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Canterbury schools reorganisation mishandled says Ombudsman

Canterbury schools reorganisation mishandled, Chief Ombudsman finds

21 June 2017

An investigation into the Canterbury schools reorganisation after the February 2011 earthquakes has found significant gaps and flaws in the Ministry’s engagement and communications with schools and communities.

The Chief Ombudsman today released the comprehensive report Disclosure: An investigation into the Ministry of Education’s engagement processes for school closures and mergers. The investigation found that in Canterbury, a mismanaged process caused further stress to already traumatised communities, and resulted in a major loss of trust between the Ministry and schools.

The report recommends that the Ministry publicly apologise to schools and communities through the local press, and work with education sector groups to develop a stronger and more effective engagement process around school closures and mergers.

Disclosure acknowledges that Ministry staff faced unprecedented challenges in the Canterbury schools reorganisation,” said Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier.

“In dealing with the aftermath of one of New Zealand’s worst natural disasters, the Ministry was hindered by the absence of any established process for even small-scale school reorganisations. Staff lacked institutional systems or procedures that could have resulted in a much better experience for communities”, the Chief Ombudsman said.

The Chief Ombudsman said there was a fundamental lack of transparency in the Ministry’s approach of running two parallel processes – one visible to the community, the other not.

“Essentially, while schools and communities were engaging in what they thought was a genuine discussion about broad future visions for schooling in Canterbury, the Ministry was progressing a business case with detailed plans for individual schools”, Peter Boshier said.

“When these plans were announced to schools on 13 September 2012, the announcement itself was poorly handled by the Ministry, with inaccurate and insufficient information provided. Schools felt blindsided by the detailed proposals, and the statutory consultation process from there was mired in mistrust and defensiveness”, he said.

Disclosure concludes with the recommendations that the Ministry publish a written apology in the Christchurch Press to the schools and communities affected; and work with education leaders to develop a strong, effective process for future engagement on school closures and mergers.

“I commend the Ministry for accepting my recommendations,” Peter Boshier said. “I welcome this as a priority for the Ministry, and I will continue to monitor progress.”

Disclosure examines the changing approaches to school closures and mergers since the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools in 1989, concluding with a close examination of the process followed in Canterbury. A synopsis and the full report are available at www.ombudsman.parliament.nz.


ends

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