Government's plans to scale back Rolleston College expansion spark wider concern for schools across New Zealand

The principal of a crowded Canterbury high school says plans by the Government to scale back their expansion is bad news for schools across the country.

Rolleston College, in the Selwyn District, expects to more than double in size in the near future, yet the Ministry of Education is proposing to cut back on its spending there.

The school, now eight years old, is already bursting at the seams.

"We opened with 225 Year 9 learners and we now have 1800," principal Rachel Skelton told Newshub.

Rolleston, just south of Christchurch and part of the Selwyn District, is perhaps New Zealand's fastest-growing town.

"In 15 years we'll be the same size as Dunedin," Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton said.

But up until 2010, Rolleston only had one primary school.

Now there are seven, soon to be eight, all feeding to Rolleston College. More than half of those primary schools are large, with 700 to 900 students.

So, the idea of a junior and senior campus at the college was pitched and agreed, with a second site secured about two kilometres away.

"I think it is future-proofed up to the master plan roll of 2100 on that other site," Skelton said.

That means there would be a total roll of almost 4000, making it one of the biggest high schools in the country.

"We were 100 percent excited," Skelton said.

But while the demand is obvious, the Ministry of Education recently altered the supply.

"On the 29th of February when we were presented with a plan that I believe currently isn't workable because it doesn't represent a functional school, yeah, that was a big shock," Skelton said.

She said the new plan halved the size of the gymnasium and sports field, leaving no room for core services.

"Things like counselling offices, dean's area, again - things that you'd expect to see in any large high school."

Skelton added the new plan could also involve re-purposed second-hand "temporary" buildings. 

"If you're building a new campus, you're building a new school - starting that way seems a strange way to go into that process."

She also believes the cuts to her school represent greater cause for concern.

"On a national scale, if we were - and the Ministry of Education has talked about Rolleston College senior campus as the number one priority school - if that is the provision for the number one priority school I worry about other schools."

Mayor Broughton also believes it asks wider questions of the Government.

"I think a decision like this seriously calls into question why we want the country to keep growing and why we need more houses if we can't keep up with basics like schools and health and policing."

However, the Ministry has defended the proposed cuts, saying it's still spending $50 million on the second campus for Rolleston College.

The Ministry said it'll be ready to go for an expected 650 students come January 2026.

It went on to say there are provisions for a greater build at that campus and it could be staggered as the roll demands.

However, the timing of those stages will be subject to funding received in future budgets.

Any concerns, including from parents, will be voiced on Monday in a meeting with the Ministry. They'll also present the feedback from hundreds who were at a community meeting last week and thousands who have signed a petition.

Skelton said she would be relentless in pursuing the school her students deserve.