Christchurch unites to save schools
The 11,000-signature NZEI petition calls for a halt to the plans and urges the government to listen to Christchurch and refocus on quality education. The plan to close or merge…
The 11,000-signature NZEI petition calls for a halt to the plans and urges the government to listen to Christchurch and refocus on quality education.
The plan to close or merge about 30 schools was riddled with data that was unclear, inconsistent or plain wrong, the consultation timeframe was ridiculously short, and scant notice was taken of submissions.
The government has backtracked on some of the dafter suggestions, such as merging two boys’ high schools, but parents and teachers remain alarmed by the paucity of detail. They’re also deeply frustrated by the Ministry of Education’s refusal to answer official information requests and the Ombudsman has now intervened (see below).
Local people don’t accept ministry data predicting an ongoing decline in the school-age population and worry that a lack of information and clarity about what will happen next is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy as people vote with their feet.
Guinea pigs for GERM?
Educators say keeping the existing teaching workforce is a perfect opportunity to support children during the next phase of the rebuild. But they fear Christchurch children will be used as guinea pigs for a nationwide programme of privatisation through charter schools, and experiments with double bunking and mega campuses.
The education sector says similar school reorganisations are inevitable across the country, especially where rolls are falling and the government faces huge bills for earthquake strengthening or leaky buildings.
Asked whether Christchurch schools are being used as guinea pigs, Education Minister Hekia Parata says the government is learning from Christchurch and amendments to the Education Act currently going through Parliament allow for flexible timetabling (double bunking) “because that has worked here and schools around the country have asked for that also”.
Under the proposed Bill, state schools would have to be opened up for use by profit-making charter schools as happens in New York, where a public school runs classes in the first half of the day and has to vacate the premises for charter school students in the second half.
Double bunking has been temporarily used in Christchurch for secondary students whose usual school has earthquake damage, but it’s put a lot of stress on school staff and facilities.
Ombudsman slams ministry’s stalling
In yet another indictment of the government’s education blunders, on 18 December, Ombudsman David McGee found the ministry acted wrongly in its handling of requests for official information about Christchurch school closures. He’s now investigating the wider question of whether the ministry’s processes ensure effective public consultation on school closures generally. Dr McGee said the ministry wrongly advised the Christchurch City Council on how to reply to information requests. He says information about school closures, which have a major impact on communities, should be comprehensive and easy to understand, and schools and parents shouldn’t have to ferret out information by making official information requests.
As temperatures rose, thousands flocked to protests in the city, with 2-3,000 people turning up to a rally on 22 September.
On 5 December NZEI members voted to notify their intention to strike on 19 February” the day after final decisions on school reorganisation are due to be announced.