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Schools investigate closures after legal victory

Published: 5:26AM Friday October 11, 2013 Source: ONE News/Fairfax

Christchurch schools facing forced closure in the city's education shake-up are reconsidering their legal options after a High Court judge declared one merger unlawful.

Justice John Fogarty has declared that the decision to close the decile 1 Phillipstown School and merge with nearby Woolston next January failed to meet the requirements of the Education Act.

Phillipstown School's lawyer, Mai Chen, said she while she did not doubt the Government and Education Minister Hekia Parata had tried really hard, the consultation process had been impossible to understand and they would now need to start from scratch.

"The reality was they didn't run a lawful process here, they are going to have to do it again and the question is how much of the criticism of their process applies also to other schools which are now the subject of a closure and merger decision," Ms Chen told TV ONE's Breakfast this morning.

One of those schools was Branston Intermediate, with principal Jennifer O'Leary saying she felt ''sick'' that she had not taken further action to prevent her own school from being closed.

The Hornby school was set to close at the end of the year, with most pupils expected to go to Hornby High School.

Ms O'Leary said it was too early to say whether the court's decision would prompt Branston to appeal too, but she would be speaking to the school's board of trustees to determine their next move.

''My initial reaction is if the consultation was illegal in Phillipstown's respect and the costings were illegal in their respect then it would be the same for all the schools because the consultation was the same for each school.''

There now needed to be some ''political pressure'' to cancel all of the proposed closures and mergers, she said.

Windsor School board chairwoman Ali Howard said she was ''really pleased'' for Phillipstown, but did not know yet what the court ruling meant for her school, which was due to merge with Burnside School next year.

Linwood Intermediate principal Lee Walker, whose school was set to close, said the school would be closely examining the court's ruling.

''We're just going to have to wait and see in more detail. We'll be having discussions [about] what we see in the detailed report.''

Phillipstown principal Tony Simpson told Breakfast while he had received messages of support from other principals in Christchurch, and had heard other schools may be looking into their own consultation process, he was going to be focussing on the next step for his school for now.

Ms Parata refused to front for interviews yesterday, and her press secretary, Florence Aiono, said she was also unlikely to do so today.

In an issued statement, Ms Parata said she would carefully review yesterday's decision and examine the options available, including continuing consultation with the school.

Prime Minister John Key said he still had ''absolute confidence'' in Ms Parata despite the second bungled school closure.

Mr Simpson said he now wants to work with the Government and make sure that the community is a central part of any discussions.

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