New school zones: Current students’ siblings could still enrol at out-of-zone schools

Families who fear their children will be forced to go to different schools under new zoning changes may still be able to keep siblings together.

The Ministry of Education says there is a special “transitional” arrangement to enrol younger siblings at the school an older child attends, even if the family’s home falls outside the new or redrawn zone.

But it’s not a sure thing – it only applies if there is space on the school’s roll.

The ministry is in the middle of a three-year push to create or amend zones at 135 Auckland state schools. Only students who live inside a school’s geographic zone are guaranteed a spot, with extra spaces for kids outside the zone to be filled by ballot.

Parents have voiced concerns they’ll end up with children at different primary schools when changes come into effect.

By the end of 2023 most state schools in the city will have a zone, also known as an enrolment scheme, meaning the majority of kids will have to go to their nearest school. The changes are meant to ensure students can attend their local school and avoid overcrowding as Auckland’s population soars.

Redrawing or introducing zones will be disruptive for some families who find they are out of zone for the school their older child attends, meaning a younger sibling will not have the automatic right to enrol.

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They fear being forced to send younger siblings to different schools, increasing travel time, costs such as afterschool care, and a diminished sense of community unless they get lucky on the ballot system.

But the Ministry of Education says its aim is not to split families, and provision has been made for them in new legislation brought in last year.

“We have always tried to include siblings of existing students as part of the transitional arrangements when putting in or amending an enrolment scheme. That will not change,” Ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey said.

“The Education and Training Act 2020 allows for transitional provisions to be included in an enrolment scheme, to allow for siblings of current students to enrol at a school, even when their residence is no longer in the new (or amended) home zone.”

Section 75 of the Act “reflects our aim to keep siblings together at the same school rather than having parents/caregivers with children at separate schools”.

That’s not a guarantee, though.

“If it is agreed that out of zone siblings can be enrolled by right, it will take longer for the impact of the enrolment scheme to take effect,” Casey said.

The ministry would consider the transitional arrangement only where enrolling extra siblings would not lead to overcrowding, and if there was still space for in-zone students, she said.

New or amended zones were implemented in Term 1 for 47 schools, and another six schools in Manurewa will get an enrolment scheme from the start of Term 2.

Another 49 schools are to get new or amended zones next year; the full list has not been announced but consultation on their zones will start by June. A third group of schoolshas not been finalised, the Ministry says, but is expected to be consulted on in 2022 and implemented at the start of 2023.

Pt Chevalier School principal Stephen Lethbridge, who is president of the Auckland Primary Principals’ Association, said transitional arrangements would not have been common in the past as most school zones had been in place for a while.

“As we’re going into all schools having zones, that may be more of a common thing that happens. That transitional arrangement is a really good thing for the ministry to have.”

Without that option, families were likely to move older siblings to younger sibling’s in-zone schools, which would leave gaps in the first school’s roll.

While the association’s position is that every child should be attending their local school, Lethbridge said it was also important to keep families together.

Pt Chevalier School’s approach would normally be to get the younger child into the school through the ballot system, where siblings of current students have priority, but if there was no space on the roll he would approach the Ministry of Education to use a transitional arrangement.

Changes to ballot system being considered

Currently zoned schools with spaces left over must fill the remaining spaces by ballot. Students accepted into a special programme (such as Māori language immersion or special education) get first priority on the ballot, followed by siblings of current students, then siblings of former students, children of former students, children of board employees (such as teachers) or board members, and finally all other students.

Last week the Ministry of Education began asking for public feedback on whether to change that priority system.

Several options are proposed, all of which would see siblings of current students maintaining their priority status on the ballot system.

However, siblings and children of former students could drop down the priority list, while children of teachers and other staff could be given higher priority under the proposed changes.

Any changes would not apply until 2022 at the earliest. Submissions on the proposed changes can be made here.

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