When Canterbury was struck by a severe earthquake at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011, staff in the education sector in the region rose to the challenges presented with great professionalism, courage and calmness.

Not one child, student or teacher who was in a school or early childhood service at the time lost their life or received serious injuries.

The stories in this ERO report illustrate what staff did at the time and what they changed later as a result of their experiences during and after the quake. The stories provide examples of the resilience and caring qualities of staff who put the safety and wellbeing of the children and students ahead of their own personal circumstances. In essence, the stories reflect ERO’s whakataukī: Ko te Tamaiti to Pūtake o te Kaupapa - The Child, the Heart of the Matter.

When relating their experiences, the leaders, managers and teachers emphasised how people came first. People were more important than procedures. Leaders in schools and early childhood services became role models for others. If the leaders stayed calm, then children, staff and parents were more likely to remain safe and calm. Pastoral care and wellbeing were the most important focus at the time of the immediate crisis and in the aftermath.

Schools’ and services’ emergency procedures needed to be flexible enough to be useful in a range of different, and sometimes unanticipated, situations. Managers and leaders subsequently suggested that everyone review their emergency procedures by considering how these might work in practise in various scenarios. They recognised that they often had to make quick decisions and change their plans along the way.

The need for detailed communication planning was identified by many staff in schools and early childhood services. They highlighted the need to make sure communications systems will operate even when people do not have access to an office, school/service computer or power. Parents need to know how they can keep in touch during and after an emergency. Everyone should have an emergency plan for picking up their children, staff and parents. Many schools and services made considerable improvement to their communication plans after the February 2011 earthquake.

Teachers found that getting children and young people back into learning helped to normalise the situation for children and their families. The school’s and service’s curriculum needed to be adapted to respond to the emotional and learning needs of their children and young people. Some schools and services had to quickly find ways to make learning more ‘portable’, for example, with off-site learning hubs, learning at home, and connectivity between the teacher and the student to maintain continuity in learning.

The school was seen as a vital hub in the local community for not only the families attending the school, but also the wider community. Giving to others and connecting with the community was a very positive outcome of the crisis created by the Canterbury earthquakes.

The stories in this ERO report affirm the extraordinary work of all those people working in schools and services in Canterbury and beyond who were affected by the earthquakes.