School closure investigation overdue

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.

6 Responses to School closure investigation overdue

  1. When a school closes in a rural community it frequently take the heart out of it, and even an urban school closure reverberates around the local community. Ministers, MPs and even bureaucrats have children so one wonders why they are so insensitive to the issues involved

  2. Neil says:

    Sad to say valerie that there has to be closures but its no different to the closure of wooden wheel factories in the late 1800’s,flax factories etc.
    Life can be unfair, however there has to be a dose of realism about the whole thing. Remember, the education provided is not about the district rather than the young people in the schools and their futures..

  3. homepaddock says:

    The purpose of schools is to educate children and once rolls drop it can be better educationally and socially for the pupils if the school closes or merges.

    MPs are only too well aware of the sensitivities around school closures and mergers and they let the minister know. The problems stem from the ministry which doesn’t appear to have good processes, especially when more than one or two schools are involved.

    However, there are happy exceptions – friends are going through this with their small school at the moment, and say the communication has been good and everyone feels part of the process. that is how it should happen.

  4. The way the ministry and Mallard and through the Taieri was pretty heavy handed it seemed, especially as there was so much forecast growth on the Taieri.
    In saying that ultimately the merged Taieri College is arguably one of the most popular secondary schools in Otago so that was a great move

  5. Richard says:

    This investigation may have much to do with the whole organization and structure of the MoE, the catalysis the ChCh debacle.
    Hekia Parata’s performance or involvement is not part of this enquiry because she is a Minister and beyond the power of the the Ombudsman.
    It is interesting that the DoE has a new -temporary- CEO- formally CEO of the MSD where he had a reputation as a reformist – perhaps this review is at his instigation perhaps sensing that the is something systemically wrong?

  6. Andrei says:

    Perhaps it is time to get the Government right out of education and leave it up to the parents of children to find their own providers.

    And then our kids wouldn’t be subject to the degenerates who infest our school system.

    And that is mild compared to some of the things our kids are subject to

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