The Ministry of Education has apologised to Canterbury schools and communities for their handling of school mergers and closures after the 2011 earthquakes.
The apology comes after a scathing report called Disclosure, which found significant flaws in the way the ministry engaged with the school community during the reorganisation.
The report recommended the ministry work with the education sector to develop a process for closing or merging schools and that it publish a written apology in the Christchurch Press to schools and communities affected.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said the ministry consulted schools about broad plans for the future of education in the city following the quake, but at the same time it was running an invisible process with specific plans for individual schools.
“The ministry decided to adopt a parallel process and didn’t properly engage the community in that. The result was like a bombshell when schools were told that many of them were going to close.
Secretary for Education Iona Holsted said people were shocked by school closures and mergers announced in September 2012 because the ministry had not provided them with the information they needed.
“They deserved better. We let them down and we are sorry. We know this undermined trust and confidence in us, as the Ombudsman’s school closures report confirms,” Ms Holsted said.
Halswell’s Oaklands School principal Margaret Trotter, who is also president of the Canterbury Primary Principal’s Association, said the Ministry could have apologised earlier.
“We have been saying as a sector for quite a while that there were some huge mistakes made. As you say, it’s waited till the Ombudsman till we’ve had that recognition.”
The Ombudsman’s report said the ministry had acknowledged that its announcements were mishandled, but explained that it was aiming to deliver certainty to a disaster-traumatised community looking to rebuild.
There was anecdotal evidence that the reorganisation in Christchurch had positive effects, but the report said processed had left a “bad taste” in the mouths of those involved.
Partial attribution to RNZ and stuff.co.nz