Schools suffered 'unnecessary grief'

SAM SACHDEVA, JOELLE DALLY AND CHARLEY MANN
Last updated 14:34 19/02/2013
Tony Simpson
DON SCOTT/Fairfax NZ

Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson.

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The Government needs to come up with a better consultation process when deciding to close or merge schools in the future, the New Zealand Principals' Federation says. 

Federation president Philip Harding said lessons could be learnt from the Christchurch experience.

''The consultation process for this network review which led to the minister's (Hekia Parata's) first announcement was deeply flawed. It was disappointing and caused unnecessary grief.''

Harding said initial decisions were based on information that kept changing and school communities and principals did not feel that Parata or the Ministry of Education properly engaged with alternative solutions which they presented and there was a general sense that the whole process was predetermined.

''The key lesson is that if we want to give confidence to the education sector in the future, we have to engage them. Any review process must be based on sound information, a shared rationale and fair process.''

Following yesterday's announcement to close seven schools, merge 12 into six and keep another 12 open, Harding said his focus today was entirely on extending his support to the 19 school principals, their students and their families who were told yesterday that their schools would close or merge.

DOUBLE BLOW FOR SOME SCHOOLS

City schools still fighting closure or mergers were dealt a double blow in Education Minister Hekia Parata's education announcement.

Not only would the original plans proceed for 19 schools, but some now had less than a year to go ahead with the proposals.

This was despite Parata previously giving written guarantees that changes for some schools would not happen for at least three years.

Parata said the reason for the new deadlines was to provide parents and children with "certainty".

But some principals have reacted with anger at being told "lies" over the deadlines. Many had enrolled new pupils on Parata's earlier guarantees, only to have to renege on promises to parents.

Some schools are already planning appeals over the new timelines. Linwood Intermediate's closure has been brought forward to the end of the year.

Lyttelton Main School and Lyttelton West School have been told they will need to combine by the start of 2014, rather than 2016 as initially planned.

South New Brighton and Central New Brighton schools have the same deadline.

Branston Intermediate will close in January next year - a year earlier than originally planned.

Kendal School will now have to close by the end of the year, rather than by 2016.

Manning Intermediate may close a year earlier and North New Brighton and Freeville will merge two years earlier than expected.

Principals spoken to by The Press were concerned children would suffer from the "ludicrous" new deadlines.

"We worked to their timeline and said we'd be guaranteed two years to take new pupils through . . . now we've made promises we can't deliver," Linwood Intermediate principal Lee Walker said.

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Parents, teachers and children were in tears after hearing that Phillipstown School is to merge with Woolston School.

Principal Tony Simpson broke the hard news to the community beneath the school flagpole at 11am.

"I'm feeling very, very sad right now," he said.

"If this decision becomes a final decision in 28 days, then we aren't going to be coming to this wonderful, wonderful school for much longer."

Central New Brighton principal Toni Burnside said she had had teachers and children in tears at news the schools would merge by the end of the year.

She feared the rush to merge would see her staff and pupils become the "poor relatives" in prefabs at the back of South New Brighton's field.

South New Brighton board of trustees chairwoman Sarah Clark said the schools should have been consulted before the "surprise" timeline change was made.

Parents, too, called the consultation a "joke" and the merger decision "dreadful" .

Andree Pearson said the ministry should have simply closed Central New Brighton School rather than cause upheaval at two schools.

"Because they've merged, they have to make an entirely new school. [Closure] would have been better on the community," she said.

Branston Intermediate principal Jennifer O'Leary said the ministry told the school its pupils would be accommodated in temporary buildings at Hornby High School from next year, despite receiving assurances any children enrolling at Branston this year would be able to finish year 8.

The school planned to appeal its closure.

Manning Intermediate principal Richard Chambers said 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. "That's despite [the ministry] giving categorical assurances that any children enrolling here now would finish their time with Manning.

"You can't change the rules."

Lyttelton Main principal Sue Walls said the school would be "very strongly challenging" the new merger date. It meant the combined school would have to operate across three different sites for the next two years.

Kendal School principal Keith Turner was also considering appealing against the new timeframe.

North New Brighton principal Brian Walkinshaw said the school had not wanted the merger to go ahead, but was unlikely to challenge the decision.

"I guess we have to recognise the reality on our side of town with the earthquake damage and the red zone and the roll reduction," he said.

However, Discovery 1 board of trustees chairwoman Karen Wylaars said the merger with Unlimited made sense as the schools were "philosophically aligned" .

Parata said the "interim" proposal will only change if new information comes to light.

A final decision is expected to be announced by the end of May.

Five further schools earmarked to close pending a new Year 1-13 cluster campus - Aranui, Avondale, Wainoni, Chisnallwood Intermediate, Aranui High School - have been granted a temporary reprieve.

The consultation period has been extended to March 7.

- The Press

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