11 Oct 2013

Principal calls for new look at school closure plans

10:42 am on 11 October 2013

The principal of a Christchurch school primed for closure says a High Court decision has given it a chance of survival.

On Thursday, the High Court in Christchurch ruled Education Minister Hekia Parata failed to properly consult with Phillipstown School on its merger with Woolston School and will have to start the process again.

In May, Ms Parata announced Branston Intermediate School and six other schools would close and be absorbed by several high schools.

The principal of Branston Intermediate, Jennifer O'Leary says all schools were consulted in the same way, so it follows that a mistake with one would flow through to them all.

Ms O'Leary says she will discuss with her board of trustees whether to take court action, but hopes the court's decision will force the minister into a back down over all the closures and mergers in Christchurch.

"What we need is some political pressure on the Government to re-look at the whole situation now, because if it was illegal for Phillipstown it was illegal for every other school, because every other school went through the same consultation process with the same lack of information."

Ms O'Leary told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme the Education Ministry must now reassess its decision behind the school closures, while it could be too late for her school, there is some hope of survival.

The principal of Avondale School, also due to be merged, says he won't totally discount taking legal action until he's talked to his board. However Mark Scown says the picture is more complicated for Avondale because the plan is for the school to be merged with three others.

Education Minister Hekia Parata is seeking advice from Crown Law before commenting on the court's decision on Phillipstown School.

The court ruling comes less than a year after the High Court in Wellington found the decision to close Salisbury school in Nelson was also illegal.

Labour's education spokesperson, Chris Hipkins, says it is well past time Ms Parata was moved aside as Education Minister. He says the courts are saying Ms Parata needs to listen to communities when they give her feedback, and the education sector wants a minister who listens.

Prime Minister John Key says he has absolute confidence in Ms Parata despite the two court rulings. "We face court action all the time as the Government. It might seem odd to people but the truth is the Government does lots and lots of things and people in a democracy absolutely have the right to challenge their decision. Many of them go our way, some of them go against us."