Parata's plan pits schools against each other

CATHERINE DELAHUNTY
Last updated 09:01 07/12/2012
Hekia Parata
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ

FACE TO FACE: Education Minister Hekia Parata listens to Ouruhia School pupils sing during a visit to the school.

Catherine Delahunty
MARION VAN DIJK/Nelson Mail
Green MP Catherine Delahunty.

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OPINION: The Government is jumping the gun with its Christchurch education plan based on unreliable population data while the city is in flux. Is there a sinister agenda in which Canterbury is the guinea pig in a supersizing plan for the entire education system, asks Green Party education spokeswoman CATHERINE DELAHUNTY .

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After visiting many Christchurch schools, I am convinced of the need to pause, perhaps for several years, before going ahead with any major plan to reshape or "renew" the city's school sector.

With the deadline today, schools have just put the finishing touches on their submissions which outline, in many situations, their case for survival.

But pitting individual schools against other schools - which is effectively what this process has come down to - is not the way to go about developing a sustainable, co- operative and creative school network.

The real way to do that would have been to engage the schools and their communities from the beginning, to get them involved in the creation of a plan for real school renewal.

By doing it the other way around - devising a plan, then getting the schools to submit on it - the National Government has undermined the value of the greatest asset the schooling sector has in the city - the schools' relationships with each other.

The earthquakes have tested schools and continue to create stress but have not attacked the relationships between schools and local communities.

It is these relationships that should have been used to help shape the renewal; instead they have been undermined by it.

The proposed "renewal plan" has been a shattering blow to those listed for possible merger or closure.

Rather than compete within their clusters and between other clusters set up by the Government, schools should have been, and should now be, given the time and space to collect themselves and inform a broader and deeper plan for the future of education in Christchurch.

For that they need comprehensive and up-to-date data about where populations of people will eventually settle and about the geotechnical state of the land on which they will group.

Realistically, some of that data may not be reliable for years. Why jump the gun on it?

The Ministry of Education's data, both on existing populations, on the physical state of schools and about projected populations, has been shown to be fallible and the process so mismanaged that an additional ministry manager - the very competent Karen Sewell - has been appointed to try to mop up the mess.

Schools have been given four options for how populations might grow and collapse in the next couple of decades.

While we all accept that no- one yet knows the future shape of the city, this lack of information is not a good basis for making hard decisions like which schools will be closed or merged.

Hence the resistance to the plan by schools like Ouruhia Primary and Chisnallwood Intermediate, to name a couple of obvious examples of successful schools which, rightly, feel under attack.

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This has left those in the middle of the muddle wondering just what the Government's agenda in all of this is.

Many parents and teachers have asked me whether I think Christchurch is the guinea pig for a supersizing plan for the entire education system.

They wonder why schools with little damage, robust rolls and excellent ERO reports are threatened with merger or closure.

Why are small schools with 150 pupils or less, particularly under threat? What's wrong with small schools anyway?

The supersizing of Aranui and possibly other areas is supposedly based on the idea that bigger is better but educational evidence to support that has been non- existent.

Schools tell me they have been unable to find out why they have been targeted no matter how many times they hear the rhetoric around a supposedly exciting opportunity for improve- ment.

This has turned into a new burden for principals, teachers and boards in the final months of the school year, on top of the Novopay headaches.

In the same way schools pause in order to renew over the Christmas holidays; to gather the data they need to make informed decisions for the year ahead, Education Minister Hekia Parata could find a pause - a long one - is what is required for the education sector in Christchurch to effectively renew too.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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