Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Christchurch - some reflections of the February announcements for the 'rejuvenation' of education in Christchurch

On the 18th of February Christchurch schools were told their 'interim' fates.  Some schools were spared from closure/merger and will either remain on site (being repaired or rebuilt on that site) and some will be rebuilt on another site.  Some schools on the other hand will be closed or merged with another school, meaning that some communities will lose their identity, lose the place that has truly held many together since the total devastation that wrought Christchurch and its surrounds on the 22nd of February 2011.  Some schools, particularly around Aranui, still have decisions to be made.

But one thing I found most incredulous was the timeframe.

All these closures and mergers are to be completed for the beginning of the 2014 year.

This timeline is completely at odds with the conversations many of these schools have had with the Ministry of Education and the Minister of Education herself.  Many schools had been told as part of the consultation last year that there was a timeframe up to 2016 for these changes to be implemented.

In particular, several intermediate schools checked with the Ministry that any students entering Year 7 in 2013 would be able to complete their Year 8 at the same school in 2014.  They were given these assurances, with at least one of the school's having evidence of Hekia Parata saying so herself - but when challenged in parliament by Chris Hipkins she did what she (and every other National minister according to the Hobbit document) does best:  LIED THROUGH HER TEETH!!

Of course students, parents and communities are devasted.  The central hub of thse communities is being ripped away from them, from many people who still live in damaged houses, drive damaged streets and can not go far without a constant reminder of how their lives have changed on that day two years ago.

Principals and teachers and support staff are devastated, and not only because there will be inevitable job losses with the closure and merger of schools.  They are devastated because the school is their community too.  They have attachments to the people of that community be they colleagues, students or parents.  Their schools have a culture, their own specialness, that will be gone once their school closes or merges.  The principals, teachers and support staff will mourn the spirit of their school.

The general consensus is that National wants to push through these closures and mergers by the end of 2013 before the school year starts in 2014 because 2014 is an election year.  National seems to think that if they have swept the situation out of the way before an election year starts that people will forget.

I actually think that is rather short-sighted.  The people of Christchurch have suffered trauma after trauma over the last two and a half year.  Those who have been affected most by school closures, lack of progress in dealing with insurance companies, lack of safe and healthy accommodation, the slow rebuild, etc. will remember.  They will know who shut their child's school and forced them to travel to another school.  They will know who has not gotten things moving in the rebuild.  They will know who let accommodation in Christchurch get to the state it is in.  Those people are voters.

Another reason why I think this is a stupid idea is the time table is impossible.  To close a school can be done.  But to merge a school in such a short time, to ensure that at the preferred sites there will be enough classrooms, toilets, plumbing, wiring, data connections, play areas, hard lanscaping, staffing, a school culture, etc. in a mere ten months is laughable.  There are not enough trades people in Christchurch now to do the rebuild, so schools will be hard pressed to get someone to do all this work.  So when these schools are not ready to roll at the end of January 2014, people will remember.

It is also indicative of this government.  Since National came in they have come up with many bizzare ideas and policies.  With little thought to how these impact people, jobs, communities, infrastructure, etc. they do little if any research, change a perfectly good law and ram something through that is full of holes and costs the country socially and economically for years!!  And the only people who do benefit are those on the rich list - again.

So here I make a prediction for some schools.

Hekia will want to look better in the public eye.  She has to.  After stuff up after stuff up last year, and the recent poll result in Canterbury that said 71% of people thought John Key shouldn't have returned her to the post of Minister of Education, Hekia has to save some face.  And this is how I predict she will do it:
  • She will extend the date of closure/merger for some schools - in particular, the intermediates (she has to, she's been caught out in a bare faced lie again).
  • She will tell you that these schools put up strong and convincing arguments in the consultation that will occur until the end of March.
  • She will tell you that she listened with an open mind and heart (debatable!).
  • She may tell you that MOE forecasting had shown that school infrastructure was going to be difficult to be made ready for the beginning of the 2014 year to accommodate more students on a merged site.
  • She may tell you that this is to ensure that some merged schools can work more closely together to define their culture.
Now this prediction is only for some schools.  Hekia still has to close some schools.  How else will she make room for that riddiculous idea of Partnership/Charter Schools?  And yes, I make these predictions from another island, I haven't stood in Christchurch since the earthquake.  But I watch, I listen, and I've observed how Hekia works closely.  So let's see how these predictions play out.

I think everyone agrees that resources and infrastructure and all that has to be looked at in Christchurch, including schools.  Everyone agrees that there needs to be certainty.  But everyone should also agree that the information is correct, consultation is transparent and moves in both directions, that the decisions are fair and straight forward, and that the time table is achievable and allows a good job to be done.  Will that happen for Christchurch schools though?


  1. So well presented Melanie, you have summed up the situation, and are prepared to stand up and be counted ( we greatfully apreciate it!!) when so many are busy telling us to "get over it",their sick of hearing of hearing about us on the news.
    I live in the Eastern Suburbs, child attends Avondale, still waiting to see if the 5 schools in our area are to be closed and a new wonderful "super school" will be built.
    For a lot of the people, their "school" is their "community" as they do not have cars.
    Why oh why could Hekia not wait for the results from the census???????? Like you say Melanie, they want it all "done & dusted" before the next election.

    1. Thank you Colleen. Even though I haven't been to Christchurch for over a decade, and truly have no accurate appreciation of how life has been turned upside down in Christchurch over the last 2 1/2 years, if you watch the tv and read what people have to say in various forums it is clear how devastating it is.
      I do have friends and relatives in Christchurch. They have been affected to varying degrees. Most don't have children, one lot have only one child left in the secondary sector. But one day I hope to have a little cousin or two in Christchurch starting school, and my dearest hope for them is that they have a LOCAL school to go to.
      I think it is very important for educators all over NZ to consider how the issues are impacting students, teachers & education staff and families and their communities.
      Lastly, it is very clear that Christchurch is being used as an experiment, a possible template. I teach at a very small rural school. If this is what they will do in a large urban area, what will they do to the small rural schools?