18 Sep 2015

Kura closure traumatises local community

8:29 pm on 18 September 2015

The principal of one of the three East Cape schools that must close next year says the decision has traumatised both the kura and the community.

National MP

Education Minister Hekia Parata Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Education Minister Hekia Parata's announcement yesterday to merge the schools into one has been met with disappointment by the two smallest ones.

The Minister of Education yesterday decided that Te Kura o Ōmaio (with 17 students), Te Whānau-a-Apanui Area School (84 students) and Raukokore School (with 13 pupils) on the Western East Cape will close in January and merge into one.

Ms Parata said it was expected the new kura would have about 100 students.

The minister said a new Year 1-13 school would open, initially called Te Kaha Community School. It will operate on the current Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Area School site.

The other two schools said all staff would lose their jobs.

Raukore School pupils with teacher/principal Merle Callaghan

Raukore School pupils with teacher/principal Merle Callaghan Photo: Supplied

Raukokore School teaching principal Merle Callaghan said everyone, including the children and community, was appalled by the announcement.

"Our school flag is flying at half mast in response to the minister's decision. We are horrified, devastated, we are deeply saddened at the ministry's short-sightedness."

Ms Parata said a declining population had been a key factor in fewer educational opportunities for young people in the area and the new kura will provide better ones, but Mr Callaghan disagreed.

"Our school has been governed and efficiently, we have not had an LESM or a commissioner at this school and our tamariki have been given ample opportunites to enhance their learning in all areas of the curriculum."

She said Raukokore children would have to spend 45 minutes each way on the bus, getting to and from the school - and the children were dreading it.

"As I said to Hekia... there's no way I would put a five-year-old on the bus every day and if she's talking 'achievement' and 'better learning opportunities' then these children are going to be tired."

Ms Parata said the boards of Te Whānau-a-Apanui Area School and Te Kura o Ōmaio supported the new school.

But Board of Trustrees chair for Ōmaio Phillapa Callagan said after all the consultation that had taken place the community was sad and resigned to the decision.

She said money is a main factor in the schools' closing.

"Of course they're wanting to save money so running three little tiny schools as opposed to running one school - it's fiscal."

Phillipa Callagan said the kura submitted a number of proposals to the ministry that would allow it to stay open.

"Ideas and suggestions about the kura's use as an additional and alternative learning site within the community. One kura, one board, three multiple learning sites as opposed to one kura, one board, one site."

Phillipa Callagan said the staff and community have always put the tamariki first and have been laying the groundwork with them to ensure that whatever decision was made, they were emotionally prepared.

Both Ōmaio and Raukokore kura said they more than just schools and are at the centre of their communities.

However, the Relieving Principal of Te Whānau-a-Apanui Area School, Alan Beeden, said the decision to close it and have it reopen as a new entity is fully supported by the school Board of Trustees.

Ms Parata said new school's larger roll will give them greater resources and entitlements. She says a tailored curriculum will also be developed.

"One of the clear ideas that came through in all their submissions was to develop a local curriculum related to Apanui culture, language and identity, so they will be looking for support to realise that vision along with the New Zealand curriculum so the ministry will be providing them with that support."

Ms Parata said the ministry had engaged with the Western East Cape community over the future of its schooling since 2012 and she considered about 40 submissions before making her decision.