The earthquake that hit Canterbury on 22 February 2011 left a deep mark on New Zealand history and no reflective issue on the country’s education would be complete without looking at how Christchurch schools grappled with the aftermath and managed to move forward.
The Government proposed a billion-dollar, 10-year education renewal plan for Christchurch that involved plans to “restore, consolidate, and rejuvenate” the region’s 115 schools following substantial damage to many. This took shape in 2012 and 2013 as the Ministry embarked on consultation with schools and many of these meetings were extremely fraught.
Some proposals were fairly radical. For example, it was proposed that one new facility be established in Aranui to replace three primary schools, one intermediate school, and one secondary school, and that three schools on Banks Peninsula should be brought under the umbrella of the local area school but remain on their existing sites.
Some schools faced closure, some were to merge with other schools, and some faced a complete rebuild. Others underwent repairs. The renewal programme included construction of 13 schools on new sites, the rebuild of 10 schools on existing sites and the full redevelopment of 34 schools.
Mixed reactions emerged as Christchurch communities took part in consultation about the proposed education renewal plan. Many felt consultation was far from genuine, and some principals were angry at the way things were handled.
Some schools and communities found themselves under the media’s spotlight as they fought against the Ministry’s proposals and decisions.
Phillipstown School, for example, fought especially hard to keep their school open. The community rejected the Ministry’s initial proposal for the school to merge with Woolston School on the Linwood College site in 2018. It rejected its second proposal to merge the two schools on Woolston in 2014 and decided to proceed with legal action against the Ministry in a very public battle. Moral and financial support poured in from the community and beyond to support Phillipstown’s case. The High Court judge ruled in the school’s favour, declaring the process behind the Minister’s decision to merge Woolston and Phillipstown schools in Christchurch to be unlawful.
Redcliffs School also faced intense scrutiny. The Minister initially said the school would have to close due to the risk of falling rocks from behind the site and the school has been operating at the van Asch Deaf Education Centre in nearby Sumner since the February 2011 earthquake. However, more recently, the Minister’s interim decision was reversed, based on engineering advice she had received. The school looks set to remain open and move to a new site.
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