Last week I read Antonia Hannah's report Imagine your child going through this.
I could feel the frustration, hurt and anger behind your words Antonia and, as you know, that's what a lot of parents of kids with special needs feel a lot of the time. Most of us can't even begin to imagine the challenges you face.
I know it's really hard bringing up kids with special needs. From my experience, a child with special needs could have difficulty with their vision or hearing or in communicating with their classmates, they could have learning difficulties, behavioural issues or be dealing with serious physical disabilities. Every child is unique and teachers and other parents don't always understand that or get it right.
Just like you, we want all kids to feel included at school but we've got a way to go on that front. Including kids in mainstream schools involves a huge shift from the days when children with special needs were sent away to institutions. We're learning all the time and we know that inclusion in mainstream schools - when it works - is better for the children with special needs and also for their classmates.
We offer programmes and training to help schools include all kids. Every day, throughout the country thousands of specialist staff, support teachers and teacher aides work with teachers to help lift the learning and achievement levels of students who need extra support. We're making progress but, as you say, we've still got work to do. In 2010, the Education Review Office (ERO) told us that 50% of schools were demonstrating mostly inclusive practices, 30% were on the way while 20% showed few inclusive practices. ERO is going back this year to look at what has happened since then - we are expecting the outcomes of that evaluation next year and we'll act on them.
It's not easy for schools either. I know from the conversations I have with teachers that they care deeply about the kids in their class and they want to get it right. It can be a really hard to balance the needs of mainstream kids and those of kids with special needs. While parents of students with special needs complain about the lack of attention their children receive in class, parents of mainstream students complain about the disruption caused by children with special needs. Teachers do their best. A lot of the time they do an amazing job and they get it right. Ministry of Education staff also work hard to make a difference for kids with special needs and their families. Sometimes, as in your case, despite the best intentions of everyone involved, we don't get it right. When things aren't working we will own that and work with everyone involved to find solutions.
Each year we spend $530 million a year on special education, in addition to what schools spend. Sure, you can always make a case for more funding, as you do, but you also know that money is only part of the solution. Listening to and working with students, families, whānau and schools to promote inclusion is the best way to keep making things better for everyone, including you and your child.
Thank you for reminding us we've still got work to do. Like you, I want your child to feel included at school. You have my word. We'll continue to work with you and your family until we get it right.
Peter Hughes, Secretary for Education
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