Principal slams Christchurch schools merger plan

Last updated 17:21 13/09/2012
Daniel Tobin

Shirley Boys' High School principal John Laurenson reacts to the Government announcement of a possible merger with Christchurch Boys' High School.

School proposal timeline
Dimitri Howard Zoom
The timeline for consultation over proposed changes to Canterbury schools.

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Shirley Boys' High School principal John Laurenson has dismissed a proposal to merge the school with Christchurch Boys' High School as ''absurd nonsense''.

The Education Ministry announced an extraordinary backtracking over its proposal to merge Shirley Boys' with Christchurch Boys' High and the merger of Avonside Girls' with Christchurch Girls' High.

The ministry has issued a clarification this afternoon explaining that Avonside and Shirley Boys' "may be able to stay on their existing sites" only if they had favourable geotechnical reports.

Laurenson said Christchurch Boys' High School was simply not equipped to cope with the influx of students.

''We are not going to merge for the most practical reason. I have 1300 students in the school I think Trevor McIntyre at Christchurch Boys' will have something similar.''

''To simply say that Shirley closes and suddenly Christchurch Boys' High School is equipped to double in size is absurd. They don't have the land, they don't have the infrastructure. It's nonsense.''

Laurenson attended a meeting this morning held by the ministry and said a summary sheet released by them was ''grossly misleading''.

''It appeared to tell the community that Shirley Boys' High School was going to close and be merged with Christchurch Boys' High School.''

He said he was ''very cross'' with the day's events. He said the announcement had only managed to ''deeply hurt my community and my people''.

''That simple misinformation that came out has been quite devastating,'' he said.

''What has happened is an example of NCEA Level One not achieved- the information that went out is misleading and it's been picked up by media people and suddenly it's viral. We're now telling the community relax all is well and the ministry is busy retracting a vague statement.''

Laurenson said the media person for the ministry had spoken with him and a number of other principals and accepted it had been misleading.

"This has been really hurtful. I want Hekia Parata and John Key and the people in the media and area of responsibility to actually understand the community in Christchurch.

"I'm part of its bleeding. It's not in Wellington or Auckland, it's in Eastern Christchurch and it is bleeding.

"So when you get something like this- I think that's apalling. I think it's insenstive. I don't want any apologies for it I just want them to know how difficult it is to hold things together."

Laurenson said the school would ''definitely not be closing''.

''Their proposals, and there are a number of them, contain a number of eventualities... to have as an option merge the two, it's not an option. You can't merge the two.''

He had called an emergency meeting to discuss the matter with staff and would address students tomorrow.

''Now I've got to take a whole bunch of traumatised boys and say: 'Listen guys, you've still got a school and it's going to be here for a long time yet','' he said.

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''I just need to make my community understand Shirley is viable and will continue to do so. We're talking about a viable school.''

However, he did say Shirley Boys' would have to ''substantially rebuilt''.

''The only question that exists is are we going to be rebuilt on our site or do we have to find a new site to be rebuilt. We don't know that yet because the land report is not available yet.''

CONFUSION OVER CHANGES

Massive confusion emerged over the announcement from earlier today that 13 Canterbury schools could close and another 18 merge in a proposed shakeup of the region's education sector.

Read the proposal here

Schools facing closure include two intermediate schools in the west and several schools close to the residential red zone.

New schools are being mooted for Pegasus and Rolleston, but no details have been announced yet.

There are 214 schools in the Greater Christchurch region.

Avonside Girls' High will be merged with Christchurch Girls' High.

Aranui High will join Aranui primary, Avondale, Chisnallwood and Wainoni in a learning cluster.

Banks Avenue primary may be closed or relocated.

Earmarked for closure are Linwood Intermediate, Branston Intermediate, Richmond, Burnham, Burnside primary, Glenmoor primary in Mairehau, Hammersley Park primary in Shirley, Greenpark, Kendal school in Burnside, Le Bons Bay, Manning Intermediate, Duvachelle and Okains Bay.

Lyttelton Main will merge with Lyttelton West.

Freeville primary will be merged with North New Brighton primary.

Linwood Avenue School will merge with Bromley, and Phillipstown will merge with Woolston.

Windsor will merge with Burwood primary. Yaldhurst Model School will merge with Gilberthorpe School in Hei Hei.

Linwood College and Marshland primary are earmarked for relocation.

Principals were briefed on the shock announcement late this morning by Education Minister Hekia Parata, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Ministry of Education officials.

Significant numbers of teachers would probably leave Canterbury, said the head of the primary schools union.

New Zealand Educational Institute president Ian Leckie said the news was a consolidation of about 10 per cent of all Canterbury schools, which would "hugely affect'' many schools and change communities.

"The extent of what we are seeing here goes far further than what we would have normally expected.''

There were significant numbers of jobs at risk and he was concerned about the loss of experienced teachers.

This would have major consequences with not just teachers, but caretakers and other support staff.

"Schools are the focal point of their communities and what is happening here is that the focal points of all communities are being affected.''

Schools faced losing their "community identity'' when they merged and would affect families "in a major way".

Leckie said the news was an announcement rather than the start of any consultation.

People were still absorbing and taking in the news, he said.

"A huge pall is going to go across the city,'' he said.

Mairehau Primary School principal John Bangma said the reaction to the announcement was mixed.

He was one of dozens of principals briefed on the Government's plan.

His school was not affected by the proposals.

"There is a whole range of people that are ecstatic to a whole range of people who are going to be upset by what is happening and the consequences for their own communities.''

The atmosphere where principals were told was "respectful silence because it's a lot to take in'', Bangma said.

People were still digesting what they had been told, he said.

Brownlee and Parata said the Government would invest $1 billion on ''education renewal'' throughout Canterbury over the next decade.

Major developments that will go ahead immediately include rebuilding Halswell School and ''enhancement of education provision'' at the growing Pegasus and Rolleston communities.

Brownlee said the region's education sector had experienced huge disruption since the earthquakes.

''As we move from recovery to renewal, we have an opportunity to realign services with changing community needs and ensure our investment delivers better outcomes for learners and the wider community,'' he said.

''In line with community feedback, we are taking the time to get this right because the benefits to Christchurch and wider New Zealand are tremendous.''

Over time, he said, the new-look education network would give Christchurch, Canterbury and New Zealand a ''significantly enhanced asset".

Parata said the region's education sector and wider community had signalled support for new approaches to education and this included ''greater sharing of resources and capital".

To achieve that, schools had been grouped into clusters based on their geographic location.

''This will enable decisions about the schooling network to consider housing developments and surrounding infrastructure. It will also facilitate engagement with parents and learners to ensure they play a significant role in deciding the type of education provision that meets their community's needs,'' she said.

- The Press

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