North & South - - Letters -

THANK YOU for pub­lish­ing the ar­ti­cle Sav­ing Sal­is­bury School (Oc­to­ber). As the mother of a teenage boy with autism, I have watched Hekia Parata’s ac­tions to­wards spe­cial needs ed­u­ca­tion with the hor­ri­fied fas­ci­na­tion of an ap­proach­ing train wreck. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s de­sire to close Sal­is­bury

School is part of the drive to­wards “in­clu­sion” of stu­dents with spe­cial needs into their lo­cal school.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2013 Dis­abil­ity Sur­vey, six per cent of chil­dren in New Zealand have a learn­ing dis­abil­ity. A small num­ber of stu­dents cat­e­gorised as hav­ing “high and com­plex” needs re­quire con­stant su­per­vi­sion 24 hours a day. They may have men­tal health di­ag­noses and in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties and their be­hav­iour is of­ten un­pre­dictably ag­gres­sive, and yet their fund­ing is short-term and capped. There are about 9000 stu­dents re­ceiv­ing some fund­ing from ORS (on­go­ing re­sourc­ing scheme). ORS stu­dents have a se­ri­ous phys­i­cal or in­tel­lec­tual im­pair­ment, and yet the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter re­cently made the bizarre state­ment that to con­tinue be­ing funded, schools would need to show ORS stu­dents had made aca­demic progress as mea­sured through Na­tional Stan­dards and NCEA re­sults. Around 2300 stu­dents iden­ti­fied as “high learn­ing needs” qual­ify for five hours of in-class sup­port (ICS) per week. De­spite their iden­ti­fied needs, they are sup­posed to func­tion un­aided for the ma­jor­ity of their school day. Many stu­dents who have been iden­ti­fied as high needs re­ceive no ex­tra sup­port.

My son is un­funded, de­spite a clin­i­cal di­ag­no­sis of mod­er­ate autism. He is highly stressed in the school en­vi­ron­ment. He has sen­sory, so­cial and aca­demic is­sues. He can’t hold a con­ver­sa­tion, has no friends, can’t re­tain in­for­ma­tion given orally and dis­likes noise, crowds and bright light. How­ever, be­cause he’s not vi­o­lent or dis­rup­tive he re­ceives no gov­ern­ment fund­ing at school. In or­der for him to sur­vive at school, we send him part­time and pay for two teacher aides to work with him. Stu­dents with spe­cial needs are not funded ac­cord­ing to need, they are funded ac­cord­ing to bud­get.

Why should the gen­eral pub­lic care? Be­cause all these stu­dents with their di­verse range of spe­cial needs are about to be “in­cluded” in main­stream class­rooms. Stu­dents with spe­cial needs, by their very def­i­ni­tion can­not func­tion in a main­stream class­room with­out sup­port. Is it fair to ex­pect teach­ers to run a dual pro­gramme, as they at­tempt to cater to the needs of the one or more stu­dents with spe­cial needs in their class­room: stu­dents who are not func­tion­ing on the same aca­demic, so­cial or be­havioural level as their peers? Is it fair to ex­pect neu­rotyp­i­cal stu­dents to cope with the daily dis­rup­tion of noisy, un­pre­dictable and of­ten un­con­trol­lable spe­cial needs peers? Is it fair to ex­pect the par­ents of spe­cial needs stu­dents to try to ma­noeu­vre their child through an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that doesn’t meet their child’s needs?

Forced in­clu­sion, which dis­re­gards the needs of the stu­dent, is bul­ly­ing, and con­tra­venes the rights of the child. Ac­cord­ing to the UN Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child, “the ed­u­ca­tion of the child shall be di­rected to: the devel­op­ment of the

child’s per­son­al­ity, tal­ents and men­tal and phys­i­cal abil­i­ties to their fullest po­ten­tial”. This does not nec­es­sar­ily mean “in­clu­sion” in the main­stream of the lo­cal school. Some­times it means a spe­cial­ist en­vi­ron­ment that of­fers a pro­gramme tai­lored to the spe­cific needs of the stu­dent. Schools such as Sal­is­bury are a vi­tal part of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. NAME AND AD­DRESS SUP­PLIED

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