Schools struggle with special needs funding squeeze

Manawatu principals say more can  be done to help schools struggling to support all their special needs students, despite a recent report heaping praise on educators' efforts.

According to the latest Education Review Office report - Inclusive practices for students with special needs in schools - nearly 80 per cent of schools had an "inclusive culture and positive attitude" to students with special educational needs.

Of the 152 schools surveyed, more than three-quarters, or 118, had "mostly inclusive" practices - which the Ministry of Education says means "schools adapt to fit the student rather than making the student adapt to fit the school".

However, education experts and disability advocates say for schools to be 100 per cent inclusive, more resourcing is needed to ensure students with special educational needs are integrated into the mainstream environment.

Freyberg High School has more than 50 ORS-funded pupils - ORS is the ministry's ongoing resourcing scheme that provides support for students with special needs to join in and learn alongside other pupils.

Freyberg associate principal Wendy Jochem said there was a growing number of students missing out on ORS funding who needed it and special education grants were often too low, meaning schools don't have enough funding to support students who were not ORS-verified.

The support staff pay structure outstripped funding allowances, which meant the number of support staff employed and the hours allocated to support students decreased annually, Jochem said.

"Schools are really struggling to support all their students with special needs."

Feilding High School principal Roger Menzies said funding for ORS-verified students - of which there were 12 on Feilding's roll of 1440 - was OK, but there was a growing number of students with other learning needs that received no funding.

"Their literacy, numeracy and, for some, social skills are limited," Menzies said. "Some of the underlying issues, I believe, relate to lifestyle, poverty and parenting, hence our resources are becoming increasingly stretched."

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Tiritea School has no ORS-funded pupils, but the board of trustees funds 24 hours per week for teacher aides to help pupils where needed.

"Many students miss out on specialised teaching to meet their learning needs and with class sizes the way they are, it is nearly impossible to give every student the time they need to meet their needs," principal Glenys Edmonds said.

"This not only includes the students with learning difficulties, but also the students who need extending at the other end of the spectrum and the ones in the middle who might be higher up if they had enough resourcing put into them."

NZEI Te Riu Roa Manawatu branch spokesman Liam Rutherford said special education was "chronically under-funded" and it was becoming progressively more difficult to access ORS funding.

CCS Disability Action chief executive David Matthews said a lack of funding and accessing support was a recurring issue and "we need to look deeper at our funding and support systems".

 - Manawatu Standard

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