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Northland Education In Crisis

Northland Education In Crisis

- Population-based funding model not working for students from low socio-economic backgrounds

- Thousands of Northland primary students not receiving the support the Government says they are entitled to

The Northland education system is in crisis and student needs are not being met, says the Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association (TTPA). The group, which represents more than 150 schools within Northland, is calling for immediate intervention from the Government before the situation escalates beyond repair.

“I know it sounds melodramatic, but we are literally in a crisis situation here,” says Pat Newman, TTPA President. “The Government and the Ministry of Education are failing in their duty to support every child in our school system. Despite the best efforts of Northland principals, teachers and parents, many of our children are just not getting the help they deserve.”

At the heart of the crisis is special education provision, which is designed to support students with a range of special needs. These needs are categorised into four areas (Behaviour, Learning, Communication and Disability). Each category can vary from Low to High in level, with definitions provided for each. According to the Ministry of Education, a range of rehabilitation and resourcing options are available for students at each level. But Newman disputes that claim fiercely.

“The Ministry says that they offer a range of support options, to ensure children and young people access the curriculum and take part in education. In Northland, that’s just not happening. We have a large number of students with special needs who are not getting the help they are entitled to. That disrupts learning for the child in question, it disrupts learning for those in class with that child, and it puts both students and teachers at risk. And those are just the immediate effects. If we can’t help that child at five years old, what happens to him or her by the time they turn fifteen?”

The TTPA believes the wider public is not aware of the severity of the problem, because they don’t realise what sort of behaviours require special education. “I think many people assume special education is only available to severely disadvantaged students, but that is not correct. There are varying levels of support available to students of varying needs. For example, a Year 1 student who is having trouble forming words has a Low-level Learning issue, and thus is entitled to resourcing and support. At the higher end, there are children who suffer from problems such as severe Attention Deficit & Hyperactive Disorder, and thus are categorised as needing High-level Behaviour support.”

“This crisis is affecting students in all four categories of special education, and at all levels within those categories. Things have got to change, because we are failing thousands of kids in Northland alone.”

Newman says a major cause of the failings is the way in which the Ministry of Education allocates funding for many special education support services. “Too many of the support options are funded on a per capita basis. Take the Supplementary Learning Support programme, or SLS, as an example. SLS provides support for children with significant and ongoing special needs. The programme works really well, but there just aren’t enough places available under this scheme, because it is allocated according to population, not according to need.”

“With a population of just under 150,000, Northland is entitled to have just 68 students on Supplementary Learning Support. The problem is, we have huge numbers of students - many from low socio-economic backgrounds - who all need that support. We’ve already got another 69 students who meet the criteria for that support, but can’t get it and are sitting on a waiting list. So what happens to them? Programmes like SLS must be funded according to need – if a child meets the criteria, then they should get the support. It’s as simple as that.”

Newman says that principals and teachers see firsthand the effects of special education resourcing shortages. “Every principal, every teacher can tell you about students they have taught who are detrimentally affected by the lack of funding. Some of the examples might seem minor, but in a class full of students, even minor problems can disrupt learning for everyone.”

Newman says behaviour indicators are a perfect example of the problems faced in Northland schools. “In Northland, it has got to the point where our schools have redefined what constitutes low, medium and high level behaviour needs. Up here, we see a much greater span of behaviour in our schools, and we have extreme behaviour that many other regions don’t have.”

“What we call ‘low-level behaviour needs’, is seen as ‘high-level behaviour needs’ in the rest of the country. A student who throws a chair in class, for example, would be classed as having ‘high-level behaviour needs’ in most regions in New Zealand, and would receive immediate support. If a student in Northland occasionally throws a chair in class, that child is classed as having ‘low-level behaviour needs’, because in the spectrum of behaviour that we see, it is not the worst. In any other region, that student would get more help than they do here in Northland. How is that fair?”

The Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association is calling for:

- All special education resources to be funded according to need

- Funding for a teacher aide in every low-decile classroom in Northland

- Restructuring of the application process for special education resources

“This is not a money grab,” says Newman. “We are simply asking for the resources that our children are entitled to. If we don’t help these students now, then we risk the future of our students and the region itself.”

- ENDS -

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