Special needs education boost won't solve the problems, says dad

Giovanni Tiso and his autistic 9-year-old daughter Lucia from Wellington.
Giovanni Tiso

Giovanni Tiso and his autistic 9-year-old daughter Lucia from Wellington.

Special education is "flawed" and extra money awarded in the Budget will not fix the problems, the father of an autistic child says.

The Ministry of Education has spent the past two months reviewing special education, seeking feedback from parents, disability groups and teachers on how to create a simpler funding system, make services easier to access and have more involvement between schools and parents.

Lucia Tiso, 9, right, works with a teacher aide Dena Burnett at Berhampore School. The aide is provided by Ongoing ...
Virginia Woods-Jack

Lucia Tiso, 9, right, works with a teacher aide Dena Burnett at Berhampore School. The aide is provided by Ongoing Resource Scheme funding, which her dad Giovanni says is flawed.

It will announce the results of that review later this year, but the first indications of change came with an extra $62.9 million of funding over four years announced in the Budget, which will provide 500 more students with Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS) support, bringing the total number of special needs children being supported to 9000.

But Giovanni Tiso, whose 9-year-old daughter Lucia is autistic, said previous reviews had highlighted problems that still were not fixed. Unless the ministry stopped ranking children against each other, the extra money in the Budget would not change anything.

"It's a really flawed system. For ORS,  there's a competitive funding system. That's just wrong."

ORS pays for specialists such as speech-language therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, and provides additional teacher and teacher aide time.

Tiso said that, to get funding, parents had to list on their application all the ways in which their children were "inadequate".

"You think that it's going to benefit your child, but it's not. It's about whether your child is more special needs than someone else's.

"When Lucia got her funding, we were very aware that it meant another family, that was as deserving, missed out.

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"If we were to move ... and our daughter was considered higher needs than another child, that child would miss out or get less funding."

The extra funding for 500 more children was a start, but the ministry was no longer even pretending that the ORS support covered what it needed to, he said.

"That fact that it's a small blanket will not be fixed by giving that small blanket to more people.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm glad there is more money ... but there are more than 500 schools in the country so it's not anywhere near what's needed."

Inclusive Education Action Group co-convenor Bernadette Macartney said there were problems all over the system and, until the ministry stopped looking at special education students as deficient, the system would not work.

"It's been 25 years since the Education Act was repealed so that all children had the right to go to any school and be treated as equal. That's not happening."

Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said it had been looking at how special education could work differently and make changes to how services were designed and assessed. 

She said a key goal was to provide support for each child who needed it, and that the type of support needed was likely to be different for each child.

The Budget also includes new spending for extra in-class teacher aide support, which is designed to help those students with special needs who don't meet the requirements for ORS funding. These could include children with dyslexia, autism, ADHD and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. 

 - Stuff

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