May 17, 2011

Kawerau Intermediate protest arrives

Around 250 students and supporters from Kawerau Intermediate arrived at Parliament today to protest against the planned closure of the Intermediate. Anne Tolley, the Minister of Education, has signalled she intends to close the Intermediate as well as Kawerau North School and Kawerau Central School. Kawerau will continue to be serviced by Kawerau South School (which will become a full primary school when the other three schools close) and Putauaki Full Primary School (my old school).

Now, Kawerau schools need to be reorganised. Structural change is needed sooner rather than later. There are not enough kids in the town to sustain four separate primary schools and two separate intermediate schools. Something has to give and the people of Kawerau accept that. However, what the protestors, and by extension the people of Kawerau, do not accept is the autocratic manner in which the Minister has made her decision. Anne Tolley made a number of assurances that any decision will be made in light of the feedback received from the community. This was an outright lie. Over 70% of the adult population in Kawerau signed a petition to retain the Intermediate, the local Council submitted in favour of retaining the Intermediate and most importantly the kids themselves have made it painfully clear that they want an intermediate school. However, the Minister appears not to appreciate any of this and has signalled she intends to close the Intermediate.

The protest itself was incredibly impressive. The children were disciplined but vocal, the speeches were articulate and reasoned and the entire group was well organised. I have to acknowledge the brilliant speech made by the Intermediate Principal, Daryl Aim, his delivery was so, so powerful and the message was perfect. I particularly enjoyed an observation he made during the protest. He commented that he saw two New Zealands today. One New Zealand was epitomised by his kids (the Intermediate kids) while the other was epitomised by a group of private school girls passing through in their “beautiful blazers”. One New Zealand has it all, including the sympathy and the ear of the current government, the other New Zealand has nothing. No prizes for guessing which is which. I thought his point illustrated a larger theme – the Nat’s are governing for their own. They don’t give a shit about poor communities and Maori communities. Some of the parents and kaumatua also delivered excellent speeches. Everyone was incredibly articulate. Not bad for a bunch wage workers from the provinces I thought.

The kids had their lines and chants prepared as well and they didn’t miss a cue. They knew what to say and when to say it and, to my surprise, they were actually listening and understood what the politicians were talking about. They knew when to cheer when a one of the politicians spoke in support and when to groan when one spoke against.

Quite a few MP’s came out to meet the hikoi. Kelvin Davis, Parekura Horomia, Shane Jones and Steve Chadwick from Labour, Catherine Delahunty from the Greens, local MP Te Ururoa Flavell and Tariana Turia from the Maori Party, Hone Harawira and local MP Todd McClay, Tau Henare and Paul Quinn from National. Davis and Chadwick delivered well received speeches. In my opinion Chadwick just cemented the Kawerau vote. Te Ururoa Flavell also spoke, but in Maori, and the reception was mixed (sorry, my te reo is negligible so I can’t tell you what he said). Todd McClay also spoke and the reception was cold. A few people heckled, but Todd handled himself well I thought. To be fair, Todd always listens to the community, the problem is his influence is limited and he is in no position to defy Anne Tolley. Catherine Delahunty was given a warm reception and delivered a speech in support of the Intermediate. By that time most of the MP’s had left bar Chadwick, Davis, Hone and Delahunty. A number of people in the roopu then started to call on Hone to speak and when he came forward there was a roar. There is no doubt that he was the man everyone wanted to hear from. Te Ururoa should be nervous. It goes to show that Waiariki is now behind Hone and Te Mana.

The protest then concluded and a small party went to meet the Minister. I hope it went well. The only MP’s to hang around were Kelvin Davis, who to his credit went through and acknowledged every single protestor with a kia ora and a hongi, Steve Chadwick also remained and moved through the group talking with the kids and parents, Hone stayed as well and spoke with some of the protestors.

The Intermediate sent a strong message today. They want to retain their school. Unfortunately, the chances of swaying the Minister are slim at best (she refused to meet the hikoi when it arrived at the steps of Parliament). But then again I don’t know. The pressure is on though. The protest is currently the lead story on (Derek Cheng was reporting from the protest), Radio New Zealand was also present and so to was John Campbell from TV3 and two reporters from Maori TV. Anne Tolley will release her final decision on June 1. I hope she makes the right one.       


  1. All Kawerau community members realise that the town cannot sustain the number of schools currently present. The Intermediate is not the only loser in this equation, so too are Kawerau North & Kawerau Central schools. If the Minister had chosen another option then Putauaki Full Primary school would have lost students, along with Kawerau North & Central. Is Daryl Aim not the same Principal that shortly after beginning his role at Kawerau Intermediate called a series of public hui to suggest merging the Intermediate with the College?
    I am sure the Ministry staff have done their homework within Kawerau - the population demographic will not sustain a stand alone Intermediate school. The reason the Intermediate received so much support in their petition is down to the emotional ties many residents have to the school.
    Whatever option the Minister chose was always going to result in negative impact to some students and staff. Community members need to admit the town cannot support the current number of schools, accept the Minister's decision and lets get behind our remaining schools as best we can.

  2. Maybe a reason the intermediate is getting such strong support is that it delivers really good education for the children. Perhaps the Intermediate could become a form 1-4 school with the High School doing forms 5-7. The excellent work being done at the intermediate could continue as far up as form 4. Maybe that was what Aim was stating when he talked about a merger.

  3. No, to the contrary of what the first writer says, Kawerau should not sit back and accept this as a done deal. Bad things happen when good people do nothing.

    The Minister’s exercise here is not about strengthening schooling in Kawerau, it is about cost cutting and making savings in expenditure. Furthermore it is about doing it in a “non blue” potion of an electorate. Sure, Kawerau is in a National electorate but it is not a National voting town, so Minister Tolley can afford to immensely piss off the locals by closing schools and it won’t affect Todd McClay’s voting numbers. There are a number of areas in New Zealand where there are empty classrooms in greater numbers than Kawerau. But they are in blue voting areas and it would be political suicide to close schools there. (c.f. Dunedin, Minister Tolley has carried out the same school closing exercise in Dunedin South – a red voting area, yet she has not touched Dunedin North – a blue voting area which has surplus classrooms in similar numbers to Dunedin South).

    Despite what Minister Tolley promulgates, most School Boards do not waste funds when maintaining surplus classrooms. The surplus classrooms are in most cases used to enhance existing classroom based programmes by providing a venue for teacher aides to work with individual students, parents to assist with reading programmes, the withdrawal of special needs students for one to one tuition, computer suites etc.

    Have the Ministry staff done their homework? If their homework was to produce an option that the Minister wants then maybe but we will probably never know. Their recommendation and advice to the Minister is not released. They could strongly advocate option B yet the Minister can go with option C, D, X, Y or Z for that matter. (The local Ministry staff are expected to increasingly be multi-taskers and often a staff member is expected to carry out work way beyond their expertise or capabilities – does an ex English or History teacher have expertise in town planning type tasks? And to what extent are they puppets to spotty faced twenty-somethings from Wellington with a Masters in Public Policy and experience in nothing?)

    The Minister’s proposed option is likely to result in two large decile 1 full primary schools in a town a long way from the Ministry of Education’s Special Education Services, no CYFS office, only one medical practice (hardworking and diligent yet over crowed), a police force that is understaffed, over stretched and usually not contactable after 4pm or in the evenings and weekends. (They Police a large area which I believe covers from Kawerau to Rotiti to Otamarakau to Edgecumbe to Te Teko and Te Mahoe)

    Large low decile schools end up with an over-whelming number of social issues. These are not large schools in the gentle leafy suburbs of New Zealand where anxious mothers enrol their children in every possible extra such as drama, dance, gymnastics, music, speech, swimming, yachting etc etc. All too often the staff of low decile schools provide in a de-facto way considerable social support required by their students.

    The proposed structure of two large full-primary schools will not enhance education nor strengthen it in Kawerau. There is no way those schools can (despite every good intention and effort) deliver what the Kawerau Intermediate currently does.

    If the Ministers plan proceeds then both Kawerau South and Putauaki School are predicted to have rolls in excess of their current capacity. Yet there has been neither planning nor provision for new property. The Minister wants her brave new plan to start at the beginning of 2012. Somehow I can’t see the required new buildings, staffing or resources put in place by then. Parents can expect to be very disappointed with the Minister (not the schools) when their child ends up in an over crowded classroom at the start of 2012.

    It’s about time that the Minister is honest with the public. Her folly is about cost cutting education, not strengthening education in Kawerau.

  4. As one of the Ministry staffers involved with the restructuring of Kawerau schools is an ex Kawerau Principal whose children were educated in the town I have faith that the correct message would have been delivered to the Minister (although we all know that Anne Tolley does what Anne Tolley wants to do at the end of the day). Whether it is cost cutting education or strenthening education, some action is needed. As a taxpayer and Kawerau community member I see complete sense in closing schools in a town whose population has declined considerably over the years. When Daryl Aim handed over petitions to Todd McClay he stated he had done his research and according to Aim Kawerau school roll numbers stabilised after 2001 - this seems incredibly hard to believe - perhaps he would like to elaborate on school roll return numbers post 2001 to back up his statement.

  5. Great coverage of this on Campbell Live last night. A couple of observations:

    1. For a few hundred dollars of bus rental and accomodation, every school facing cuts or closures in the country could do this. Local marae and sympathetic schools here would put them up.

    2. Most of these kids who've been treated with such disdain by the Minister -- and others like them -- will be eligible to vote in the 2017 general election. Perhaps not such a concern for the brass -- Key, English, Brownlee et al will likely be enjoying their ambassadorial roles by then -- but it should be a concern for National's up-and-comers, including local MPs Todd McClay (Rotorua) and Simon Bridges (Tauranga). And, of course, Anne Tolley herself, who is the member for East Coast.


  6. How very sad Kawerau Intermediate has come to this. I remember as a foundation pupil arriving to a modern well equipped modern education environment. I formed many friendships and am very grateful for a sound education.

    so what happens to these schools when they are closed?



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