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Children With Learning Challenges

How are our school children with learning disabilities doing within our education system?

Interview Questions for Ministry of Education, Spokesperson Brian Coffee

For the Children with Learning Challenges documentary, conducted at the Ministry of Education, 3pm, Wed 24 July, 2013

Spoken Features producer Lynda Chanwai-Earle, Radio New Zealand, National

Q: MOE’s approach, the current model: Vote education and special education funding is capped. Under these circumstances is the current funding model a little punitive? Ideally shouldn’t funding be needs based and non-categorical to address the needs of the individual learners?

Q: Where do you see the gaps or problems with the current model?

Q: There seems to be a lack of funding for such large need (comments of clear inequity have come from RTLB and school principals in Porirua East for instance). Given educational outcomes are so closely tied to socio-economic status – how do you effectively allocate resources to lower socio-economic areas?  How do you make funding equitable (to ensure equitable outcomes with limited and capped allocated funding)?

Q: Sustainability of governance and sustainable management of RTLB relationships?

Q: Best possible solutions for meeting all challenged learners needs in all schools across the country?

Q: How learning support funding for RTLB clusters is allocated?

Q: Specifics, how much does each RTLB cluster get?

Q: Sustainability of this support funding? Future changes to funding?

Q: Comparing us to other world leading special education systems, how are we ranking internationally?

Q: What makes NZ unique? We’re well regarded and rank 3rd best in education systems from a range of international indicators but what are the barriers? What could improve for Special Education?

Q: This current government plans to privatise? What are the advantages and disadvantages of privatising services in special education?

Q: With capped and limited funding: effective funding of both systems, the inclusion model and segregated special-education schools – how can you run both models? Parents are given the choice of private or public, this seems like an attractive choice but is this flawed?

Q: Are children with serious educational needs at risk at private charter schools?

Q: Is there a possibility that a charter school could become an RTLB lead cluster school?

Questions from parents:

From Jill (Athena’s mother)

1) One of the things they acknowledged in their review document is that the level of service provided in the special schools was better than it is in the mainstream schools.  What are they doing to address this gap?

2) Another comment made in the review is that there were requests from the feedback given to re-assess the requirements for ORRS funding.  In my experience, ORRS funding is granted when a child either; cannot toilet him/herself, has not mastered basic communication of needs, is violent or extremely disruptive in class, or is completely deaf or blind.  Outside of those boundaries, ORRS funding does not appear to be granted.  The current ORRS funding scheme does not consider "presence, participation, and learning" as is mentioned several times in the report.  I know this because we were told by the school that while they would apply for ORRS funding, they never gave us any hope of getting it, even though she is disruptive to other kids with wandering around, and was completely non-participatory last year.  What are the ministry's plans to address the current system of ORRS funding so that more kids with special needs in mainstream schools are actively participating, engaged, and learning in class?  

3) When Athena was in a decile 3 school for her first four months of education, she was not even assessed by a SENCO co-ordinator, nor was she referred to RTLB.  She languished in class with no extra help and was (in retrospect) disruptive to other kids' learning.  Yet when she started at Owhiro Bay School (a decile 9 school), she was referred to RTLB within two weeks of starting.  What is the ministry doing to address the apparent disparity between how kids are handled in schools of different decile ratings?

4) I have been told by the SENCO co-ordinator that unless parents speak up for their kids, kids are unlikely to get the funding they need.  My personal experience bears this out, as Athena did not actually get any RTLB funding until she'd been on the wait list for four months (during which she was falling further and further behind her peers), but more importantly, until I wrote to the Minister of Education.  Why is the Ministry not acting on the recommendations of the teachers they employ, who are the trained professionals?  What (if anything) is the Ministry doing to reduce waitlists so that kids are not languishing in class and falling even further behind?

5) Can the Ministry please clearly and concisely explain the different levels of funding that are available, and when a child would be available for the different types of funding available.  In other words, what are the criteria for a child to receive ORRS funding as opposed to RTLB funding, and what do those funding levels provide for a child?

6) I have tried to work with the school in every way possible to get extra help for Athena that we can afford.  We've been told by one of her teacher's that she would really benefit from more teacher's aide time, but RTLB cannot provide any more time to her due to funding constraints.  We went to the principal of her school and tried to work with the school to pay for more teacher aide time, thinking it would work out to be less expensive than paying $90 per hour for someone to come in privately (which frankly we can't afford).  The principal told us that the school could not be seen to be giving advantages to children whose parents can afford to pay for services over the children whose parents can't.  My question is: why is the educational system preventing me from doing what I can to support my child?  Why are the cash-strapped RTLB turning away offers from parents to fund extra hours for their children?  I thought the educational system was supposed to be helping my child to learn, but when she cannot access the New Zealand curriculum, and can't access support services to help her learn for more than one hour a day, how on earth is she supposed to learn?

From Teresa (Brandy’s mother):

Q: What if my child does not have enough national credits come the end of Year 13? Will the MOE still help them if they go to a Polytechnic?

(interview ended before these two final questions could be asked)

Q: Could life skills be a compulsory subject for our children in schools? Especially those that find learning a difficulty in class?

Q: At my daughters school the Learning Support Team find it very hard to sort staffing and funding for those students, what can the MOE do to help?