30 Sep 2013

Minister unaware of school's ethnic make-up - principal

11:14 pm on 30 September 2013

A Christchurch school threatened with closure has told a court it was criticised by the Minister of Education because some students didn't understand her when she spoke to them in Maori.

Phillipstown School is seeking a declaration from the High Court in Christchurch that merging it with Woolston School in January is in breach of the Education Act.

The school's lawyer, Mai Chen, said the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, had failed to grasp the fact that it had a lot of immigrant families.

As an example, she read part of an affidavit from the principal, Tony Simpson, detailing a visit to the school from Ms Parata, when she criticised the fact that a group of children didn't understand when she spoke to them in Maori.

"There's now evidence from Tony Simpson saying the children she was engaging with weren't Maori, they were from Bhutan - they were English as a second language students."

Ms Chen said the minister had failed to properly consult with the school's parents.

Merger would tear cultural fabric - Chen

Ms Chen says merging Phillipstown with another school will tear apart the cultural fabric of the area.

She told the court on Monday that only 30% of its students will attend Woolston School and the rest will scatter throughout the city.

The merger is being challenged on the basis that consultation with parents and the school's board wasn't carried out properly.

Ms Chen says the ministry has failed to provide the school with a detailed engineering evaluation of the earthquake damage it sustained.

Phillipstown School is one of a number of primary schools due to close because of mergers with other schools following the earthquakes in Canterbury. It has 163 pupils.

Ms Parata announced in May that the school will close at the end of this school year.

In January, it will re-open on the Woolston School, just over 2km away. Woolston has 325 pupils.

Mr Simpson earlier said the school board is refusing to go down without a fight. He said the financial costs have been significant, but this is their last shot.

The hearing is set down for two days.