Hundreds of principals say special-needs support and funding is insufficient

Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey says it still has "much work to do" to help ...
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Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey says it still has "much work to do" to help schools meet its requirement for inclusive education.

Hundreds of New Zealand principals say they are unable to cater for special-needs students in their school.

More than 400 respondents to a New Zealand Principals' Federation survey said they needed more funding, staff, resources and better communication from the Ministry of Education to support special education.

The Ministry says it is aware "we still have much work to do" and is taking steps to address a "rising demand for services".

Of the 490 respondents, more than 300 felt they were not well supported in educating students with high behavioural and learning needs.

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Most principals (463) indicated their schools were topping up government-provided special needs funding.

While the majority felt they could cater for students with low to moderate needs, 360 disagreed or strongly disagreed that their school had the capacity to "include all students with moderate to severe behavioural needs".

Another 272 felt their school could not include children with moderate or severe learning needs.

Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick said survey respondents, who came from schools of varied size and decile, were simply "being honest" that they needed more resources.

"Obviously they have got diverse learners in their schools and the low to moderate needs they're well equipped for. It's the upper end that's becoming increasingly difficult to provide for."

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A select committee report into support for dyslexic, dyspraxic and autistic students tabled in November recommended capping Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding, which is targeted towards high needs students, at 1 per cent of the student population.

Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said it still had "much work to do" to help schools meet its requirement for inclusive education.

"We know from what we've heard from families and from educators that the special education system can be hard to navigate, with too many hurdles to get the right support."

She said ORS funding had been extended to 1122 further students in 2016 and a new "single point of access for services" for parents would be trialled in the Bay of Plenty this year.

Cormick said the Principals' Federation wanted to work closely with the Ministry and hoped it would listen to the survey's results.

He pointed out one comment in the survey he considered important to the conversation.

Among calls for smaller class sizes and consistent support for rural schools, one principal wrote: "I'm reluctant to say anything here because it has all been said before and ignored. The frustration of stating the obvious once again is professionally humiliating."

"I feel that some of our membership feel that they are just speaking to deaf ears," Cormick said.

 - Stuff

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