Last week Hekia Parata announced the closure of two of the country’s four residential special schools. Despite her supposedly ‘genuine’ consultation process, the decision confirmed something Parata had clearly intended to do all along. It’s the wrong decision. These schools often represent the last hope for some of the most vulnerable kids in the education system. They need a level of intensive support that regular schools just struggle to provide. We’re far better off investing in getting these kids back on track while they’re young rather than forking out to lock them up later on.
The Ministry of Education’s discussion document made it very clear this is about saving money. According to that document it costs about $84,200 per year to educate a student at a residential school, whereas the new ‘wrap-around’ model the Minister speaks of costs $29,000 a year. These kids are getting short-changed.
I passionately believe in an inclusive education system that meets the needs of every child. For the vast majority of kids, inclusion means attendance at their local school, supported where necessary with extra resources to ensure they can fully participate in all aspects of school life. But while Iwould love to see every child fully participating in mainstream classrooms, the reality is that some students need extra assistance. There is an on-going place for Residential Special Schools within the education system. One size does not fit all.