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Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle.

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle.

Mallard Spins the Holmes Show

Trevor Mallard - speaking from Edinburgh - got away with spin last night on Holmes. He was talking about school closures. Ken Shirley was briefly featured, as a famous former pupil of one of the New Zealand schools the Minister wants to shut.

The Minister spouted bovine manure on why he's closing schools - more than 300 in the next few years.

First he said it was because too much money was being spent on maintaining empty classrooms. Wrong. This is a distortion of the situation. The Ministry calculates "teaching spaces" to come to the decision that there are too many empty classrooms. It wasn't until some puzzled principals in the Upper Hutt review went around their school grounds trying to locate these "empty classrooms" that they didn't know about that the truth was out. No empty classrooms. The Ministry boffins, sitting in their offices in Wellington, count a hall as four teaching spaces; a gymnasium as six teaching spaces; a resource room as a teaching space. Hence all the extra capacity these schools are alleged to be burdening the taxpayers with.

Also, in Wellington alone, $5 million has been spent on maintaining empty schools the Minister has closed down and which no one wants to buy.

Second porkie: Trevor Mallard says education standards will improve as a result of these reviews. In Wainuiomata the taxpayers spent $19 million to close and merge schools. This was the first area to be reviewed and this year the Education Review Office issued their report on the effect. ERO found education standards - literacy and numeracy - had FALLEN as a result of the closures and mergers. So we paid millions to end up with a worse situation.

In Timaru the Ministry estimates it will be spending $35 million. Much of this is on new buildings. I was in Timaru last week, talking to the teachers and principals of Timaru Boys' High, Temuka High School; Pleasant Point High and Mountainview High School. These are all brilliant schools. They don't need new buildings.

Temuka's principal has a highly successful 'alternative education' programme in place. He saves school students who would otherwise drop out of education - repeat truants and those disruptive students who feature in the bad statistics which come out of the Ministry. The local policeman enthuses about this programme - endorsing the fact that it saves these kids from a possible career in crime.

But Temuka is under threat of closure. The principal can't hire badly needed new staff - he doesn't even know what's going to happen with his own job. Temuka will be left without a secondary school and the Temuka teenagers will have to travel to Timaru. Will Temuka survive? I have serious doubts. Why would families move to a town with no secondary school?

This is the ultimate denial of parental choice in schools.

Porkie Three: The Minister keeps on insisting that by 2021 there will be 70,000 fewer children at New Zealand's primary schools. But the Ministry can provide me with no evidence to back up that prediction, and where the Upper Hutt reviews are concerned the Ministry admitted it was using old roll numbers to predict future rolls - old numbers which conveniently suited the Ministry's prediction of declining populations.

Even if rolls are declining - so what? There's no one-size-fits-all model school. If rolls were declining because parents didn't want to patronise a school, then maybe it should be closed. But parents do support these schools. They are getting good ERO reports. What's important is that these children are getting a good education IN CONTEXT - not in what the Minister decides should be the minimum roll size of a school.

Remember the stuff-up a few years ago when the Ministry got it horribly wrong trying to predict future roll sizes, and they ended up with a massive shortage of classrooms and teachers in Auckland? If they can't get their planning right from year to year, how the hell do they think they can predict the situation 18 years hence?

And anyway, why should the parents and children of today have to pay for what might happen in 18 years' time?

The Minister - if he cared about education standards - could use this as a way to reduce teacher/pupil ratios.

But these reviews are about buildings, not people. Trevor Mallard is swept along in a Ministry/Treasury obsession with forcing a bureaucratic model on to every school in the country. And if parents don't go along with this Soviet-style plan, and refuse to send their children to the new school designated by the Minister? Then he will have to bring in zoning - otherwise his new policy won't work.

I was handed a letter last week by Steve Cutler, a parent and teacher of more than 20 years' experience. It is a passionate, heartfelt letter, too long to print here, but he quotes Karl Popper, a famous philosopher who spent time in New Zealand:

"The principle that those who are entrusted to us must, before anything else, not be harmed, should be recognised to be just as fundamental for education as it is for medicine. 'Do no harm' (and give the young what they most urgently need to become independent of us, and to be able to choose for themselves) would be a very worthy aim for the education system."

It's time to SAVE OUR SCHOOLS. I've visited nearly every area under review, and I'm visiting more. I'm writing to every school under threat; mounting a campaign, starting a petition. These communities might have trouble being heard on their own, but by golly, if they then unite their indignation Wellington will take notice.

I went to a small rural primary school. So did hundreds and hundreds of New Zealanders - Jack Lovelock, Sir Ernest Rutherford, Dame Malvina Major, and Gordon Coates to name but four. If you want to preserve parents right to choose, and a way of life New Zealand cannot afford to lose, please put your hand up. Email me, forward this email to others, and let's fight to SAVE OUR SCHOOLS.

Let's see Mallard spin his way out of New Zealand's provincial anger. Yours in liberty, Deborah Coddington

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