Parents fork out thousands for support for children with learning difficulties
Tens of thousands of children with learning disabilities like dyslexia are missing out on in-school tutoring because they must have severe learning or behavioural issues to qualify. LEAH FLYNN reports.
Donna Elliot is raising three sons with unique learning needs.
Over the last few years, her family has spent tens of thousands of dollars on extra learning support for John, 15, and Matthew, 7, who have dyslexia, and David, 13, who has dyspraxia.
None of the boys qualify for in-class special education support.
When John was diagnosed at age 6, his primary school offered little to no support, Elliot said.
* Dyslexics ignored by the ignorant
* 'Systemic barriers' holding dyslexic kids back
* Extra-curricular activities for children can cost as much as $5000 a year
* Families struggle to afford the rising cost of back-to-school
"They weren't aware of the issues and they just got frustrated with him, rather than trying to meet his needs.
"We ended up having to move him to a different school. He had weekly tutoring all through primary school and still has it now," she said.
On top of tutoring costs for John and Mathew, learning assessments cost anywhere between $400 and $1000, and a week-long Davis Dyslexia course could cost $2250 to $4500.
David's ongoing occupational and speech therapy cost $60 to $120 a session. His condition made it hard to coordinate physical movement.
Adding tutoring, "it came up to about $160 week".
Elliot felt fortunate the family could afford it, to fill the gap in the education system.
"It's really scary to think about how much money has gone into it.
"Even though the courses were fantastic and made such a difference . . . the expense definitely starts to add up," Elliot said.
Megan, who did not want her last name published, has two teenagers with learning disabilities.
Her daughter once attended weekly tutoring, but at $50 to $100 a session, Megan could no longer afford it.
"Even working full time, it's just out of our reach."
Megan said she found schools were often uninterested in her childrens' needs.
"I had to push and push just to get them assessed. My son was only reading two words a minute and they still didn't think it was bad enough."
The Ministry of Education provided $590 million each year for in-school special education for children and young people – up 29 per cent since 2009.
The majority was allocated to special schools and support services for students with the highest level of need for special education.
About 3000 moderate need children received five hours of teacher aide assistance each week.
The Ministry of Education announced on Thursday that $43.2m over four years would be provided to schools with under-achieving pupils.
It worked out about $72 a year for each of New Zealand's 150,000 under-achieving pupils – enough for three hours of teacher support per year.
The Dyslexia Foundation estimated 50,000 to 70,000 school-aged children had dyslexia.
"To get extra support the child either has to be extremely high need in terms of disability or have significant behavioural issues," trustee Guy Pope-Mayell said.
"We have a huge number of moderate-need children who are falling behind because they aren't badly behaved enough to warrant extra support . . . so even though they aren't meeting national curriculum and even though they need help, they are invisible within the system."
Most of the children were from low decile schools, which were "battling with a whole other set of issues".
"Getting children the learning support they need stops being the priority," he said.
Aranui Primary principal Mike Allen said the school focused a lot on behavioral issues.
Teachers at the decile one school worked hard to meet all students' needs, but needed more support, he said.
"We have a child who has autism who has been on the waiting list to get a teacher aid for eight months."
St Andrew's College Preparatory School provided a support programme parents paid for. It included learning assessments, speech language therapists, learning difference tutors, psychologists, occupational therapists, teachers and teacher aides.
Head of learning support Barbara Broughton said the results were "wonderful".
"I have a student at the moment who came to me, age 11, just guessing at words, reading at a 5.5 year reading ability. After being in the support programmes he's had a three-year improvement in his reading ability after eight months of tuition," she said.
"Over 90 per cent of the children who come through learning support go on to get NCEA with flying colours.
"No child should fail. It's possible to achieve success for each student."
Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said the system worked well for a lot of children.
"A 2013 special education client survey found 76 per cent of parents and 67 per cent of educators were satisfied with the overall quality of service delivery," she said.
Labour Education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the number of children missing out on extra support was "concerning".
"In New Zealand one of the basic principles is that a child's education shouldn't be dictated by what their parents earn."