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Heather Roy address to Parents of Vision Impaired

Heather Roy address to Parents of Vision Impaired NZ

Hon Heather Roy, Associate Minister of Education
Saturday, November 28 2009

Hon Heather Roy address to the Parents of Vision Impaired (NZ) Inc Conference; West Plaza Hotel, Wakefield St, Wellington; Saturday, November 28 2009.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for your warm welcome.  It is a pleasure to be here today.

As members of Parents of Vision Impaired New Zealand Incorporated you know, far better than I do, that raising a child with special needs is both challenging and rewarding.

I see that your organisation's vision statement is "as parents we strive to achieve the best opportunities for our Blind Vision Impaired children."  I have no doubt that the support received from PVI helps you turn this into a reality.

I certainly saw evidence of your vision while reading your most recent newsletter and it was very encouraging to see stories being shared of the successes and difficulties you as parents experience in a range of settings. I am sure this type of information, and the support it provides is invaluable to you all.
This weekend's conference, Hand over Heart, is yet another example of your organisation's pro-active approach and commitment to achieving your goal. From the programme I see that you will be discussing a range of topics from the early years

The Government is taking steady steps to ensure that services for students with special needs are both responsive and appropriate. Three examples of these steps are the funding allocation to rebuild the BLENNZ Homai Campus, the recent announcement of the additional 400 new places in ORRS, and the Special Education Review.

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In September I was delighted to announce that the Government had approved $15 million to rebuild the BLENNZ Homai Campus in Auckland. I am sure you will all be excited about the redevelopment that is underway.

The decision acknowledges the role the BLENNZ Homai Campus plays in leading the education of blind and vision-impaired students at a local, regional and national level, and in providing support to enhance educational outcomes for students.

I am confident BLENNZ provides excellent services to a large number of students throughout the country. The services offered are ensuring that better outcomes are achieved for blind and low vision children and young people.

For me, the impetus for rebuilding the campus also signifies a recognition that changes have occurred over the past 20 years in the provision of services for students with special needs. It is pertinent to note that it is less than ten years ago since Homai Campus was brought into the state system. Rebuilding the campus is a positive step in ensuring that services continue to be relevant and responsive.

I am sure students, parents such as yourselves, specialists and teachers will all benefit from the replacement of the current, obsolete buildings with state of the art facilities for the education of blind and vision impaired children in the 21st century.

Earlier this month I was very pleased to announce the additional 400 places into ORRS. During my visits I have regularly heard of students missing out on ORRS funding by frustratingly narrow margins. The new places will mean that 400 students over the age of nine will now receive additional support.
To further ensure that services remain responsive and appropriate, I am also currently leading the Special Education Review.

The Review provides us with the opportunity to examine where resources in the system are being well-spent and utilised, and where improvements can be made. Most importantly, it provides a platform to explore what the best options are and to make sound decisions based on national and international evidence of what really works.

The review is covering a range of areas and is underpinned by a number of principles. It is centred on a belief that having high expectations, sharing responsibility, choice and parental involvement, are all essential in guaranteeing students with special needs reach their potential.

The Special Education Review consists of two phases. The first phase, which is already underway, will examine how students access special education funding and services, and how this funding is allocated. It will also consider how best to allocate the additional $51 million of funding announced in this year's budget.

I want to ensure that the money invested by the government into special education is well-utilised and that all students who need additional educational assistance have access to this. It is intended that the first phase of the review will also inform the decisions that need to be made about additional resources.

Everywhere I go people tell me about the critical input of Resource Teachers of Vision. Fifteen RTVs were funded through the 2008 budget and I believe their contribution is making a considerable difference to the learning of vision impaired and blind students.  As you will probably all be aware in July of 2008 the Parliamentary Select Committee for Education and Science recommended 30 additional RTVs be provided throughout the subsequent two to three years. This recommendation was made based upon your petition advocating for sustainable RTV resourcing th

I acknowledge that you will all be disappointed that the number of RTVs was not increased in this year's budget and I am unable to say that this will occur in the immediate future. You all of course know that we are in challenging economic times and finding new money is pretty well impossible. However the government is considering how it can respond to the recommendations made by the Select Committee through the review process.

The second phase of the review, due to commence later this year, will investigate issues relating to the workforce, student transitions from school and service development. This phase will also examine ways to improve integration and collaboration between agencies.

I know that there are challenges for BLENNZ in managing the transfer of ORRS funds on a national scale. I am sure many of you are aware of the difficulties involved in persuading schools of enrolment to release funds in return for teacher time, workforce management and overheads associated with managing ORRS transfers on a national scale. I anticipate that the Special Education Review will consider how processes such as these have worked and what we might do better.

I am looking forward to following the review through into next year and to finding better ways to support students with special needs.

As work continues into next year, the Ministry of Education will also examine the Orientation and Mobility Services. One of the challenges for O & M providers has been building a specialist workforce to meet need across a small, but scattered population. Further problems have been created because there is a shortage of O & M specialists both internationally and nationally. As the New Zealand model differs from other countries more challenges arise when recruiting internationally. 

This service is one of many that play a significant role in the educating blind and low vision students. During my time as Associate Minister of Education I have visited a lot of schools and heard a range of perspectives on the improvements required in special education.

The Special Education Review's discussion document will be released early next year and I look forward to hearing your views on the future of Special Education in New Zealand. I am determined to find ways to make improvements in this area of education and I encourage you to share your perspectives in order to assist with this task.

Hearing from different stakeholders and organisations is particularly important because as we all know, there are multiple approaches to educating students with special needs. The importance of finding the best fit for one's child cannot be underestimated. The government is committed to maintaining a range of educational options for students with special needs as it recognises that these needs are often very complex and unique.

That is why it is government policy for parents, wherever practical, to exercise choice when selecting the best educational setting for their child. Parents are best placed to make these decisions and students are most likely to reach their full potential in a setting that caters for their learning needs.
Before ending I would like to touch on the implementation of National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics. The National Standards are designed to ensure that students reach their full potential as they set benchmarks for where students

There is a group of students who are likely to learn long term within Level One of the New Zealand Curriculum. Their progress will be assessed against the standards as part of their Individual Education Programme (IEP) processes, but boards of trustees will continue to report on these students' progress separately, through their charters and annual reports.

To finish, I would like congratulate you on the commitment you show to the special education sector. I am always very impressed by the dedication demonstrated by teachers, professionals and groups such as yours working within special education for the betterment of students.

By sharing information and your personal experiences you have created a strong network of parents. You have also significantly contributed to the educational opportunities of blind and vision impaired children in New Zealand.

I wish you the best for the conference and hope you enjoy your weekend together.


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