Schools plan: Sensible, or botched?

Last updated 08:29 19/02/2013
METIRIA TUREI
Fairfax NZ
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Hekia Parata
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DECISION TIME: Education Minister Hekia Parata announces which schools will close, merge, or remain untouched.

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OPINION: Education Minister Hekia Parata says the Government is building New Zealand's best schooling network with its Christchurch schools shake-up. Her political opponents disagree. Here are edited versions of their statements yesterday.

Hekia Parata

Minister of Education

The Government is absolutely committed to rebuilding Christchurch - that's why we are investing $1 billion into restoring and renewing the education sector in Canterbury over the next 10 years.

Greater Christchurch will have one of the most modern schooling networks in the country that will serve communities for many years to come, and help each and every child get a great education.

I acknowledge that the interim decision to close seven schools will be disappointing news for those communities but parents will be supported in making decisions about their child's future education and there are plenty of options available to them, depending on the final decisions.

The face and makeup of greater Christchurch has, and will continue to change dramatically due to the earthquakes, and the education sector must respond to those changes.

There were already around 5000 places available in schools in greater Christchurch before the earthquakes, and 4300 students have not re-enrolled, meaning there are now 9300 places available - that's roughly equivalent to the entire student population of Gisborne.

The aftermath of the earthquakes has required us to have a look at all the schools across greater Christchurch and see what we could do better.

We have looked at not only earthquake damage, but also roll size, population movement and projected growth, building issues, and what opportunities existed to create better, more modern schools.

These modern schools are designed to reflect the latest education research and the advice of education experts, to ensure children are being taught using the latest techniques and technology.

We have a chance to build brighter, more modern schools in better locations, with great new facilities, and to ensure all children are getting access to good, quality education within a close distance of where they live.

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Boards of the seven schools proposed for closure and the 12 schools planned for merger will now have until Friday, March 28 to provide any further information.

We have decided to give all the schools affected by my interim decisions more time than is required under the Education Act 1989 before I make my final decisions. This gives the time to review all the information we based our decisions on.

I would like to thank parents, teachers, principals and school communities for the feedback they provided during the consultation period.

It was well-considered and thoughtful and gave me a real sense of each community.

During the consultation process, I also personally visited 35 of the schools affected by the proposals and met with about 2000 parents, teachers and other interested parties to hear their concerns.

In making these interim decisions, I am mindful families in greater Christchurch have already been through a lot and I hope that today's announcement will provide some certainty for this stage of the process.

I think this is a sensible and fair plan.

Chris Hipkins

Labour Party acting education spokesman

My thoughts today are with the pupils, parents and staff of those schools which have been told that they will close. Schools are at the heart of local communities, and many kids and parents will today be angry and distressed.

Everybody accepts that there is a need for difficult decisions to be taken. But Hekia Parata has botched this process, just as she has botched everything she has touched in education.

The minister's backdown over the proposed closure of a further 12 schools is welcome. But schools such as Branston Intermediate and Phillipstown School put forward a strong case for remaining open. Parata ignored their wishes, and the wishes of their kids.

The Government has ridden roughshod over the people of Christchurch. Parata can claim that she has listened to the people all she likes. They have not been listened to - they have been dictated to.

The future of education in Christchurch is too important to get wrong. And based on the flawed data used to justify the Government's original proposals, how can people be confident that today's decisions have been taken based on solid information?

Today's decision to bring forward the closures to the end of this year, instead of the end of 2015 as previously signalled, is also worrying. Why rush the process? Is it because Parata wants to get all her dirty work out of the way before election year?

Metiria Turei

Green Party co-leader and education spokeswoman

All schools in New Zealand will be nervous based on the inconsistent justifications Hekia Parata has used to close and merge Christchurch schools.

Hekia Parata should have listened to what schools had to say at the start, which would have prevented creating a lot of stress for children trying to get on with life in their shaken up communities.

The Education Minister has mangled this process, pointlessly raising fears in communities that have retained their schools.

Hekia Parata owes the children of Christchurch an apology.

I feel deeply sad for the schools announced for merger and closure today. They are being singled out for no other reason than they had the bad luck to be hardest hit by the quakes.

I challenge the need for these closures and mergers at this time. Hekia Parata should have waited for proper census data before pushing ahead.

- The Press

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