Merger plans still not fully explained - principals

6:31 am on 15 September 2012

Christchurch secondary school principals say the Government has still not fully explained the reasons for its proposed shake-up of the city's schools.

Teachers and principals are not convinced of the need for the sweeping changes in its $1 billion overhaul of Christchurch's education system in the wake of recent earthquakes in the region.

On Friday, principals met Secretary for Education Lesley Longstone to discuss the proposal to close as many as 30 schools in the region.

The South Island city arguably had too many secondary schools even before quakes, and there are now 4500 fewer school children, including 2000 fewer secondary students.

There are no firm proposals for secondary schools because geotechnical reports on the land at three schools are not yet complete. But the Government says they need major reorganisation and initial proposals indicate that some schools could close.

The Canterbury West Coast Secondary Principals Association says members shared their concerns about the Government's plans at the meeting, but chairman Neil Wilkinson said there was no explanation of the rationale for some the proposals.

The association says the ministry indicated depopulation in some areas, the stability of school land, and the distances children travel to school are behind its proposals. It says principals do not want the Government to reduce the choice of schools in Christchurch.

There has been criticism of the reorganisation plan from the teachers' union, saying jobs will go and from intermediate principals who say closing so many of them is unnecessary.

However, Christchurch Boys' High School principal Trevor McIntyre says the Government has had to make hard decisions because schools could never have done it themselves.

Mr McIntyre told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Friday there were too few students in the city even before the earthquake and change is needed. "If we were left to make the decisions ourselves we'd say 'well we'll all stay here'."

'Attack on intermediate schools'

The principal of a Christchurch intermediate school says Government plans to reorganise the city's schools are a direct attack on intermediate schools.

Branston Intermediate in the west of the city is one of the schools which is on the list for closure.

Principal Jennifer O'Leary told Nine to Noon she was surprised her school in the west of the city might be closed.

"There were 13 schools that were going to close, four of those are intermediate and two of those have no, or minimal, earthquake damage, so I can't help but think it is an attack on intermediates."

In all, there are 10 intermediate schools in Christchurch.

Schools dispute there was consultation

Some schools are disputing assurances from Education Minister Hekia Parata that they were widely consulted before the announcement of the $1 billion overhaul.

Duvauchelle School, on the Banks Peninsula, has been told it will close and merge with Akaroa Area School.

But Duvauchelle School's Board of Trustees chair Craig Rhodes says the news was a "bolt out of the blue".

Mr Rhodes contests Ms Parata's assurances that education providers were heavily consulted over the past two years before Thursday's announcement.

"We've had absolutely no communication at all over this process, so I just can't understand where she's coming from with that one. It seems to be a load of rubbish to me."

Announcement 'bungle' angers school

Confusion over announcement on the future of Christchurch high schools on Thursday has angered Avonside Girls' High School's board chair.

Initially, Avonside Girls' and Shirley Boys' High School were included on the list of possible mergers or closures, though both are in fact still awaiting findings of geotechnical reports to confirm whether they could remain on their current sites.

The Ministry of Education later said it had no firm proposals to merge or close high schools.

Chair of Avonside Girls' High School's board of trustees Tim Bergin told Morning Report the way the ministry delivered the announcement was very poor, and it would make no sense to close the school.

"It is just completely mind-numbing to understand how or why they've even come up with these proposals, and the manner in which they were delivered was just appalling."

Mr Bergin said geotechnical engineers are testing the school grounds and he believes it will be possible to rebuild on the land.

Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said she was appalled at the bungle, saying it showed insensitivity to the feelings of pupils of the schools and their parents.

Under the proposed reorganisation, one of the biggest changes will be in Aranui where many houses have been condemned because they are in red-zoned areas.

There, the Government has suggested merging three primary schools, an intermediate and Aranui High School.

The president of primary teachers union NZEI Ian Leckie says hundreds of teachers jobs will go if the mergers and closures proceed.

Mr Leckie says the cuts are the last thing Christchurch needs after the disruption and uncertainty caused by the earthquakes.

Schools and their communities will be consulted on the proposals and decisions are due to be made next year.