A headline on the front page of The Southland Times on Saturday was Schools 'fail' special needs. The article (under a less emotive heading on Stuff) described how parents of special needs children were leaving Southland because they felt their children were not being well served by Invercargill schools and teachers. One mother claimed that her 7 year old son was also being deliberately excluded. While the article did suggest more training and resourcing for schools was needed from the Ministry the implication was that it was the schools and teachers in Invercargill that were failing the children.
I have already written a number of posts describing how this Government has deliberately favoured private schools with extra funding and under-resourced low decile schools. I angers me when yet again schools and teachers have the finger pointed at them when doing their best in an under-resourced environment where the profession no longer has an influence on Government policy. Teachers are desperately trying to hold together our crumbling public education system while at the same time receiving the majority of the blame for the holes and gaps that are appearing.
This is my letter in response:
The Southland Times
I always feel uncomfortable when I see headlines like the one in Saturday’s paper, Schools ‘fail’ special needs. Such headlines appoint blame on one part of our system while the reality is more complex.
Accommodating children with special needs in a class of 25-30 children requires a lot of skill, patience and often specialist knowledge. Having professional support available to teachers and schools is crucial.
While the numbers of children with high needs are increasing, the funding and support available has not kept up with demand. When the Government cut the Ministry’s funding by $25 million it had negative impact on Special Education Services through a reduction of staffing and resources.
When the Government disbanded Supplementary Learning Support (SLS) it put an extra load on our Resource Teachers for Learning and Behaviour (RTLBs) and they now struggle to cover the shortfalls from SES and the SLS role.
There are also financial barriers to parents and schools from less affluent communities to access Government funded special needs support. Consequently affluent private schools now capture the largest share of special needs funding and Kings College was able to provide special needs support for 24.4% of their students sitting NCEA last year.
The Government has also closed health camps and residential schools for high needs children and even tried to close Salisbury School illegally.
Our education system should be an inclusive one and all children deserve a fair go and the best possible start in life. To enable this to happen we have to ensure that the professional support and resources are provided where it is most needed.
Party voting Green will be a vote for properly resourcing schools and teachers and ensuring that education funding goes to the children who need it the most.