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Campbell Live

Christchurch schools claim merger data incorrect

Tuesday 2 Oct 2012 4:19 p.m.

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By Natasha Utting

Three weeks ago, the Government announced its proposal to close 13 schools in Christchurch and merge a further 18.

But according to the Ministry of Education's own figures, 20 schools are in fact earmarked for closure. A question mark hangs over another seven who are awaiting geotechnical reports.

Perhaps it is all in the way you spin figures. The ministry has used three categories to justify its proposed changes: the state of a school's buildings, land and student population.

After some schools voiced concern about the data, Campbell Live decided to check it. It contacted every affected school and 27 responded.

Out of that 27, 22 schools say the information the ministry has used to justify their proposed closure or merger is factually incorrect.

Minister of Education Hekia Parata is relying on the numbers crunched by her ministry. Statistics are the foundation of proposals about which schools should merge or close.

She's drawn on the data the ministry has collected about how many buildings each school has, how many are damaged, how many pupils schools have and the state of their land.

Twenty-two schools believe that they are in trouble. They think the ministry's figures are wrong.

For example, the ministry lists all 50 imaginary buildings at Burnside Primary as having earthquake damage, making the school appear way too expensive to fix.

“The ministry has quoted us $9 million to repair the school,” says Burnside Primary principal Matt Bateman. “Our own figures show that this is grossly inflated and we could have a new school for about half that.”

At Central New Brighton Primary, the ministry says they have 13 quake-damaged buildings. Two cracks represent the worst of the school’s damage, yet 'affected buildings' is one of the main reasons given for this school to merge.

“If they’re going to be making decisions of this magnitude that are going to impact not only this generation but future generations, they ought to have their facts right,” says Central New Brighton School principal Toni Burnside. “I think it’s rationalisation and it’s about money and it’s not about people and it’s not about a community.”

At Burwood School, the ministry has drawn a longbow, mistaking a long jump pit for liquefaction.

At Ouruhia Model School, they've been saddled with nine quake-damaged buildings when they don't even have nine buildings.

It is a similar story at Greenpark School. They think they have just three buildings - unless the ministry is counting the roofless pool changing room shed or the library, which is in fact community, not ministry-owned.

The number of buildings matters because they equate with the amount of money the ministry says it would cost to fix each school.

The picture painted now for Glenmoor School looks far uglier because the ministry counts a leaky building as theirs, when it is not. Their school roll is small but it hasn't dropped post-quakes. Their buildings and land are solid.

The ministry says Christchurch schools are over-capacity. That means there are too many schools for too few children.

So Campbell Live took a look at school rolls. Some have dropped. Some have remained static. Some are growing and others sit in areas earmarked for growth.

But for all schools, the ministry has chosen to work off March’s enrolment figures. Many say this data is out of date and distorts the reality.

Based on March figures, the ministry says Linwood Ave only needs 11 classrooms, but they already use 15. Phillipstown has grown 32 students since March, and at Windsor School the roll is up by 75.

Some principals think it’s the ministry's agenda to close smaller schools, quake-affected or not, in favour of big schools.

Linwood Ave isn't affected by bad land. Damage to buildings is minimal, its population is healthy and it performs in the top 20 percent of schools in New Zealand.

If this is about the demise of small schools, it is also about the demise of middle schools. Five of Christchurch’s intermediates are due to close.

Manning has nine buildings. The ministry lists 15.

“Their data is very questionable,” says Manning Intermediate School principal Richard Chambers. “Some of it is definitely incorrect. Some of it is misinterpreted…We have concerns about incomplete data, and data being used in a way that isn’t appropriate. It’s being claimed it’s representing one thing when it’s actually representing something else.

“The ministry tells us it’s because of property issues – the buildings. We’ve got a brand new building worth just under $3 million. The redevelopment, it was opened in November last year.”

Aranui High School sympathises. They don't have the 30 damaged structures the ministry says they have, and they also have a number of new high-spec buildings.

“With the rebuild of the school, we’ve been very fortunate that damage there has been absolutely minimal because they are brand new building that have only been open for 18 months,” says Aranui High School principal John Rohs.

Another mysterious figure in ministry data concerns “disengaged” students. Manning Intermediate is listed as having 10 disengaged kids. At Central New Brighton the Ministry says they have 27.

Manning's 10 disengaged students actually equates to three, but no one's sure why this information is listed alongside quake damage anyway.

The ministry has made its move. Now the schools want to know whether they're pawns in some larger game.

Even though these changes are just “proposals”, schools under the axe are already losing students.

Schools now have until early December to try and convince the ministry that its figures do not add up.

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