker.

When He Pulled Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory Today

Feeney was in flying form today. As incumbent, you have one big advantage: pointing to what you have done for the electorate while in charge. And so, he tweeted this, about cash provided for local school.

Feeney Tweet

Like everything the “embattled” candidate has done in the past two weeks, it blew up on him.

Turns out the schools is being investigated by a Victorian regulatory body, has virtually no students left, and may have sold alternative medicines to its own students. Could the money perhaps have gone to, oh, I don’t know, a public school, some asked?

Soon Feeney had dropped the apparent funding brag, and was blaming the decision to hand the money to the school on another party.

Feeney Backdown

A win for the local community? Doubtful. A rare victory for Feeney? Certainly not.

Luckily for the MP, Greens Batman candidate Alex Bhathal was also at the event.

When He Forgot To Declare His $2.3 Million Negatively Geared House

This one really kicked it off for Feeney, after he not only forgot to declare the property on his parliamentary register of interests, but also conceded it (and another property) was negatively geared. Not a great look when your party is running hard against the policy. The good news for Feeney is that his party’s plan is grandfathered, so his own investments won’t be harmed should Labor form government after July. The bad news is, his income may be severely impacted by then anyway.


When He Got Speered On Live TV

An attempt to apologise for the above mistake turned into a David and David battle in which Sky News host David Speers came out on top after Feeney failed to recall what the school kids bonus was, confusing it with the baby bonus.

“I’ve been a little distracted over the last few days, David,” Feeney said. The self-awareness did him little good.

When He Leaked Against Himself

The interview was immediately dubbed a train wreck, but quickly became a disaster of an even grander scale – a titanic, if you will. The good ship Feeney struck a rather bad leak, with a briefing paper fallinginto the hands of Murdoch tabloid The Daily Telegraph after he apparently left it behind at Sky News waiting room.

Given how hard the Tele has dug in behind Anthony Albanese, another inner city Labor MP fending off the Greens, it’s perhaps a sign of his current luck that Feeney fared so badly in the paper the next day when it served up the scoop.

1/2 @Feeney4Batman left notes on a couch in the waiting area outside Sky News studio. An area heavily trafficked by other guests & staffers

To gift two gaffes in a single interview to a press and population thoroughly bored of the government’s ‘jobs and growth’ talking points was truly a selfless deed.

When Everyone Else Leaked Against Him Too

After installing a massive billboard with his own face on it, in an apparent attempt to calm nerves and woo back voters in Batman, one ALP source was happy to do what Feeney had just done to himself, providing background and ammunition to News Corp.

Feeney was reportedly told not to go for the personalised branding given, you know, who he is. One insider told The Australian the advertisement looked like like a piece of North Korean propaganda, with another describing his campaign as a “clusterfuck”.

Don’t let the faceless men get you down, David!

When He Got Stumped By A Question In His Own Campaign Video

You know things are not going well when your own campaign video is a bit suss on you. And worse, when it appears to put you on the spot almost as much as David Speers might.

Halfway though a clip shared from his Facebook page, Feeney responds to this question.

Tough one, especially for a man who was right at the heart the coup that swept Rudd from office, for which he was reportedly rewarded with the seat of Batman after his Senate spot became untenable.

But bizarrely, Feeney doesn’t even deny the suggestion in his own video, instead trying to re-characterise it as a strength in a borderline nonsensical response.

“That allegation ultimately goes to the fact I have a seat at the decision making table in government then [sic]for me that will be mission accomplished,” he says.

What mission? Which table? It’s all rather unclear.

Feeney’s campaign appears to have reversed the famous dictum, coming to the conclusion that ‘defence is the best form of attack’. Once you’re attacking yourself, it gets kind of hard to tell the two apart anyway.

To be fair, there is one part of the video that rings very true.

“This is a country where everybody can hope to be something special,” Feeney declares.

His ongoing position in the Australian parliament proves that beyond all doubt.

Huffington Post: David Feeney Celebrates $500,000 Grant For ‘Age of Enlightenment’ School

First published at Huffington Post on 31 May 2016.

Labor MP David Feeney is again facing criticism for supporting a $500,000 grant for a controversial alternative school with 50 students that encourages transcendental meditation.

Feeney, the Member for Batman who came to national attention for failing to declare a $2.3 million house, posted photos on his Facebook account on Monday after attending the unveiling of $500,000 of funding for a school in his electorate, which he described as a “great local win”.

The Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment operates on a system of “consciousness-based education”. The curriculum section of its website details support for transcendental meditation, Science of Creative Intelligence, and Maharishi’s Vedic Approach to Health.

One mother who withdrew her child from the school this year, citing a lack of testing or tracking of students’ learning progress, described Feeney’s support for the grant as “embarrassing” and “ridiculous”.

The school has also attracted scrutiny for its alternative teaching methods and approach to children. The Age reported in April that the school was under investigation over whether its methods contributed to students’ levels of stress, and back in 2015 it was reported that the school had supplied alternative herbal medicines to students. The school has also seen its already small population halve in the last year, from 100 to around 50 students.

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Lefa Singleton Norton enrolled her son in the Maharishi school for prep year in 2015. She pulled him out of the school this year, one of many parents who had done the same

She said the school did not live up to the ideals or promises that had been made on its website or made to her in person when she was considering the school for her child.

“One child, her work book hadn’t been marked for a year. They weren’t doing any testing of kids, and there were question marks about the school facilities,” she told The Huffington Post Australia.

“The kids were using portaloos, there weren’t any inside toilet facilities… My son wet himself because he hates the portaloos, they’re gross and full of spiders.”

School principal Steve Charisis confirmed to HuffPost Australia that Feeney, Greens candidate for Batman, Alex Bhathal and National Party Senator Bridget McKenzie were all invited to the event, to celebrate the opening of a new administration block at the school.

When asked about the media reports on the school’s controversy, he said he had only started as principal this year but acknowledged that “the school went some difficult times last year” and attendance was now down to around 50 students.

“We’re regenerating, it’s a beautiful environment to be part of. People are embracing change. The school is heading in a positive direction,” he told HuffPost Australia.

On the grant, he said the school had applied for the money when enrolments were around 100 students, and claimed the school had raised around $500,000 on its own to go toward the costs of the new building.

“It was a federal government grant for which the school applied last year or the year before. As an independent school, we apply for a grant… that is adding to the money the school added in,” Charisis said.

Wonderful school community! Maharishi School in today secured $500,000 for new facilities in local win

Charisis admitted the school used portaloos during the construction of the new building, as the construction rendered other toilets unusable.

“It was because the new building was being built, the school invested in portaloos for the students who were here,” he said.

“There were toilets in the old building that was replaced with the new building. On occasion you will need to bring in portaloos, to make sure there are enough facilities.”

FAIRFAX MEDIA
Students meditate at the Maharishi school.

Feeney claimed in a follow-up comment the Coalition government had committed the funding.

“This particular capital grant was presented to the school by National Party Senator Bridget McKenzie on behalf of the Turnbull Coalition Government,” he wrote.

“In 2014 the Federal Government allocated over $1.5 million to non-government primary and secondary schools in Batman through the Capital Grants Program (CGP), which aims to improve capital infrastructure where they otherwise would not have access to sufficient resources.”

Feeney was criticised by many online for his support for the program.

@Feeney4Batman A private school with less than 50 kids gets $500k? That’s disgraceful. Look at the needs of schools across the community.

So Feeney is proudly celebrating a $500,000 grant to a school with less than 50 students that is being investigated for its weird practises.

“Have you not read all the complaints and media reports about this school? You’re rewarding a school that is poorly managed, has lost significant student numbers, is under investigation and giving them half a mil? ” wrote another on Facebook.

A spokesperson for Feeney told The Guardian “he was there in his capacity as a local member alongside Greens and government representatives doing his job as a local MP”.

MAHARISHI SCHOOL WEBSITE
The Maharishi school, from its website

Singleton Norton has since enrolled her son in a local public school, and said it was “inexcusable” that such a large amount of funding had been directed to a school as small as Maharishi.

“My son’s school now hasn’t had capital grants funding for almost 10 years. The buildings were built decades ago, and little significant work done since then,” she said.

“There are other schools, private and public, have a lot more need than this tiny school serving a tiny community.

“For Feeney to be calling this a local win is ridiculous,” she continued.

“Embarrassing is the perfect word. If anything could have shown him as more out of touch than the housing debacle, then this it.”

The Huffington Post Australia has sought comment from the Department of Education around how the grant was assigned and whether the funding had been reconsidered in lights of reports of the school’s operations.

Crikey: David Feeney’s latest

First published in Crikey on 31 May 2016:

Scandal and gaffe plagued frontbencher David Feeney faces criticism for school appearance.

Labor frontbencher David Feeney is trying his best to recover from a series of gaffes in which it was revealed that he hadn’t declared one of his houses on his interest register, failed to articulate Labor policies, and then left his talking points in the waiting room at Sky. Yesterday he tweeted that a school in his electorate had secured $500,000 for new facilities, but that hasn’t got a great reaction from locals — the Maharishi private school is under investigation by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority after half the students left last year, leaving it with fewer than 50 students.

David Feeney Facebook

 

According to The Age:

“Some concerned parents claimed the school repressed physical activity such as soccer, basketball and ‘tiggy’ because it was not peaceful enough, according to a confidential report.

“The report, which was commissioned by the school and written by Lyngcoln Consultants, found high levels of stress among staff, “with the ‘stress-free’ environment which had attracted them as a teacher, now not being a reality”.

“In the view of the consultants the school currently is not living up to its values or expectations of providing a stress free environment for staff, parents/carers or students,” it said.”

The Guardian: David Feeney criticised for supporting $500,000 grant for school under investigation

First published in The Guardian 31 May 2016

Embattled Labor MP David Feeney is again under fire, this time for supportingCoalition funding for a primary school in his electorate which promotes “transcendental meditation” and “consciousness-based education”.

On Tuesday the Batman MP boasted on Twitter of the “wonderful school community” at the Maharishi school in Reservoir in Melbourne’s north, after the school secured $500,000 through the federal government’s Department of Education capital grants program.

The funding was a “local win”, Feeney said on Twitter, posting a photo while on a visit to the school.

The school, which has fewer than 100 students, is under investigation by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority following complaints from parents and concerns about poor record keeping. As part of the school’scurriculum, the students take part in the “daily practice of transcendental meditation”.

“Parents, educators and students have long felt something was missing in education,” the curriculum states.

“Consciousness-Based Education fills this gap by providing the missing element – development of the knower. For education to be complete, it must include development of consciousness and the achievement of higher states of consciousness.”

As part of health education students are taught “self-pulse assessment, a precise technique for detecting imbalances in the body”. The Therapeutic Goods Administration investigated the school in 2012.

According to a report from Fairfax last month, parents became concerned by aspects of the curriculum, including the removal of sports deemed “not peaceful enough” such as soccer and basketball. Fairfax also reported the school wasselling students alternative medicines to treat anxiety, behavioural issues and learning difficulties, which the school denied.

In November, the Herald Sun reported that one in three of the school’s 97 students would not return in 2016 “for various reasons, not just because [their parents] have concerns about the school”.

A spokeswoman for Feeney said: “He was [visiting the school] as a local member.”

“He was invited,” she said. “He was there in his capacity as a local member alongside Greens and government representatives doing his job as a local MP.

“I’ve seen the comments about the school being under investigation. He was just there in his capacity as a local member.”

Guardian Australia has contacted the Coalition to ask why funding was awarded to the school given the investigation.

The Greens candidate Alex Bhathal and Nationals senator for Victoria, Bridget McKenzie, were also at the ceremony at the school on Monday.

A spokesman for Bhathal said he understood her invitation was “a last-minute one” but that he would have to investigate further as to why she had attended and whether she knew about the controversy surrounding the school.

McKenzie’s office has been contacted for comment.

Steve Charisis, who has been principal at the school since the beginning of 2016, said the funding was granted 18 months ago, after the school made an application for funding for a new administration building.

“Yesterday was the official opening ceremony to thank the federal government,” Charisis said. “The federal government asks that their contribution is acknowledged through an opening ceremony.”

He said the school had undergone a review following complaints to the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority, and that changes had been made, including his appointment as principal and changes to the school’s administration.

But he said claims the school was promoting alternative medicines were “untrue”.

“I acknowledge the difficulties at the school last year,” he said. “But my analysis after four months of being principal is there are many things being claimed by a core group of vexatious parents that left the school at the end of last year. Those claims are being exaggerated.”

The school still taught transcendental meditation, he said.

Feeney has struggled throughout the election campaign. He came under fire earlier this month for failing to declare his $2.3m, negatively-geared house on the parliamentary register. Then he accidentally leaked Labor’s campaign strategy when he left his notes behind following a stumbling interview with Sky News.

Parent Story: A Different Child

Our daughter has had eczema since she was a tiny baby. In recent years her eczema seemed to be getting worse rather than better despite all of our attempts to manage it. However in recent months her eczema has virtually disappeared. Almost entirely gone! She is a different child. The only thing that has changed in our daughter’s life is that we withdrew her from the Maharishi School last year and she is now attending a new school where she is much happier. She is no longer being bullied (something which the Maharishi School failed to acknowledge or address), she is delighting in having teachers who actually teach (prepare lessons, engage, explain, assist, mark work and assess her understanding of the topics covered) and she is having fun and being stimulated with a broad range of subjects, sports, lunchtime clubs, interschool activities and excursions. It would seem that the stress she endured at the shambolic Maharishi School was playing havoc with her health and wellbeing. And now both the stress and the eczema are gone. We feel such guilt that we so gullibly chose that cult school to provide a nurturing environment for our girl. Nothing could have been further from reality.

Parent Story: Unfounded?

It was with great interest that I read the recent article published in The Leader and Herald Sun in which you were directly quoted as declaring that the multiple formal complaints made to the VRQA last year by Maharishi School parents were “unfounded”. I was one of many, many parents who, after unsuccessfully attempting to resolve issues with Principal Frances Clarke and her School Board, turned to the VRQA for assistance. I had repeatedly, formally requested copies of my child’s assessments (upon which glowing, but wildly inaccurate school reports had supposedly been based) but these results were never produced. Frances Clarke repeatedly made both private and public assurances that my child had been appropriately assessed with specific standardised tests but these test results never materialised and the classroom teacher openly denied ever having administered them. Further to this, Frances Clarke repeatedly, publicly declared that ALL parents could view their children’s “Student Files” which she claimed contained assessment results and detailed observations from each teacher over each year of the children’s attendance at the Maharishi School. Many, many parents formally requested these records and yet they were never produced. I understand that some teachers (including some who remain at the school) acknowledged that these records simply do not exist.
So Mr Charisis, I can only assume that your declaration that our complaints to the VRQA were “unfounded” can mean only one thing…. It must mean that you have located these assessment results and “Student Files” and are ready to distribute this long-awaited documentation to the many parents like me who have been chasing this information for months and months. I look forward to hearing from you and School Manager Suzi Haynes ASAP so that the dozens of parents who left the school last year can finally come and collect their children’s assessments and “Student Files” from you. Thanks for tracking down all of this information. Your personal efforts are much appreciated.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Maharishi School Parent(s).

Herald Sun: Reservoir Maharishi School Principal Says Parents Complaints ‘Unfounded’

Article first appeared in the Herald Sun on April 18:

 
AN EMBATTLED Reservoir private school under investigation for breaching minimum standards is the victim of “unfounded” complaints from parents, according to its new principal.

The $6000-a-year Maharishi School, which teaches transcendental meditation, is being reviewed for a possible breach of the minimum standards for school registration.

The Dundee St school is down to just 49 enrolments after losing half of its student population (97) in a mass exodus of parents and their children last year.

Principal Steve Charisis said the school was expecting a “big tick” from the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) – the authority responsible for ensuring education meets quality standards.

“We’ve received a draft report that shows the school in an extremely good light,” Mr Charisis said.

“(There are) only a couple of tiny things that need to be attended to in terms of wording in policy and a couple of procedural things, but in effect the school has been given a big tick,” he said.

Mr Charisis was appointed principal of the school this year after its previous principal Frances Clarke left amid a flood of complaints from parents and an exodus of students from the school.

Mr Charisis said “the issues that parents have raised are unfounded” and triggered the VRQA investigation.

Despite Mr Charisis’ claim that the school had received a “big tick” from investigators, VRQA spokesman Steve Tolley said it was still an “active review”.

“The VRQA’s review will investigate the active compliance of the school in relation to potential breaches of the relevant minimum standards,” Mr Tolley said.

“These potential breaches were contained in a series of complaints received by the VRQA.”

The VRQA would not say when the investigation was expected to be completed.

Maharishi parents last year complained about a lack of student assessment, poor record keeping and gender-segregated classes.

The school axed single-sex classes following parent complaints.

The school, founded in 1996 before moving to Reservoir in 2002, offers daily meditation, small class sizes, no religious affiliation and consciousness-based education.