Closing two of the country's residential schools for children with severe behavioural difficulties is premature and would leave vulnerable children putting pressure on the mainstream system, an education professor says.

The Ministry of Education plans to close McKenzie Residential School in Christchurch and Salisbury Residential School in Nelson. Today was the final day for submissions to the proposal.

The alternative suggested by the ministry was an expansion of the Wraparound service for children with severe behavioural difficulties, which was developed in the United States.

The service involved multiple agencies such as educational psychologists, social workers, and health service personnel working in effective partnerships with schools and families.


But, University of Canterbury Professor Garry Hornby said recent reviews of Wraparound in the US had found high drop-out rates, and for the children who remained in the programme, its impact on outcomes had been small.

He said a survey by the Principals Federation found that, of the schools which had accessed the intensive Wraparound service, 53 per cent reported that it did not bring about sustainable positive behaviour change, compared with 19 per cent which considered that it had, and 26 per cent which considered that it was too early to tell.

International research conducted over many years on multi-agency working such as this, found that, despite good intentions, it was in practice very difficult to carry out effectively.

Professor Hornby said research conducted over the past eight years with young people who attended the McKenzie school, found that it was after children returned to mainstream schools following intensive intervention that things would go badly wrong, resulting in most cases of these children leaving the school system before the age of 16.

It was clear that the effectiveness of any service for children with severe behavioural difficulties was dependent on the ability of mainstream schools to cater effectively for them in the long term, he said.

"This will require the training of all mainstream school teachers and the development of school organisation, so that they all have clear structures for identifying and providing appropriate systems for pupils with special educational needs, including those with behavioural difficulties.

"Until these changes are brought about in mainstream schools it is essential to have the two residential schools available to cater for children with severe behavioural difficulties."

Not having these schools as a last resort option for very vulnerable children would put enormous stress on mainstream schools they would attend and on their families in trying to cope with them at home, he said.

Minister of Education, Hekia Parata would not comment while the process was still in the consultation period.