Branston Intermediate to close early

BAD NEWS: Jennifer O'Leary, principal of Branston, breaks the news to parents about the school's closure.
BAD NEWS: Jennifer O'Leary, principal of Branston, breaks the news to parents about the school's closure.

Two Christchurch intermediate schools are reeling after being told they could close a year earlier than promised by the Ministry of Education.

Hillmorton's Manning Intermediate and Hornby's Branston Intermediate were yesterday told by Education Minister Hekia Parata that they would be closed.

A decision to close Branston Intermediate ahead of schedule could cause parents to pull their children out early, the school's principal says.

The school has been told by Ministry of Education officials that it must close at the end of the year - one year earlier than in the initial proposal.

Branston principal Jennifer O'Leary said the school had initially been told that pupils enrolled this year would be able to finish their studies at the end of 2014.

"They seem to have completely forgotten that they told us that...I don't think the communication lines in the ministry are all that good."

O'Leary said there was "no way" the school's pupils could be re-housed into proper classrooms at Hornby High School by the end of the year, and they would suffer as a result.

"They'll just bung a few old pre-fabs on the site, and that's just not going to be good for our kids."

Ministry officials had argued that the early closure would make it easier to retain pupils and staff, but the school had already worked hard to ensure that would not be a problem with a 2014 closure.

"We had prepared and would have managed for the sake of our kids and our school," O'Leary said.

Parents of Year 7 pupils could now pull their children out of the school this year so they did not have to change to a new school next year.

O'Leary said she was "quietly confident" that Branston could get the closure date changed without going through a formal appeal, as it was "the sensible option".

However, it still intended to appeal its closure. "The timeframe is absolutely ludicrous for our children," she said.

It would ask the ministry to re-evaluate the situation in five years, once population shifts in the city were clear.

"Nobody can possibly know where the population of Christchurch is going in three to five years . . . there's over 3000 houses getting built just one kilometre down the road from us," O'Leary said.

O'Leary said Hornby High School was built in 1974 with temporary buildings "and they're still there".

"The thing that's keeping me going is that I'm really angry. I'm disappointed about the closure; I'm angry because they brought forward the time to close."

Parent Mary Moffitt said she felt like the community had been "told a total load of lies" by the ministry. "We never get a straight answer."

Her 12-year-old daughter Lauren agreed, saying she wanted to tell the ministry to "just buzz off and leave our school alone".

Colleen Bell, whose daughter was in Year 7 at Branston, said the news was a "huge shock". "We thought we'd have two years at least."

The ministry also confirmed Manning Intermediate would close, but the final decision on when it would close would not be made until May.

Year 7 and 8 pupils would either be kept at their current primary schools from January 2015, or would be sent to Hillmorton High School from next year.

Principal Richard Chambers told The Press he "couldn't understand why they didn't look at that option to begin with". but he was angry the school could be closed a year earlier than expected.

"That's despite [the ministry] giving categorical assurances to our community that any children enrolling here now would finish their time with Manning. I don't believe you can lie to a community and effectively that's a lie. You can't change the rules."

The announcement was also disappointing for staff at the school, particularly those who had put off searching for new jobs because they believed they could stay at Manning for two years, Chambers said.

"It's pretty huge what can be done with the stroke of a pen. This change impacts on kids and it impacts on communities.

"I'm really frustrated and angry that we've been put in this situation."

He believed the area would be "buzzing" with children during within the next decade and did not understand the ministry's reasoning for closing the school.

The school board had six weeks to respond to yesterday's news and the Education Minister was expected to make a final decision in May.

Labour MP Megan Woods said the news received by Branston and Manning was "devastating" for their communities.

"We were given an assurance by the minister and they've back-tracked on that."

The Press