Editorial : Better the second time

19:13, Feb 19 2013

It is possible to do the right thing badly, though it's a rare feat to do it quite as badly as Education Minister Hekia Parata's initial handling of Christchurch school closures.

After the Canterbury earthquakes, it was reasonable some schools close and others merge. There were already 5000 empty seats in greater Christchurch schools before the quakes, and afterwards there were 9300.

No-one denies an adjustment was needed, bringing with it some pain. But the degree of unavoidable upset was nowhere near the anger and distress as communities recognised that the authorities were doing a bit of their own shaking, and were treating consultation as a tiresome charade.

The public uprising was such that the minister's own standing, already wobbly in light of the Novopay debacle, fell away even more.

After something closer to true consultation, the minister has decided that about a third of the proposed changes should not go ahead. No-one's calling that a 66 per cent pass for the initial exercise. It gives an insight into how much the Ministry of Education's can-do approach to reform got in the way of a should-do, let alone need-to one.

Twelve schools proposed for closure or merger have convinced the officials this time they should remain open. Seven others are still slated to close, and quickly. They will be gone by January, despite schools being assured children could stay until 2015.


The changes displace 4 per cent of Christchurch's student population. That figure may seem small but in real terms it's 3800 children and we don't yet know how many teachers.

Whether it's the best plan is unclear. Whether it's a better plan than last time is plain - it is.

Ms Parata could hardly win this time around. She stands open to ridicule for another backtrack, but had she held firm she would have been similarly lambasted. Backtracking was the right call politically as well as socially because the first exercise was so badly botched.

A stinging criticism of the revised plan is that it does not wait for the census, and all the lovely data that will reveal.

Quite apart from the possibility of schools seeking a judicial review, Ms Parata faces other pressures. The New Zealand Educational Institute raises doubts about the ministry's capacity to make the proposed changes by January. How will she deal with that eruption of public anger?

The Marlborough Express