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A massive shake-up of Christchurch’s education system was announced yesterday at an events centre in Lincoln.
Already, teachers and headmasters are labelling some proposals as unworkable, particularly a plan to merge Shirley Boys' High with Christchurch Boys' High; they are on opposite sides of the city.
Hundreds of principals and education representatives gathered at Lincoln in two staged sessions.
The first, smaller meeting was with the principals, staff and representatives of 13 schools destined for closure. Many appeared tearful at the conclusion of the session.
The second was for the larger gathering.
For reasons which remain obscure, a representative of the Principals Association asked media to leave after a Maori welcome and a video showing resilient schools and happy children.
Numerous ministerial minders and public relations managers were on hand to ensure media obedience.
But anyone listening at the door would have been disappointed by Education Minister Hekia Parata’s speech after she was welcomed to the stage by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.
It contained little beyond generalisations. She heaped praise on the assembled throng for their fortitude and she thanked them for their leadership several times.
There was no time allocated for questioning from the audience at the end of her speech.
At a subsequent media conference Ms Parata and secretary for education Lesley Longstone would not provide any definitive answers to questions about how many teaching staff would lose their jobs.
The new vocabulary of education invented by the ministry made it difficult to understand some plans.
“Schools” no longer feature. They are replaced with “education clusters” which may include schools, Ms Parata says.
Schools throughout the city were classified on a chart according to colour – green meaning “restore”, yellow meaning “consolidate” and red meaning “rejuvenate”.
The schools classified as “rejuvenate” are destined for closure or merger.
Ms Parata downplayed the massive restructuring, saying all schools were looking at next year’s rolls, and population change was occurring nationwide all the time.
She says it is estimated the city had lost about 4500 students from Christchurch schools, mostly in eastern areas.
Given that the eastern suburbs contained most of the lowest decile schools, the reaction from closures in the area is likely to be fierce and may contribute to its hollowing out.
Instead, Ms Parata emphasised the government plan to invest $1 billion in Christchurch schools over the next 10 years.
Of the 215 schools in the area, 13 are destined for closure and 18 will be merged.
Ministry representatives will now engage on the statutory period of consultation in workshops to take place in November.