Proposals for school closures and mergers are always fraught.
Principals, teachers, other staff, pupils and their families have vested interests in their schools, past pupils will also have views and at the best of time suggestions of significant changes to schools is likely to cause angst.
This isn’t the best of times for Christchurch and it is little wonder that the proposals announced yesterday to close some schools and merge others have been met with an emotional response.
But change is inevitable.
Some schools can not be rebuilt and thousands of children have left the city leaving some schools with much lower rolls.
The government’s response must be based on fact not emotion and with the knowledge a limited amount of money must be spent in the way that best provides for the educational needs of the children in the city and the hinterland.
In announcing the government will invest $1 billion over the next 10 years to restore the education sector in greater Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said:
“As we move from recovery to renewal we have an opportunity to realign services with changing community needs and ensure our investment delivers better outcomes for learners and the wider community.
“In line with community feedback we are taking the time to get this right, because the benefits to Christchurch and wider New Zealand are tremendous.
“Over time the renewed education network can provide greater Christchurch, Canterbury and wider New Zealand with a significantly enhanced asset.”
Education Minister Hekia Parata said schools have been grouped into clusters based on location:
“This will enable decisions about the schooling network to consider housing developments and surrounding infrastructure. It will also facilitate engagement with parents and learners to ensure they play a significant role in deciding the type of education provision that meets their community’s needs,” Ms Parata says.
The clusters have been grouped into three categories based on the scale of work required, the speed at which it can be achieved, and the engagement needed to finalise decisions.
The categories are:
· Restoration; · Consolidation, and; · Rejuvenation.
“Of the 215 schools in the greater Christchurch region, we are proceeding to consult on a proposal to close 13 schools. Another 18 schools will be involved in mergers of some kind,” Ms Parata says.
“Our priority is delivering a network that will meet changing community needs and deliver better outcomes for learners.”
The Government also announced the major projects identified for immediate implementation are the rebuilding of Halswell School, and enhancement of education provision at Pegasus Town and Rolleston.
Schools provide jobs for principals, teachers and support staff, they can be a community hub and the location of community facilities such as halls and swimming pools.
Closures or mergers will result in the loss of jobs and facilities.
But the purpose of schools is to educate their pupils and that must be the focus in negotiations over the proposals.