Ombudsman to look at school mergers

Last updated 05:00 12/01/2013

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The Office of the Ombudsman will investigate what it sees as a systemic issue with how school mergers and closures are handled.

A lack of consultation with communities before the Ministry of Education announced the closure or merger of 39 Christchurch schools has prompted the review of the process.

Ombudsman David McGee yesterday said he would in the next month be asking the public and education sector to contribute to the debate, and would investigate whether guidance given to boards of trustees was adequate.

It comes after the merger of two Wellington primary schools - Miramar South School and nearby Strathmore Community School - was condemned by staff and community of the latter as a takeover.

The principal of the former Strathmore Community School, Pele Tui, said in November that though it may have been legal to have only two of its staff offered jobs at the new school, the situation was unfair.

The deputy principal, three teachers, a teacher aide and an office administrator from Miramar South were all offered jobs.

New board chairman Wayne Lowther admitted communication could have been better, but called claims the merger was a takeover "rubbish".

Dr McGee said although closure or merger proposals were always going to create "angst" within communities, he felt it was worsened with legislation giving "little guidance".

"Rather than resolving issues in court after the event, it does seem to me best to in advance think about best practice."

In a report he released last month, Dr McGee said mergers and closures had a major impact on school staff, pupils, parents and communities.

"Therefore, effective consultation is of utmost importance.

"Schools and parents should not have to ferret out information by making official information requests."

The new merged Wellington school of 146 pupils will open at the Miramar site in term one, until the Strathmore site is ready as the permanent location.

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- The Dominion Post

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