18 Nov 2022

Enthusiastic response for govt plans to revamp special education

6:21 am on 18 November 2022
A disabled student in a wheelchair in primary school.

The government's plans look better than previous attempts to improve special education, Autism NZ says. Photo: 123RF

Disability advocates are cautiously welcoming government plans to overhaul the special education system.

Autism New Zealand and IHC told RNZ they wanted to see more detail but the broad plan was encouraging.

The government announced its changes would give families more say over the support their child received, provide more training for teachers, and extend support to thousands more disabled learners.

However, the details of the new system were still being developed and would not be announced until late next year.

Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan said it looked better than previous attempts to improve special education.

"That idea that family and whānau and the child will have more control over the funding and what they can use it for, and making the educators a bit more responsible for the autistic student in their classroom sounds like a positive move but the devil will be in the detail," he said.

Dougan was also hopeful about the government's stated intention of providing more training for teachers.

"Everyone should do it because the numbers we're seeing - every teacher is going to have an autistic child in their classroom in the coming years and it will be more than once," he said.

Dougan said the current system was not working well for autistic children.

IHC New Zealand inclusive education consultant Trish Grant said the government's plan was bold and encouraging.

"It's a great acknowledgement from Minister [Jan] Tinetti that the system is broken and doesn't work and hasn't worked for too many for too long."

Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti among a group of school children.

Jan Tinetti announcing the government's planned overhaul, at Berhampore School in Wellington yesterday. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

She said too many young people were not getting the help they needed at school.

"This is reflected in students leaving school who haven't had the help that they've needed, who are not in employment, training or work, really living lives that are so unfulfilled," she said.

"We hear stories every day of disabled students who are in their 30s now and are not working, still distressed by their education experience."

Grant said the government's work plan was ambitious and for the long-term.

"Clearly there's not the detail we're all wanting right now but certainly IHC's really encouraged," she said.

A Cabinet paper said the changes would require significant ongoing new investment.

It said under the new system a child's family, teachers and Education Ministry staff would decide what support each child needed, rather than leaving that decision to a panel that did not know the child.

The paper said the new approach would increase demand because it would identify needs that weren't being met at present.

It said schools and early learning centres were not getting the support they needed to work with children with the highest needs.

The paper said approximately five percent of students or 25,000 children a year were likely to have a high unmet need at some point in their education.

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