Parata choice shocks Salisbury School

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:00 18/01/2013
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Salisbury School is surprised and disappointed by Prime Minister John Key's decision to retain embattled Education Minister Hekia Parata.

Mr Key is expected to oversee a Cabinet reshuffle, with recent attention focusing on whether Ms Parata would be forced to stand down, following a series of controversies last year.

A High Court judgment in December found her decision to close Salisbury residential school for girls and place them in Halswell School in Christchurch was unlawful and did not take into account the girls' safety. Halswell is currently a residential boys' school.

As a result, Salisbury School had called on the Government to appoint another minister, for fears Ms Parata would not have an open mind in any decision about the school's future.

Salisbury board chairwoman Helen McDonnell said then that she did not believe the minister intended to retain Salisbury after 2014.

"Her views, and those of her ministry, are clearly pre-determined."

But speaking ahead of his trip to Antarctica yesterday, Mr Key said Ms Parata's job was safe and that he had "complete confidence" in her.

"There were some mistakes made in 2012, I think she [Ms Parata] would acknowledge that," Mr Key said.

"I think equally she has done a lot of good things and the fact that the unions are asking for a new minister of education under a National government isn't new," he said.

Mr Key rejected criticisms of her ability to communicate.

"I actually think she's a very effective communicator. In fact if you look at her history in politics, she has been one of the smoothest communicators we've actually had," he said.

However, he conceded at times she "wasn't able to completely articulate exactly what we were doing in a coherent way".

"That caused some problems, but I think she is hugely talented and she has learnt from the experience and she'll do a good job in 2013."

Ms McDonnell said Mr Key's decision was surprising, considering the way things had gone last year with her school and other cases.

The decision meant nothing had really changed since December and the school knew what it was in for with the current minister.

There were still concerns Ms Parata had pre-determined views on the school's future.

"We just have to work out a strategy from now on," said Ms McDonnell.

The school's board would meet next week to work out a strategy for the year, and this decision would affect their plans, she said.

Ms Parata had wanted to meet later in the month, but Ms McDonnell said that would be pointless unless the minister came to the school.

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She disagreed with Mr Key's assessment of Ms Parata's communication skills, saying there were different aspects of communication.

"Communication is a two-way process, we definitely felt we were not being listened to."

The school has 21 students enrolled for the year, with others making inquiries. But it was unclear how any new students would be able to enrol, as the ministry was bringing in a new "wrap-around" service.

The controversy came in the same year Ms Parata also made a public backdown from proposals to increase school class sizes, and came under added pressure over the communication of plans to close or merge a number of schools in Christchurch.

In December, Lesley Longstone, the chief executive of the Ministry of Education, quit because she and Ms Parata were unable to work together, and there are ongoing problems with the new Novopay payroll system.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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