Canterbury schools resigned to 'poisoned chalice'

Last updated 06:00 17/02/2013

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Mark Ashmore Smith will try not to spend today worrying about the fate of his school.

The principal of Ouruhia School, north of Christchurch will, like many others in Canterbury, learn tomorrow morning whether his school will close or continue offering what he calls a special "country education". Others will learn if they have to merge with nearby schools.

"We're absolutely in the dark, hoping for best and preparing for worst," Ashmore Smith said ahead of the Education Ministry's second attempt at determining the future of education in the earthquake-ravaged province.

After learning a hard lesson from the initial bungled announcement proposing to overhaul Christchurch's school network, the Ministry of Education will deliver its decisions to schools in person tomorrow.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has said there will be changes to the initial proposals.

In September, Parata announced proposals to close 13 schools and put 26 through some form of merger, off the back of population movements and damage from the February 2011 earthquake.

Before the earthquakes struck there were already around 5000 places available in schools across greater Christchurch.

A further 4300 children did not re-enrol and there are now 9300 places available.

Affected schools had until December 7 to consult on the proposals and respond to the ministry.

Tomorrow, 31 schools will learn, for the interim, whether they are to close or merge.

A further period of consultation with schools will take place before final decisions are made in late May.

Ashmore Smith said the ministry had been much more empathetic the second time around.

"The ministry stuffed up completely in September - that process still rankles us - but to their credit they have bent over backwards to improve their delivery. There have been lots of phone calls, lots of contact and meetings face to face.

"That's pleasing because what was lacking in December was the empathy.

"There wasn't much thought to the process; having said that they'll still be handing the poison chalice to a lot of people on Monday."

The disastrous first announcement of the shake-up, where principals were given colour-coded name tags roughly coinciding with the fate of their schools, has become legendary.

The ministry said it has learned from its mistakes. Parata said, "off the back" of that experience, she met with all the professional associations of principals and "asked them to canvass their members about how they would like the decision this time around".

Regardless how the information is delivered, Ashmore Smith is adamant his school does not have to close.

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"We just don't believe things have settled down enough after the earthquake to be making these high stakes decisions. In our submission we said closing our school is not going to benefit Christchurch as a whole - it doesn't seem to make sense for an area where there is no damage. There is no other school for another six to eight kilometres and we've been there 100 years."

- Sunday Star Times

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