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Principal vows to fight Christchurch school merger

Published: 4:53PM Wednesday May 29, 2013 Source: ONE News

The principal of a Christchurch primary school which is set to merge with another school next year is vowing to fight for its survival.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has confirmed this afternoon that seven Christchurch schools will be closed and six will be merged from next year. Three schools will be subject to new proposals, one has been given a reprieve and two others will remain on their sites.

Phillipstown School will merge with Woolston School on the Woolston site in January next year, Parata said today.

Phillipstown Primary School Principal Tony Simpson said the decision left him feeling "shocked and disappointed".

"We tried so hard we'd done our homework, we'd presented the facts, we'd celebrated the achievement data," he said.

Simpson said the decision to merge the school "seems to be largely money based".

"One of the figures in the documentation is a saving of $285,000 a year. Well that really disturbs me because that's putting value on our children and I just can't relate to that."

And he said the school will be fighting back.

"We may be battered, we may be bruised but we're not broken," he said following the announcement today.

Dr Chris Gallivan, Canterbury University's Dean of Law, encouraged the school to stop the merger.

"Stand up and make it known to the rest of NZ and this Government that this is not the right decision for this community," he said.

While Simpson has fighting words, his staff are coming to terms with whether they still have a job when the school merges.

Teacher Erin Moon said they will be able to reapply for jobs "but depending on staffing and how many teachers they say we need is a different story altogether and its uncertainty of whether we'll have a job or not".

Simpson said there was so much history at the school.

Phillipstown Primary School counts one of the country's most famous sportsmen among its ranks.

Legendary All Black captain and coach Sir Fred Allen spent his formative years at the school in the 1920s and 1930s - his team photo proudly adorning the hallway of the Christchurch school.

Another former student was army Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer, who was killed in Afghanistan last year.

Simpson said the school has always celebrated their old students, and he thought they "would be upset" to see the school go.

Date change 'despicable'

Meanwhile, Branston Intermediate, an undamaged school in Christchurch south, will close at the end of the year, a year earlier than the Ministry initially recommended.

"The Minister of Education crossed out that date and put this year. I have no idea why she would do something like that," Principal Jennifer O'Leary said.

Parents have been left fuming at today's announcement.

"If you became a Year 7 you would have two years now the Minister has gone completely back on that and I think it's despicable," said parent Marya McKee.

Year 7 students will be encouraged to move to Hornby High School.

"They really haven't given parents options other than a college. I don't think they've made the right decision," McKee said.

Heartbreak

Opposition parties are slamming the Government's final decisions on 19 Christchurch schools today, saying it will cause more heartbreak for children and their parents still suffering the after-effects of the earthquakes.

Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said today that the Government's decision to push ahead with a number of school closures in Christchurch is "worse than expected".

"Overall the Government's decision to close smaller schools, and merge others will create more uncertainty and stress for the affected children and their parents," she said.

"The people of Christchurch should not be used as guinea pigs while the National Government tweaks New Zealand's education system."

The Green Party said despite the earthquake damage many of the schools could have remained open.

Turei said the Government's decision to close three intermediate schools was "odd", saying it "will severely limit the choices available to parents in Christchurch as to where to send their children".

"Today's decision is also disappointing as it comes before the Ombudsman's report regarding the Christchurch School closure process is released," she said.

"For those schools facing closure, any future decision by the Ombudsman regarding the Government's processes will be cold comfort with their school and community gone."

'Community concerns'

Labour's education spokesperson, Chris Hipkins said the final decisions had been settled with little regard for the opinions of those that matter most - parents, boards and teachers.

"While Cantabrians understood that change was needed, there is a real feeling that today's decisions have been made with little credence given to community concerns," Hipkins said.

"Aside from a couple of tweaks, namely the decision to exclude South New Brighton School from the proposed merger with Central New Brighton School, and the extension of three existing high schools, the verdict is basically as it was in February."

He said schools, who have been patient while Parata mulled over her response, "will be disappointed today".

But, Parata said today that it had been through a very difficult process to make the decisions, and they "have not been taken lightly".

Find out which schools have been affected here.

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