SPECIAL EDUCATION CRISIS
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