Government launches inquiry into school property system as building projects paused

  • 26/02/2024

The Government is launching a ministerial inquiry into issues within the school property system, which the Education Minister says is "bordering on crisis".

A number of schools have complained in recent weeks of learning informally that the construction of classrooms and other buildings on their premises was being put on hold for a range of reasons, including rising costs, changes to roll growth, and changing prioritisations.

Education Minister Erica Stanford said that within weeks of the new Coalition Government forming, the Ministry of Education had paused 20 building projects and told her there were a further 350 projects "in various stages, from design through to pre-construction, where expectations far exceeded what could delivered".

"It is deeply concerning that many of these projects, years in the planning, were not underpinned by a value-for-money approach from the beginning," she said.

"Additionally, that some were mere weeks away from shovels in the ground, even though the funding available hadn't been managed well enough to meet what schools understood had been approved."

Stanford said the Government would be appointing a review team for the ministerial inquiry imminently and intended for it to report back in three months.

"Rightly teachers, principals, students and the communities would have been excited about these projects - only to have them facing uncertainty mere weeks before they were due to start," she said.

"This is disruptive to teaching and learning and deeply unfair for schools to have these expectations raised, to be let down due to poor processes."

Last week, Iva Ropati, principal of Pāpāmoa College, told Newshub the school hadn't received appropriate communication about what was going on with a project there.

Another school facing a similar problem was Cashmere High School.

"The first information we had was, I think, from the architects and not from the ministry themselves," said Joe Eccleton, principal of Cashmere High School.

The minister pointed to Te Tātoru o Wairau Marlborough schools co-location project "which had years of cost escalations with construction estimates of up to $405 million, despite originally only having $170 million allocated by Cabinet in 2018".

However Labour Leader Chris Hipkins accused National of choosing to prioritise tax cuts over classrooms for children, and called it "a desperate attempt to create an excuse to cut much-needed school building projects".

"The school upgrades announced by our Government were made on Ministry of Education advice and were based on condition assessments. The process for school building work was changed under the last National Government and we continued the approach they put in place," he said in a statement.

"Cost escalations in the building sector have been a fact of life. National were told before the election they hadn't allowed enough for cost escalations in their fiscal plan and chose to ignore that and claim tax cuts were affordable. They aren't and now it looks like kids will be the latest to pay the price."