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'There'll be some pretty angry people' - Some Auckland principals expecting confusion, hostility over new school zones

Some Auckland principals are expecting confusion and hostility when they introduce enrolment zones for the first time next month.

By John Gerritsen of rnz.co.nz

Rowandale School principal Karl Vasau. Source: rnz.co.nz

Their schools are part of an unprecedented Education Ministry push to create or redraw enrolment schemes at 135 Auckland schools.

The ministry worked with the first 60 schools last year and principals said six of those schools in Manurewa were introducing their zones at the start of term two, 3 May.

The principals said all 35 primary and intermediate schools in the area would then have a zone, a change that would not affect children already in the schools but would apply to new enrolments.

Children in-zone would have guaranteed access to their school, but out-of-zone children would be accepted via a ballot only if there was room for them.

Leabank School principal Rex Maddren said some people would not be happy if the school's new zone shut them out.

"If people understand before they come, I guess they'll accept that that's the case. But a lot of people don't get the newsletters ... and just turn up expecting to enrol like they always have, at which point I would expect there'll be some pretty angry people," he said.

Maddren said that anger would be strongest among families who already had children at the school, but might not be able to enrol their five-year-olds because they lived outside the school's zone.

He said he was initially sceptical about the need for an enrolment zone at his school of 440 children, but changed his mind after seeing housing developments in the area, including one that would turn three nearby houses into 19 homes.

"Now that I'm seeing all the intensification it's opened my eyes to the fact that it's inevitable that the rolls are going to grow. I take on board that they're trying to prepare for the future, it's just going to be a bit of an awkward teething process I guess."

Maddren said the rapid growth of schools in the area combined with the introduction of enrolment schemes could cause a lot of churn over the next few years as parents moved schools to ensure all their children were in the same place.

He said his school currently had classroom space for about 520 children and the ministry estimated it would have more than 700 students if it enrolled all the children who lived within its zone.

Rowandale School was another of the Manurewa schools getting a zone next month as a result of the ministry's project.

Principal Karl Vasau said some families with long-standing connections to the school would be outside the zone it was introducing at the start of May.

He said that made him anxious about the decisions he would have to make about enrolling children.

"We're close to maximum roll now so for us it's about balancing that as much as we can knowing that it's really hard when you're turning away siblings of children that are currently at the school and I'm not looking forward to doing that."

He said some of the newly-out-of-zone families could see the school from their homes.

But he said he could see the need for an enrolment scheme.

"It's important that we're able to manage, especially if you're experiencing roll growth like we have. We've got a mechanism to support us to manage the number of children we are receiving.

"What makes it complicated is pre-existing zones around us and also the fact that all our schools in Manurewa are growing quite fast," he said.

Both Vasau and Maddren said they had little choice about the size and shape of their schools' enrolment zones.

The schools were among 60 in the first phase of the ministry's project last year, though 15 of those were not completed and had been included in a cohort of 55 this year.

James Cook High School principal Grant McMillan said his school had been told it would get an enrolment scheme this year but he doubted it would have much impact on the school's growth.

"We have very, very few students who are outside our zone area and those that are are probably students we've accepted from other schools who've been perhaps suspended or got into difficulties at their other school that the ministry would probably want us to take anyway," he said.

McMillan said more enrolment schemes would help "smooth" the impact of roll growth across the city, but it would not eliminate the need for more classrooms.

"The choice that people may have had or exercised in the past simply won't be there and that can create some aberrant behaviour, some unexpected consequences but in the main it will mean that local schools will fill up with local students," he said.

McMillan said another important issue was setting a maximum size for schools as they grew.

Auckland Primary Principals Association president Stephen Lethbridge said the ministry briefed the association on its plans last week.

He said the association agreed more enrolment schemes were necessary and the ministry's intervention should help ensure they were fair.

"There's no doubt that there is a challenge involved. We've had a system where schools in the past would co-construct a zone with the ministry and there would be overlaps and all sorts of grey areas, so having the ministry take control of this and draw up these zones can only be a positive thing for the region," he said.

Lethbridge said Auckland's population was growing and in future schools were not likely to have many out of zone places.