Review of funds for learning disabled

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 03/07/2013

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Learning disability support groups say a review of the system determining which children get special help to sit exams needs to level the playing field by removing the cost to parents.

The Ministry of Education has confirmed that the funding system is under review after some learning-disabled pupils missed out on help during last year's NCEA exams.

The Manawatu Standard last month revealed applications for Special Assessment Conditions (SAC) funding administered by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority soared in 2012 to $433,000 from $274,000 the previous year - but the help was unevenly distributed.

Dyslexia is a learning disability thought to affect one in 10 Kiwis. However, about 60 per cent of lower decile schools nationwide put in no applications for special help for their pupils. By comparison, some private schools had up to a quarter of their pupils sitting NCEA exams with special help such as a reader-writer or computers, a report by the New Zealand Dyslexia Foundation found.

Ministry special education group manager Brian Coffey said a review was under way and is due to be completed towards the end of August. It is currently mandatory for students applying for extra help during exams to have a report from an educational psychologist diagnosing a specific learning disability.

Auckland educational psychologist Fiona Ayers said the reports were a barrier for poorer families as they could cost up to $700. She said teachers being trained to assess problem learners in school could address a "huge inequity".

"I have seen these kids opt out of school from a young age and by the time they do get to secondary school their self-esteem is so low they just think they are dumb."

SPELADD Palmerston North representative Rachel Bradley said lower decile schools might not encourage parents to seek help as they knew families couldn't afford the process - and that meant kids missing out on learning.

"The sad little 6-year-olds who have lost the light in their eyes and are scared to make mistakes, heartbroken 8-year-olds who do not know why they can't do what their peers can do easily, and defeated high school students come through our office weekly," Ms Bradley said.

"And their confused parents wonder why the classroom teachers were unable to tell them what was going wrong earlier.

"The teachers probably didn't know themselves as they are not adequately trained to recognise specific learning disabilities."

Dyslexia Foundation trustee Guy Pope-Mayell welcomed the review, saying the ministry's next step was to ensure schools knew how to use the system.

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"The hard data shows clearly that schools are generally not engaging to the degree that is appropriate, and that lower decile schools are in many instances not engaging in the present process at all due to lack of time and staff resources."

Ironing out issues in the system would help thousands of dyslexic students to remain engaged in education for longer and with a higher chance of achieving to their full potential, Mr Pope-Mayell said.

- Manawatu Standard

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