6 Apr 2017

Principals say funding failing disabled students

From Morning Report, 8:23 am on 6 April 2017

Northland principals frustrated by a lack of support for violent children say the funding squeeze is also hurting children with disabilities.

Their president Pat Newman has warned he's close to advising schools to start suspending pupils who are a safety risk.

Other primary principals say the lack of support is limiting the prospects of kids with physical challenges.

We took the children's stories outlined in this story to the Ministry and asked for an interview.

They declined but they have us a lengthy statement which you can read in full below.

Response from Katrina Casey, head of sector enablement and support:

Heath Wilmott

Heath finds learning difficult and finds speaking difficult. He has had three years of speech language therapy between 2012 and 2015.

We prioritise our speech therapy support for those students who have the most need, and who are most likely to benefit from assistance.

At school speech therapy support is targeted primarily for students aged 5-8 years because  the evidence internationally and in New Zealand is that speech language therapy makes the most difference for the majority of children when they are younger.

However that isn’t the case with all children, which is why each child’s circumstances are assessed individually. That is what happened in Heath’s case.

We decided that given his age, the progress he had made from therapy and the likely gains of further therapy, that providing his mother with strategies and exercises to practice at home was the best next step for Heath. 

We do not have a rule that children over eight don’t get speech language therapy. That should not have been given as the reason in Heath’s case.

We have the equivalent of 12.6 full time speech therapists in the Northland region, and they each look after about 34 children.

We’ve also looked at Heath’s overall situation, to check whether he is getting the learning support he is entitled to. He has some high needs and it looks like his support diminished after December 2014. We are now looking into why that is, and how we can re-establish it.

Hikurangi School

Re the child at Hikurangi School – we’re pleased to hear this child is enjoying school and wants to attend full time. It’s an issue we have already been working with the school on. It was raised with us by the Principal on March 30.  At a meeting at the school the same day we suggested a reassessment of the child’s entitlement to teacher aide support. We are happy to progress that further to see if we can find a workable solution so this child can be at school full time.

Background information on learning support in Tai Tokerau

Last week RNZ ran a number of reports on principals’ concerns about children with behavioural needs in Tai Tokerau, without seeking comment from us.

We do understand that Northland schools face challenging issues with children with behavioural needs.  That’s why we have increased our support to schools dealing with these issues.

  • Our funding in Northland for teacher aides dealing with behavioural issues is up 20% on last year
  • Our funding in Northland for teacher aides providing in class support are up 38% on last year
  • We have nearly 40 specialist staff in Tai Tokerau dealing with children with additional needs. That includes psychologists and experts in children’s behaviour.
  • Another 51 Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour work with schools and teachers on provide expertise on supporting children with additional learning needs
  • Northland schools receive approximately 22,500 hours of behaviour teacher aide support a year, which schools decide how to distribute.