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Notes from a visit to Christchurch primary schools four years on, by Professor Martin Thrupp

quake train tracksLast month I was in Christchurch and took the opportunity to visit some primary schools including an intermediate. It happened to be September 4th, four years to the day since the earthquake sequence began.

I spoke mainly to principals and wrote a few notes. They are obviously only impressions from a short visit but I thought they would be useful to share, especially for those of us who don’t live and work in Canterbury.

The first thing to emphasise is that just as ‘The Press’ reported last month that only 10% of the rebuild was so far complete, quake-related problems in schools are by no means over either. Instead they trundle on and on and manifest in different ways over time.

A central problem is that many staff are exhausted after years of dealing with the problems at school as well as their own family and housing problems. As one principal put it, ‘There’s not a lot left in the tank’. It’s been hard for principals to get a proper break too. In the post-quakes scramble for attention and resources they needed to be constantly available at the end of a phone.

I was told that at a recent event for Christchurch schools, the amount and quality of work was down 20% on what schools had submitted in the past. While the pressures have been relentless, those who work in schools don’t complain much. In Christchurch it is unexceptional to have quake-related problems.

On the fourth anniversary of the initial quake, ‘The Press’ reported that babies born that fateful day in Christchurch were thriving. That may be so, but principals reported that many of the children arriving at school over the last few years have presented extra challenges.

Oral language skills have declined, perhaps telling a story of parents being more distracted than usual. Children have also been less independent, suggesting parents being highly protective after the quakes.

With many stresses including anxieties around their children, Christchurch parents have also become more difficult for schools to deal with. Families are less invested in their local schools as many have had to move house permanently or at least temporarily. Parents often can’t afford the school trips and other extras they once could.

There is erratic behaviour and chippy attitudes from some parents that leave schools wondering ‘what was that all about?’ Sometimes parents have gone to the media and had their concerns blown out of proportion or ’spun’ in ways that are not constructive.

It is in the more middle class school settings that these changes are being felt the most. I visited a low socio-economic school on the eastern side of the city where life for families has long been highly uncertain anyway.

For many Christchurch families the way forward in creating social mobility for ones children is not as certain as it once was. Old rules of middle class advantage that had come with living in particular parts of the city are being rewritten. Some schools are closing and others have become unusually oversubscribed as new housing developments have sprung up.

In this situation there is often increasing competition between schools. Zoning and enrolling children from beyond the ‘natural’ catchment of schools has become a concern for many principals. Most are still seeing the ‘bigger picture’ of education in Christchurch but some prefer to mostly focus on what is good for their own particular school.

Adding fuel to the fire is that some schools have been rebuilt with flash new ‘modern learning environments’ while others are going to have to wait years to get the same treatment, or won’t at all.

How do those in Christchurch schools view the Government’s response to the educational problems caused by the earthquakes? As a mixed bag but generally with scepticism.

Putting schools into voluntary clusters was a positive move but one that was overtaken by the ‘reorganisation’ of Christchurch schools. This revealed an appalling lack of consultation and was also a communications fiasco. One principal described ‘watching grown men cry’ as principals realised that they had been gathered together to tell them which of their schools were to be ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ after the quakes.

The Interim Response Fund has worked quite well for getting support with some children with extra needs. But the specialised psychological, speech and language and occupational therapy help that children need is hard to access. The Ministry isn’t seen to have the answers to ‘mainstreaming’ children with special needs yet the McKenzie Special School has been closed.

Some schools have staffing levels guaranteed as their rolls drop off before closure. This is a great arrangement in vulnerable communities. But others don’t have the same deal. It leaves some teachers preoccupied with looking for replacement jobs.

An extraordinary amount of school leadership time has needed to be spent on matters to do with buildings, grounds and services. Prefabs come and go. Classrooms are deemed unserviceable and then suitable. Regular ‘5YA’ funding for upgrading buildings has been discontinued during the rebuild.

I think we should admire the efforts being made in all Christchurch schools and not become overly distracted by the shiny new developments in some of them. The context of earthquake recovery is bringing new opportunities but primary education in Christchurch is unlikely to be out of the woods anytime soon.

The schools still need more support in all sorts of ways.  Extra staffing, more specialist support and more attention to inequities within the educational market that is continuing to evolve in Christchurch would all make a difference.

– Martin Thrupp

Professor Thrupp works at the University of Waikato and has expertise in Social class and education; the impact of managerialism and performativity in schools; school choice and competition; international policy borrowing; contextualised approaches to educational leadership. 

The world had dug us a very deep hole – Lewis MacDonald

Sometimes only a child can say something just the right way, and this is one of those times.  Lewis MacDonald of Christchurch wrote this for an assembly to commemorate the 3rd anniversary of the big earthquake:

speech marksThree years ago when the door was the haven from the crumbling floor, our strength was strained and courage crushed, beams buckled, buildings broke, we needed a light. After the earthquake, aftershocks struck, liquefaction leaked along with our stories. Cats ran, dogs strayed and howled, hoarders gathered their shattered treasures off the ground. The world had dug us a very deep hole. There were casualties, and in our hearts were scars for life.

But cities are like puzzles, except you choose the pieces to fill the holes, and the more people helping the faster it grows. Now is the time to think about what piece you will or already have contributed to help this city get on its feet!speech marks end

By Lewis MacDonald
Year 8
Clarkville School, Christchurch, NZ

Beautifully said, Lewis.  Kia kaha Christchurch.

flowers in cone Christchurch

Quake School Shocker

Quake School Schocker

It could never happen. Right? …..

Not in the mood for celebrating

cryWhen I started this blog and the accompanying facebook page, I thought I would be super giddy about all the wee milestones along the way, and up until recently I was.

The 20,000th page visit was a highlight for me – confirmation that people are reading what I write and share.

But this week when the facebook page was just under 1000 fans, I couldn’t even get excited, and when we passed the thousand mark, not even a woot was issued.

In fact, I cried.

I cried because the only reason the page is now so busy is because of what is going on in Christchurch, and the sudden influx of (to date) around 100 new fans was only due to them needing to search out information and try to make sense of the various verdicts given by Hekia Parata on Monday.

From being mainly teachers that joined the page and read the blog, it is now wider than that, with parents, grandparents, teacher aides, caretakers, students and the wider public joining pages like mine just to try to work out what the heck is actually going on – and why.

Some just want company in their dismay.

The numbers keep growing…

and my sadness gets deeper.

And if I am this sad, I can only wonder and imagine how the affected communities are feeling…

and then I get sadder still.

Kia kaha to everyone caught up in the mean and ugly mess.   You are in the thoughts of myself and so very many other people.


February 22 – New Zealand With a Broken Wing

What will you do on February 22?

Many of you will remember the Feb22 fundraiser that ran last year on the first anniversary of the Christchurch Earthquake, one of the biggest tragedies our country has ever seen.

The time from idea conception to the actual day was extremely short but in just one week $10,000 was raised.

This year we have a bit more time and are keen to spread the word as far and wide as possible, and hopefully make even more.

Feb 22The site is called and the idea is to get people pledging some kind of action (however big or small) to support Christchurch on the second anniversary of the day their city changed forever.

A way of remembering the ongoing struggle, paying respect to those who lost their lives and helping in a practical way at the same time.

Last year’s offerings ranged from whip-rounds at offices and coin trails at kindies through to collection boxes at all K-Mart shops and a percentage of the day’s takings at Al Brown’s well-loved restaurant Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar.

Some people donated set amounts, some a percentage of their business profit on the 22nd or even the whole week before.

One mum even donated 10c for every time her baby smiled!

Brown is on board again this year, pledging 10 percent of his day’s takings and is encouraging others in the hospitality industry to do the same.  “As I said last year, it’s like New Zealand is a bird with a broken wing, and to fly again as a whole country we need to fix that wing.

That still holds true two years on – Christchurch has a long way to go to recovery and we need to keep on helping.  I really hope to see other restaurants and businesses – not only in hospitality industry, but all sectors – getting on board.”

All funds raised will go to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal who continue to support in areas of sport and recreation, education, hardship and relief, environment, economic revitalisation, heritage and culture and spiritual and faith.

If you as an individual, or your business, is keen to get behind this initiative in any way, go to or email your pledge to

For more information, contact:

Alexia Santamaria
021 337772

Still Hurting

Still Hurting

Christchurch Schools – Are They Being Used As Guinea Pigs?

“It’s increasingly clear the earthquake is a smokescreen to institute a wider agenda

of closure and consolidation of schools”  said David Shearer.

” My fear is Christchurch is a guinea pig

and we’ll soon be seeing school mergers and closures nationwide.

The ministry didn’t say that city would be used

as an exemplar for the rest of New Zealand for nothing.”

What do you think?  I’d love to know.

~Dianne, SOSNZ

Christchurch Education Plan – The Teacher Council’s View


The Christchurch education sector has now experienced its biggest aftershock.  Having shown true strength in the aftermath of the tragedy of a natural disaster, it now needs to respond to an educational renewal plan for the greater Christchurch region that challenges the integrity of its educational communities.

Whatever emerges as the educational renewal plan for the greater Christchurch region, it must reinforce the strength and connections early childhood services and schools have established with their local communities.  As we know, this has been the hallmark of numerous international and national educational successes.

battered streets

Christchurch after the quake

The NZ example includes:

– local communities that fully engage in the education of their children and young people;

– the contribution of community as the backbone of the administration of NZ schools;

– the engagement of early childhood education family and trustees, and Kōhanga Reo whānau development;

– Māori medium options in partnership with whānau, hapū, iwi and communities.


In support of our Christchurch colleagues and learners, the Teachers Council urges all teachers and professional leaders to engage in the consultation in good faith.

It may be trite to say “it takes a village to raise a child”, but it remains a reality.

 We have not only numerous examples of the positive contribution and critical involvement of the community in our early childhood services, kura, primary and secondary schools, but a body of sound national* and international research findings in this area.

Any educational decision about a school or early childhood service in the greater Christchurch region must involve the views and perspectives of its local community.

*The Complexity of Community and Family Influences on Children’s Achievement in New Zealand: BES Iteration (Fred Biddulph, Jeanne Biddulph and Chris Biddulph, 2003).”


Article quoted from Kaimanga Issue 82, dated 29.9.12, received by email.

A Mini Some-Would-Say-Almost-Invisible Consultation Period for Christchurch Schools

When Hekia Parata announced the school closures, mergers and relocations tabled for Christchurch, she assured those shouting loudly about being steamrollered that there would be time for Christchurch residents and others to have their say in a consultation period.

Today she announced that the consultation period is not only short (28 days) but covers school holidays and the senior exam period.  Way to go!  So people are being given the bare minimum of time at the worst possible time to get their submissions sorted and in to the government.  After that, Parata will make her decisions (because they are, apparently not yet set in stone, although many of us are starting to wonder) and anyone who wants to challenge her verdict has just 28 more days to do so.

After that there will be a final verdict with no chance of changing it.

Is this really what Christchurch deserves?

Watch Hekia Parata in parliament today, here, and tell me that she is genuinely interested in helping Christchurch.

It’s bad enough that they have had the quakes, the EQC’s inefficient doings,  slow and painful insurance claims, and all of the upset that goes with that.  And it’s worse still that they had the school announcement in such a poor, ill-thought-out way, causing even more stress for the region.  But this is just the final straw.  Why not just drive down there and kick the people in the teeth – surely it couldn’t get any worse?

What can we do?  How can we fight this steamrollering?  Because surely we can’t all stand by, sit by, or blog and tweet to the side – we need to act.

NZEI, Labour, Greens, anyone – please come up with a plan we can support, and fast.

~ SOSNZ (A must watch)

Restoring Education in Canterbury – A Note from Hekia Parata

This was posted by Hekia Parata today, Sunday 16th September, on the blog – do feel free to comment on it:

Restoring education in Canterbury

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.

Retrieved from 16.9.12 at 14.55

Christchurch Schools Fight Back Over Closures

There is a real and deep sense of dismay in Christchurch that the government’s proposed school closures, mergers and relocations will have a huge negative impact of some communities.

Peter O’Connor, Associate professor at Auckland University’s Faculty of Education, says schools have been a key part in holding together small communities since the earthquakes, and their closure is likely to have a negative impact on those communities.  Principals, teachers, parents and other education experts agree.

Ouruhia Model School principal Mark Ashmore-Smith says they plan to fight the decision to close their small school.

Emma Goodin  says the school has been a place of normality and stability for her three children since losing their home in the quake. “I can’t believe for all that, for all I’ve been through in the last two years, they would pick a moment like this just to kick me when I thought that I was as down as I could go,” she says. (source)

A heart felt letter the the schools community from Burnside Primary School, Christchurch

A heart felt letter the the schools community from Burnside Primary School, Christchurch

Cantabrians are not going to give in without a fight, though.  Already there are protests, petitions, support pages on social media all up and running, and there are a number of  rallies planned.  A protest has been organised is being held on Wednesday at 5.30pm at the Bridge of Remembrance.

I will keep you abreast of events as the unfurl, and please do let me know of any events, petitions etc that I have missed.

Kia Kaha, Christchurch.

Now, go lend your support to Christchurch and those schools fighting back – every word of support means a lot:

Save Freeville School – Whanau and community support page

Save Chisnallwood Intermediate – DO NOT CLOSE

Celebrate Suffrage- REBUILD WITH OUR VOTE

Sources and further reading:


Canterbury Schools Announcement – Closures, Mergers and Relocations

Parents and schools staff are reeling with shock after being called to meetings today by Helia Parata, Gerry Brownlee and officials and told which schools in the Christchurch area will close, which will merge and which will relocate, with not such much as a consultation in sight.

Teachers are now facing losing jobs and having uprooting their families to relocate slsewhere for work – always assuming they can move, given the state of their houses and the ongoing battles with EQC and insurance companies.

And many parents will have much the same worries.

One mother tweeted “School Trifecta for me: Primary = merge, Intermediate = closure, Secondary = relocation.”

A friend of mine found out her child’s school was closing only when I shared a news alert on Facebook’s SOSNZ page.  Her response: “Gutted.”

The Green Party’s Catherine Delahunty said after the announcements that “There is no doubt that some change is required in Christchurch as people move, but the schools in the east are the hearts of the community and by closing them the Government will isolate those communities even further.”

Clearly there had to be some changes given what has happened in Canterbury over the past 2 years – I doubt anyone will disagree with that.  But really, did staff and parents have to find out such hard news, such community-changing, life-changing, difficult news in a series of meetings that were then disseminated out via social media?   It shows a real lack of respect and a total lack of understanding of the difficulties people are still experiencing in Canterbury.

And I can only imagine how the group briefed by Gerry Brownlee felt after his outburst yesterday…

Close, Stay, Relocate or Merge…

According to Scoop, this is what is to happen:

  • Shirley Boys’ and Christchurch Boys’ high schools to merge.  ************** see below for important update***********
  • Avonside Girls’ High will be merged with Christchurch Girls’ High.
  • Aranui High will join Aranui primary, Avondale, Chisnallwood and Wainoni in a learning cluster.
  • Banks Avenue primary may be closed or relocated.
  • Earmarked for closure are Linwood Intermediate, Branston Intermediate, Richmond, Burnham, Burnside primary, Glenmoor primary in Mairehau, Hammersley Park primary in Shirley, Greenpark, Kendal school in Burnside, Le Bons Bay, Manning Intermediate, Duvachelle and Okains Bay.
  • Lyttelton Main will merge with Lyttelton West.
  • Freeville primary will be merged with North New Brighton primary.
  • Linwood Avenue School will merge with Bromley, and Phillipstown will merge with Woolston.
  • Windsor will merge with Burwood primary. Yaldhurst Model School will merge with Gilberthorpe School in Hei Hei.
  • Linwood College and Marshland primary are earmarked for relocation.

Clarifications and Cock-Ups

Within hours of the initial announcements, the Ministry had to issue a clarification  explaining that Avonside and Shirley Boys “may be able to stay on their existing sites” if they had favourable geotechnical reports.

According to Scoop, Shirley Boys’ principal John Laurenson said the education ministry had “totally and completely cocked up”.  He was “aghast” at the “ineptitude” of ministry staff who had released “a set of misleading statements”.

My advice is to keep your eyes peeled – this is not going to be the end of it, I can guarantee it.

Read more here:


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