School mergers 'only one option'

Last updated 16:56 13/09/2012
Ian Leckie
COLIN SMITH/Fairfax NZ
STILL ABSORBING: : NZEI president Ian Leckie said the move was a consolidation of about 10 per cent of all Canterbury schools.
John Bangma
FILE IMAGE
RESPECTFUL SILENCE: Mairehau Primary School principal John Bangma said the reaction to today's announcement was mixed.

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Proposals to merge or close schools in Canterbury are still only "options", says the Education Ministry as it scrambles to calm mounting outrage.

The Government announced today a $1 billion investment in ''education renewal'' throughout Canterbury.

As part of this overhaul, the ministry released a document showing up to 13 schools may be closed and 18 others merged. Read the proposal document here.

There are no "firm proposals" to merge or close Christchurch high schools, the Ministry of Education said in a statement tonight.

The ministry is unable to make proposals on those schools until further geotechnical information is available which is not expected before next year.

"The ministry apologises if any information made available today was unclear regarding Christchurch high schools," the statement said.

Shirley Boys' High faces a possible merger with Christchurch Boys' High, while Avonside Girls' High could be merged with Christchurch Girls High.

The ministry said such mergers were listed only as an option, "not a proposal".

 

It said four options were on the table for Avonside and Shirley:

- Closure.

- Merger.

- Relocation.

- No change.

The ministry said Avonside Girls' and Shirley Boys' may stay on their existing sites if they had favourable geotechnical reports.

Shirley Boys' principal John Laurenson said it was "not possible" to merge his school with Christchurch Boys' High. "It is simply not going to happen."

He said the ministry had "totally and completely cocked up" the announcement and he was "aghast" at the "ineptitude" of ministry staff who had released "a set of misleading statements".

This morning it was announced that 13 Canterbury schools may be closed and another 18 merged under a list of options being considered as part of a shakeup of the region's education sector.

Click here for details.

Principals were briefed on the shock announcement late this morning by Education Minister Hekia Parata, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and ministry officials.

Significant numbers of teachers would probably leave Canterbury, said the head of the primary schools union.

New Zealand Educational Institute president Ian Leckie said the news was a consolidation of about 10 per cent of all Canterbury schools, which would "hugely affect'' many schools and change communities.

"The extent of what we are seeing here goes far further than what we would have normally expected.''

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There were significant numbers of jobs at risk and he was concerned about the loss of experienced teachers.

This would have major consequences with not just teachers, but caretakers and other support staff.

"Schools are the focal point of their communities and what is happening here is that the focal points of all communities are being affected.''

Schools faced losing their "community identity'' when they merged and would affect families "in a major way".

Leckie said the news was an announcement rather than the start of any consultation.

People were still absorbing and taking in the news, he said.

"A huge pall is going to go across the city,'' he said.

Mairehau Primary School principal John Bangma said the reaction to the announcement was mixed.

He was one of dozens of principals briefed on the Government's plan.

His school was not affected by the proposals.

"There is a whole range of people that are ecstatic to a whole range of people who are going to be upset by what is happening and the consequences for their own communities.''

The atmosphere where principals were told was "respectful silence because it's a lot to take in'', Bangma said.

People were still digesting what they had been told, he said.

School communities were due to be told this afternoon.

Brownlee and Parata said the Government would invest $1 billion on ''education renewal'' throughout Canterbury over the next decade.

Major developments that would go ahead immediately included rebuilding Halswell School and ''enhancement of education provision'' at the growing Pegasus and Rolleston towns.

Brownlee said the region's education sector had experienced huge disruption since the earthquakes.

''As we move from recovery to renewal, we have an opportunity to realign services with changing community needs and ensure our investment delivers better outcomes for learners and the wider community,'' he said.

''In line with community feedback, we are taking the time to get this right because the benefits to Christchurch and wider New Zealand are tremendous.''

Over time, he said, the new-look education network would give Christchurch, Canterbury and New Zealand a ''significantly enhanced asset".

Parata said the region's education sector and wider community had signalled support for new approaches to education and this included ''greater sharing of resources and capital".

To achieve that, schools had been grouped into clusters based on their geographic location.

''This will enable decisions about the schooling network to consider housing developments and surrounding infrastructure. It will also facilitate engagement with parents and learners to ensure they play a significant role in deciding the type of education provision that meets their community's needs,'' she said.

- The Press

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