28 Sep 2022

Some schools discourage enrolments of children with disabilities - Education Review Office

6:53 am on 28 September 2022
A disabled student in a wheelchair in primary school.

Whānau say some schools have told them they could not enrol their child with a disability due to reasons like lack of teacher aides or lack of wheelchair access. (File image) Photo: 123RF

The education watchdog wants a crackdown on schools that repeatedly fail children with disabilities.

In a report published today, the Education Review Office called for an independent complaints body and for investigation and action when schools persistently failed to meet the needs of children with disabilities.

It said some schools actively discouraged enrolments by children with disabilities or did not support them adequately and indicated that schools in richer, whiter communities tended to be the worst.

The review office also published a report on early childhood services (ECE), saying they were more likely than schools to turn away disabled children and they needed better guidance.

The office said it had conducted 11 reviews of education for learners with disabilities over the past 18 years "but still we have found that education is not delivering for all disabled learners, and improvements are needed".

"One in four parents and whānau have been discouraged from enrolling their disabled child at an ECE service. One in five disabled learners have been discouraged from enrolling at a local school. Nearly one in five parents and whānau have been asked to keep their disabled child at home from ECE, and one in four to keep their child home from school," it said.

The office said about one in 10 children under the age of 15 had a disability and the government spent more than $1 billion annually to support them.

It said early childhood and school teachers needed more training in how to work with children with disabilities, and these children would be a focus for all Education Review Office evaluations of schools and early learning services.

The report said learners with disabilities in schools serving lower socio-economic communities reported better outcomes, and schools with high numbers of Māori students were better at including children with disabilities.

"Not all schools are welcoming of disabled learners, resulting in inequities for disabled learners. Disabled learners in low decile schools reported more positive outcomes on a range of measures than those at high decile schools. Their parents and whānau are also more satisfied with how the school is supporting their child's learning."

The report said 43 percent of principals and boards did not fully understanding their legal obligations toward children with disabilities, and most teachers said they lacked confidence working with disabled learners.

It said teachers hardly ever used guidelines and tools that would help them tailor their teaching to the needs of children with disabilities.

It said nearly a third of special education co-ordinators (SENCOs) indicated their school did not have policies to enact their legal obligations to disabled learners.

"There are still many teachers who are not interested in having students in their classes with additional needs. SENCOs need more time to work with teachers," said one.

The report said two-thirds of disabled children enjoyed learning at school, but they were more than twice as likely to leave with no qualifications.

Most said their teachers were kind and helpful but "a significant proportion do not feel accepted or that they belong at school".

The report said 21 percent of parents and whanāu who responded to a survey said they were discouraged from enrolling their child at a local school, an action the review office said was illegal.

"In our interviews and survey responses, parents and whānau recounted a range of reasons given by the school for why they could not enrol their disabled child, including lack of teacher aides and physical access constraints (for example, wheelchair access). Some schools placed conditions on a disabled child's enrolment, typically requiring them to have ORS funding in place," the report said.

The report said only half of parents and whānau were satisfied with the school's support for their children to be included in school life.

It said less than half of learners with a disability were able to take part in activities as much as other kids all or most of the time - for school trips, the figure was just over half, and for school camps about a third.

A third of parents and whānau were not happy with the quality of their child's schooling.

The school report was based on survey responses from 355 learners with a disability and 509 parents and whānau, 772 teachers, 448 teacher aides, 101 principals and 125 special education specialists, as well as site visits and in-depth interviews.

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