Schools consultation called a sham by Labour

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 12:47 27/09/2012

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Labour is slating the Government's consultation process over Christchurch schooling as a "sham".

It tabled an Education Ministry document yesterday suggesting the consultation period will only be five to six weeks, coinciding with school holidays and senior exams.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Hekia Parata admitted the only people she "consulted" before announcing the proposal to close schools and merge others across Canterbury were Education Ministry staff.

In Parliament yesterday, Labour repeatedly tried to pin Parata down on whom she had consulted before announcing the decision.

Parata initially told Parliament she and the ministry had been "going through phases of consultation which are becoming ever finer grained".

"So those consultations were at the very high level - the first lot in October.

"They led to Directions for Education, which was released in May, from which we got further submissions and that has allowed us to put these proposals before these particular schools."

Pressed by Speaker Lockwood Smith to answer Labour's questions over "who" she had consulted, Parata responded: "Drawing from the information that arose through the over 700 submissions we received, as a context, drawing from the data that has been collected by school-by-school assessments and drawing from ministry advice, these next set of proposals have been developed for consultation."

Smith intervened again to ask why Parata would not say whom she had consulted, and told her ministers were accountable for who they had consulted. Parata responded: "To pedantically use that term ‘consult' then I consulted specific people."

After objections from Labour, Parata said: "I consulted the submissions that had been submitted, I consulted with ministry staff, who in turn had consulted with ranges of individuals across the greater Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn districts."

Labour associate education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the minister's comments sent a clear message to Cantabrians that the Government's consultation process was "a total sham".

"Hekia Parata began an ‘open consultation' on September 13 but confirmed in the House today that she will be writing to school boards within days to formally begin the legal process to implement her plan to close and merge schools."

Hipkins tabled documents he said suggested the ministry envisaged a formal consultation process of only five to six weeks - which coincided with school holidays and senior student exams.

"There is no way the Government can get meaningful information from teachers, parents and children during the exam and holiday period.

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"This whole process looks like a sham and sounds like a sham because it is a sham."

NZEI president Ian Leckie said the process was simply ''window-dressing''.

Leckie said the government must reveal the reasons driving significant changes before the community can realistically respond to consultation.

''They've got the process wrong,'' he said.

''The community needs to know what the Government's thinking is on the whole of Christchurch.

''First, we need a proper consultation process over the whole-of-Christchurch picture. And, only once that has been completed, can we then talk about the future of individual schools and early childhood centres.

"That's why we're calling on the Government to put a halt to the process, admit they got it wrong, and start to genuinely engage with the people of Christchurch on the big picture.''

- © Fairfax NZ News

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