Red Alert

Residential special schools

Posted by on August 26th, 2012

I understand the Minister of Education is going to be making an announcement this week on the future of the country’s four residential special schools. Over the past few months the Ministry has been consulting on a new ‘wrap around’ service that their official consultation document suggests will cost about a third of the cost of accommodating a pupil at one of the residential schools (but of course, this isn’t about cost saving…)

From the outside, it very much looks like the whole consultation has been skewed towards a pre-determined outcome, the closure of the schools. Having visited all four schools, spoken with some of the kids, the principals, teachers, parents, boards of trustees and many others with an interest in this process, I can firmly say that I think closure is the wrong option.

I believe in an inclusive education system. I don’t think kids with special needs should be shunted out or ‘institutionalised’. But that’s not what residential special schools do. In effect, they’re the most intensive ‘wrap around’ service out there. Kids don’t stay there forever, usually no more than 18 months to two years. In that time they often make huge progress, and a lot of effort is put into ensuring that their reintegration back into their original school and home life is as smooth as possible.

At one of the schools I spoke to a kid who’d come from a pretty unfortunate background. Drugs, crime, and dysfunction were all a constant feature of his life. Taken away from all of that, he was allowed to be a kid again. He was catching up on a lot of the education he’d missed out on, and plans had been put in place to ensure that the environment he returned to wasn’t the one he’d come from. Quite frankly it was inspiring.

Far from closing them, if anything, we need to look at increasing the number of special residential schools, and make them ‘centres of excellence’ that can provide advice, expertise and assistance to other schools so that we end up with fewer kids needing the highest level interventions in the first place.

Before Hekia Parata signs off on any final decision, I would urge her to take the time to visit these schools and see first hand what she is doing. It would be wrong for her to simply sign-off on the recommendations of her officials without taking the time to develop her own understanding of the issues.

5 Responses to “Residential special schools”

  1. Amanda Hill says:

    My stepson spent a year at McKenzie School in Christchurch due to his severe behavioural issues. It was a last resort – we had no other options in Wellington, and he was only 11. I was initially very sceptical but the school was excellent, we had lots of contact with him, we had block courses with Nath at the school and he came out with some wonderful changes – and a programme and routine to continue on with. Nath looks back on his time with very fond memories. Careful though has to be given before these schools are affected.

  2. John W says:

    The Special residential schools were set up only for cases that could not be managed any other way.

    I have seen excellent results and a significant changes in learning outcomes and acquisition of skills with cases referred to several of these institutions.

    Hekia Parata wouldn’t have a clue and is not in the least bit interested as she has demonstrated clearly to date with educational matters.

    Without the special custom made facilities, concentration of expertise, control of the learning environment and consequences of behaviors, progress is unlikely in cases of the most severe chronic behavioural disturbance as well as a range of other associated handicaps and problems.

    Support in existing schools has usually failed repeatedly long before a child has been referred to one of these facilities , all of which have a long and prioritised waiting list.

    Nact don’t give a stuff but will no double find some puppet to bleat a load of crap to be quote in supporting their demolition of these hard won facilities.

    Many or these deeply disturbed children will become a greater burden on society if we loose the facilities providing a better chance for corrective learning in their growing years.

    Closing these schools will be a costly exercise both in drain on the state and the damage to lives.

    It could be your child or grandchild who will be in need of what she is planning to ditch.

  3. sica says:

    “Before Hekia Parata signs off on any final decision, I would urge her to …. see first hand what she is doing. It would be wrong for her to simply sign-off on the recommendations of her officials without taking the time to develop her own understanding of the issues.”

    Very well said Chris. Being comparatively new to her position, it is vital that Ms. Parata sees and thinks for herself imo, and Amanda’s comment soundly underscores this. Thank you for keeping your eye on the ball. I hope dollars and lazy options are not put ahead of our children’s needs.

  4. Louise says:

    It is worrying to think these children may need wrap around support and may now have to get that via the health service or police, with long term negative impact.The current service allows for the short term chaos that sometimes comes with teenage years, and can support them through it, without a long term label.How will Hekia measure the success of her decision, given that she asked teachers performance to be measured? I doubt increased referrals to police and mental health service will included.

  5. Vicki says:

    Spot on Chris – well said! How can we keep Salisbury School open??