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Ministers Lackeys Gut Correspondence School

Education Ministers Lackeys Gut Correspondence School - Parents Called To Wellington

The President of The Correspondence School parents and supervisors association, Sharon Buckland, has slated moves by the school to cut core services to rural children, saying students needs will suffer because the Ministry of Education "can't get its head around how to deal with urban children expelled from local schools and part time students whose local schools can't offer them a reasonable choice of subjects".

She is calling for the parents of 22,000 children enrolled with the school, whether part-time or full time, to come to Wellington on May 18 and demand accountability of the Minister of Education and the ministerially-appointed Board of the school.

"It's not OK for the Minister to neglect the needs of our farm and rural kids in order to slap a bandaid on the suppurating sore of urban school failure. You can't send kids who fail at school home to sit at the kitchen table with a booklet and expect them to catch up on their remedial reading by themselves. The Correspondence School is not the place for these children, they need face-to-face teaching care," said Sharon Buckland.

Ms Buckland said robbing rural kids of their visiting teachers to provide occasional supervision for urban kids let down by the education system was not a sensible idea.

"I believe this move is setting up The Correspondence School to fail," she said.

ENDS


FOLLOWING, LETTER SENT TO ALL PARENTS:

4 May 2005

Dear families, supervisors and friends of The Correspondence School -

We find ourselves in the middle of a crisis of supply at our school and it's time for you to stand up for your children's right to an equitable education.

In the view of TCSPSA, the Minister of Education has starved the school of funding over the past four years to create an artificial operating deficit of $5 million - while the government declared on 30 January that it had increased education spending by 13% a year for the last 4 years, TCS has had no increase at all (if just one of those increases had been applied to TCS, it would be in the black today, making the 'deficit' argument a joke).

The Minister dismissed the elected members of the school's Board of Trustees just after our annual conference last year, instead appointing a transition board of people who have minimal or no experience of the school, distance education or parent or supervisory concerns.

The Chairman of the Board has advised TCSPSA that he will carry out the wishes of the Minister (which he would dispute are not also in the best interests of TCS families), the foremost of which appears to be to bring the school's operation down within the $37 million annual budget that was set some years ago. Medium term, the Board has declared its intent to address the wider issue of concern to parents & supervisors - that of how to manage the rapid growth of the at-risk roll and the dual roll without compromising services to the core business of the school, distance students. We applaud this initiative and would welcome the opportunity to contribute to it. However, in the short term, the board and management of TCS are focused on redistributing the existing budget (effectively a $5M cut to services).

Parents, staff and students are no longer privy to the governance decisionmaking process, having been excluded from the Board of Trustees, and are not separately consulted on the "Business Recovery Plan" that was presented to and approved by the new Board just two months after it was formed. Likewise, we are not consulted on restructuring and rationing changes claimed to reorganise resources to areas of greatest need but that are actually service cutbacks.

The latest of these, on which we have not been consulted and on which our views have not been given any weight, is the rationalisation of student support services. This looks at the redistribution of regional representatives (visiting teachers) and Deans. Bottom line: although we were just yesterday given assurances by the Chairman and the Chief Executive of TCS that our children would not be disadvantaged by such changes, we are gravely concerned that distance students have effectively lost their school days, camps, opportunities to mix with peers and teachers and in-home support from regional teaching representatives. We fear that teachers simply will not have time to get to kids who are not "high needs".

Senior management of the school has also flagged its concerns about the extra burden placed on teachers during a busy, unsettled time, of having to meet with and train parents and supervisors and spend face-to-face time with their students at our annual conference.

Our view is that the welfare of students should be uppermost in the concerns of TCS governors, managers and teachers, as it is with parents and supervisors, and we don't believe the school is meeting its obligation to do so, despite its empty protestations.

Our desired position is to have a partnership relationship with teachers and the school, where our children feel welcomed and valued, not marginalised as a minor glitch amid the larger at-risk and dual issues. We are now waging a desperate battle to claw back our right to that relationship, in the face of considerable resistance and hostility from the school and the Minister.

Having said that, I feel obliged to point out that we have been given assurances by the Chairman that the Board keenly wishes to engage with TCSPSA as the only parent organisation of the school; the Chairman has met with TCSPSA members on several occasions and just yesterday committed to bi-monthly meetings at TCS' expense, for which we are grateful. We have expressed our expectation that we should be actively consulted with (not just advised after decisions are made) over any matters with the potential to impact on students; they have expressed an unwillingness to discuss what they consider to be internal HR restructures with us, whom they consider to be one of many groups of external stakeholders. We have some way to go, but welcome the Chairman's expressed willingness to engage.

Conference is being held in Wellington from 18 to 20 May, at the Portland Hotel and TCS.

At the moment, we have only a few families registered to attend conference. If that's all who can come (and we know it's expensive, difficult and disruptive to travel to Wellington), the Board and management may be able to claim parents don't really care about these erosions in their children's education, that they don't support the school or that they've given up and are prepared to accept whatever they end up with, which will be much less than they have now, which is already much less than they had 2 years ago.

We have invited the Associate Minister of Education, David Benson-Pope, to address parents at conference and Allan Peachey, principal of NZ's largest secondary school and opposition candidate with a passion for education. This is election year - if they are ever going to listen to us, this is the only time. The chief executive of TCS will also be at conference to address parents' and supervisors' concerns.

WE NEED YOU TO COME TO CONFERENCE AND DEMAND BETTER FOR YOUR CHILDREN THAN THAT THEY BE MARGINALISED AND MADE TO 'GET BY' WITH FEWER RESOURCES AND SERVICES THAN FACE-TO-FACE STUDENTS, JUST BECAUSE THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION CAN'T GET IT'S HEAD AROUND HOW TO DEAL WITH URBAN CHILDREN EXPELLED FROM LOCAL SCHOOLS AND PART-TIME STUDENTS WHOSE LOCAL SCHOOLS CAN'T OFFER THEM A REASONABLE CHOICE OF SUBJECTS.

If not you, then who? If not now, then when? We need your support, please come. This appeal is to ALL parents and supervisors - you do not need to be a member of TCSPSA to come to conference or to participate in this discussion.

When this letter is brought to the attention of the Board and management of TCS, I expect them to level accusations that TCSPSA is scaremongering. Let me tell you: we are. You should be scared. You have a right and a responsibility to be worried.

We understand that a number of teachers are worried too. They need your support and the reassurance of seeing in the flesh the children they are so committed to (it gives them a lift and makes them feel that what they do is worthwhile). Our battle is with the Minister of Education, the board and management of the school, not with our teachers, who are struggling to maintain excellent service to our children despite difficult working conditions. Give them a pat on the back when you see them.

If you really want to come to conference and take part in this discussion, but can't afford to because of cutbacks in school funding to Wellington, please let me know urgently and we will try to find you some travel, accommodation or conference assistance. Don't let a small amount of money now stop you from having your say about your children's future.

Call or email me direct: 09 448 1094; 021 742 766; sbuckland@xtra.co.nz.

SHARON BUCKLAND

NATIONAL PRESIDENT

THE CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL PARENTS AND SUPERVISORS ASSOCIATION INC

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