23 Jul 2010

Report on high needs pupils 'a wake-up call'

11:08 am on 23 July 2010

The national body for primary school principals says a critical report on schools' work with children with high needs is a wake up call for school leaders.

The Education Review Office report says only half the country's schools are doing a lot to include children with high needs like autism and cerebral palsy.

Another 30% have some inclusive practices while 20% of schools it evaluated have few inclusive practices and are not doing enough for children with high needs.

The office says the problem lies mostly with school principals who do not show leadership on the issue, though it says all schools struggle with the funding they get for children with special needs.

Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld says some principals and boards of trustees need to look at what sort of values they have on their school charters.

Mr Buutveld says the expectation that children with high needs can be included in mainstream classrooms has increased.

However the president of the Secondary Principals Association, Patrick Walsh, doubts many principals are ducking their responsibilities to high needs children.

He says lack of funding is the biggest problem, and until funding issues are dealt with, some children will continue to miss out.

Associate Education Minister Heather Roy told Morning Report a review which is underway is likely to recommend mandatory special education training at teachers' colleges.

Ms Roy says the review is looking at how the $450 million in annual funding for special education is spent, but says there is no new money on the horizon.

The report is based on evaluations of more than 200 primary and secondary schools. There are 22,000 children with high needs in schools throughout the country.

Funding 'inadequate'

Education researcher Jude McArthur, of the University of Otago, says the most worrying thing revealed in the report is the lack of commitment from schools to the principle that children with high needs should be mainstreamed.

She told Morning Report many schools are not adequately equipped to respond to diversity.

"Even the principals who are providing really good leadership in schools were saying we have to go out and fund-raise for teacher aid support, and I think that's really inadequate."

Dr MacArthur's research found no educational benefit in having schools purely for pupils with special needs.