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Students Risk Being Educationally Homeless As A Result Of Ministry Of Education Short-Sightedness

Young students of all abilities including students who face academic challenges (those with autism, ADHD, hearing impairment, anxiety, dyslexia, and other learning challenges) stand to lose access to critical education services and dedicated learning support as a result of a Government decision to deny the establishment of a designated character school.

Hon Chris Hipkins, Minister for Education, has declined an application from Villa Education Trust to establish a new designated character school in central Auckland.

“Minister Hipkins has turned his back on vulnerable children and those with the greatest needs who have been failed by the mainstream education system,” said Mrs Jo Martin, mother of a student at Mt Hobson Middle School and spokesperson for a passionate group of parents dedicated to ensuring a positive future for their children.

“We are talking about students who have been failed by the mainstream education system and simply don’t fit in traditional schools. They need, and deserve, an educational environment that they can call home – that is safe, inclusive and provides them with opportunities to flourish and achieve their fullest potential. As parents, we are talking out now and willing to share our experiences in the best interests of our children and all those who will come after them,” added Mrs Martin.

In the Learning Support Action Plan 2019-2025, Minister Hipkins acknowledged “one in five children and young people need some kind of extra support for their learning. This might be because of disability, learning difficulties, disadvantage, physical or mental health or behaviour issues” and “New Zealanders want an education system where all children and young people can take part in education and can learn and achieve, whatever their needs.”

In the Plan, Minister Hipkins goes on to say “This Government has a vision for an inclusive education system where every child feels a sense of belonging, is present, makes progress, where their wellbeing is safeguarded and promoted, where learning is a lifelong journey, and where children and young people with learning support needs get the right support at the right time.”

Mt Hobson Middle School is currently facing closure. In order to continue to support the families of Mt Hobson Middle School and meet an increased demand for their educational offering, Villa Education Trust started an application process in July 2019 to establish a designated character school. The school would operate from 2021, replace Mt Hobson Middle School, and over time expand the roll to cater for up to 240 students.

Mrs Martin said, “Mt Hobson Middle School has been the saving grace for our children. The diversity of the school, the personalised learning programmes, and the care and love shown to our children have helped them find their place in the world.

“The Minister’s decision flies in the face of the Government’s objective to build the world’s best education system. He is not providing a solution. The imminent closure of the school has created significant anxiety for students. Our children will be left educationally homeless.

“The creation of a new designated character school in central Auckland is critical for safeguarding our children’s futures,” added Mrs Martin.

STUDENT AND FAMILY STORIES

Parent A

Our daughter is now in her second year at MHMS. We enrolled her there in year 7 after she struggled at both our local primary school and an elite private school. At neither of these schools did she thrive due to undiagnosed dyslexia and ADHD. She lost her confidence and her self-esteem was low. She felt judged constantly by teachers and peers and this caused anxiety to develop.

She went for a trial day at MHMS and instantly knew that was where she wanted to be. She felt accepted for who she was and was supported unequivocally. With the specialist input from the school, she was soon diagnosed with ADHD and with the appropriate supports is now starting to flourish academically. She no longer feels dumb and can go to school each day without feeling judged. She is still on a journey and MHMS is without a doubt where she knows she needs to be to continue to move forward and grow.

Parent B

In our local school our two daughters were falling through the cracks. They didn’t feel noticed or cared for. The teachers didn’t encourage them to reach their potential. We were worried about their futures, but from the first day that we stepped into this great school, we knew that it was the right one. Even though it’s a huge sacrifice for our family financially and we drive one hour each way, it is all worth it to see the improvements in their learning and well-being.

Our two daughters have attended MHMS for the past four years. They love MHMS because it is small and there are no holes through which anyone can fail. They receive a lot of quality time from the teachers which makes them feel valued. They feel like they belong and the whole school is a big family. Each girl can be herself and not worry about what others think, because everyone is accepted. At MHMS they have high standards and they’re making sure that they both reach them.

If MHMS were to close, we feel like their bright futures would be ripped away. They would be losing their family and with it their motivation for learning. Please save MHMS and make this amazing education available to all kids who could benefit. Mt. Hobson Middle School is a home of so many dreams!

Parent C

Our son is a bright and funny 11-year-old. He loves learning and being at school with his friends. Unfortunately, “school” has always been his nemesis. He attended his local school for 4 years. In year 2 he was locked in a spare classroom during a meltdown and he broke the glass door to get out. In year 3 he spent almost the entire year in a teacher supply cupboard outside of his classroom doing origami. In year 4 I had to quit my job and attend school with him all morning and he had to leave before lunch.

Home-schooling was strongly encouraged and, despite his autism, ADHD and dyslexia diagnosis, he received no special education funding. Even when he was put into the “extreme behaviour” category by his school, he didn’t receive any specialist support, just a psychologist who consulted to the teacher about once a month. No Individual Education Plan was created and the environment was not changed to support his learning needs. HE was the problem.

For year 5, we had enough and relocated to Auckland hoping for more resources. We enrolled him in a private school for dyslexia which ironically was also ill-equipped for his complex needs, despite the behavioural therapist we hired to support him. Then we home schooled for a year before finding Mt Hobson Middle School.

MHMS recognises that not all children learn in the same way. They recognise that some children need small classes and low teacher to student ratios. They recognise that some children learn through multiple sensory modalities and that some children learn social and emotional skills like other children learn to read – through explicit teaching and through genuine caring relationships. Without this school, he would not have any opportunity to learn with his peers. We are terrified that MHMS will cease to exist. New Zealand education will have failed our son completely.

Parent D

We enrolled our son at Mt Hobson Middle School in 2019, so he has been there for a year and a half. We enrolled him there because his local intermediate was a modern learning environment. Our son has an auditory processing disorder as well as ADHD and autism, and cannot cope with noise, as well as being surrounded by large numbers of children.

Our son had a great deal of difficulty accessing the curriculum at our mainstream school. The level of learning was pitched too high for him, and he experienced constant failure. He would act out in class in order to be sent out to avoid feeling stupid and not being able to do the work. He spent most of his day wandering from class to class, being sent on to other teachers as a form of discipline or simply being sent out of class and not returning. In this way he was not able to participate in whatever learning was available to him by largely being absent.

Our son could not manage his social relationships and was made fun of and bullied, which he managed by getting into physical fights with other children. He felt that if he made himself tough, other kids would leave him alone. This made him extremely anxious and he felt unsafe and unsupported at the school.

His own assessment of the school was that it was not the teacher’s fault, but that 30 kids was too many to ask one teacher to manage and with at least 5 others in his class with some kind of issue it was an impossible situation for anyone.

At MHMS his anxiety levels have gone down. He has a group of friends and feels he belongs. His levels of aggression have significantly decreased. The small class size means that the teaching can be pitched closer to his level and the expectation is that he engages with us much learning as he is able.

The only drawback has been the inequitable access to vital funding to support my son with his learning because he attends a private school. MHMS Principal Amanda Smith applied for Intensive Wrap Around Services for him last year and we had two pediatric and psychologist endorsements for him to get it. However, it was turned down as private schools are not funded for special needs unless it is ORS funding.

Parent E

Our son has attended Mt. Hobson Middle School for the past year and a half.

He originally joined our family in mid-2013, shortly before his sixth birthday. We were his fifth family. In 2018 he was diagnosed with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), and a mild intellectual disability. We became his legal guardians in late 2018.

He has a long history of behavioural and learning difficulties. His prenatal exposure to alcohol as well as the experience of adversity due to multiple placements in his early life, have impacted on his emotional well-being and development. We have done our best to ameliorate the effects of all of this, by providing stable care since he joined our family.

We chose MHMS because we felt it was the best option for him by far. He lacks the executive functioning skills to be able to cope with large noisy open plan learning environments and would not be able to function well in a school where there is an expectation of “self-directed” learning. He needs a very small class size with high teacher ratio. He needs teachers who “get” his struggles and have both the expertise and time / resources to get the best out of him. MHMS has provided him with the necessary environment to learn to the best of his ability.

If he has to attend a different school next year, it would be Auckland Grammar. They require all students to take part in the full curriculum which he is not capable of doing. It is like expecting a child in a wheelchair to play in the rugby team. Whilst Auckland Grammar is an excellent school, it is not the right “fit” for him.

Before deciding what school he would attend we approached three other private schools, and were turned down by all three. MHMS was the only school that could truly meet his complex needs.

Daily life provides him with enough struggles already. We do not want him to fail and become a statistic in the youth justice system. The longer he can be kept engaged in a positive supportive learning environment, the more chance we have of him functioning into adult life. MHMS is the best chance of providing him with the opportunities to thrive and succeed.

He has been repeatedly let down by Government agencies. His previous caregivers were left unsupported and the placements broke down. His primary school refused to hold him back a year, despite him having no formal education prior to joining our family. He entered year 2 knowing less than half of the alphabet and having no concept of number. He was perfectly positioned to fail at school. We have had to fight the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Development, and Oranga Tamariki every step of the way to get some of the support needed.

He has a right to be educated. Using the excuse of “it costs too much” is ridiculous. It costs a lot more when a society doesn’t care for its most vulnerable members.

Parent F

Our son is 15 years old and had chicken pox encephalitis when he was 8 months old. This severely affected his development and left him with moderate to severe hearing loss and physical disabilities.

He has required significant assistance throughout his schooling, and we have worked tirelessly to ensure that he has continued to develop and progress. This has included intensive speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy - all of which we have paid for privately.

He attended a Catholic school for his primary years. They did try to accommodate him and although he had a teacher aide and lots of extra assistance paid for by us, he found it a stressful environment. He felt an outcast and at times felt ostracised. We were required to continually advocate for him to prevent him from being lost in the system. He was never happy, and each new term would see him returning to school in tears. As a parent I used to leave him at school and drive away with a very heavy heart. No one should have to feel that way.

We looked at many schools when it was time to move to year 7 and decided on Mt Hobson Middle School. We were very encouraged by their positive attitude and their hands-on approach. In fact, we were quite taken aback that the school was happy to accept him as other private schools wouldn’t.

His first day at MHMS we left him in tears and picked him up with a huge smile on his face and this has never changed. He has blossomed at the school. They have allowed him to work towards his full potential. He feels that he belongs and most importantly he has made friends. There is an ethos of kindness and caring that is practised by staff and students alike. This year he was made deputy student leader - a far cry from the anxious timid boy that first started there.

They take an interest in each and every child and find and encourage their strengths. This is impossible to do in a regular school where the classes are large, and the teachers are often stretched. They are simply not able to provide that personal input to children like our son who have special needs.

New Zealand needs schools like these to accommodate children who don't fit into the usual mould and there are many of those children out there. We simply cannot adopt a one size fits all approach. Our son is due to start year 11 next year and are hoping that he can continue at the Villa Academy. We don't want to see him regress after making such progress and a mainstream environment would have a negative impact on him.

We are zoned for Auckland Grammar. He just wouldn't cope moving to such a massive school. Selwyn College specialist unit is full for next year so we would be left high and dry if MHMS is forced to close. Each child is entitled to a safe and meaningful education. It is their right and the Ministry's responsibility to provide this. It would be an absolute travesty if the school were to close.

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