Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘special education’

Residential Special School closure wrong

Posted by on November 4th, 2012

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.

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.

Loosen up Anne Tolley

Posted by on February 15th, 2011

It’s daft it when bureaucratic bullshit gets in the way of helping people.

I’ve had the Special Education spokesperson role for just on two weeks now and I arranged an informal visit with a loose collection of parents in Kaitaia who have children with special needs.

 A senior MoE person has instructed his staff not to attend any gatherings if I’m going to be there.

 How dumb is that?

 How am I supposed to find out what has to be done for this vulnerable sector of society if I’m blocked from talking to a group of people who work with them on the ground?

Is Anne Tolley so paranoid she thinks the government will crumble if I have a conversation with a speech language therapist in Kaitaia?

These people up north are so de-centralised I can guarantee no “state secrets” will be revealed. It’s not like I’m trying to meet with some policy writer in Wellington. 

 Supporting these children to achieve beyond their potential alongside  their families is more important than petty politics.

 Anne Tolley needs to loosen up.

Hide has no delegations

Posted by on October 3rd, 2010

As I have posted about a few times before I am pursuing the whereabouts of the review of special education. This is an important document for parents, students and schools. A lot of decisions are on hold in special education awaiting the review. It was by all accounts finished when Rodney Hide dumped Heather Roy as Minister more than a month ago.

Anne Tolley excitedly told us that Rodney was the Minister responsible for the area, and I have lodged written questions to him about the review. It is a bit of surprise then to find that those questions have been transferred by the Office of the Clerk to the Minister of Education on the grounds that Mr Hide still does not have any delegations. Delegations are the formal transfer of responsibility for issues from a lead Minister, in this case Anne Tolley, to an Associate Minister.

There are two possible scenarios here- either incompetence is reigning and the work has not been done to allow Rodney Hide to answer questions or he is trying to hide from answering questions on the review. Whichever it is, this is not an indication of a Minister or a government committed to special education. Its a pity- Heather Roy had actually done a very good job of the process of the review. That good work is being completely undone. Its bad enough Rodney Hide is still a Minister, but worse still that he is mucking around on such an important area.

UPDATE: At 8.15 this morning the questions were transferred back to Rodney Hide. Ah, the power of the blog… Now lets hope we get some answers, because technically they are overdue!

Rodney Hide too distracted to be a Minister

Posted by on September 24th, 2010

As previously noted the last time I asked Rodney Hide where the review of special education was I got a very short shrift.  The review was all but done when Heather Roy was unceremoniously dumped.  Parents, schools and families are anxiously awaiting the outcome.  They appreciated the work Heather Roy had done, but are worried the review seems to have disappeared. It is now a month since Rodney Hide became the Minister responsible for special education and we have not heard a peep from him on the subject.

I am strongly of the view Rodney Hide is not appropriate to be a Minister, and John Key’s continued defence of him is disturbing.  In addition he is clearly far too distracted to actually follow through on the important tasks of being a Minister.  For the good of all those involved in Special Education John Key needs to do the right thing and relieve Rodney Hide of his portfolios.

Not good enough Mr Hide

Posted by on September 3rd, 2010

(This post is in part by way of explanation to passengers on board Flight NZ410 from Wellington to Auckland this morning, some of whom might have witnessed a somewhat odd exchange between me and Rodney Hide.)

Since Heather Roy was dumped as Minister responsible for special education I have been trying to find out what is happening with the review of Special Education.  Heather had said publicly that it was due out in July or August, and my understanding was that it was before Cabinet the very week she was dumped.  I have put in written questions asking for information about the review which were due for reply on the 26th of August but I have not had a response.

So this morning when I was on a plane to Auckland to visit, among other things, a couple of special schools, it was timely to see Rodney Hide get on the plane.  As we stood up to disembark I asked if Rodney was indeed taking on the special education portfolio (he confirmed he was) and when the review was to be released.  He responded by saying “when the government is ready.”  Before I could go any further he said we could not expect cooperation from him on the review due to his issues about Labour’s approach on the super city. I said I was not asking about the Super City and that the review was important to a large number of parents, schools and students.

What followed was a tirade from Rodney as we walked up the air bridge about the Super City and related issues. I kept saying that I was interested in the review as many others are, and that Rodney really needed to be able to seperate out his portfolio issues.   As he stopped and I walked on his tirade continued.

I would not normally report on an exchange like this,  but his approach is not good enough.  The whole special education community is waiting for the review to be released. As I was told today on my visits, it is holding up planning and development in schools.  Parents and students involved in special education deal with enough stress and pressure as it is. They deserve far better than a Minister who can not deal with his anger about a completely unrelated issue.

Credit Where it is Due

Posted by on July 7th, 2009

Last week at the Education &  Science Committee I presented Anne Tolley with a picture of a principal’s stitched leg. She had been badly bitten by a child who hadn’t got special education support despite requests over months.

T0lley knew nothing of it and I was mildly critical. She spoke to me at the end of the week and confirmed that the letter had come in while she was overseas and had been dealt with by an Acting Minister. It had gone to the Ministry as it dealt with a policy issue.

There are a variety of approaches when one is a Minister. One I have known would probably have visited the school. That seems a bit over the top to me. Others (like the Acting Minister) just send things off to the Ministry. I think there is a point of balance where the Minister’s office call the school, check that the teacher is ok and then put it on the list for a weekly meeting with the Ministry to make sure the report and response is not delayed.

The Minister shouldn’t be surprised as Tolley was.

But credit to her for looking into it and getting back to me.

ps this post not related to teaser issue.