The Masterton Primary School enviro kitchen turned into a classroom. PHOTO/ELISA VORSTER

Confusion over ministry regulations

ELISA VORSTER
elisa.vorster@age.co.nz

Masterton Primary School’s roll has exploded to the point staff have resorted to teaching some of its children in a kitchen.

But with eight new students enrolled just last week and an advertisement in the paper inviting out-of-zone enrolments, there’s confusion over who’s pulling the strings.

Principal Sue Walters said she has been struggling with roll numbers all year – the school has around 320 students.

Despite this, she said she is told conflicting things by the Ministry of Education.

Walters said she was refused extra classrooms until she enforced an enrolment scheme, meaning she could only accept students within her allocated enrolment zone.

On the other hand, her understanding of ministry policy is she has to advertise twice a year, inviting out-of-zone enrolments.

Complicating the issue is the school’s high level of transient students – around 26 per cent of students leaving the school during the school year.

Due to overcrowding, the school has now lost use of its enviro kitchen – something it invested $76,000 of its own funds into to transform it into a space which can be used for science, art and cooking.

The room, with a linoleum floor, contains a microwave, two fridges, two stoves, two ovens, two sinks and a dishwasher.

The only resemblance to a traditional classroom are the desks and piles of workbooks which have been crammed into the space.

“I asked a new entrant student’s father which classroom his child was in and he said ‘he’s in the kitchen’,” Walters said.

“It’s embarrassing.”

Walters said the ministry told her the overcrowding issue would rectify itself.

“We were told if we wanted another classroom, we would have to put in an enrolment zone, so we put in an enrolment zone,” she said.

“But then we were told we can’t have another classroom, we need to accept only children within our zone for the next six years and the issue will correct itself.”

The ministry has responded saying it was entirely a school board’s decision whether to accept out-of-zone students. It was not something the ministry would enforce.

“Schools can enrol out-of-zone students only if the board is confident they have space for them,” said Deputy Secretary Sector Enablement and Support, Katrina Casey.

“Masterton Primary’s Board has advertised for out-of-zone students next year indicating they are confident they have space for them.

“It is a school’s board of trustees’ responsibility to manage their roll.”

Walters said the decision is only made once families leave and spaces become available, and thought it was something the ministry required the school to do.

“Because my classes fluctuate wildly, all of a sudden it creates spaces and then eight applicants turn up from overseas and I have to take them, and they’re not filling the same spaces,” she said.

She said if her roll continues to grow, the next thing to go would be the library – something she finds completely unacceptable in a low decile school.

“Some of these kids don’t have access to books.

“Why would you take away the only place where they can get access to them?