Letters sent to Christchurch schools facing shake up

CHARLEY MANN
Last updated 10:21 28/09/2012
John Key
Fairfax NZ
JOHN KEY: "When we make those final decisions there will be changes from what's recommended".

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Letters are being hand-delivered to Canterbury schools facing closure or a merger to lay out the timetable for consultation.

The Education Ministry letter outlines the timeline for consultation, giving schools up to 10 weeks to tell the ministry what it thinks of the proposals with a firm December 7 deadline.

However, those schools whose boards are closing voluntarily must tell the ministry within four weeks, or by October 26.

The ministry gives itself another nine weeks to give its report on the schools feedback to the Education Minister, which must be sent by February 8.

The minister will tell the boards of her decision on Monday, February 18.

Where boards agree to the proposed closure or merger, the minister can move to make a final decision.

If the minister agrees to consider an alternative propoerals then consultation on this alternative proposal will take place.

However, where boards do not agree to a proposed closure or merger, a 28-day "response period" begins.

Boards must provide information or reasons why their school shoud dstay open or not merge by Friday, March 22.

Formal announcements on all clsoures and mergers is expected to be made on April 5.

JOHN KEY SAYS SOME CHANGE LIKELY

Controversial plans to shake up Canterbury's education system will change, Prime Minister John Key says.

In his first comments on the plans since they were revealed two weeks ago, Key said yesterday that changing demographics, costly repairs and ministry research were behind the proposals. But he offered a sliver of hope to Cantabrians who have reacted angrily to the plans.

"In the end, I will tell you now, when we make those final decisions there will be changes from what's recommended," he said.

"We could obviously put everything back where it was. But just like the CBD isn't going to be put back in the way it was in the past, it won't always make sense for the schooling system to be completely replicated in what you had."

Critics called Key's comments a "significant backdown" on plans to close 13 Christchurch schools and put 25 through some form of merger.

Labour MP for Wigram Megan Woods said the community could "take heart". "This is a significant backdown by the Government and the community should chalk this up to a win."

Woods said Parata had originally been clear the proposals were firm. "This is not Key coming in and clarifying things," she said. "Hekia Parata said it was a firm plan. Her boss is swooping into town and cleaning things up."

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Speaking at the official opening of Press House, Key also said the upcoming consultation process would be "genuine".

But some principals doubt they will be heard.

Burnside Primary School principal Matt Bateman said Key's comments suggested the fate of his school had already been decided.

"I'm very alarmed at the comments . . . that have shown the consultation process we're supposedly going into isn't genuine at all," he said.

Key said Burnside Primary, which would cost about $9 million to rebuild, was "full of borer".

"We could pick up that cash, and frankly, quite a bit more, and wander down to potentially, say, Cobham, and build a 21st-century school .

"Ask, do you want 1960s Burnside . . . or do you want a 21st-century school, you might get a different answer."

Bateman questioned Key's figures, saying it would cost only $4.5m at most to repair and rebuild the school.

Key also mentioned Ouruhia School in Belfast, and Greenpark School in Lincoln, which face closure.

He said necessary earthquake repairs at the sites "don't cost much to fix", but

Education Ministry research was behind the closure plan.

Ouruhia principal Mark Ashmore-Smith said the proposal felt "like a done deal". Greenpark principal Andrea Klassen was pleased to "finally get some decent comments from the Government".

The school had hardly any earthquake damage, she said.

"I've always felt there was another agenda other than earthquake damage. I thought maybe it could be our small roll, but we offer an alternative to the community - many parents prefer their children to go to a smaller school."

MINISTRY RUSHED BRIEFING

The Ministry of Education used a Kapa Haka competition to consult Maori on Christchurch's significant school changes.

A document leaked to The Press, entitled "Summary of Ngai Tahu and Maori consultation process May 2012" reveals the ministry consulted iwi in "less than a three-week period".

"This work was carried out at very short notice and within tight timeframes," the document says.

The news comes as Labour put the heat on Education Minister Hekia Parata, who admitted on Wednesday the only people she "consulted" before announcing the proposal to close schools and merge others across Canterbury were ministry staff.

The ministry proposes to close or merge seven out of 10 Christchurch schools that offer Maori medium education.

The Maori consultation document shows that just 74 responses were received.

The ministry regarded this to be "fairly significant".

Consultation began on May 19 when representatives attended a Kapa Haka competition at Lincoln Events Centre, where "a large number of Maori were in attendance".

Further consultation was piggybacked on to hui, at Freeville School on May 24 and Tuahiwi school on May 22. On May 22 a hui was also held at CPIT, that was attended by "a small group".

An email was sent to Maori resources teachers - of which Christchurch has five - and secondary Maori teachers.

A "few" responses were received from emails sent to Selwyn schools.

- The Press

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