Saturday, February 23, 2013

School zoning---here we go again!


Every year we hear about parents trying to enrol their kids into a school they perceive as being ‘better’ for their children than the one a few hundred metres down the road. Some schools have gone to the extreme by setting private detectives on suspicious families to ensure that the system of ‘out of zone’ enrolment is not abused. Other schools have actively encouraged or at least turned a blind eye to the practise.

There are many reasons why parents go to such lengths. There is the misinformed judgment that their children will not achieve at the neighbourhood school and that their kids will not be safe, because ‘certain kids’ attend the local school in high numbers.

Let’s cut to the point. Some of these decisions to ‘cheat’ the system are based on a white flight theory. This is not limited to ‘white families alone; many parents of other ethnic groups also hit he roads every morning to ‘escape’ what they perceive to be a school that does not meet their needs. One only has to observe the bus stops in South and West Auckland or the train stations to see a myriad of school uniforms, lining up to travel to schools in the city or other areas of Auckland.

Without debating such moves and motives further, perhaps I should look at the ramifications for such decisions. We have the transport system heavily loaded in the morning and afternoons and parents making trips beyond their home suburbs, further increasing traffic on the road. This doesn’t make sense from a transport planning perspective.

Such student movement across Auckland also brings into focus another important factor. Surely the local school should be of an adequate standard and offer a stimulating learning environment and one that is safe and nurturing. If it is a question of resourcing, then that should be addressed.

Yes, there is a question of balance re ‘the right’ of parents being able to choose the school for their children, but allowing this massive movement across the city, not only feeds into the chaos of morning and afternoon traffic, but also creates potential ‘ghetto schools’ in the suburbs. This is a delicate question and one that politicians and schools and parents would rather avoid, but we must ask the questions---‘what sort of society so we want?’ Do we allow open slather and create and exacerbate problems that no one wants to talk about, or do we face them head on and have the discussion?’

I suspect that the ‘head in the sand, bums up’ option may well prevail as many head for the hills and so-called better schools; leaving those schools they have fled to face uncertain futures. It is not just Mother Nature and her earthquakes that cause social dysfunction! It is us and our own beliefs and mistaken perceptions about what is right and wrong. We must address the fears of those  who choose to turn their backs on their local schools and come up with a ‘community’ solution. We can start by being honest.