The recent demographic growth figures for New Zealand have some clear messages for education.
The key figure is that by 2031 it is forecast that 38% of all New Zealanders will be living in Auckland. This is an extraordinary proportion that Dublin eclipses at 39% but which takes Auckland ahead of cities such as London (21%), Tokyo (25%) and Copenhagen (24%). Or put another way, 61% of the total growth of our population will occur in Auckland.
Additional factors are that there will inevitably be population decline in many other areas of New Zealand and that the significant concentration of higher population growth groups in Auckland will see a proportion of young school age citizens even higher than the 61% general forecast – perhaps as many as 75%.
Twenty years is not a long time period in which to prepare for these shifts.
In short, the sort of shuffle that is happening in Christchurch is only the beginning of a significant shift of resources to the Auckland region. It is simply a fact that many schools outside of Auckland will close, it is inevitable that many schools will be merged (a softer form of closure).
Just north of Auckland there is a little settlement called Waiwera. First there was one school on the hill which was replaced by a new school down on the flat. Finally, that school was closed and the young ones transported to Orewa. This reflected the shifts in school population and is a bit of one example of what has already happened in many rural and isolated communities throughout New Zealand.
I am told that perhaps twenty schools are likely to close in the Central area of the country simply because they will run out of children. It is a matter of simple maths that if two thirds of New Zealand’s new babies are born at Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland each year then five years later two thirds of New Zealand’s new Entrants are likely to be in the Southern Auckland area.
Rather than go into denial. The education system would be better to start planning for these dramatic changes and participate in them rather than sit back hoping it will all go away. This can only end up with tears as the necessary changes are brought about.
So what will it all mean? Schools will have to close and others merge. But this should be on the basis of known formulae rather than have the appearance of random and perhaps responses to pressure from communities that can bring pressure to bear or simply make more noise. The formula could be agreements about optimal size of schools and optimal distances for children to travel, all having regard for “community” however that might be defined.
Each of these factors has changed over time: roads are better, no-one travels to school by horse, many parents transport the children to school, few use bicycles. It is likely that schools do not need to be located where they are currently. It makes no sense to spend capital on schools without these assessments.
“Community” is a very emotional factor. But that has changed as well. Many students choose to transport their children out of the community in which they live to access schooling is another community. Many schools actively seek students from communities other than their own for a wide variety of reasons. “Community” cannot be assumed to a simple matter of plonking a school in the midst of a suburb or a town.
There are also implications for governance and it is probably inevitable that we return to some key principles of Tomorrow’s Schools that were never implemented and ask if they now have a key role to play. I am thinking of the Parent Advocacy Councils, The Community Education Forums and the Education Service Centres. Each of these would have contributed to a greater sense of community and to a much higher level of community involvement in education than the truncated model based only on the Boards of Trustees has been able to achieve.
Finally, the greatest proportion of teachers will be needed in Auckland and this will happen within the next twenty years which is half of a teaching career. The impact will be wide and the cuts will be deep.
Those who cope with change best are those who embrace the future and take an active part in the changes. How we feel about such changes is a matter of choice.