Ombudsman investigates ministry's silence

The Ombudsman is investigating why the Education Ministry has refused to release advice given to Education Minister Hekia Parata on the Christchurch schools shake-up.

Labour's research and advice team lodged an Official Information Act request on September 18 asking for ''all advice prepared by the Ministry of Education and provided to the Minister of Education regarding the proposals for the future of Christchurch education''.

Labour associate education spokesman Chris Hipkins said that he understood Parata was given options other than closure and merger for some schools.

''But until we can see the documentation we won't know for sure,'' he said.

The ministry refused to release the information on the basis that  ''there does not appear to be overriding public-interest reasons that support the release of the information withheld at this point''.

It said a ''premature release'' of the information would ''undermine'' the consultation process.

Ministry Schools Infrastructure Group general manager Kim Shannon said much of the information requested was released in the rationale documents supplied to affected schools last month.

Labour has complained to the Ombudsman about the decision.

Ombudsman David McGee, in a letter to Labour, said he had asked the ministry review its decisions after ''having received other similar complaints''.

''I have asked the ministry to let me know the outcome of this review and to provide me with any information which continues to be withheld,'' he said.

The ministry announced plans in September to close 13 schools and put 26 through some form of merger.

Affected schools are drawing close to the December 7 consultation deadline, when they must report back to the ministry, but many are still calling for the information that shaped Parata's decisions.

The Press