23 May 2013

Christchurch schools to be merged

6:48 am on 23 May 2013

Four schools in the Christchurch suburb of Aranui are to close under plans announced by the Ministry of Education.

Aranui High School, Aranui Primary, Wainoni and Avondale schools will merge to form a Year 1 to Year 13 school on the high school's site.

Hekia Parata announces the merger plan in Christchurch.

Hekia Parata announces the merger plan in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ

A fifth school in the area that was initially proposed to merge, Chisnallwood Intermediate, will stay open.

The schools to merge have a combined roll of about 1000 and will not be closed until January 2017. The new school will begin operating from then.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said on Wednesday the structure of the single campus is yet to be discussed in detail, but could include community facilities such as a library, sports facilities, health and other social services.

Ms Parata said the schools would now have six weeks to respond to the interim decision before the final decision is announced in September.

Prime Minister John Key said restructuring education in Christchurch has been a painful process for everyone, but it is necessary for a better future.

"I am confident that it will, in the long term, deliver the best results for Cantabrians as we invest over $1 billion here.

"But I certainly acknowledge the stress on those schools and the communities. We've done everything we can to try and minimise that on the back of what's been a very difficult situation."

Chisnallwood relieved, others accepting

Chisnallwood Intermediate had been the most opposed to a merger, with a school commissioned survey showing that 96% of parents were against it.

Principal Richard Paton said his school has a special character that has been recognised by Wednesday's decision and he is overwhelmed and relieved it will stay open.

"The school community has reacted with just unbelievable overwhelming support. Thankfully, the minister and the ministry have looked at that information that we gave them and they've factored it into the wider picture and have respected what the people have said."

Mr Paton said parents find it hard to see the rationale for the changes, given that the school suffered only minor damage in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes and has retained most of its students.

Aranui Primary principal Mike Allen says the school accepts it must close. He told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme the ideal decision would have been the status quo, but the merger presents opportunities.

"The minister's given us the mandate to do pretty much whatever we want. It doesn't have to be a single school - it can be two or even three schools on one site meeting the needs of the children across the board. We've got the opportunity to do something pretty special."

Mr Allen says the community needs to be consulted to ensure the school's 153 pupils are prepared for a much larger campus.

Avondale Primary principal Mark Scown said parents at his school worry about the potential for bullying at a large school, while Aranui High School principal John Rohs said the merger is being driven by a desire to save money, but that he is determined to make the best of it.

The sorts of mergers and closures happening in Christchurch are familiar to people in Invercargill where 30 primary and intermediate schools were reduced in number to 19 under the previous Labour government in 2005.

Waverley School survived, but its principal Kerry Hawkins says those that did merge are still dealing with the consequences of trying to combine schools with different cultures.