Christchurch Schools

The Press reports:

Principals were reduced to tears as their jobs, and communities were put on the chopping block.

In an announcement marred by confusion, the Education Ministry said 13 schools would close and 18 could merge. Five Aranui schools will also combine into an education “cluster”.

Teachers and pupils have huge emotional attachments to their schools, and I can well understand how upset people will be at these decisions. It is worth noting there are 216 schools in total in the Christchurch area.

However these closures are not happening because the Government just wants to save some money. To the contrary the Government has committed $1 billion of capital spending on schools and educational facilities in Christchurch. The closures and mergers are because there are 3,000 fewer students, and some existing schools are too damaged. These school closures are basically an after-shock of the earthquake.

Shirley Boys’ High School principal John Laurenson has dismissed a proposal to merge the school with Christchurch Boys’ High School as “absurd nonsense”.

Education Minister Hekia Parata yesterday announced a major overhaul of education in Christchurch. One idea was the proposed merger of the two schools. However, the ministry has since backtracked and now says it is waiting on geotechnical reports, which were unlikely to be ready until next year.

Laurenson said Christchurch Boys’ High School was simply not equipped to cope with the influx of students.

“We are not going to merge for the most practical reason. I have 1300 students in the school, I think Trevor McIntyre at Christchurch Boys’ will have something similar.”

“To simply say that Shirley closes and suddenly Christchurch Boys’ High School is equipped to double in size is absurd. They don’t have the land, they don’t have the infrastructure. It’s nonsense.”

Laurenson attended a meeting yesterday held by the ministry and said a summary sheet released by them was “grossly misleading”.

“It appeared to tell the community that Shirley Boys’ High School was going to close and be merged with Christchurch Boys’ High School.”

Laurenson said he was “very cross” with yesterday’s events. The announcement had only managed to “deeply hurt my community and my people”.

“That simple misinformation that came out has been quite devastating.

“What has happened is an example of NCEA Level One not achieved – the information that went out is misleading and it’s been picked up by media people and suddenly it’s viral. We’re now telling the community ‘relax all is well and the ministry is busy retracting a vague statement’.”

Laurenson said the ministry’s media person had spoken with him and other principals and accepted it had been misleading.

There really is no excuse for a mistake of this magnitude.  The communications material which went should should have been double and triple checked to ensure it was crystal clear. What was always going to be a difficult and upsetting announcement became a mini-fiasco. The document that went out should not just have had a sentence on each school. There should have been a detailed report on each school documenting exactly what was planned for that school and why. And the summary document should have been checked to make sure it was consistent with that.

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