School roll play
It is understandable that, in the uncertainty prevailing in schools in Christchurch and beyond, tensions should arise, but the suggestion this week by the principal of Aranui High School, John Rohs, that schools in the west are "poaching" pupils from the east is not helpful.
According to Rohs, more young people from the eastern suburbs are travelling further afield to go to high school because schools in the western suburbs are making up for their falling rolls by taking more out-of-zone applicants. The situation has created "a degree of friction" among principals, he says, and he has called on the Ministry of Education to do something about it.
There is no denying that the official statistics show large changes in enrolments at schools around the city. Aranui High School's roll has declined steeply from 650 before the earthquakes to fewer than 500 now. At the same time, three state co-educational high schools in the western suburbs - Burnside, Riccarton and Papanui - have shown sharp rises in the numbers of out-of-zone enrolments they have taken.
Quite how large is not altogether clear, because at least one of those schools, Burnside, says that the Ministry of Education statistics are not accurate. The ministry figures show that in 2009 Burnside had 5 per cent of its roll made up of out-of-zone pupils and that in 2011 that figure jumped to 17 per cent. The principal of Burnside High School, Warwick Maguire, says, however, that his school has consistently enrolled about 20 to 25 per cent of its pupils from out of zone each year and was, in fact, trying to reduce the numbers, not increase them. Far from seeking to increase its roll at the expense of others, the school turns hundreds of applicants away, Maguire says, and this year it took fewer out-of-zoners than last year.
Whatever the true numbers, there is no doubt that enrolments are changing. That is almost certainly simply an obvious adjustment to the huge demographic changes that have been forced on the region since the earthquakes. The Ministry of Education's plan for schools, about which dozens of submissions have been made and a major announcement about which is due towards the end of next month, is the Government's long-term response to those changes.
In the meantime, however, family life goes on, with many people moving and making arrangements for themselves. To talk of this exercise of parental choice as "poaching" by schools is counter-productive and silly. Intervention by the Ministry of Education would be unlikely to improve things, even if one had confidence that any intervention by the ministry would be done competently, which after recent events is far from the case.
A few parents may, of course, be moving their children to what they feel is a better school for no other reason than that the circumstances now make it possible. As Rohs observed, some parents in the eastern suburbs had moved their children to school further afield before the earthquakes. The degree to which that sort of movement has increased is impossible to measure, but it is unlikely to be large. There is little that can be done about that. Parents always seek to get the best education they can for their children. That said, parents should not be guided by gossip and prejudice in such decisions and should give honest consideration to their local school. For the good of their communities, they owe them no less.