Morale low at schools over uncertain futures

Staff morale in some Dunedin secondary schools is low in the wake of Ministry of Education discussions on how to make the city's secondary school network more efficient, an independent consultant has found.

During the past year, meetings have been held between Dunedin's secondary principals, board representatives and the ministry, to see if schools can agree on ways of making the city's secondary school network more efficient, sustainable and equitable for pupils.

The ministry has encouraged the discussions because March roll return statistics show Dunedin secondary school rolls have dropped by 743 between 2005 and 2015, the equivalent size of a secondary school.

Adding to concerns is the imbalance in enrolments, where pupils are flooding into a select few schools, such as King's High School, at the expense of others.

Meetings between Dunedin secondary schools and the ministry have been chaired by independent consultant Janet Kelly.

Her report, prepared for the ministry in April and released this week under the Official Information Act, provides feedback from the meetings and shows some Dunedin secondary school staff are living in fear of losing their jobs.

''Some commented that the fear of the unknown was putting barriers in the way people were thinking, the fear of which school is going to close.

''For some schools, the reduced roll numbers has created uncertainty for staff and is impacting on staff morale.

''Staff are very fragile and scared of losing jobs.

''Currently, schools feel threatened and vulnerable.''

Feedback from meetings showed there was concern the discussion process itself could lead to school closures, simply because the issue had become public.

''A number of schools said the current situation has worsened because the ministry should have begun the process 1.5 to 2 years ago, that some schools are now ... hurting in terms of numbers, and that this may lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy as parents chose not to enrol their children in schools with falling rolls.''

She said the common theme coming from her meetings with the schools was the ministry needed to be confident and clear about strategy and timeframes, and lead the process with ideas and options for discussion.

''Most said that the challenge of developing a sustainable network is too difficult for schools ... and that starting with a blank canvas is never going to work.''

Earlier this year, Logan Park High School principal Jane Johnson said it was unfair of the ministry to ask schools to find a solution to the issues.

''Within a market model [Tomorrow's Schools], I don't think collaboration is something any school can really commit to, because we are all competing for the same students and funding.''

She believed the ministry should be deciding independently on the best way forward, because it had the data to make those decisions.

Ms Kelly's report said schools felt the ministry needed to decide what its position was on the network capacity issue.

''Will it ultimately result in closing one school? Are they [the ministry] just prolonging the inevitable?''

Can the ministry be tolerant within this, or do they have a fixed position?''

The ministry has said it often met schools to discuss what might be needed to manage expected changes in rolls, and agreeing on a solution would take time because a range of views were being expressed.

It believed schools wanted to be included in discussions, and confirmed there were no pre-determined outcomes.

The ministry has said it would continue sharing information with schools as work continued.

Ministry sector enablement and support deputy secretary Katrina Casey said once the report was completed, the ministry would use the findings to engage in further discussion with school leaders, before putting action steps in place.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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