Signs of woe among deaf educators
Substantial issues’ found at centre, writes Adele Redmond.
SERIOUS inadequacies of a deaf education board serving thousands of children are being addressed by senior Ministry of Education officials.
The ministry confirmed four complaints had been laid about student safety, staffing and low achievement at Auckland’s Kelston Deaf Education Centre.
According to an internal report ‘‘substantial issues across multiple aspects of management and operations’’ at Kelston – including its governance, leadership and finances – were identified after a Crown manager was appointed to its board of trustees, which also governs New Zealand’s other deaf school, van Asch Deaf Education Centre in Christchurch.
The boards of Kelston and van Asch were merged in 2012 to create a nationally-consistent service network for deaf education.
Despite holding $4.75 million in capital reserves in 2016, the board had ‘‘considerable’’ financial deficits – about $1.1m – caused in part by fixed staffing and funding allocations, the report said.
Those deficits were expected to deepen when funding for three programmes that help more than 1400 students and their families learn sign language expires in June, but the Budget has extended a $30m lifeline.
The Combined Board for Deaf Education Centres’ chair, Rachel Douglas, said the ‘‘pace and volume of change in deaf education over the last few years has been considerable’’.
Since the boards were merged, a programme providing tuition to about 100 sign-language capable students had been introduced, and 2000 more deaf and hard of hearing children were receiving specialist help at school, Douglas said.
The board was ‘‘happy to have the services’’ of Government managers. Its unaudited financial results showed a small surplus for 2018, she said.
There are about 3600 children in the deaf education system. Seventy per cent are identified as having permanent hearing loss at birth. About 96 per cent of deaf and hearing-impaired children attend their local school with support from Deaf Education Centre teachers, sign language interpreters and teacher aides.
Natalia Kay, 7, and brother Jayden Kay, 5, are assisted by a sign language interpreter at Christchurch’s Banks Avenue School when their cochlear implants don’t suffice.
Their teachers, some of whom are taking sign language night classes, wear a small microphone called a Roger around their necks, and interpreters encourage the other children to learn and use sign, the family’s primary language.
Mother Elizabeth Kay said their support was ‘‘vital’’.
‘‘We would love a bilingual education for our kids, where they were with other children being educated formally in sign language . . . but it’s just not possible,’’ Kay said.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary Katrina Casey said growing demand and the complex nature of deaf education meant progress on a national service network was taking
‘ We would love a bilingual education for our kids, where they were with other children being educated formally in sign language.’ ELIZABETH KAY