'Angry and upset' at lack of school support

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 30/04/2013
Jordan and Sharon Coles
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

FALLING BEHIND: Sharon Coles says her son, Jordan, 7, does not qualify for high-level special education support despite having serious learning delay.

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Sharon Coles' 7-year-old son, Jordan, has only just learned to write his Christian name, but still gets some of the letters mixed up.

He can't read "baby" books, which have only a few basic words on each page, and he can't do simple addition.

"He may know one plus one is two, but he wouldn't know two plus two is four," Miss Coles said.

Jordan, who has global developmental delay, is well behind his classmates at his Waikato primary school, which asked not to be named, and Miss Coles is concerned that he's not getting the support he needs.

She first applied for Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS) funding for Jordan in July 2011, and again in June 2012.

She was declined both times.

She appealed the decision in November 2012 and was again unsuccessful after an arbitration process in February.

The Ministry of Education report on Jordan concluded that he has "significant cognitive delay in his learning across almost all areas of curriculum content".

It said he would require specialist support in school, but his learning problems were not "severe enough" to qualify him for ORS support.

"He'll be eight at the end of this year and he can't read a baby book by himself," Miss Coles said.

"You put the book in front of him and you'll say 'What does that say?' and he'll just go 'Don't know'.

"In another two years he'll be at intermediate and that's scary thinking he can't even read a basic book."

She said she was "angry and upset" that Jordan was being denied the support he needed to reach his potential.

He has a Resource Teacher Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) for about an hour two days a week, but it was not enough to make a real difference.

She was shocked to learn 61 Waikato pupils had their applications for ORS funding declined last year and said the Government needed to evaluate its priorities.

"It probably does cost a bit of money, but a child's future is worth it in my books."

SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS SLIP THROUGH CRACKS

Dozens of children with serious learning disabilities are being denied special education support in Waikato schools because their problems are not "severe enough".

Principals say these pupils, many of whom struggle with basic reading, writing and mathematics, are slipping through the cracks in mainstream classrooms.

Figures released to The Waikato Times under the Official Information Act show the Ministry of Education declined 275 applications for Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS) funding from Waikato schools between 2008 and 2012.

It approved 457.

The ORS is a funding model for the one per cent of students who have the most severe special education needs.

It covers specialist advice and learning programmes, extra teaching time and teacher aides.

Hamilton North School principal Tony Kane said all pupils who applied for ORS funding, including those who were declined, had serious learning disabilities.

Many would struggle to spell their own name, read children's books and do simple mathematics, he said.

"Those that miss out, and those who are above the threshold - there is a need for more funding in that area.

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"That's probably the biggest thing we need to address."

He said a number of schools had been discouraged from applying for funding because of the high rejection rate.

"What's happening is that they take a huge amount of work and effort and some schools are finding that it's not paying off to do the application.

"They're being turned down on a regular basis because the students aren't deemed to be far enough below."

The dozens of Waikato pupils who were declined ORS funding each year were adding to a growing number of special needs children struggling in mainstream classrooms.

Waikato Principals' Association chairman John Coulam said they made up the "worst of your tail in schools" and it was difficult to provide them with sufficient support.

"These children have a genuine need and a right to quality education, but they do chew up the operations grant, because there are a lot of children with needs in schools.

"I don't want to sound defeatist, but you can't do it ... without the resourcing."

He said the demand for resource teachers far outweighed the supply.

The Ministry of Education increased funding for specialist and para-professional services by more than $15 million between 2007-08 and 2011-12.

- Waikato Times

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