A league of their own

The pub­lish­ing of Na­tional Stan­dards league tables in late Septem­ber has opened schools up to com­par­i­son by cur­rent and prospec­tive par­ents, pit­ting one school against its neigh­bours. But the data is skewed with chil­dren set up to fail by the sys­tem, says

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS FEATURE -

Emma* is a bub­bly, en­er­getic 11-year-old pupil at Pare­mata School. She has a wide range of dis­abil­i­ties in­clud­ing se­vere pro­cess­ing prob­lems, and is years be­hind her peers in school work.

Her goals for this term in­clude be­ing able to take a mes­sage to the school of­fice with­out the help of a teacher aide or a buddy. But Emma’s teach­ers are legally re­quired to as­sess her against the Na­tional Stan­dard for her age, which in read­ing in­cludes be­ing able to de­scribe com­pli­cated lit­er­ary plot struc­tures.

Kids like Emma are un­likely ever to achieve Na­tional Stan­dards, says Tr­ish Ten­nant, the school’s full- time spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion needs co-or­di­na­tor.

‘‘We could hon­estly write them for the next five years for some of our kids, and say they’re not go­ing to reach them,’’ she says.

Of a roll of 390, Pare­mata School has nine chil­dren with spe­cial needs recog­nised by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, who fund part­time teacher aides for them. Three have brain trauma and an­other 20 have high needs but are un­di­ag­nosed, or have con­di­tions like dys­lexia and Asperger’s which do not re­ceive fund­ing.

Pare­mata is a mag­net school for spe­cial needs pupils in the area, Mrs Ten­nant says. The school pours funds into its spe­cial needs pro­gramme, buy­ing iPads, smart­boards and touch- screen com­put­ers, cre­at­ing visual re­sources and top­ping up teacher aide hours to full-time for the high­est- needs pupils.

‘‘They don’t stop be­ing spe­cial when the teacher aide goes home,’’ Mrs Ten­nant says. ‘‘ Our chil­dren are very im­por­tant and we’ll bend over back­wards to help them.’’

The school has a ded­i­cated ‘‘learn­ing cen­tre’’ where some spe­cial needs chil­dren work one-onone with teacher aides for much of the day.

When Kapi-Mana News vis­ited, 12-year-old Daniel* was pre­par­ing for a hospi­tal ap­point­ment later this month. His teacher aide had brought in a stetho­scope and a tube of gel and the pair prac­ticed rub­bing it on Daniel’s chest, as would hap­pen be­fore an ul­tra­sound.

This les­son will help en­sure Daniel, who has clas­sic autism, is calm for his ap­point­ment, Mrs Ten­nant says.

‘‘It saves the hospi­tal and his fam­ily a lot of grief.’’

Learn­ing to brush their own teeth or go to the toi­let alone is more valu­able for some than cre­ative writ­ing or maths, Mrs Ten­nant says.

That’s not to say spe­cial needs chil­dren have an easy ride at school.

‘‘They still work as hard as any chil­dren in their adapted read­ing, writ­ing and maths pro­grammes.’’

By law teach­ers have to mea­sure all chil­dren by Na­tional Stan­dards, but the re­sult can be a lot of grief for high needs students, par­ents and teach­ers alike, as the child’s re­sults may only hover be­tween ‘‘well be­low’’ and ‘‘be­low’’ the Na­tional Stan­dard, Mrs Ten­nant says.

‘‘It’s the la­belling that re­ally con­cerns us.’’

If the school could bring spe­cial pupils up to Na­tional Stan­dards it would, she says.

‘‘We aim for re­dun­dancy for our teacher aides but that doesn’t hap­pen.’’

Prin­ci­pal Bryce Cole­man says spe­cial needs chil­dren are be­ing ‘‘set up to fail’’ by a sys­tem that doesn’t cater for them.

‘‘Those are the chil­dren that we’re told to mea­sure against stan­dards that they will never at­tain. That’s ridicu­lous, re­ally.’’

Par­ents com­par­ing schools in league tables will be un­aware the ma­jor­ity of chil­dren un­der­achiev­ing will be ei­ther spe­cial needs or have English as a sec­ond lan­guage, Mr Cole­man says.

Teach­ers were not con­sulted on the in­clu­sion of spe­cial needs pupils in Na­tional Stan­dards, he says.

‘‘I think lit­tle thought was given to these chil­dren.’’

Al­most ev­ery school will have at least one child with spe­cial needs, and Mr Cole­man is sus­pi­cious about how some achieve their stel­lar league ta­ble stand­ings.

‘‘A lot of schools are leav­ing chil­dren out of data,’’ he says.

The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion could help chil­dren achieve more by fund­ing more teacher aide hours and help­ing mod­er­ate needs students get di­ag­nosed, he says.

‘‘ If you’re go­ing to bring Na­tional Stan­dards in, re­source the schools prop­erly to do the job.’’

Mr Cole­man would like spe­cial needs chil­dren ex­cluded from Na­tional Stan­dards or the stan­dards adapted to suit high needs pupils.

* Chil­dren’s names have been changed

Need­ing sup­port: Spe­cial needs students de­mand spe­cial at­ten­tion and re­sources, but the chil­dren and their schools are be­ing let down by the Na­tional Stan­dards regime.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.