Ministry's methods criticised

Principal John Bangma
Principal John Bangma

A Christchurch principal is appalled at how he and his colleagues were told their schools could close.

Principals are also upset they still have no idea about the rationale behind the proposals to close, merge and relocate their schools.

The Education Ministry has defended its handling of Thursday's announcement, saying the information was complex and affected many schools.

Education Minister Hekia Parata announced to principals at a meeting in Lincoln last week that she wanted to close 13 schools, merge 18 into nine, relocate seven schools and close another five and make them part of a single campus in Aranui for year 1 to 13 pupils.

Principals were given coloured name tags to wear on their chest, which they later learnt were coded to their school's proposed fate.

Schools have been put into three categories - restore, consolidate and rejuvenate - which has been described by Canterbury-Westland Secondary Principals' Association chairman Neil Wilkinson as "bureaucratic Wellington-speak".

Some schools in the "rejuvenate" category are proposed for closure.

Linwood Intermediate School principal Lee Walker said he was appalled at the ministry's handling of the event.

After hearing Parata speak about a $1 billion investment in education in the region, he was given a pack of information that told him his school was proposed for closure.

"There was this stunned silence going around the room. You could feel the anger build in the room."

There was no information in the pack about what he was supposed to do next and when the proposed closure could happen.

"There was a lot of anger from people about how we have been told and treated."

Walker said the ministry should have met all 13 schools proposed for closure the day before so they could have time to prepare some information for their staff and communities.

He was furious that staff heard about the proposed closure via text messages they received while teaching.

Ministry staff were "intelligent people that should be able to predict the consequences", he said.

Canterbury Primary Principals' Association president John Bangma said he was disappointed the decision was announced en masse and believed the ministry should have met schools individually.

"Some principals were completely blindsided; they had no idea. It could have been handled more sympathetically."

He also criticised putting schools proposed for closure into a "rejuvenate" category.

"Rejuvenate means putting new life into something, not killing," he said.

Wilkinson said the biggest problem was that schools still had not had explained to them the rationale for some of the decisions.

A ministry spokeswoman said the "rejuvenate" category included new learning community clusters where major change and innovation could exist.

"In some cases, school closures are proposed to facilitate this innovation." 

She said colour-coded name badges were an organisational tool used on the day to facilitate the movement of 500 people to lunch and follow-up meetings.

The Press