The Christchurch Schools announcement

September 24th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Beck Eleven at The Press wrote:

Few people embrace change. That’s just science. Nonetheless, it is inevitable, especially in this post-quake era. However, I find it incomprehensible how Education Minister Hekia Parata, ably assisted by Bulldozer No 1, Gerry Brownlee, could possibly have thought the way they announced changes to ’s would go down well.

You would hope that hundreds of hours of research had gone into how many schools needed to close, the criteria for each and rock solid, defensible reasons for the changes. Then, one would expect a few more hours nutting out the best delivery method.

There are screeds of literature and academic theory dedicated to the psychology of change, so why on God’s Rubbled Earth would the news be delivered to principals who were given coloured name badges before being told if the colour of their name badge equated to a closure, a merger or status quo. I can’t even bear to give the Government’s term “rejuvenation” any more air.

It sounds like a terrible and humiliating rip-off version of New Zealand Idol or New Zealand’s Got Talent.

While I admit it would take some extraordinary being to deliver the news in a way that would be acceptable to the majority, surely someone suspected this would be the thorn that turned Christchurch into a wounded lion?

They gave out colour named badges to principals, and then announced whether their colour meant their school survived or not????

How on earth could anyone think that was a good idea? Jesus Christ. Someone actually sat down and said “Hey let’s give them different coloured name badges, to indicate what happens to their schools” and no-one else said “That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said!”.

I’m staggered by that degree of insensitivity and stupidity. Now I know Ministers do not get into the details of whether or not people get coloured name tags, so I don’t blame them. But they need to ensure either their Departments have a CEO and managers who know how to handle issues like this, or insist that such details get run through their office.

With reflection, almost everything about the announcement was flawed. Having one “big bang” announcement was the wrong way to do it. Summoning all the principals and board chairs together may have been convenient, but made things worse.

As Beck Eleven has said, any change is difficult and challenging. School closures or mergers are some of the most difficult. We’re talking the jobs of principals and teachers. The security of neighbourhood for parents, the incredibly important friendships for pupils. If any reorganisation needs maximum sensitivity, then school closures and mergers are it.

If I was the relevant manager in the Ministry of Education, what I would have done is:

  1. Appoint a dedicated liaison for every school that could be impacted
  2. Have them go in and meet key stakeholders in each school
  3. Keep the school informed on what is happening on a “no surprises” policy
  4. Share with them the data on which a decision will be made. Ask them for input and data.
  5. Telegraph well in advance what the likely scenarios are. If closure is likely, be honest and say “That is the likely outcome, but the decision is not final”
  6. When there is a draft decision, have someone go to the school, and in order tell the principal, board, and staff. Don’t summon them to come out to you.
  7. Have support services available to those affected.

You’re still going to have upset staff, parents and pupils due to the nature of the decisions. But you won’t have got the same degree of anger and pushback, as has occurred.

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45 Responses to “The Christchurch Schools announcement”

  1. thomasbeagle (77 comments) says:

    “Brownlee, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

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  2. UpandComer (537 comments) says:

    Ugh. Wow this is terrible. Come on Hekia, Bill English can’t do every single job can he. Jesus Christ.

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  3. lastmanstanding (1,304 comments) says:

    Methinks that staff at the MoE are left wing supporters and therefore set this up to get the result they wanted. Forget about the civil service being neutral and impartial. It aint It never was. Its always been left wing biased just like the MSM. This was sabotage at the extremes.
    One can just see the Comms wimmin(Most of them are wimmin) ploting to make sure Hekia copped the maximum flak.

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  4. Hamnida (905 comments) says:

    I agree with DPFs method of informing affected schools. Using it as a PR exercise and making people travel for a shaming session is a disgrace.

    Key will have to shuffle Parata out of education.

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  5. Cunningham (846 comments) says:

    Unbelieveable, National will lost the next election based on the way Education is being handled.

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  6. Ross12 (1,456 comments) says:

    Agree that this was handled badly.

    I was speaking to my cousin recently about changes in the Govt. Departments. She is a very experienced public servant in a relatively high management position in one of the larger Departments. She said that what has happened is that to get a decision made now is much more difficult –it has to go much higher up the chain to be made. I interpret this to mean that the very top people have become control freaks to make sure their own position is “secure”. I think this is exactly the opposite to what the Government is trying achieve. So lastmanstanding –if you are right there is one obvious place to start looking.

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  7. Graeme Edgeler (3,290 comments) says:

    Saw the Romanian Quintuplets episode of South Park last night:
    Everyone who has a grandmother take one step forward; uh, not so fast, girls.

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  8. insider (1,028 comments) says:

    What’s the bets they had a white board session where everyone in the green team sat around and nutted out some strategies as did the orange and blue teams, then a speaker for each group stood up and told the others what they had concluded and then someone from the ministry captured it all, and it is now filed in the bin.

    @ lastman

    Weird paranoid conspiracy slightly undone by the head of comms at MoE being a bloke.

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  9. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    It seems to me that the principals were treated exactly like the way they behave – like 5 years olds. And we can see proof of that in the way some of them and their staff have been getting their students (some 5 year olds included…) out to protest with placards etc.

    Lets face – only a deaf mute moron could not see that changes would be necessary – with several thousand fewer students and some obviously wrecked schools there had to be changes coming.
    OK – so the method of advising them was wrong – but so what. These are supposed to be the intelligencia who are able to rise above these sorts of things. But what do we get – wailing and crying and crys of “Save our schools”.

    Idiots.

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  10. wreck1080 (3,972 comments) says:

    Badges? Right out of a Dilbert comic.

    I bet the person who came up with that idea is on a huge salary.

    I’ve no confidence in the education minister.

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  11. Don the Kiwi (1,794 comments) says:

    This government has become as arrogant as the Klark government. Based on this performance, they will ose the next election. This is disgraceful – even an Intermediate student could have done a better communication job, because that’s all it is – proper communication.

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  12. JeffW (327 comments) says:

    This would not be an issue if the government were the funder of education, rather than both funder and provider.

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  13. Hamnida (905 comments) says:

    Maybe six year governments aren’t a bad thing.

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  14. Mark (1,493 comments) says:

    The education portfolio is proving to be Nationals achilles heel. The inability to consult and communicate has been the hallmark of the last two ministers Tolley and Parata.

    this is not unlike the class size fuck up that Parata oversaw when new to the post but clearly she is not a quick learner. I dont think there is anyone who would believe that there does not need to be some level of restructuring of the schools in Christchurch but if you want a lesson in how not to go about it this is the perfect exemplar.

    Health is a portfolio that has all the same difficulties that education as a portfolio has. Unionised, well educated professionals are always a tough proposition yet Tony Ryall is not in the news, seldom in trouble and just gets on with the job.

    What is it about Parata that she attracts this sort of disastrous and politically damaging PR. David Farrar would have us believe that the fault lies with the ministry officials and there is some truth that this minister is reliant on good advice. But and its a fucking big but, there is a responsibility on the Minister to understand what is going to work and what is going to be a political nightmare and Parata seems to lack that political instinct. She appears to be a nice enough person however it is evident that she is not up to the current portfolio responsibility, Key may well be better to give her a portfolio that is a little less sensitive.

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  15. Cunningham (846 comments) says:

    Mark (778) you are right, it is ultimately her responsability but I think there is some undermining going on in the educayion area. I think she is probably very tough to work for and has perhaps ruffled a few feathers. It is a shame because she says all the right things (I thought she would be great for this area) but at the end of the day doing and saying are 2 very different things. National has some very, very serious issues in this area and I would be nervous if I were JK. They cannot keep getting hit with issue after issue like this. Eventually it is going to sink them.

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  16. publicwatchdog (2,842 comments) says:

    What is proposed to be done with Education Department land that would be presumably surplus to requirements if the Government were successful in merging/amalgamating these Christchurch schools?

    Anyone know the answer to this question?

    Penny Bright

    ‘Anti-corruption campaigner’

    http://www.dodgyjohnhasgone.com

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  17. eszett (2,432 comments) says:

    Now I know Ministers do not get into the details of whether or not people get coloured name tags, so I don’t blame them.

    Actually, how the message gets delivered should be a part of the minister’s responsibilities. Not necessarily in the detail of what colours should be used for the name badges, but that they are being used, well, that question should have been at least asked.
    I don’t think you can so easily say they are not to blame.

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  18. berend (1,716 comments) says:

    DPF: I’m staggered by that degree of insensitivity and stupidity.

    But no worry kids, National will rebuilt Christ Church just fine.

    Just like the fibre that’s not coming to you.

    And the tax cuts you didn’t get.

    But at least they’re borrowing like Keynesians, if they didn’t do that, we would be in real trouble.

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  19. YesWeDid (1,051 comments) says:

    With an announcement as big and potentially disruptive as closing and merging a large number of schools why did Hekia Parata fly back to Wellington after the meeting? Would it have been too much to ask that she spent the next day in Christchurch and visited some of the affected schools to explain the decisions that had been made.

    If Parata had any political instinct at all she would know that actually fronting up beats any amount of spin delivered via the media. People may not like what you have to say but the fact you take the time to tell people personally earns you some measure of respect.

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  20. artemisia (256 comments) says:

    Well, however it is done is a logistical minefield. There are pros and cons to sharing the overview to everyone at once (leaving aside the badges). A meeting of all principals in the area for the big picture, followed by individual meetings with schools sounds like a plan. However, that leaves everyone uncertain for the time being, then there would be cries of divide and rule. Not to mention the media running round lots of schools like headless chooks, getting soundbites. Have to remember we are dealing with a lot of highly unionised and politicised school staff who don’t want to change, regardless of the circumstances. And that’s just the principals.

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  21. Cunningham (846 comments) says:

    YesWeDid good point.

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  22. MH (817 comments) says:

    it is obvious Shipley and the gang of 4 over ordered the badges which were designed originally to be given to identify houseowners wandering about Chch whose houses had been designated for demolition. However some of the yellow triangles ones brought comparisons with Nazi Germany. This is a far better example and more appropriate use of recycling surplus Govt material,where in Chch a man’s word is worth more than a hand shake at the moment..There is little truth to the rumour that the gas mains are always being inspected and repaired first.

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  23. BeaB (2,148 comments) says:

    It wouldn’t matter how the message was delivered the response would have been identical – as it is every time there is a school closure. And principals are used to colour coded badges as just about every workshop has used them for years. They just want to shoot the messenger.

    We have heard all the standard objections and they are the same as the objections to everything in education – children as guinea pigs, not the full picture, data flawed, tried and failed overseas, has to be done but not to us, wait till everyone dies etc etc. I am amazed how many principals are telling us their teachers are not competent to gather reliable data and if league tables are published they will produce dishonest data. What does that tell us about the profession?

    What we never hear is that the only job affected is the principal’s which is why they lead the charge – even from their junket to Melbourne. I hope they took a look at the comprehensive schools data available to parents there.

    The plain fact is that if the number of kids has dropped significantly, you need to reorganise the schools – and that means all the schools have to be considered. Otherwise the taxpayer should keep on forking out for empty classrooms?

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  24. Pete Macaulay (47 comments) says:

    This whole Christchurch school replan has been incredibly poorly handled, and we still have no admission from the department that they had set up a disaster, and still no apology. On the other hand, the stakeholders were told it was a consultation process and they chose to treat it as a fait accompli while applying emotive and manipulative language (“destoying the community”). Nobody involved in this fiasco is coming out clean. This is change management 101 and anyone who has ever managed change could see this was going to dissolve into tears. Press stop/rewind/record

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  25. Cunningham (846 comments) says:

    BeaB you are right but by not deliveryiing it well, you give an excuse for the outcry. Had they done it properly, then they could go on the front foot. Now they are on the back foot (again!) and it’s hard to recover from that position. In politics sometimes the way a message is delivered is more important then the message itself.

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  26. dime (10,134 comments) says:

    lmao @ badges. now thats just brutal! even Dime wouldnt pull that sorta stunt

    sabotage from within me thinks

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  27. mpledger (425 comments) says:

    It’s pretty hard to know why some schools are closing when they are undamaged and had no change in roll. Or why it’s a good idea to bus young kids miles away to school.

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  28. CJPhoto (227 comments) says:

    If there were really coloured badged, then this is a huge missed opportunity.

    It is reality TV gold in an order of magnitude so much greater than the Ridges.

    I wonder what tag line they used as “You are the weakest link” has been taken.

    Was there talk of blind sides and schools forming alliances aka Survivor.

    Even Beauty and the Geek has them competing for their places

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  29. BlairM (2,365 comments) says:

    Unbelievable. Parata should just resign. It’s stupid to close schools anyway. They should have just announced bulk funding for the schools, and the bad ones would have closed themselves.

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  30. Viking2 (11,575 comments) says:

    Doesn’t anyone else get tired of teachers and their mothers little helpers continually whinging?

    If any of the Headmasters had any gumption at all and had the interests of their school at heart they would have been doing the homework and would have organized their own closures or mergers. That’s what boards do.
    That’s what business does.

    Is it too hard for them?

    The Govt. should lease buildings and sell the rubbish to someone who can make it useful for something else.

    What a wank fest from the moaners.

    DPF we don’t need another Govt Dept to close a few half empty buildings. We need an arse booter.

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  31. YesWeDid (1,051 comments) says:

    @viking2 – 2 of the 13 schools that are being closed volunteered to close, other schools like Ferndale are happy to move because their existing site is too small.

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  32. Paulus (2,672 comments) says:

    Hell hath no fury like Women being told something they do not agree with, by another women, and Maori at that.
    Who the hell does the Minister Education think she is –
    We the Teachers control all education, from the schools to the education department.
    And don’t you forget it,

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  33. scrubone (3,105 comments) says:

    You’re still going to have upset staff, parents and pupils due to the nature of the decisions. But you won’t have got the same degree of anger and pushback, as has occurred.

    Really.

    Sounds more like something you’d put on a Tui Billboard.

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  34. Mark (1,493 comments) says:

    The issue here surely though is the inept handling of the process by Parata and her ministry and might we add not for the first time.

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  35. notrotsky (85 comments) says:

    Brownlee and Parata are indeed culpable for this cock up but let me present additional morons on a higher salary than the Ministers who should also be feeling the blowtorch.

    http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry/AboutUs/LeadershipTeam/LeadershipTeam.aspx

    In fact just sack them one and all fucking pack of oxygen thieves.

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  36. kiwi in america (2,511 comments) says:

    There is no nice way to deliver news this big and with such widespread repurcussions. David makes some good points but frankly as soon as there was a sniff of any closure, a potentially affected principal and then parents would be talking to the media and the media’s line would then be “the government is trying to close Chch schools by stealth”. The emotionally appealing line that schools have been the glue holding together the Christchurch community would be heavily used by the media regardless of which communication pathway the MOE chose to deliver this news. The coloured badges are a distraction. Had one on one meetings been held with each potentially affected principal and BOTs does anyone honestly think that the media would have reacted with any less shock and horror? Everyone says that they know that Chch has too many classrooms and teachers now but every principal is now in NIMBY mode big time and the meme of the insentive and now incompetent announcement ramps up their leverage with the government to have them back off what needs to be done.

    There is no denying that the announcement could’ve been better handled but on a outrage scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the current outrage we are getting because of the announcement rollout the MOE gave Chch, if all the processes David outlines were followed, the media’s outrage would only drop marginally to an 8 out 10.

    I suspect that this will be the straw that breaks camel’s back regarding Parata as Key will not want to see this escalate any further. Meanwhile perhaps the media and other critics could consider that what has been presented, however poorly it was done, represents PROPOSALS not locked in concrete decisions. That would be far too nuanced when interviewing hurt and outraged parents and principals gets far better ratings.

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  37. joana (1,983 comments) says:

    Maybe things would have been different if there was a NZer running the dept..Lesley Longstockings response to the article in the Press was pathetic..She totally blamed the media for the fiasco..No self responsibilty there..Who went to the UK to recruit her? How did she pass the no kiwi for the job routine?

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  38. Steve (North Shore) (4,592 comments) says:

    Ms Dim @ 11.29
    “What is proposed to be done with Education Department land that would be presumably surplus to requirements if the Government were successful in merging/amalgamating these Christchurch schools?”

    Hopefuly the Govt will build Lunatic Asylums to to take care of those who may be mentaly deranged

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  39. OneTrack (3,237 comments) says:

    I believe the coloured badge model is standard for primary schools when organising the children into different activities. Maybe some ex-teacher, now in the ministry, thought it worked so well in the past she could use it again. She may have already had the coloured badges to reuse.

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  40. bc (1,377 comments) says:

    lastmanstanding @10.20am “Methinks that staff at the MoE are left wing supporters and therefore set this up to get the result they wanted. Forget about the civil service being neutral and impartial. It aint It never was. Its always been left wing biased just like the MSM. This was sabotage at the extremes.”

    Oh come on. Every time Hekia does one of her stuff-ups (which seems to be happening with an alarming frequency now) someone comes on and defends her, because she is supposedly getting sabotaged by her officials.
    No evidence of this of course, just a desperate attempt to defend her for some reason.
    Besides even if this so-called sabotage was true, Hekia had every opportunity to put a halt to this badge method of informing schools whether their schools were closing or not. She is the Minister after all, she calls the shots! Ultimately the buck stops with her.

    I never thought I would say it, but I almost want Tolley back! She may not have known much about her portfolio, but at least she could manage it.

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  41. MT_Tinman (3,263 comments) says:

    OneTrack (96) Says:
    September 24th, 2012 at 7:50 pm
    I believe the coloured badge model is standard for primary schools when organising the children into different activities. Maybe some ex-teacher, now in the ministry, thought it worked so well in the past she could use it again. She may have already had the coloured badges to reuse.

    Or, of course, the relevant official knew the maturity and awareness of the headmasters and used one of the few tools he/she knew would be understood.

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  42. HB (328 comments) says:

    I am also interested to know where the surplus land will be going to?

    Some of the proposed closures seem strange based on the facts we know about them.

    Follow the $ trail…..

    My husband used to work as a property consultant and had contracts for govt depts such as MOE and Office of Treaty Settlements.
    Y’all would be amazed and disgusted what truly goes on.

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  43. HB (328 comments) says:

    Hekia Parata needs to go.
    She is incompetent.

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  44. joana (1,983 comments) says:

    The land would be offered to Ngai Tahu and would end up as crowded housing. The property arm of Ngai Tahu owns 540 million dollars worth of property in ChCh currently.

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  45. kiwi in america (2,511 comments) says:

    I remember driving along River Rd on a visit in mid December – ostensibly to meet a red zoned friend and help him retrieve items from his home that soon would belong to the government. After Dec 23 that section of River Rd was shut to traffic. I drove down to Banks Ave and went past Banks Ave Primary School and thence down Linwood Ave to Avonside Drive past Avonside Girls High where a good friend teaches. The devastation was so thorough and far reaching that it was extremely depressing and distressing just to view it. Red zoned friends seem to have moved past that phase and I so admire them for their resiliance in the face of such terrible blows. I felt then that the inevitable or likely closure of these schools (and various others) was going to be like a neutron bomb through Christchurch when that time eventually came. It has thus become so. Contrary to the assertions of many, I believe that MOE officials agonized over how best to do this. Who do you ask as to how to do something like this? The closures that Mallard did when Labour was in power were of a magnitude 10 times smaller than what is proposed for Christchurch. David’s suggestions would work when applied to a couple of schools undergoing this process but I believe would just be swept away by the deep seated and visceral emotions that would erupt over the scale of what is needed regardless of how the news was delivered. Because no other city is attempting a proportionate rebuild on the scale of that Christchurch is attempting, there is no precedent here that approximates the magnitude of this task that officials can turn to. It is easy to throw stones at CERA, Brownlee, the English PR lady and so on. This is sadly part of the mammoth readjustment required after the earthquakes. When the dust settles the affected parties should be able to roll their sleeves up and try and find a formula that fits. It will be messy, ugly, painful and wrenching – but at least we didn’t lose more lives and homes and at least almost everyone has insurance that eventually will cover close to a rebuild – something almost all the earthquake affected residents of Kobe, San Francisco and Port au Prince never had. Its not perfect and the tax payers of NZ don’t have bottomless pockets to fund every last thing that ought to be funded but eventually good even great things will happen to Christchurch.

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