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Facing change – taking control of school reviews

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Facing up to change – taking control over school reviews

Future school network reviews will continue to alienate communities and jeopardise children’s education unless boards of trustees are given the power to control the process, says an education researcher.

This is just one of the findings from Aegis Education Service’s Study of Education Development Initiatives – Their Impact on School Boards of Trustees. The research was commissioned by the New Zealand School Trustees Association and will be released at the association’s conference in Auckland this week.

Aegis Director Dr. Shirley Harris says the research shows boards of trustees need to be supported by the Government to be proactive. It is the first time an in-depth study into the effects of school mergers and closures has been conducted in New Zealand. The research examines the effects voluntary re-organisation had on schools between 1994 and 2000, and involved 41 schools.

About 650 delegates are attending the conference, which has the theme Celebration of Governance – Where all Kids Achieve, and runs from June 30 to July 3.

Dr Harris says the predicted decline in the number of school-aged children in New Zealand over the coming years means schools have to plan for change.

“Communities need to be proactive. Change is inevitable, and the sooner boards of trustees build school reorganisation into their routine self-review process the more power and control communities will have over the process in the future”.

“Trustees cannot sit back and wait for a merger or a closure to affect their school. If they do, it can become a very negative experience.”

Dr Harris says her research found a number of areas where schools and the Ministry of Education alike can improve when working through the merger or closure process.

“The schools I spoke to said that for the first four years after a merger, all the focus went on new buildings, staff, the parents and the community. The focus on the children and student achievement was lost.”

Equal input from the boards of trustees involved in a merger is also crucial to ensure the new school gets off to a good start, she says.

A big issue for the schools surveyed was choosing a new site when several schools were merging into one. Nowadays, the continuing school board of trustees need only have one representative from the school that is being closed.

“An overwhelming finding was the mergers that went well were the ones where there was equal representation from both boards of trustees. Of particular importance, in regard to decisions about the continuing site, it is crucial that an objective, independent process is followed.”

Dr Harris says there also needs to be a clear understanding between affected schools and the Ministry of Education about what is happening during schools’ mergers and closures.

“In the voluntary re-organisations, many people felt it was not voluntary at all. Schools felt that the Ministry was driving it. So there needs to be transparency and clear communication, so people know what is going on, because many school trustees and principals felt they had no control over the process.

“The research shows schools need Ministry support not just during the closure or merger, but afterwards as well. There also needs to be a liaison person for each school – not just for each community.”

Dr Harris says it is also vital that communities can see some benefit from having their school merged with another.

“Parents, trustees and principals struggle with the prospect of closure or merger when their school is currently working well for their students.”

The annual conference is being opened by Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard, while Minister of Education Trevor Mallard will also address the delegates.

ENDS

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