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Parata faces big test with Christchurch schools decision

Published: 8:13PM Sunday February 17, 2013 Source: ONE News

An upcoming announcement on the fate of Christchurch schools is likely to be the biggest test Education Minister Hekia Parata has faced to date.

Thirty-one of the 38 Christchurch schools earmarked for mergers or closure are about to be given an interim decision on their future.

The decisions will affect about 5,500 children and schools will have a period of consultation before a final decision is made in May.

The latest ONE News Colmar Brunton poll shows almost 60% of voters believe Prime Minister John Key was wrong to keep Parata as Education Minister.

When Key announced last month that Parata was safe in the role, some were left speechless, but not the PM, who is still vocal in his support of her.

"If you look at her history in politics she's been one of smoothest communicators we've ever had," Key said.

But voters do not share his confidence.

Asked in the latest poll, if Key made the right decision in keeping Parata on as Education Minister after his cabinet reshuffle, 59% of people said it was the wrong call, just 21% said it was the right move and almost as many were unsure.

Parata's well documented list of woes include back tracking on increasing class sizes, the closure and merger of some Christchurch schools, an illegal attempt to shut the Salisbury special school, the clash with and eventual resignation of the Education Ministry's boss, and Novopay.

Parata would not be interviewed about the poll, saying in a statement she is focusing on Monday's announcement in Christchurch.

But opposition parties still sense weakness. Labour is set to promote Chris Hipkins to the education role permanently.

And Greens' co-leader Metiria Turei has just taken the portfolio off one of her junior MPs.

Turei said Parata is a liability to the Government.

"I don't understand why John Key is standing beside her given her litany of failures and the harm that she is causing families," Turei said.

For his part, Hipkins says the announcement is an opportunity for the Government to "show some respect" for Christchurch communities affected and show them that they've listened to their concerns.

"Hekia Parata displayed a total lack of respect for Christchurch schools and their communities when she initiated these closure and merger discussions," he said.

"It's all very well for her to splash out on full page newspaper advertisements to put a positive spin on the outcome, but the decisions will speak for themselves."

Hipkins said parents and teachers have been on tenterhooks over the weekend and most are now expecting "some pretty significant backdowns" from what was originally proposed.