Secretary for Education Lesley Longstone announced her resignation this week (Wednesday December 19th) after a breakdown in her relationship with Education Minister Hekia Parata.
The education sector has suffered a number of problems this year including criticism over plans to close some Christchurch schools, plans for charter schools and problems with the Novopay payroll system.
State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said he had been in talks with Ms Longstone for a month before a decision was reached a few weeks ago. Her relationship had been difficult with Ms Parata and with a number of sector groups he said. Ms Longstone was just a year into her five year tenure.
Before the announcement was publicly made, Ms Longstone sent an email to staff explaining her decision. In it she said the decision had been "extremely difficult" and that 2012 was "without doubt a very challenging year for the ministry".
Ms Longstone noted some of the many achievements she felt had been made, however she acknowledged that not everything had "gone smoothly".
"The accumulation of these and other things has led to a deterioration in relationships with a number of important stakeholders", the email said. It went on to say that the best interests of the ministry would be served by "the appointment of a new chief executive unencumbered by the difficulties of the past 6 months who is able to focus on, and re-build those relationships."
Calls are now being made for Education Minister Hekia Parata to also lose her job. Both the Greens and the Labour Party have called for the minister to step down saying Ms Longstone has taken the blame for Ms Parata’s mistakes.
Labour MP Chris Hipkins said Ms Parata’s credibility was shot and that she had tried to blame everyone but herself for the ministry’s problems.
Green party co-leader Metiria Turei said it must have been difficult for Ms Longstone to work with a Minister "who didn't communicate, and blamed Ms Longstone for her own failures ... This minister has overseen a massively destructive year in education and must go."
Mr Rennie said the strained relationship between Ms Longstone and Ms Parata was a factor in the decision. However, Prime Minister John Key is supporting his Education Minister. Speaking through a spokesman today, Mr Key said he had complete confidence in Ms Parata.
Ms Parata thanked Ms Longstone for her efforts in leading the ministry through difficult times but would not comment further on this.
Ms Longstone will take a break for Christmas and then continue in her role until February 8th. It is understood she has been offered a substantial severance package. Former Public Service chief executive Peter Hughes has been seconded as Acting Chief Executive and Secretary for Education and will take up the position on February 9th.