Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverly waken is investigating the way in which the Ministry of Education conducts consultation on school closures and mergers.
. . . Dame Beverley will be looking in some detail at a number of closure and merger consultations carried out in recent years, including the process that is currently underway in Christchurch
“I will assess whether the consultation processes operate in a manner that adequately ensures fair and meaningful participation by affected parties and, if they do not, how they could be improved”, says Dame Beverley. . .
Such an investigation is long overdue.
School mergers and closures are always fraught and the Ministry has been handling them poorly for years.
North Otago was one of the areas into which then Minister of Education Trevor Mallard strode in clodhopper boots demanding mergers and closures nearly 10 years ago.
There was little if any consultation and very poor understanding of communities of interest and other factors which ought to have been considered.
The Minister got the blame and three MPs who lost their seats in the south – Mark Peck in Invercargill, David Parker in Otago and Jim Sutton in Aoraki – could lay some of the responsibility on this issue.
But then, as now, most of the blame ought to have been laid at the Ministry’s door.
It didn’t learn from the mistakes made before the 2005 election and repeated them with bells on in Christchurch where even more sensitivity was required.
Changes in population result in changing educational needs. New Schools will be needed in areas of growth, old ones will need to close or merge in areas of decline.
Handling that is core Ministry business for which it ought to follow best practice. Instead it appears to follow the process which didn’t work nearly a decade ago and from which it seems to have learned nothing.
I wish Dame Beverley well in her investigation and hope her findings lead to much needed improvements for the sake of schools, pupils, staff and their communities.