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Liberty Belle: Closing The Schools Of New Zealand

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Closing The Schools Of New Zealand

Who would have thought that the Labour Government would be closing schools all over the country? Isn't this something that ACT is usually accused of doing? Isn't this the kneejerk reaction when ACT says we will lower taxes?

Not content with closing a record 96 schools, and with a further 300 in his sights, Trevor Mallard is now "reviewing" the Integration Act so he can get integrated schools under his control.

There are 321 Integrated Schools in New Zealand. Most of these have a religious special character, and there are seven schools with a philosophical special character - six Rudolf Steiner and one Montessori.

As the Act presently stands, the Minister of Education can't close down or merge integrated schools. He also can't zone them, or, in the Ministry of Education's own words, "reorganise integrated schools for the reasons that normally result in school reorganisations."

And what are those reasons? Well, take you pick from the Ministry's buffet masquerading as state control: "falling rolls", "too many small schools in one district", "resources not being fully utilised", "growing rolls", "quality of education", and (I love this one) "a desire to find more effective ways of meeting the diversity of student needs".

The reason why that Orwellian double-speak tickles me is because it makes you believe the State encourages individualism and diversity. The contrary is true. "Meeting" the diversity of needs actually means insisting that one size fits all.

I've spent years, as a journalist, doing stories on education and I've struggled to understand the twisted language used by the boffins at the Ministry of Education to write the bureaucratese which emanates from government departments and ministries.* Equipped with adequate pain relief, however, the reader does eventually glimpse a kind of clarity, albeit not a clarity as we know it.

Capture the language, though, and you capture the debate. Political correctness is not just a derogatory term, it's a tool used by thought police and control freaks to intimidate those who dare to question and to advocate for freedom from nanny state

Parents want to choose.

The Minister wants to control.

He wants to herd these integrated schools into the corral with state schools, but quickly and quietly. The "discussion document" put out to the public seeking views on the future of integrated schools is actually a very hard-to-find document on the Ministry's labyrinthical website (even the sleuth Holmes reporter couldn't find it). It was sent out to integrated schools in the last week of last term and submissions close at the end of this month. As one parent and trustee asked when he wrote to me; "what's the hurry when this Act has worked very well since the 1970s?".

The hurry for the Minister is to get this done before election year. He doesn't want to go on the campaign trail and face hundreds of angry parents who've been forced to shift their children from their school of choice, which the Minister's closed so he can prop up failing schools.

And what is the evidence used to back up the Minister's claim that he's closing schools because of falling rolls and empty classrooms? Shonky evidence. According to the Ministry's document, "One estimate of demographic change predicts that in 2021 there will be 73,000 fewer primary students than there are today."

For all we know, this "estimate" might be the passing comments of some old Featherston midwife commenting to the local rag; "We haven't seen many babies here since Rupert and Valentine were born."

So today's parents and their children, ripped apart by the devastation of their school communities, are paying the price for what amounts to nothing more than crystal ball gazing 18 years hence! Who knows what will happen between now and then? If the Greens are correct, we're all going to wake up on the 30 October and find women have got four breasts and crawl on all fours, men sport silly braces, beards and deepseated envy problems, and potatoes croak!

But Trevor Mallard won't be sitting in Parliament in 18 years' time, let alone on the Treasury benches. Like the rest of this neo-socialist bunch of control freaks running Helengrad, he'll be retired on nice pensions. Margaret Wilson will be thinking about her failed dream - The People's Republic of Aotearoa. Judith Tizard will be contemplating her mission of creating the biggest four-lane carparks in the world - Auckland's motorways. Helen Clark will be climbing every mountain she's managed to snatch off High Country lessees.

Meanwhile, the centre right will be back in Government and successful schools will be left alone to define their own character, roll sizes and philosophies subject only to two strict criteria - financial accountability and high literacy and numeracy achievement rates.

Starfish will be leaping back into the sea.

Yours in liberty,
Deborah Coddington

*A classic example is a letter sent to me by a biology teacher who complained to the NZQA about 2002 NCEA external assessments. Rhett Emery, from the NZQA, wrote: "The Authority's considerations of the results do indicate a combination of factors all playing a role in the final statistics. These factors include the assessments themselves, as well as the student cohort and their preparedness...The questions you have raised have been discussed by the examining teams and I will include your analysis for future consideration."

Liberty Belle is a column from Deborah Coddington, Member of Parliament for ACT New Zealand.

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