28 Sep 2012

Schools say consultation timeframe too short

7:15 pm on 28 September 2012

Schools affected by the Government's proposed overhaul to education in Canterbury say the deadline they have been given for consultation is too tight.

The Ministry of Education on Friday sent out letters to the 38 schools it is proposing to close or merge, outlining a six-month timeframe before the decisions are final.

The letters say schools have got until 7 December to consult with their communities and submit an appeal to the Ministry.

Mark Scown, the principal of Avondale School which is facing a merger with four other schools, says it is a complex proposal and they need more time.

"It seems totally unrealistic. We could be submitting something on the 7th of December but I'd hazard a guess it would be somewhat rushed, the ability to be able to bring in experts who design schools and to come forward with a more concrete proposal for the minister. I think it would be a big ask to do that."

Mr Scown says the five schools will be requesting more time from the ministry.

Ministry deputy secretary for regional operations, Katrina Casey, says each school is being offered an independent facilitator to assist with running their consultation process.

Earlier in September, the Government announced plans for a $1 billion education overhaul in earthquake-hit Canterbury.

The reorganisation over the next 10 years comes in the face of a quake repair bill of up to $750 million and the loss of 4500 students.

The letters, which have already been received by some schools, say a formal announcement on closures and mergers will not be made until April 2013.

In the letters, Education Minister Hekia Parata says she expects to announce in February which schools will close and merge, after which schools will have 28 days to appeal against the decision.

Ms Parata gives her assurance that all submissions will be received with an open mind and that no decisions have been made in advance.

Jennifer O'Leary, the principal of Branston Intermediate which faces closure, says the extended timeline shows the ministry is unlikely to go ahead with all the proposed changes.

"I don't think they can afford to have it look as if it was all pre-determined before they started, so definitely not all the proposals will go through at this stage.

"We've always been under the impression that once the letters came out, we'd have 28 days to consult. In fact, we were told that at a meeting I went to with the ministry the other night.

"This has changed completely because now we have until December 7 to get some feedback to the ministry."

Ms O'Leary says the timeframe gives schools a much longer period to consider and respond to the Government's plans for local schools.