Ministry's consultation process under scrutiny

CHARLEY MANN
Last updated 09:36 09/11/2012

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The Ombudsman is considering invoking legal powers to investigate the Education Ministry's consultation process over the schools shake-up.

Ombudsman David McGee has received five complaints about the ministry refusing to divulge information on its consultation process and the advice and research given to Education Minister Hekia Parata before she announced proposals to close 13 Christchurch schools and put 26 through some form of merger.

The ministry has denied requests from the Christchurch City Council, Labour, principals and the media.

A spokesman for the Ombudsman said McGee was also aware of concerns by principals and parents.

McGee was considering whether there were "wider issues about consultation procedures, both in regard to the current Christchurch schools amalgamation consultation process and school closures generally, that may justify closer examination", the spokesman said.

''If this proves necessary, the Ombudsman will consider invoking the 'own motion' powers under the Ombudsmen Act to carry out a more detailed investigation and report on any recommendations for administrative improvement that are warranted,'' he said.

In the past two weeks, McGee and senior Ombudsmen staff have met ministry officials who presented a report on how they had responded to requests for information since the shake-up was announced in September.

''The information received is now being assessed and is likely to require further discussion with the ministry,'' the spokesman said.

The Press this week reported that Labour's research and advice team's Official Information Act request, lodged 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'', had been rejected.

Labour associate education spokesman Chris Hipkins said 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.

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- The Press

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