Schools shake-up negative for city

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 26/09/2012
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The Government's overhaul of Christchurch and Canterbury schools risks destroying communities and further traumatise earthquake-hit children and staff, say Press readers in a new poll.

Few could see anything positive for the city, with nearly three-quarters seeing the shake-up as a negative for Christchurch.

A poll of 579 readers has slammed Education Minister Hekia Parata and the Education Ministry for their handling of a proposal to close schools and merge others across Canterbury.

Seventy-four per cent of people who took part in the unscientific survey have little confidence that the ministry's consultation process will make any difference to the outcome, and 71 per cent believe the final impact of the proposal will be negative.

About 20 per cent believe the impact will be positive.

On September 13, Parata announced a proposal 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.

Another 12 schools are affected by proposed changes.

Eighty per cent of people believed Parata had performed poorly in announcing the proposals, and 85 per cent said the ministry had also handled the proposal poorly.

Just 10 per cent were happy with Parata's performance and 6 per cent were happy with the ministry's handling of the plan.

Parata said last night that she understood how difficult the process was for Christchurch.

"We've had two rounds of community engagement over the last 11 months where the education sector and wider community have signalled support for new approaches, including greater sharing of resources and capital," she said.

"Our proposals reflect that but most of all they reflect our desire for better educational outcomes for all children."

The ministry has defended its handling of the situation, saying it was attempting to balance needs of the sector with needs of the community.

It said it had to respect the need for principals and boards to hear the news first and inform their communities.

"This is the first time the ministry has managed such a complex process where several schools were involved at the same time," ministry earthquake recovery programme manager Coralanne Child said.

Change was inevitable and was clearly signalled, she said.

"The catalyst for change for all the proposals is people movement and land and building damage, and those remain unchanged."

Child said no decisions had been made. The community viewpoint was important to the ministry.

Readers said the proposals would destroy communities, cause more trauma to pupils and staff and force children to travel further to get to school.

Asked what positive effects they believed the changes would have, most people said they could not think of any, but some said the outcome would be more cost-efficient.

Others believed the schools would be better resourced and children would be working in state-of-the-art schools with better facilities.

Wigram Labour MP Megan Woods said the poll showed communities felt shut out of education in their city.

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"A minister of education should understand that this is a fail."

She said it was now up to the Government to show its consultation plans were "not just rhetoric".

- Canterbury

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