Zoning for city schools under fire

Four Nelson city primary schools are set to be zoned this year, due to fears that they are being overburdened by high enrolments.

Nelson Central School, Hampden Street School, Clifton Terrace School and Victory Primary School are to be zoned.

Their principals told the Nelson Mail that they were disappointed with the move by the Ministry of Education.

The schools have been told to have enrolment schemes developed and approved by the end of term one, to take effect in term three.

Hampden Street principal Don McLean said his school was not overcrowded, and was not given a choice in the matter by the ministry.

"We hadn't put our hand up for the scheme. If we felt we couldn't manage, we would have," he said.

"Nelson city schools have been like this for years . . . with the rolls going high and low. We have been able to manage."

He said zoning could be useful, however, as the school could not grow much bigger than its current size.

Mr McLean said the Christchurch earthquake had increased class sizes, as did a baby boom in 2006, but numbers would naturally taper off.

He expected the roll to drop once Hampden Street was zoned, because pupils came from other areas of Nelson, as their parents worked in the central city.

Mr McLean said parents often told him that it was great to work near the school because they could easily visit their children and be there for school activities.

Hampden Street's reputation meant that in recent years, it had deliberately not promoted itself, and had asked parents not living close to the school to check out schools in their areas first.

While he was "disappointed" that the schools were being forced into the enrolment scheme, he believed it was positive that schools in the inner city were in it together. They still needed to work out their boundaries, which could overlap.

He expected that the real estate industry would use the new zoning to market properties.

Nelson Central principal Paul Potaka said he was expecting a "management nightmare".

Rather than zoning, it would be better if schools could have some discretion over how they managed roll growth, he said.

"At present, all the Ministry of Education has to use is a very blunt instrument - school zoning and maximum enrolment numbers. That has the potential to do more harm than good.

"Zoning can achieve what it sets out to do - redirect enrolments to where the accommodation exists. The downside of that is removal of parent choice and creation of a management nightmare for schools.

"For example, in our case we would effectively have three rolls to manage - a bilingual roll, an English-medium roll and a total school roll. It could mean us placing an English-medium enrolment in a bilingual class because that is where space exists."

Clifton Terrace principal Rob Wemyss said was "really disappointed" with the decision. He did not consider any of his classes to be overly full.

"I think a lot of families choose to go to different schools for different reasons. This takes away personal choice."

Victory Primary School acting principal Wendy Taylor said she was unaware of the school being included in the enrolment scheme until told by the Nelson Mail. She said there were talks about the issue in 2011, but nothing eventuated.

She did not believe that Victory had a problem with overcrowding, and expected the enrolment scheme to "make things complicated". She was particularly concerned about refugee families, who were specially catered for at Victory.

Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said Hampden Street and Clifton Terrace had overly full rolls.

"Projections from census data that rolls will continue to grow means overcrowding is also likely in the other two schools.

"Ministry of Education staff met with affected schools in December, and it was agreed the four schools would cooperate to draw up enrolment schemes."

She said the purpose of an enrolment scheme was to avoid overcrowding or the likelihood of overcrowding; to ensure that the selection of applicants for enrolment was carried out in a fair and transparent manner; and to enable the secretary of education to make the best use of existing networks of state schools.

The Nelson Mail