Special-needs funding for children over seven 'slashed' under new govt proposal

Labour's Chris Hipkins says new plans to reform special education are "uninclusive" and "bizarre".
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Labour's Chris Hipkins says new plans to reform special education are "uninclusive" and "bizarre".

Government plans to "slash and burn" special education funding for children over the age of seven is "short-sighted and stupid", says the Opposition.

In a Cabinet paper Education Minister Hekia Parata reveals plans to focus special education funding at an early-childhood level and potentially quash funding for those aged 18 to 21 years old.

The proposal would pump most special needs money into 2 to 5 year olds and a big drop in funding would kick in for those aged 7 and over.

Special education funding is delivered through the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS), which received an injection of $62.9 million over four years in the 2015 Budget.

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Parata wants to reassess the effectiveness of ORS funding for 18 to 21-year-olds and "whether there are better ways of helping these students transition out of school".

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said "slashing the support for school age children with special needs is no way to fund earlier intervention".

"I absolutely agree that the government can do a much better job of identifying and supporting children with additional learning needs earlier, but depriving older kids of the support they so desperately need is no way to accomplish that," he said.

Demand for ORS has been rising consistently – up from 6652 students in 2005 to 8754 in 2015.

Parata said evidence showed providing learning support early in a child's life would have a much greater impact.

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"We want to make sure that the over $590 million we're investing in additional learning support is being spent in the most effective and impactful way possible so that kids get the best chance to achieve educational success," she said.

But Greens education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty described the move to reduce support for 18-21 year olds as "terrible".

"This transition time away from school is when young people need extra support, not less," she said.

Parata has also proposed "moving away from terminology such as special needs and special education."

"This terminology accentuates differences and can act as a powerful barrier to development of a fully inclusive education system. The terms, inclusive education and learning support, better describe the broad system of educational support available for all children and young people and we want to transition to these terms," Parata said.

Under the new model for a more inclusive education system, Parata says she would expect there to be "clear accountabilities" – "at the moment we mostly focus on and measure inputs".

This would mean schools would need to show students receiving funding had made progress in their academic achievement, which would be measured through their National Standards and NCEA results.

Hipkins said using those measures was "utterly uninclusive" and "bizarre".

"Kids are receiving ORS funding because they have a serious impairment or physical disability. To suggest National Standards or NCEA as a way to assess their success and the quality of their education is ridiculous."

The Ministry of Education has been working with the sector to develop the recommendations recently approved by Cabinet and would continue to do so as they implement the latest decisions.

"I'm not surprised that Hekia Parata tried to quietly slip these changes out late on Friday afternoon. They're not even on the Beehive website," Hipkins said.

"Re-carving the same size pie amongst a growing number of needy kids will simply result in more going hungry. It's time the National government woke up to the damage their underfunding is doing to kids' lives and futures," he said.

 - Stuff

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