Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Phillipstown School closure a 'cruel blow'

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

When Metiana Alesana saw her 9-year old daughter Diamond crying uncontrollably after hearing news her school would close, she broke down.

"Hekia Parata doesn't know what these kids are going through today," the 40-year old mother said at the gates of Phillipstown School - one of the oldest in Christchurch, now destined to shut down by the end of the year.

Ms Parata released her highly criticised education shake-up for the troubled region today.

It included 12 closures and six mergers, including two schools merged at another site.

Seven schools - Branston Intermediate, Glenmoor, Greenpark, Kendal, Linwood Intermediate, Manning Intermediate and Richmond - will shut by next January, despite assurances from the Ministry of Education that children could stay until 2015.

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.

Final decisions will be made by late May.

Prime Minister John Key backed the decisions, made for "the long term good" of the rebuilding city.

Labour Party acting education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the interim decisions were premature in the fast changing post-disaster landscape.

Some schools are now considering whether to seek a judicial review into the decisions, which Greens co-leader and education spokeswoman Metiria Turei believed was possible.

But as Keith Turner, principal of doomed Kendal School, said: "Dollar signs suddenly start to appear which should go on children's education."

While accepting it was devastating news for some schools, Ms Parata refused to apologise, saying, "Look, change is hard".

Phillipstown principal Tony Simpson said it 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... it's a cruel blow," he said, himself reduced to tears today.

Mrs Alesana's had three children go to Phillipstown, near the quake-hit AMI Stadium, which has a roll of 165.

Her eldest son, Max - named after her late husband who died of a stroke in 2004, is now at nearby Cathedral College.

Her two youngest, Carl, 11, and Diamond, are devastated that they can't see out their primary education at the place that the eldest child did.

"Max is devastated. He likes to say hello to his old teachers, have a look around the place where he learned to spell his name... it's very upsetting."

Mrs Alesana went into Diamond's classroom to console her after hearing the news today.

"I didn't want to cry today, I wanted to stay strong, but seeing my wee girl crying and crying, I just couldn't help it."

- Additional reporting Kate Shuttleworth


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