Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Shaky ground for Shearer

I see David Shearer is accusing the Government of using the Christchurch earthquakes as a smokescreen for a "wider agenda" of closing and consolidating schools.

He should be very careful here, because this is shaky ground (pardon the pun) for a Labour Party leader. Shearer was elected to Parliament only three years ago, so his political memory is short. But if he'd been around in 2003, he would know there was a national uproar then over a brutal school closure programme which traumatised many communities. It was masterminded by his own colleague Trevor Mallard, then minister of education, who exhibited a Pol Pot-style indifference to the damaging consequences. There seemed to be little understanding of the central place of schools in the lives of many communities, especially in rural areas (not that they mattered much, since they vote National).

The effects of that clumsily executed programme are still evident in places like Masterton, where I live. Besides causing enormous stress and disruption, it left the town with several unsightly, abandoned schools that inevitably became magnets for vandals, taggers and arsonists. A local secondary school teacher wrote a PhD thesis on the closures in 2010 and concluded there was still no evidence that the benefits outweighed the costs.

At least National has the excuse that the Canterbury earthquakes forced a reappraisal of Christchurch's education infrastructure. Part of the reason for the pain felt over the 2003 school closures was that little attempt was made to explain why it was necessary.

1 comment:

Jigsaw said...

People need to know that smaller schools in the country-those below about 100 pupils are really damaging to children socially. Many small country schools could be closed and it would benefit the country generally and the children individually. I suspect that in Christchurch much of the opposition to school closures relates to the inherent snobbery within the community-I know how it works, I grew up there. When I go back you are often asked "what school did you go to?" People elsewhere in the country find this hard to understand-I don't blame them!