14 Jul 2021

Govt questioned over funding for students with diverse learning needs

11:34 am on 14 July 2021

The government is copping criticism for denying funding to students who have diverse learning needs and then blocking parents from paying for it themselves.

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File photo. Photo: 123RF

Jo Martin's eight-year-old son has ADHD and autism, which results in him having noise sensitivity and trouble concentrating in a class of 30 children.

However, when his school applied for funding for one-on-one learning, the application was turned down.

"Generally to get funding you have to be quite extreme on the spectrum and so it is quite hard to actually get funding from the Ministry, even though they claim all the supports that are needed are already in the schools," she said.

Martin told the school she will pay for a teacher aide eight hours a week, totalling more than $10,000 a year.

However, she received a nasty shock last week after sending an email to the education Minister Chris Hipkins about the closure of Mt Hobson Middle School, which caters to those with special needs.

She was hoping to send her son there in the future and took exception to comments the Minister made about there being support available in existing state schools, given she currently pays for her son's teacher aide.

"That resulted in a phone call from the school the next morning, saying that they had been directed that they could no longer take the contribution from us, so we could no longer provide that money to fund his teacher aide," she said.

Martin is yet to get a response from the minister and the ministry has not offered to start paying for the teacher aide either.

She said it's a kick in guts, especially when she was just trying to advocate for her son's education.

"I have a big concern that other families are also going to be affected because this is a very, very widespread activity, where parents pay for teacher aides.

"I actually feel terrible for everyone that might be affected by this really callous and mean behaviour quite frankly," she said.

She didn't know what would happen after the school holidays.

Her son's school is supportive, but their funding is already spread thin, she said.

National's education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said it's an untidy situation that highlights a shortfall in funding.

"That really just comes back to government priorities, because everyone can see that this is a government that is spending money very quickly and substantially everywhere you look, but there isn't resources in this very important area," he said.

Goldsmith wanted answers from the minister.

"I've been asking the minister recently how many families have applied for and been turned down for learner support and I haven't been able to get clear numbers out of the Minister so we don't know the scale of this problem," he said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkin's office declined an interview request, instead directing RNZ to the ministry.

In a statement, deputy secretary for sector enablement and support Helen Hurst said the school was contacted because it is unlawful for state and integrated schools to charge for education.

"When we are made aware of schools not meeting their obligations under the Act we work with them directly to understand the situation and bring them back in line with legislation. If an issue is widespread we would also provide guidance through our school bulletins.

"We have a range of supports available to aid the diverse learning needs of students but recognise there is always a demand for more or different support. In light of this the government has invested an additional $1.1 billion into learning support since 2018," she said.

The ministry was working with educators and parents to identify to identify tools and resources that better meet the needs of neurodiverse children and young people, she said.

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