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OECD Education Panel visit highlights NZ schools failings

OECD Education Panel visit highlights NZ schools failings, not best-practices - say parent-led advocacy group

“Why are OECD countries looking to New Zealand’s education system for inclusion best-practices when until very recently, we were still using archaic, outdated practices like seclusion rooms in our schools?”

That is the question being posed by Glenis Bearsley, co-founder of parent-led advocacy group VIPs inc NZ in response to the announcement that international education experts from the OECD are currently in New Zealand visiting schools in Auckland and Christchurch.

The delegates are here for five days to share information on inclusive learning environments. VIPs believes the efficacy of Modern Learning Environments (MLE) for students with learning support needs is yet to proven. Some feedback from parents suggests the large, open plan spaces can be unsuitable for students requiring a quiet, calm environment in which to feel safe and learn. Parents have reported their children with additional needs can be overlooked in such a busy environment and have more challenges with the flexible structure and timetables. VIPs cite media reports from Australia showing problems with MLE's. For example in Victoria, hundreds of partitions have been purchased by schools to try to minimise visual and noise distractions inherent in their MLE.

As well as considering optimal learning environments for ALL students, VIPs inc NZ strongly urges the Minister of Education to urgently address massive funding and support deficits which have led to non-inclusive practices such as seclusion rooms, local schools discouraging students to enrol, limited access to learning for students with complex needs and increasing numbers of families resorting to correspondence or homeschooling.

“We need better funding, training and resources for our educators and students in NZ. Before we can advise others in best practice we need to create an inclusive education system that ALL students can participate in FULLY and that we can ALL be proud of."

“We want to see our educators better supported and resourced to deal with mild to complex needs and behavioural issues in a positive way. We oppose the use of seclusion rooms as a form of punishment, and are disappointed that it has taken nearly two years for the Minister to finally take action and ban them.”

Andrea Matheson, whose 7 year old son is fortunate to have secured ORS funding, has seen first-hand the successes that investment in his education can mean. The access to funding, paired with motivated teacher aides and an experienced, passionate SENCO has made all the difference. She says, “It is past overdue for the government and Ministry to recognise the importance of adequate funding and the life-changing differences it makes for a child at school. It upsets me to know that there are deserving children in New Zealand who are not receiving the same levels of support as my son, or being turned away from schools who do not have the knowledge or experience to support these children.”

The list of schools included on the delegates’ tour includes a satellite class of Kelston Deaf Education Centre, but no other specialist schools. VIPs question which specialists in inclusive education in NZ are participating in this OECD visit and why more specialist schools are not being visited.

Glenis Bearsley, both a teacher and a parent of a child with complex needs, says the reality of student experience is vastly different from what is being reported by the Ministry of Education.

“Our Minister is widely quoted as saying that we have a world class education system for students with additional needs but despite her claims, which are based on self-reported inclusive practices from schools, the real experiences in the sector are never widely surveyed and many, many students and families are suffering in the current defunct system. Seclusion rooms are just the tip of the iceberg and clearly show we are not a nation to be following for best practice in the area of inclusion.”

Current attention around seclusion rooms has highlighted the vital work that needs to be done in the area of disability-specific training at a tertiary level for trainee teachers, as well as additional funding

for support staff and ongoing professional development for schools. In some schools, inclusion will only be achieved with a shift in attitude, led from the top-down by principals and boards. Lack of funding and support are barriers that add significantly to students not being included.

VIPs inc Facebook Group NZ believe the following changes would greatly improve inclusivity in our schools:

- Adequate support for students that equates to their real needs.

- Disability-specific training for undergraduate courses as well as funded on-going teacher professional development.

- The provision of safe sensory rooms or spaces where children with neurological or developmental difficulties can take breaks from the pressures of a busy classroom to self-regulate.

- Robust monitoring and intervention by the Ministry of Education around inclusive practice in schools including wider surveys of actual student and family experience (rather than the current system which relies on the ‘self-monitoring’ of schools and offers little objectivity or recognition for areas of growth).

- Recognition and celebration of inclusive schools in a ‘best-practice’ register. Monitoring of non-inclusive schools, censured if necessary and provided with the tools and resources to improve their practices in a timely manner.

- ERO to investigate health and safety issues and non-inclusive practices, such as those arising from parental complaints, in a timely manner.

- The Ministry of Education to provide better and more consistent support for students with challenging behavioural needs.

- Waitlists for behavioural services to be reduced to better support schools and families.

- Speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and educational psychologists to be connected with schools in a far timelier and more frequent manner to provide purposeful assistance.

- A comprehensive survey of what students and families believe inclusive practice looks like. A far more collaborative approach between the Ministry of Education and families in decisions that impact directly on the lives of students.

- An independent entity where students and families can take any issues to be mediated that may arise.

- A comprehensive survey of other countries who have best-practice education systems for students with additional needs.


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