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Govt can’t treat residential school closures as a done deal


15th June 2012 - For Immediate Use

Government can’t afford to treat residential school closures as a done deal

The Public Service Association is urging the government not to treat a plan to close down residential special schools as a done deal.

Submissions close today (June 15) on a Ministry of Education proposal to close down four residential schools for children with complex behavioural and learning disabilities. It is planning to reallocate the money into what it calls a ’wrap around special education service’ which would see children based back in their local communities and attending mainstream schools.

Under the plan, Westbridge School in west Auckland, Salisbury School in Nelson, and both Halswell and McKenzie Schools in Christchurch will be closed by the end of the year. There are a total of 116 beds at the schools and up to 230 staff.

The PSA believes there is clear value in retaining the schools and closing them could put vulnerable children and families at risk.

PSA delegate and Halswell School Family Support Worker Richard Chalklen says the schools are an essential part of the service mix required by students and their families.

“These are very high needs students and in most cases residential schools have been there for them when all other options have been exhausted. The schools are helping improve student achievement and are providing students with an effective specialist education which cannot easily be met in their local communities or in their local schools.”

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“Many high needs students do not have positive experiences in their local schools and communities and in many cases their families are ill-equipped to care for them at home,” he says.

The PSA is also concerned that the closure of the schools will lead to the loss of valuable and specialist staff and once that capacity is lost it cannot be replaced.

Mr Chalken says the speed at which the Ministry wants to establish the new national service and close down the schools is also completely unrealistic.

“I believe the submissions being made on this policy will send the government a clear message about the need to keep special residential schools in the system. It can’t afford to let high needs students and their families down or rush through another education policy without thinking through the consequences.”

*For a full copy of the PSA submission see here

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