5 Oct 2015

Principals call for school closures

7:01 am on 5 October 2015

School principals say the government should be shutting down or merging schools in the face of multi-billion dollar problems with school property.

One of eight new schools built in Flat Bush, Auckland in the past eight years.

One of eight new schools built in Flat Bush, Auckland in the past eight years. Photo: RNZ/John Gerritsen

Principals told Radio New Zealand's Insight programme that earthquake strengthening, leaky buildings and roll growth meant there was not enough property funding to go around, even though the government was expected to spend $6 billion over next 10 years addressing the issues.

With money short, they said, the government should consider closing schools instead of fixing them.

Principal of Te Mata School in Havelock North Mike Bain questions whether having multiple schools with low rolls promotes the best educational outcomes.

"You've got schools of under 100 that are spending a couple of hundred thousand on a new library, or classroom modernisation, or even a complete rebuild - don't know that that's the best spend of the money," he said.

"I'm not advocating that we should have super schools where suddenly everyone goes, but when you've got multiple schools of less than 50 kids, is that promoting the best educational outcome for kids?"

Earthquake strengthening at Wellington East Girls' College

Steel beams support a facade at Wellington East Girls College. The ministry is assessing the quake-resistance of 2000 potentially-risky school buildings nationwide. Photo: RNZ/John Gerritsen

The Education Ministry's property business case indicates school reorganisations might be considered in some areas.

It said significant roll drops in Gisborne, Tasman, West Coast, Manawatu-Whanganui and Hawke's Bay would affect the shape of the school network in those areas.

But Kim Shannon of the Education Ministry's infrastructure unit said the current property problems would not prompt school closures.

"Property is never the issue why you close down a school. That will always be educationally-driven and it will always be about the education needs of that community."

However, some principals said that was short sighted.

Pakuranga College principal, Mike Williams.

Pakuranga College principal Mike Williams: "This investment has to be done properly." Photo: RNZ/John Gerritsen

Mike Williams, head of Pakuranga College and a member of the Secondary Principals Association, said the government should think about closing and merging schools.

"We have too many schools and so we have a lot of infrastructure that is very badly utilised. In high growth areas, yes, we're having to build new classrooms, but there are classrooms all round the country that aren't used, we have schools with very few students in them."

Mr Williams said no community wanted to lose its school, but nationally that attitude was not sustainable.

PPTA Principals' Council president Allan Vester said the government had always found it hard to close schools in the face of strong local opposition.

"There's lots of communities that actually rationalisation needs to occur. There are more schools than are needed in an area, but it's politically so difficult to make those changes."

Mr Vester said the ministry knew where there were too many schools and not enough children, but found it hard to intervene.

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