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Nelson is fortunate to have five top secondary Colleges with Waimea, Garin, Nayland, Nelson College for Girls and Nelson College. I have seen this excellence in my work as an MP, former Education Minister and parent of four teenagers. Three current issues concern me.

The Government is pushing for restrictive college zoning to be introduced to Nelson next year. This means parents and students lose the choice of which college to attend. Our colleges have different strengths. The diversity of single sex, co-ed, religious, town and country colleges is good for Nelson. Our children are not all the same and thrive in different environments.

Parents and students having a choice of school also keeps the pressure on our colleges to strive to do better. Each of our colleges have been through difficult patches that have required reform. The loss of students and roll decline have been key drivers for change. The danger of restricting parental choice is that our colleges become tired and unresponsive to the changing needs of our young people.

The impact of Nayland College being forced by Government to have an enrolment zone will most impact on Nelson city families who will lose the option of a co-ed education. I successfully joined with Nelson College a decade ago in opposing the Ministry imposing an enrolment zone banning boys from the wider Nelson region. My preferred policy for all five of our Nelson colleges is that families get to decide which school best suits their student, not Government.

A second issue is unfair funding. Labour promised in 2017 to abolish school donations at all schools, replacing it with funding of $150 per student, but in Government, only did it for some schools. Two of our five secondary schools missed out, costing Waimea College $250,000 a year and Garin College $77,000. The Government has created an anomaly where some colleges have to collect significant family donations and some not. This needs fixing.

The third big issue for our colleges is the huge loss of international students from the Covid-19 emergency. Some of our colleges are facing losses of $500,000. The Government has denied access to the wage subsidy for affected staff. I have written to the Minister of Education appealing for assistance for our five colleges but to no avail. The priorities are wrong when the Government has given tens of millions to racing and professional sport. The Colleges are having to make staff redundant. These huge losses will impact on the quality of education at all our colleges.

Nelson’s high standard of secondary schools is something we must protect. The strong reputation helps attract skilled professionals to our region knowing their children will have access to a top education. We should maintain choice between colleges. Government funding should not force some colleges to charge significant donations and others not. Our colleges also urgently need assistance to deal with the fallout from the loss of international students.

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