Last week I attended a rally in Hagley Park and marched through the streets of Christchurch with some of the schools under threat of merger and closure. The mood was angry and frustrated. The schools are demanding a proper consultation process not a maze of rhetoric, deadlines and confusing threats.
Are they being fair to the Minister and the Ministry of Education? That night I went along to find out more at the first formal consultation meeting at Chisnallwood Intermediate in Avondale. It is a big school fed by primary schools from the Aranui and Avonside areas but also chosen by parents from across Christchurch for it’s big reputation.
The large modern hall was overflowing with parents who were consistently outraged and demanding answers from the MOE team of four staff. I did feel sorry for these people because it was quickly apparent that they faced an impossible task. Impossible because they were trying to defend an incoherent position, a bad process and a dubious political agenda.
People wanted to know why their much praised, happy, well-resourced school led by acclaimed Principal Richard Patten was threatened with closure and merger with 5 other local schools to form a new super school on an undisclosed site. The three criteria we have been given for assessment for closure are “land, people and property” . We think this means degree of liquefaction risk, roll changes and building damage.
Chisnallwood has minimal issues on all three fronts and a stellar educational record. It is all quite hard to understand and a number of other intermediates from low decile eastern areas are feeling picked on for similar reasons and want a fair and transparent process to assess the need for change across the city.
The process so far has destroyed trust and the deadline for schools submissions on their future is at the worst time of the year, the end of the fourth term. The meeting at Chisnallwood school showed that parents as well as teachers want to fight for what is working well and are suspicious of the broader agenda around educational reform such as charter schools and supersizing. The Ministry rhetoric of a “seamless, flexible and collaborative” educational model for Christchurch look more like an incoherent, predetermined imposition.
Some people think Christchurch is the front-line of the big educational restructuring towards greater privatisation. Some just want their local school to stay open. What ever the reason the parents are coming out to the meetings one thing is clear. This is just the beginning.