Some principals wary of Parata's backdown

CHARLEY MANN
Last updated 05:00 08/11/2012
Hekia Parata
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
BACKDOWN: Hekia Parata.

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In the first major backdown since Canterbury's school shake-up was announced, Education Minister Hekia Parata has ruled out merging four Christchurch secondary schools into two.

But principals of other schools set to be shut or merged are not convinced there will be further changes to the controversial education plan.

On September 13, when the Government's plans for Christchurch schools were announced, a document released to the media showed the ministry proposed merging Shirley Boys' High School at Christchurch Boys' High School and to merge Avonside Girls' High School and Christchurch Girls' High School.

However, the Education Ministry quickly backtracked, saying there were no firm proposals to merge or close Christchurch high schools.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB yesterday, Parata said she was prepared to "categorically rule out" a merger of the secondary schools.

"I am prepared to say that that was completely an unacceptable option and I'm not proposing to merge Christchurch Boys' with Shirley Boys' or Avonside Girls' with Christchurch Girls'," Parata said.

She released a statement later in the day saying she "has never received proposals for mergers between Shirley Boys' High School and Christchurch Boys' High School and Avonside Girls' High School and Christchurch Girls' High Schools as part of the Educational Renewal Plan for greater Christchurch".

Parata continued: "Today I was happy to clarify that I have not received proposals from the Ministry of Education to merge [the schools] and I have ruled those out as options."

Avonside Girls' High principal Sue Hume said the move meant the minister was "listening to the community".

"It is good to hear it confirmed, that this is not either a sensible or palatable option for single-sex education in Christchurch."

Shirley Boys' High School principal John Laurenson agreed. "It clearly indicates the minister is very genuine saying she's got an open mind and is willing to listen."

Christchurch Girls' High School acting principal Peter Sawyer said the move gave "a degree of clarity".

But principals at some schools affected by the proposals to close 13 Christchurch schools and put 26 through some form of merger, said Parata's announcement could be a way to placate an outraged community, rather than a case of the ministry genuinely listening.

Branston Intermediate principal Jennifer O'Leary, whose school is earmarked to close, said backing down on the high schools would show the ministry in good light.

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"The minister has to find something to back down on to look like she is listening to the community," O'Leary said.

Burnham School board of trustees chairwoman Jackie Freeman said she would "like to think" the backdown means Parata was "going to start listening to people and keep Burnham open".

After initial plans to merge the high schools were shelved, a second proposal said new geotechnical reports for three of the four sites would "shape future proposals".

- The Press

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