Findings from a new report into education for children with disabilities show political leaders urgently need to fix the funding system for children with high needs, NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford has said.
The report by the Education Review Office, the Human Rights Commission and the Office for Disability found that a fifth of disabled learners had been discouraged from enrolling at a local school, while a quarter of parents and whānau have been discouraged from enrolling their disabled child at one or more early learning services.
“These findings are disappointing but come as no surprise,” Mr Rutherford said. “We are long overdue for an overhaul of the resourcing for children with learning needs.
“The reports make a range of sensible and achievable recommendations that we hope the Ministry of Education will take onboard.
“We are particularly pleased to see the recommendations around strengthening new principal and initial teacher education, strengthening beginner teacher induction and mentoring, and opening opportunities for educators to develop their understanding of learning support through quality PLD to better support the inclusion of disabled learners.
“But we also hope the report will remind the Ministry of the urgency of the situation. This is not the first report to come out showing that schools are struggling to meet the needs of disabled learners.”
Last year’s Pūaotanga inquiry into primary school staffing found schools stretched to the limit as increasing numbers of children present with additional and complex learning needs.
“It is simply not good enough that disabled learners are still experiencing exclusion,” Mr Rutherford added.
“What we would add to the report’s recommendations is to underscore the importance of schools being adequately and predictably resourced to support inclusion.
“For example, not all schools and early childhood centres have the same access to specialists, such as Learning Support Coordinators or SENCOs. Some funding sources, such as the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS), have restricted criteria and are difficult to access.
“Funding for teacher aides can be unpredictable and does not meet the full cost of their employment, often leaving schools out of pocket and leading to the loss of these vital human resources as principals are forced to juggle their budgets.”
The NZEI Te Riu Roa Ngā Aukaha campaign asks the government to commit to five major changes that will support and allow all tamariki to be included in their local school or early childhood centre:
Fund a dedicated Learning Support Coordinator or SENCO in every school and early childhood centre.
Expand the ORS criteria and increase the funding available so that it is based on need, rather than a fixed amount of funding available.
Increase dedicated teacher aide funding in early childhood centres and schools.
Increase the number of specialists (e.g., psychologists, physiotherapists and resource teachers) to meet student need.
Develop and provide greater professional development (including career pathways) and specialist opportunities for educators to develop their understanding of learning support, including Initial Teacher Education.