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Ministry of Education abandons Northland students

‘Ministry of Education abandons Northland students’

Part 2 of 6 – ‘Northland Education in Crisis’ series, Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association

Embargoed to 7am, Monday 6th October 2008

- Hundreds of students meet criteria for support, but are not receiving it

- Huge gaps in special education provision

The Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association (TTPA) says the Ministry of Education is failing thousands of Northland students, and that its’ decisions have lead to a crisis in the Northland education system. The TTPA, which represents more than 150 schools within Northland, is calling on the Ministry of Education to make immediate changes.

The crisis centres around 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.

“The Ministry of Education publishes reports every year that say they have a range of rehabilitation and resourcing options available for students at each level,” says Pat Newman, TTPA President. “But that is just not true. Hundreds of Northland students meet the Ministry criteria, but do not receive the support they are entitled to. They are lying to parents throughout Northland, and our students are paying the price.”

The Ministry of Education has produced a Special Education Framework, which it says outlines how the special education system works. At the top end of the framework is the Ongoing & Reviewable Resourcing Scheme, more commonly known in the education sector as ORRS.

“ORRS funding is meant to be available for students who have high special education needs,” says Newman. “When a child receives ORRS funding, they are given teacher aide and specialist support. The problem is, the criteria is too strict, and is limited to only 1% of children nationally. That means many Northland children who have high special education needs are still missing out. There are students suffering from illnesses such as cerebral palsy and severe hearing loss, who receive no ORRS assistance because in the Ministry’s view, their illnesses aren’t severe enough to qualify. How can a child who has cerebral palsy, or is deaf, not be eligible for ongoing support in the classroom?”

“Even worse, those students who do get the ORRS funding often do not get all the support they need. For example, they are not guaranteed fulltime teacher aide support, so you have the ridiculous situation where the Ministry decides a child only qualifies for 10 or 20 hours of teacher aide per week. These children don’t magically recover for the other parts of the school week, so why aren’t they supported at all times in school?”

Newman says ORRS funding is unfairly distributed, and that the Ministry of Education often has surplus funds left in its’ annual ORRS budgets. “How can the Ministry possibly justify a surplus for this budget, when there are thousands of kids across the country with severe needs that are not being met? Would they be happy to keep the surplus if it was their child missing out? What about if they were the teacher in the classroom trying to help that child, as well as teaching the other 30 in the class?”

But Newman says the problems do not just lie with the ORRS programme. “The Supplementary Learning Support (SLS) programme is designed to cater for those children who have severe needs, but do not qualify for the ORRS funding. SLS is a wonderful programme that works well for students, when it is done properly. But thanks to the Ministry’s funding policy, dozens of Northland kids are missing out on this help too.”

Newman says the SLS programme is funded on a per capita basis. With a population of approximately 150,000, Northland is allocated 68 SLS places. “We’ve got almost 150 kids in Northland who already meet the criteria for that support, but because of the Ministry policy, only 68 can receive it. That leaves 70-odd kids on the waiting list, with no extra support available for them. Again, how is that fair and equitable?”

Compounding the problem is the fact that SLS-funded students who transfer into Northland from other regions can leapfrog students on the waiting list, regardless of the severity of their needs. “Students who get SLS resources in other regions, may have less severe needs than Northland students,” explains Newman. “They may have qualified for SLS in the other regions because that region has a higher population, and thus more SLS allocations to make. But when that student moves into Northland, they will continue to get the SLS funding, while other students with more severe needs get left on the waiting list. Again, that’s just not fair.”

Newman says the public may think these are isolated cases in the education system, but unfortunately they are not. “You can ask almost any Northland principal, and they will tell you about students in their school who are affected by these policies. Often, the only solution we have is to use allocated funding from another area to provide support for the student, which in turn affects all the other students within the school. These are systemic failures, and the Ministry of Education must be held responsible.”

The Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association is demanding that:

- All special education resources be funded according to need, not population

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

- The application process for special education resources is completely restructured

The TTPA says the only answer is to adequately fund special education programmes according to need, not population. “The Ministry is lying to parents and students,” says Newman. “It says it provides resourcing for students, when in fact it does not. Too many children meet the criteria for support, but are not receiving it. This must change – if a student meets the criteria, then we must be able to give them the true support they need.”


[965 words]

Please below for examples which show how children are affected by these policies. All case studies have been supplied by Northland principals, and have been edited to protect the privacy of the students involved.

- A pupil with Downs Syndrome is not able to toilet herself and requires assistance from a teacher aide at all times. She only receives funding for a teacher aide for 20 hours per week, and thus has no help for the rest of the week as the school is unable fund the rest.

- Three children in one school meet the criteria for Supplementary Learning Support, but do not benefit from the programme because there are no spaces available. The school is resourcing teacher aides to support these children, which means less funding is available for other projects in the school such as extension, assistance for other children, buying library books etc. This scenario is common in many Northland schools.

- Two children moved into a Northland school from outside the region and were given SLS places because they received it in another region. These students received support ahead of Northland students on the waiting list, most of whom had more severe needs.

- A student transferred to a new school with information that hours for a teacher aide were available. However in requesting the hours, the school learned that they had been spent at a previous school to top up adequate support for the child. To get the funding at the new school, the principal had to spend countless hours arguing the case.

- A child who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome does not qualify for resourcing, as according to the Ministry, he does not meet the criteria. This child is academically challenged, has self-harm issues, finds it difficult to remain in the classroom and swears and yells at teacher aides and fellow pupils. The school is forced to use its’ Operational Grant to fund a teacher aide for nine hours per week, as that is all it can afford. For the rest of the week the child has no support.

- A student has been diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and also has autistic influences, which compound severe learning delays. The student lasted only a few tenuous weeks in a regular class before the school had to apply to the Ministry’s Interim Response Fund for Challenging Behaviour. They responded with only enough funding to employ a Teacher Aide for 5 weeks fulltime. Now this student only receives funding for one hour per day teacher aide support.

- A student suffered a major stroke as a baby, and is partly paralysed. This child has learning delays and has missed many days of school due to corrective surgery over many years. This childs’ case was closed by the Ministry of Education without parental consultation at the previous school. This child has to walk two kilometres to school, up a steep incline. This takes over an hour and the child is exhausted upon arrival at school. The school was told the student did not meet the criteria for a taxi, to get to school in the morning. The principal comments, “The Ministry needs to review ALL their criteria!!! How on earth does a disabled survivor of a major stroke not meet criteria?”

- A child received SLS resourcing for two years. His reading age improved to within two years of his chronological age, and because of the pressure of the large waiting list, he was withdrawn from the programme. He reading age is still lower than his chronological age, and is falling further behind now that the support has been withdrawn.

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