Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Seven schools to close, 12 to merge

Pupils use the playground at Phillipstown School in Christchurch, which is set to merge with Woolston School in January, 2013. Photo / File photo
Pupils use the playground at Phillipstown School in Christchurch, which is set to merge with Woolston School in January, 2013. Photo / File photo

While some Christchurch schools have been left shattered by news they are to close or merge, others are leaping for joy.

Burnside Primary was one of the schools slated for the scrap-heap in last year's original proposals, but after months of hard work lobbying against the plans, Education Minister Hekia Parata today revealed it had been given a reprieve.

"It was a very loud excited yahoo when we got the news," said board of trustees chairwoman Tracy Williams.

"We're delighted. It seems a bit surreal at the moment... I'm not quite sure I believe it. But I'm sure that after reading the letter for the 55,000th time, it will probably sink in."

The school was prepared for the worst news this morning and Mrs Williams said their heart goes out to those schools who did get bad news.

Burnside Primary would now be rebuilt on its current site, Ms Parata confirmed.

The apparent U-turn in keeping it open came after "strong submissions" on the "very distinctive" school's behalf, she said.

Catering for a "significant" refugee and immigrant community was very important, she said.

Its roll of around 230 children last year comprised of more than 30 different nationalities, Mrs Williams said.

"It's about being able to interact and cater to a vast array of nationalities and I think it's wonderful," she said.

"The world has become a very small place and it's best children learn to enjoy different cultures."

The seven schools to close, affecting around 670 children, are: Branston Intermediate, Glenmoor, Greenpark, Kendal, Linwood Intermediate, Manning Intermediate and Richmond.

They will close by the start of the next school year, despite teachers saying they had assurances from the Ministry of Education that children could stay until 2015.

Of the 18 schools originally proposed for merger, Ms Parata is proposing to proceed with 12 schools merging into six, with the net result that six of them will close.

Burwood will merge with Windsor, Central New Brighton with South New Brighton, Lyttelton Main with Lyttelton West, North New Brighton with Freeville, Phillipstown with Woolston, and Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti with Discovery One.

"I think this is a sensible and fair plan," Ms Parata said.

While accepting that the news for some schools would be hard to take, Ms Parata stopped short of apologising to affected schools, saying, "Look, change is hard".

Phillipstown principal Tony Simpson said the decision was a "cruel blow to the heart of our community".

Teachers, parents and children were in deep shock, he said.

The proposals went "far deeper" than the original plan, which gave them four years to plan a move.
"The children are terribly upset, they're crying," he said.

"The children were told in a safe, secure, nurturing place, with their parents, of the news, and ... it's a cruel blow."

His views were in stark contrast with Woolston School principal Jeaneane Reid who welcomed the interim plans that suggest five classrooms would be built to accommodate up to 160 students from Phillipstown.

"It's an awkward situation because we're really pleased we're in the situation we are, but of course if it was the opposite situation we would have been feeling the same (as) the principal of Phillipstown," said Ms Reid.

"We're feeling really bad for Phillipstown at the moment."

The five Aranui schools - Aranui, Wainoni, Chisnallwood Intermediate, and Aranui High School - have been granted an extension consultation period until March 7.

The 12 schools proposed for closure or merger that now remain open are: Bromley, Burnham, Burnside, Duvauchelle, Gilberthorpe, Linwood Avenue, Okains Bay, Ourihia Model, Shirley Intermediate, and Yaldhurst schools, and the two kura - TKKM o Waitaha and TKKM o Te Whanau Tahi.

The Government is confident it had enough information to make decisions on the closures and mergers of Christchurch schools before a census was done, Prime Minister John Key says.

"The ministry has done its best to model that information, based on the best information it's got - yes of course the census will give New Zealand a sense of its absolute numbers; but I think it had the capacity to drill down in a fairly detailed way what's happening in these isolated communities," Mr Key said today.

He said the Government had a good sense of what was happening in Christchurch.

Mr Key backed the decisions announced today by Ms Parata.

"My sense is we've got this about right. I think we've done the best job that we can do to balance what the community would want. In other words, I think the minister's genuinely listening to schools tagged for closure or merger.

"There will be a lot of heartache for those schools that are either merging or closing and I fully understand that but equally I just simply say sometimes the Government has to address these issues for the long term good of those communities."

Labour Party acting education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the interim decisions were premature and would leave some in a worse place than when original announcements were made last September.

"It's good news for some schools and worse news for others because in some cases the proposals have got worse. There are some issues around timing - the intermediates were promised that their decisions wouldn't take effect until the end of next year and that's been brought forward to the end of this year.

Greens co-leader and education spokeswoman Metiria Turei agreed.

She said the plans would create further stress for children trying to get on with their lives.

"I feel deeply sad for the schools announced for merger and closure today. They are being singled out for no other reason than they had the bad luck to be hardest hit by the quakes."

University of Canterbury Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) Professor Niki Davis said the plans were "basically an aftershock of the earthquake".

Schools have until Friday, March 28 to provide "any further information".

Final decisions will be made by late May.

***

Information relating to each school is available here.

An 0800 phone number has also gone live at noon today - 0800 746 338 - for parents to ask questions and find out more.

* Read the government's Guiding the Process of Renewal report here.

- APNZ

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