Two schools to share site in city's east

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 10:37 16/10/2013
Daniel Tobin

Education Minister Hekia Parata talks to media about her announcement that all secondary schools will stay open and Avonside Girls' High and Shirley Boys' High schools will share a new site

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Avonside Girls' High and Shirley Boys' High will share a new site in a yet-to-be-confirmed location in Christchurch's east.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said today that all Christchurch secondary schools would stay open because they were well located and provided good access for pupils.

She said Avonside and Shirley, which both had significant land damage, would operate on the same site. Education officials were working to identify that site.

"During the extensive consultation process, all the Christchurch secondary principals worked together to develop a vision for secondary education in Greater Christchurch,'' Parata said.

''This process included feedback from 120 students who participated in a two-day forum in March.

"This Government welcomes this collaborative approach to the secondary school network in Christchurch, which has seen extensive change due to the earthquakes.

"In making these decisions, I am mindful families in Greater Christchurch have already been through a lot and I expect that today's announcement will provide some certainty for parents and their children."

Today's announcement follows months of consultation on how Christchurch's schools will be placed within each cluster.

Canterbury-Westland Secondary Principals' Association chairman Neil Wilkinson said the school network had already changed with the introduction of the Aranui super-school and the addition of intermediate-aged pupils to many Christchurch schools.

The main debate would be about where Avonside Girls' High and Shirley Boys' High would be placed, whereas the rest of the schools were due to hear about their specific property issues later.

Shirley Boys' High principal John Laurenson was not worried about the future of the school, but wanted to be able to get down to planning where it would settle.

"What I'm hoping [for] is some degree of timeline - where we're going to go or whether we're going to be rebuilt on site," he said.

Avonside Girls' High awaits confirmation of its location.

Board of trustees chairman Tim Bergin said he hoped to get confirmation of the future of the school, which had not yet been given.

Principal Sue Hume said she was looking forward to hearing what Parata had to say, after a period of "uncertainty".

Wilkinson said the association had initiated its own consultation with schools and their communities on how it wanted the city's secondary schools to look, which it passed on to Parata in writing in May.

Ideas included "capping" school roles to stop bigger schools growing at the expense of smaller schools.

"It will be interesting to see which ones she picks up on," he said.

The announcement will be made at the Clearwater Resort.

YET TO DECIDE ON PHILLIPSTOWN APPEAL

Parata has faced stiff questioning over her handling of Christchurch school closures but has yet to decide whether to appeal against a court decision ruling one of them unlawful.

She is under fire after the High Court declared the merger of Phillipstown and Woolston schools was unlawful, prompting other schools to say they were also considering their legal options.

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It was the second time Parata's decision to close a school had been overturned by the High Court.

On this occasion it declared the Ministry of Education's consultation process did not meet the legal requirements.

She was repeatedly asked yesterday in Parliament about the process, but refused to comment.

The decision could be appealed and "it would not be in the public interest for me to comment", she said.

She told reporters she had not yet made a decision on an appeal.

She hoped to decide soon, saying "the issue deserves certainty".

The fact there were two court cases relating to her decisions - the closure of Nelson's Salisbury School was earlier ruled unlawful - did not reflect poorly on her work, she said.

"They're quite different judgments. In the case of Phillipstown, the judge has not quashed the decision."

She refused to comment on her performance as minister, saying, "That's for others to judge".

"This is a job that I'm honoured to be doing; it is a very challenging but worthwhile portfolio," she said.

The court had found that the ministry's consultation process failed to meet the requirements of the Education Act in two respects.

It said the importance of the cost of Phillipstown continuing on its current site was mistakenly played down and that the financial information Parata relied on was not reasonably broken down and explained in a manner that would have enabled a critique.

The court found the errors of process were unintended and could be corrected by the consultation process being resumed, after which the merger could still go ahead.

Parata said she had not considered what approach she would take if she decided not to appeal.

- The Press

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