Ombudsman criticises Education Ministry over school closure requests

Education Minister Hekia Parata. Photo / Ben Fraser
Education Minister Hekia Parata. Photo / Ben Fraser

The Ombudsman has criticised the Ministry of Education for its handling of requests for information about Christchurch school closures, and is planning an investigation into its disclosure processes.

In a report released today, Ombudsman David McGee found the ministry wrongly advised Christchurch City Council on how to reply to requests for information.

When the council challenged the advice, the ministry's response failed to correct or address the fact that their initial response was inappropriate and wrong, Dr McGee said.

Information about school closures and mergers, which have a major impact on communities, should be presented in a "comprehensive and comprehensible form'', he said.

"Schools and parents should not have to ferret out information by making official information requests.''

Dr McGee also found the ministry was wrong to advise two principals to withdraw their official information requests in order to receive a better response.

"Any suggestion that a government agency must bypass the OIA [Official Information Act] in order to allow a more efficient provision of information is unacceptable.''

In response to the Ombudsman's investigation, the ministry started reviewing its OIA processes and staff training around the issue, Dr McGee said.

However, he and Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem were concerned that there seemed to be a broader perception within the public sector that "some requests for information can only be processed efficiently by somehow removing them from the OIA context''.

NZEI Te Riu Roa national president Ian Leckie said the findings vindicated the concerns of parents and educators over the consultation process.

"We've been saying for months that the ministry has not adequately consulted with the people of Christchurch and has instead tried to ride roughshod over due process,'' said Mr Leckie.

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said people needed all available information have a meaningful say in a consultation.

"I think not releasing information is indicative of a culture of secrecy and the cloak and dagger way they are going about this review of Christchurch schools,'' he said.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the process the minister had used to talk to schools was poor.

- APNZ

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