LAUNCH OF ` NEW ZEALAND SPECIAL SCHOOLS' BOOK

  • Wyatt Creech
ACC

Last month I visited Hogben School in Christchurch. I was ushered in with a wero from one of the senior students, then welcomed with a powhiri featuring pupils of all ages. I was most impressed - they were all very good, and one young boy in particular stood out with a fiery haka. I was then shown round the school and its workshops. The striking thing throughout was the positive nature of the school, the individual knowledge the teachers had of their pupils, and the enjoyment these children were gaining from learning.

Hogben, Kimi Ora, Maru and other similar schools I've visited highlight for me the work of special schools, and the impact your dedication has on the lives of these children.

The area of special education is a high priority for me. So I'm very happy to be with you at your annual conference and the launch of your book, New Zealand Special Schools.

Having a child with a disability is not a choice that parents make. As I'm sure you see over and over, there are many battles that the parents of children with disabilities have to face, and many hurdles they have to overcome. The Government is committed to supporting these parents and helping to make their decisions easier as they strive to meet their childrens' needs.

We believe that all families should have choice in education. For families that include a child with a disability, New Zealand's special schools offer another alternative for the parents who feel that this specialised form of education will suit their child best.

Special schools have been part of New Zealand's educational history for a lon time. They have catered for students with a wide range of disabilities. Your

research, collected in your new book, shows that special schools continue to fulfil a need, particularly for children with multi-disabilities. I was interested to read the statistical evidence in your book which clearly demonstrates that the

majority of students attending special schools are characteristically multiply-

disabled.

Last week I visited Maru school in Timaru. I saw there, as I have seen at other mainstreamed and special schools I have visited, wonderful things being done for the children. Maru wishes to create a centre of education that best meets the needs of its children, parents and the community they work in. The school board is planning to ask me to allow it to amalgamate with nearby Highfield School, which already operates an attached unit for Maru school students. Some staff, then, will be able to provide their expertise, support and training not only at Highfield's unit, but at other isolated special schools and attached units in the South. Maru's asking for closure and amagamation demonstrates again the committment of staff at special schools to making the educational and social outcomes for children their first priority.

As I've already said, the Government is committed to supporting choice for families of children with disabilities. Special Education 2000 - which I'll talk about shortly - ensures, among other things, that parents will retain the choice of being able to mainstream their children, or send them to attached units or special schools.

Your research shows a high level of satisfaction from parents about the way special schools are meeting their childrens'needs. Special schools and attached units will continue as long as they are supported by enrolments - and the data you have presented suggests that there will be a continuing demand for special school placements.

I congratulate all of you on the initiative and energy that have brought about this book. I know it resulted from the fact that you felt a great number of unsubstantiated assumptions were being made about the work and role of special schools. You therefore decided to gather the data which could contribute to informed debate.

A joint project between Deakin University in Melbourne and the University of

Auckland was set up to survey special schools and gather data. Though the book was written by Des Pickering of Deakin University and Dr Keri Wilton, associate professor of Education at Auckland University, boards of trustees of New Zealand's special schools, their students, principals, parents and staff have all been involved in the study.

The book provides a number of interesting statistics that will be useful to people who want to know more about special schools. Reference like this is important, so that we understand more about the work of special schools; the number and type of students they provide for, and the curriculum they offer. As self-managing and self-reviewing schools this information should also be useful to you in helping to determine your future direction.

The numbers of children with special needs appear to be increasing. It seems that in many cases nobody knows why, though of course there is likely to be a wide range of reasons. However I note in your book that in 40 per cent of all cases the researchers looked at, the cause of the child's disabling condition was unknown.

Despite this, I sense an air of optimism now in the special education area - a feeling that at last, after what seems like years of consultation, decisions are being made and positive action to improve the situation is being taken. Special Education 2000 is one of the reasons for this. $55 million of new money was included in the Budget to fund the start of Special Education 2000 and keep us moving towards an effective and equitable system of delivery throughout New Zealand.

If there is one thing that is certain about life it is that change is a necessary part of it. Often we see change as useful - sometimes it is a pain. However I'm sure we all agree that change is necessary for the delivery of special education resourcing.

Currently we have a range of systems that mean that the provision of resources

is patchy - often unpredictable, inconsistent and inequitably distributed. For instance schools and parents have to apply every six months for discretionary assistance. This is time-consuming and inefficient. Even then there is no guarantee that the current level of resource can be continued.

The new measures will mean mean that we can drop the old system of assessing each pupil each six months. That was done since funding supposedly followed need - the need being assessed by a six-monthly reassessment. But for high and very high special needs the need is not going to change each six months, making the reassessments for those cases superfluous. For low and moderate learning and behavioural special needs, the assessments themselves often cost more than the programme needed to address the need in the first place. Everywhere I go, the dropping of the constant assessment and reassessments has been welcomed. But we will watch the formula to make sure it is as right as possible.

As Minister I am committed to change in the system. But we want to do it

in a way and at a pace that ensures proper implementation and a high level of

satisfaction from all involved.

Historically, special education developed in a rather ad hoc manner. And it was pretty much left to one side during the implementation of Tomorrow's Schools. However the new Special Education 2000 strategy, and the extra Budget money, will bring special education back into the limelight and ensure that students with special education needs have as many educational opportunities as possible.

The world has moved on. As we have learned more about people with special needs, we have made more appropriate provision to include them in our education system.

Special Education 2000 aims to provide a predictable, cohesive and equitable system of resourcing for children with special education needs. The provision of $55 million over the next three years is designed to address some of the inadequacies in special education that have developed over the years.

Two `arms' make up Special Education 2000. The Special Education Grant, which is based on roll numbers and current decile rankings for schools, will be introduced from the beginning of next year.

Special Schools have been allocated a decile ranking of 1, which will ensure that they receive maximum funding under this grant. This should provide the additional funding you have requested to meet needs currently not provided for within your operations funding.

The second `arm' of Special Education 2000 is particularly significant for you. About 2% of the overall school population needs a high level of support to participate in, and benefit from, schooling. Under the new individual entitlement scheme, these students will have a guaranteed level of individual resourcing, no matter which school they choose to enrol in. These individual entitlements will transfer with students if they move to another school.

The policy details related to the individual entitlement scheme are currently being worked on. I understand Ministry of Education officials have had regular dialogue with some of your members as they progress the development of the policy. Your expertise has been appreciated, and I thank you for your time and input.

I am closely involved in the development of Special Education 2000 and look forward to continued policy progress. Your work in analysing the service you provide to meet the needs of your families and students makes an important contribution to the understanding of special schools.

Over the next decade, our goal is to have in place a world-class, inclusive education system that provides learning opportunities of quality. With Special Education 2000 we now have the beginnings of a cohesive policy for all children of all abilities.

I sincerely value the contribution you are making to special education and thank you for your commitment. I have pleasure in launching your book and wish you well for a successful Conference.