This week Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and I made some announcements around restoring the education sector in greater Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri.
This has generated a lot of discussion and feedback so I thought it would be useful to take a step back for a moment and put some context around what we have announced.
The National-led Government is absolutely committed to rebuilding Christchurch following the series of destructive earthquakes. That’s why we’ve made it one of our four main priorities for this term.
That’s also why we announced this week that we are investing $1 billion over the next 10 years to restore the education sector in greater Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri.
The education sector, just like everything else in greater Christchurch, has experienced huge disruption due to the earthquakes. Buildings have been damaged and pupils have had to move to other schools and in some cases to other regions, not to mention the emotional toll it has taken on everyone.
I was impressed with the resilience and can-do attitude shown by schools in the wake of the major earthquakes, with some schools having to share facilities and sites in the days and months after the earthquakes until more permanent arrangements could be made.
Since the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck at 4:35am on 4 September 2010, the Canterbury region has experienced more than 10,000 earthquakes and aftershocks.
The face and makeup of Christchurch has changed – there are new suburbs and developments popping up around the region – and the education sector needs to respond to those changes as well.
Around 75 per cent of the buildings in the CBD have been or will need to be demolished because of earthquake damage. Nearly 7800 properties have been designated in the residential red zone, which means the land is unsuitable for rebuilding on for a considerable period of time. This means there are 7800 households and families who have to leave and rebuild their homes and lives elsewhere.
Greater Christchurch will be rebuilt, there’s no question about that, but it will look different once it is rebuilt and the education sector is no exception.
There are 214 schools in total in the Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri region – and this week’s announcement detailed that 173 schools or just over 80 per cent are not impacted by any closures or mergers.
The other part of our announcement this week was that we are consulting on proposing to close 13 primary and intermediate schools and merge another 18 primary schools.
I acknowledge this news may be distressing for families and local communities and the Ministry of Education will continue to work with and support them during this difficult process.
The people of Canterbury have been through a lot but the Government is totally committed to supporting you through the rebuild and returning the city to the vibrant, strong and exciting hub it was prior to the earthquakes.
A number of the schools we are proposing to close now have fewer than 50 pupils due to the population shift that has occurred following the earthquakes – one of them has just six pupils. Two of these 13 schools have volunteered to close.
There has also been some concern expressed about job losses, which is understandable, but many of the teachers at the schools affected are expected to be reabsorbed into the system through the new schools being built and other job opportunities becoming available because of the growth of other schools in the region.
As for the affected secondary schools in the region, which includes Shirley Boys’ High School, Avonside Girls’ High School, and Christchurch Girls’ High School, we are still awaiting detailed geotechnical information before any firm proposals about their future are made. In the interim we have put some options for these affected schools on the table for discussion, which includes continuing as is, relocating, closing, or merging.
Restoring the education sector in Canterbury is about ensuring the schools are in the right locations and that our children have access to good, quality education within a close distance to where they live.