Schools given 10 weeks to consult
Letters are being hand-delivered to Canterbury schools facing closure or a merger to outline the timetable for consultation.
The Education Ministry letter has the timeline for consultation, giving schools up to 10 weeks to tell the ministry what it thinks of the proposals, with a December 7 deadline.
Schools whose boards are closing voluntarily must tell the ministry by October 26.
The ministry gives itself another nine weeks to give its report on the schools' feedback to Education Minister Hekia Parata, which must be sent by February 8.
Parata will tell the boards of her decision on Monday, February 18.
Where boards agree to the proposed closure or merger, Parata can move to make a final decision.
If she agrees to consider an alternative proposal, consultation on this will take place.
Where boards do not agree to a proposed closure or merger, a 28-day "response period" begins.
Boards must provide information or reasons why their school should stay open or not merge by Friday, March 22.
Formal announcements on all closures and mergers are expected to be made on April 5.
Parata has acknowledged she could have handled the highly-criticised announcement of Christchurch's sweeping school changes better.
In the letter, Parata said: ''We could have done more to explain the changes.
''I am sorry that the need to make decisions about the future educational shape of Canterbury has, for some, been an additional concern.
''However, our learners need us to have these difficult conversations and to set solid foundations for their education right now.''
The letters have come as a relief to many in the education community, who now have a firm consultation timeline.
Ouruhia principal Mark Ashmore-Smith said the consultation period was ''good and fair''.
Ashmore-Smith had more good news this morning - Ouruhia will remain open for at least the next two years.
In a meeting last week he was told the school could close in January.
Yaldhurst Model School acting principal Ann-Marie Garden was also pleased with the consultation timeframe.
The original timeframe given to principals at the September 13 announcement, suggested consultation would be between six and seven weeks.
JOHN KEY SAYS SOME CHANGE LIKELY
Controversial plans to shake up Canterbury's education system will change, Prime Minister John Key says.
In his first comments on the plans since they were revealed two weeks ago, Key said yesterday that changing demographics, costly repairs and ministry research were behind the proposals. But he offered a sliver of hope to Cantabrians, who have reacted angrily to the plans.
"In the end, I will tell you now, when we make those final decisions there will be changes from what's recommended," he said.
"We could obviously put everything back where it was, but just like the CBD isn't going to be put back in the way it was in the past, it won't always make sense for the schooling system to be completely replicated in what you had."
Critics called Key's comments a "significant backdown" on plans to close 13 Christchurch schools and put 25 through some form of merger.
Wigram Labour MP Megan Woods said the community could "take heart".
"This is a significant backdown by the Government and the community should chalk this up as a win."
She said Parata had originally been clear the proposals were firm.
"This is not Key coming in and clarifying things," she said. "Hekia Parata said it was a firm plan. Her boss is swooping into town and cleaning things up."
Speaking at the official opening of Press House, Key said the consultation process would be "genuine".
But some principals doubt they will be heard.
Burnside Primary School principal Matt Bateman said Key's comments suggested the fate of his school had already been decided.
"I'm very alarmed at the comments ... that have shown the consultation process we're supposedly going into isn't genuine at all," he said.
Key said Burnside Primary, which would cost about $9 million to rebuild, was "full of borer".
"We could pick up that cash, and frankly quite a bit more, and wander down to potentially, say, Cobham and build a 21st-century school,'' he said.
"Ask, do you want 1960s Burnside or do you want a 21st-century school, you might get a different answer."
Bateman questioned Key's figures, saying it would cost $4.5m at most to repair and rebuild the school.
Key also mentioned Ouruhia School in Belfast and Greenpark School in Lincoln, which face closure.
He said necessary earthquake repairs at the sites "don't cost much to fix", but
Education Ministry research was behind the closure plan.
Ouruhia principal Mark Ashmore-Smith said the proposal felt "like a done deal".
Greenpark principal Andrea Klassen was pleased to "finally get some decent comments from the Government".
The school had hardly any earthquake damage, she said.
"I've always felt there was another agenda other than earthquake damage,'' she said.
''I thought maybe it could be our small roll, but we offer an alternative to the community. Many parents prefer their children to go to a smaller school."
MINISTRY RUSHED BRIEFING
The ministry used a kapa haka competition to consult Maori on Christchurch's significant school changes.
A document leaked to The Press, entitled "Summary of Ngai Tahu and Maori consultation process May 2012", reveals the ministry consulted iwi in "less than a three-week period".
"This work was carried out at very short notice and within tight time frames," the document says.
However, the brief consultation did not make mention of closures or mergers of Maori schools.
The options put to Maori included establishing a Waitaha Education Authority to ensure that cultures and languages of learners be valued.
The news comes as Labour put the heat on Parata, who admitted on Wednesday that the only people she "consulted" before announcing the proposal to close schools and merge others across Canterbury were ministry staff.
The ministry proposes to close or merge seven out of 10 Christchurch schools that offer Maori medium education.
The Maori consultation document shows that just 74 responses were received.
The ministry regarded this to be "fairly significant".
Maori Party education spokesman Te Ururoa Flavell urged Maori in Canterbury to make their views known said there was "a serious responsibility on the Government to listen and then act on what the people say".
Consultation began on May 19 when representatives attended a kapa haka competition at the Lincoln Events Centre, where "a large number of Maori were in attendance".
Further consultation was piggybacked on to hui, at Freeville School on May 24 and Tuahiwi school on May 22. On May 22, a hui was also held at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology that was attended by "a small group".
An email was sent to Maori resources teachers - Christchurch has five - and secondary Maori teachers.
A "few" responses were received from emails sent to Selwyn schools.
- © Fairfax NZ News