13 Jul 2018

Makeovers considered for run-down schools

7:23 am on 13 July 2018

The government is considering improving the appearance of run-down, unpopular schools as a way of boosting their enrolments, and setting minimum standards for the visual appearance of school property.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

A Cabinet paper said the appearance of schools could affect their enrolments and the impact might have been under-estimated.

"It's clear that a lack of visual appeal can have a negative impact on the decisions parents make about where they enrol their children. This can contribute to declining numbers for some schools and capacity pressures for others," it said.

The paper said the Ministry of Education had been asked to explore options to help schools work on their visual environments.

"This may involve encouraging better links between students and the schools they attend through educational connections, regional or national initiatives, or project-based competitions that engage communities to create school environments that best represent their towns and cities.

"Consideration will also be given to ensuring minimum standards of presentation are met across the entire school estate," the Cabinet paper said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he was expecting a variety of approaches.

"It's going to be a combination of getting rid of some old buildings, upgrading some existing buildings, building some new ones. We know that across the country we're going to be doing a lot of all three of those things," he said.

"It's going to have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. In some cases it's about tidying up existing buildings and grounds, in others it is about a complete do-over."

Mr Hipkins said property was a problem for schools with falling rolls because they ended up with unused buildings and received less maintenance funding.

"They've often got far too many buildings but they're only getting maintenance money for the number of students that they actually have and so as a result, some of their older buildings, they're finding it very difficult to maintain."

Papakura High School principal John Rohs said a planned rebuild for his school was dropped and now its buildings were tired and old.

Schools did not get enough funding to keep their buildings up to scratch, he said.

"School property has been grossly underfunded for decades and as a result of that more and more schools have deteriorated and have become really substandard from a physical point of view," he said.

Any spending on makeovers should be focused on the schools that needed it most and it needed to provide more than just superficial changes, he said.

"It would be better for some schools to have a really thorough renewal of their buildings rather than a wide-spread superficial visual improvement project," he said.

The principal of Te Mata School in Havelock North and a member of a Ministry of Education reference group for property issues, Mike Bain, said appearances were bottom of the list for school spending on property - and the government would have to provide extra funding for beautification projects.

"If your capex funding is looking something like $50-60,000 that doesn't go very far when you're tasked with doing infrastructure first, health and safety first, then you get to classrooms, there's nothing left over," Mr Bain said.

Principals Federation President Whetu Cormick said children learned better in a safe, attractive environment, and parents considered the state of buildings when choosing a school.

Secondary Principals Association president Mike Williams said schools with wider problems often ended up with run-down property and that made it harder for them to recover.

"Invariably a school that has been through a difficult patch and things aren't going well, the property's probably fallen apart as well," he said.

"So when you start moving that school back on to a positive pathway, with better learning in the classroom, better connections with the community ... the physical appearance becomes a real problem because the community have the feeling that 'we're not valued, we've got a rubbishy old school and down the road there's a brand new one'," Mr Williams said.

He said many schools had old buildings and they needed more than just a new coat of paint.

"Those old buildings, they're not conducive to modern teaching and learning. They don't meet all the requirements around heating, lighting, ventilation ... so why would you try and make a grotty old school look prettier.

"Stop wasting the money trying to keep it going, build a decent one. It needs to be done at some stage and probably should have been done at some of those schools ten years ago. Let's get on to it now."