READER REPORT:

Imagine your child going through this

ANTONIA HANNAH
Last updated 06:00 11/07/2014
school
MARTIN DE RUYTER/Fairfax NZ

INCLUSION IN SCHOOLS: Antonia Hannah says the Ministry of Education needs to up its game.

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Imagine dropping your child off at school and not knowing whether you will be phoned to pick him up because the school doesn't know how to 'manage' his behaviour. 

Imagine dreading school pick up because you don't know whether your child has behaved 'well' or not and whether you are going to receive a raft of complaints about him or her. Or whether they have broken anything by accident, because there are periods of the school day when they are expected to fare for themselves without a support person.

Imagine arriving for school pick-up and knowing that other parents disapprove of your very presence because they feel your child is interrupting their child's education.

Imagine not being able to drop your child off at after school care or holiday programmes, or sports clubs or any other extra-curricular activity for that matter, without going through a long and arduous process of finding someone to accompany them. 

Imagine your child only very rarely or never being invited to parties or playdates. 

Just imagine how different your life would be.

The worst thing is that it is not a scenario that has to happen, it is not a given. 

It is something that happens because very little thought is given to the daily life experience of children with special needs in their local schools. 

When any decision is made at the local school, there is one thing for sure, no consideration will be made for the child with special needs. 

For instance, take open plan classrooms. Has any consideration been made as to the impact this might have on, say, a child with Autism? 

Take, for instance, lunch time programmes. Has any consideration been made as to the way in which a child with a learning and related behavioural difficulty will be able to join in? 

Take National Standards. Has any consideration been given at all to the students and families when they receive their end of term school report and read time and time again that their child is well below the national standard, and think ''funny that, given they have special needs but still I don't need to be reminded''.

It is always up to the parents or to the odd caring person as to whether these things get considered.

The Ministry of Education's Special Education sector, tasked with the very job of including children with special needs in mainstream education, seem also not to care too much about their plight. 

When a child gets excluded the Ministry of Education has rendered itself powerless to do anything about it. In fact, it has conveniently made itself powerless to do much at all other than provide an opinion now on 'inclusion' in the ERO report.

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Whether a child receives a differentiated curriculum is entirely down to the school and cannot be enforced by the Ministry of Education. 

You can imagine it is a bit hit and miss as to whether a school actually provides differentiated learning materials. As for teacher aide coverage, only the minimal is offered and only a handful of hours out of the 1170 school hours in a year are dedicated to any specialist input, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy. 

Behaviour often goes hand in hand with a learning disability. If you want to understand behaviour, not only do you have to understand the disability but you also have to understand behavioural techniques. 

Many special educational needs coordinators don't know these things and are often doing the SENCO role as 'add-on' to their daily teaching job. 

Where is the specialist at school who is knowledgeable and trained in the area of behaviour and the impact, for example, of reduced language skills? 

Nowhere. You get at best two meetings a term with a Behavioural Psychologist from the Ministry. Where are the 'chill out' rooms kitted out with specialist equipment and resources?

As for attitudes, I see very little effort from the ministry around raising disability awareness. This could make such a difference for children with learning difficulties in school. 

When people understand about disability and about inclusion they are far more comfortable to interact with and get to know someone with a disability. 

If, as a society, we are committed to the concept of valuing all people and not just the ordinary or able bodied then maybe the challenges that seem to become grounds for segregation wouldn't seem so challenging. People would be able open their minds and experience the positives like so many families do. For families, inclusion is non-negotiable and lo and behold, it is naturally achieved and enjoyed.

The Ministry of Education are happy to gatekeep, rather than push for policy changes that would make all the difference for children with special needs. How often are we told 'there isn't enough money' or 'that's not how the ministry works, schools are self-governing'. 

I say 'that's not good enough'. If you are not prepared to put money towards the vulnerable and marginalised students at school, then you shouldn't be putting any money anywhere else.

Ministry values include 'getting the job done' and 'great Results are our bottom line'. 

I think this is a case of wishful thinking rather than the reality for so many students with special needs.


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