No-one wins with special needs funding

Last updated 05:00 19/08/2014
Special needs education

FINDING A SOLUTION: Integrating children with special learning needs into mainstream schools works but the way its funding is allocated and used could be better.

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Much has been written and discussed about special needs education in New Zealand. Many lament the lack of funding, others, the lack of empathy from schools. I would argue that neither is actually true.

I am both a mother of two children who have specific learning needs, and a teacher aide at a low decile school in Christchurch. I have experienced the education system on both sides and am therefore able to offer a different perspective on special needs education in our mainstream schools.

For the most part, teachers, support staff and principals care profoundly for our children. They work extremely hard - over and above what their pay-check would suggest. I would argue that the problem does not lie with schools.

Funding isn't the issue either. As the Ministry of Education will tell you, much funding is put into special education in New Zealand.

The problem is how the funding is allocated and used.

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A typical scenario would look like this:

A school indicates that they need help with a particular student who is not ongoing and reviewable resourcing schemes funded. A psychologist is assigned. A few weeks go by and the psychologist arrives to do an observation. The observation is completed and the teacher and psychologist meet to devise a plan. More meetings occur involving parents, the special education needs coordinator, principal etc.

All good stuff, however the child is not yet benefiting.

The psychologist recommends an occupational therapist and a speech therapist and that the teacher starts making special resources, write detailed notes, and implements a behaviour management plan. Still, the child is not benefiting and the teacher who was under significant stress and a high workload is put under more pressure.

The occupational therapist arrives and does their observations. As does the speech therapist. Best case scenario, all agree with what the psychologist has put in place.

In an effort to "help" however, they suggest further resources are made and additional behaviour management procedures are put in place. More meetings occur. The teacher is put under even more pressure. The child is still not benefiting. 

Eventually the professionals fade into the back ground and the funding has run out. The teacher is left with a markedly bigger workload and the school is still not able to fund a teacher aide to assist with the implementation of the plan.

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The teacher has not been helped, the child has not been helped, however thousands of dollars have been spent.

I am not suggesting that the professional engaged aren't worthwhile.

I am not even suggesting that the time spent meeting and discussion of special needs children is wasted.

All I am suggesting is that there must be some way to streamline things to make intervention both more cost-effective, and beneficial to our children. Schools need to be supported by the Ministry of Education, and our communities need to be supported by our schools.

Integrating children with special learning needs into mainstream schools does work and there is evidence to suggest that it benefits the community as a whole.

The money is there, wonderful people with relevant skills are there, let's use them wisely.

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