Big changes for Canty education

TINA LAW
Last updated 07:47 30/05/2012

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With a $1 billion repair bill, falling rolls and talk of shared campuses, Canterbury's education sector is on the cusp of some big changes. Tina Law reports.

The earthquakes have provided an opportunity to rethink how Christchurch children are educated.

Nearly every school in greater Christchurch has suffered quake damage and it will cost between $500 million and $750m to fix all 207 of them.

Tertiary institutions are facing a combined repair cost of about $300m.

The greater Christchurch region has lost 5400 pupils since February last year, and a further 1700 pupils have enrolled at another school within the area.

Tertiary enrolments have dropped 14 per cent and international student enrolments have fallen by 31 per cent, costing more than $10m in lost revenue this year alone.

School rolls are expected to remain fluid for the next year as 15 schools say they have 30 or more pupils living in red zones and another 10 schools have between 20 and 29 red- zone pupils.

It is within this context that a report was launched this month by Education Minister Hekia Parata to look at the future of education in Christchurch and the Selwyn and Waimakariri districts.

The 38-page report, Directions for Education Renewal in Greater Christchurch, features 20 proposals, including investigating the development of education campuses that could include early-childhood education, primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions on one site, along with social services.

The report also advocates schools sharing facilities such as workshops, gyms, swimming pools, auditoriums and libraries.

Other proposals talk of implementing greater technology networks, improving the academic success of Maori and Pasifika pupils, and more collaboration between tertiary institutions.

Co-locating special schools with mainstream schools was also discussed.

The document does not provide details on which schools will close and where schools will be located in the long term because the population is still moving and geotechnical reports still have to be completed. But there is little doubt some tough decisions will be made and schools will close.

It was estimated there would be up to 10,000 more places in schools than pupils, the report said.

"We will need to consider the viability of individual schools and whether some should be closed or amalgamated," it said.

Secretary for Education Lesley Longstone said there would be some rationalisation of facilities in areas that have been depopulated. "Decisions taken today must meet the needs of all the young people of greater Christchurch - their families and whanau, local communities - for generations to come."

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The document was put together by the Education Ministry and the Tertiary Education Commission, based on 229 submissions from the community.

Longstone said the message that clearly came through was "do not be afraid of trying new ideas".

The renewal has opened new ways to organise, lead, collaborate and teach and to address problems such as the consistent under-achievement of Maori and Pasifika learners, she said.

"There will be no magic wand and no simple fix. The costs of renewal will be considerable," Longstone said.

There is excitement and trepidation within the sector about the changes as many schools are concerned about their future.

Canterbury-Westland Secondary Principals' Association chairman Neil Wilkinson said schools did not want to be told what to do.

"We want to make the conclusions ourselves and determine our destiny in the knowledge of the facts. You can't hide from the facts."

It was critical the renewal of the region's education sector was done right because people had been through so much in the past 18 months.

He did not want to see people "put through the wringer" again.

The next phase, when tough decisions were made on schools' future, would present challenges, Wilkinson said.

"It's up to the Ministry of Education to continue to work with the education sector to get the best outcomes."

Canterbury Primary Principals' Association president John Bangma said the report had a lot of exciting initiatives, but the industry still needed to work in an environment where money was limited.

He hoped any changes would be made because they were better than the existing system, not just because they were different.

"It's imperative we get it right because we've got a whole lot of children whose education is dependent on it."

Changes made in Christchurch could form a blueprint for how education was offered throughout the country, Bangma said.

Submissions to the renewal plan can be made online at www.shaping education.minedu.govt.nz and will close on May 31.

- The Press

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