Stop, Reflect, Research
15 December 2004
Stop, Reflect, Research: Are The Educational Needs Of Children Given Top Priority?
At the biennial Conference of the National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ), delegates passed a unanimous remit urging the Government to research and evaluate the pre-2004 closures and mergers of schools before proceeding with further closures and mergers.
"They must take into account the effectiveness of their review and consultation procedures, the educational outcomes for the children of merged schools, and family and community satisfaction with the arrangements made for the schooling of children in their area. They must put procedures and processes in place that enable full, transparent, and harmonious consultation with parents, teachers and the wider community" said Christine Low, NCWNZ National President.
NCWNZ Delegates were very concerned about the impact of school closures on young children who would experience very long days, and lengthy distances over often poor roads. They were concerned for the physical and psychological safety of small and young children on buses on high school routes. They were concerned for the impact that a lack of convenient schooling would have on attracting quality farming staff into rural areas and they argued that the loss of a local school would injure the sustainability of rural communities for whom the school represented the community heart.
In urban areas, it was argued that greater distances from home to school would increase dangers to children and exacerbate traffic problems as more parents drove or bused their children to school. In urban areas also it was argued that lack of smaller local schools would harm sustainable, healthy and thriving urban communities.
Although the Ministry of Education has set up procedures for communication with parents and communities, disquiet remains. " The base-line education stock-take, the use of facilitators and mentors, the new guidelines for spending the EDI funding and the guidelines for joint school funding are all constructive efforts to make necessary school closures and mergers as smooth as possible" said Ms Low, "but research over several years is needed to measure this effectiveness".
Delegates heard of situations where changes were unduly hasty, necessitating later changes to rectify earlier changes. Delegates also heard of the negative impact of closures on the morale of school staff, children and communities.
Before the next round of closures or mergers there must be credible, rigorous research to ensure that the key interests are the educational needs of children.