Election 2011: Parents fear future without special unit

By Elizabeth Binning

Cassie Torrance's parents fear her learning will stall if she reverts to mainstream classes. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Cassie Torrance's parents fear her learning will stall if she reverts to mainstream classes. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Cassie Torrance is a bubbly 9-year-old girl who talks like a pre-schooler.

Even that is an improvement on how she sounded a year ago, thanks to a special needs unit at Takapuna Primary School.

Now her parents fear for her future following news that the unit is going to close.

Her principal says she is afraid for the future of the little girl and others like her, who are going to be forced into mainstream schooling after specialist teacher restructuring.

Cassie has verbal dyspraxia, which means she can understand what is being said but communicates at the level of a pre-schooler and is behind in reading, writing and maths.

She used to attend a speech and language unit but ended up in mainstream schooling when it closed at the end of 2009.

"It was disastrous, everything was above her level," said her mother Maria Torrance.

This year she joined Takapuna's Learning Support Class, which has specialist Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLBs) who work with children who have moderate special needs - and her parents have seen a huge improvement as a result.

"She's increasing with her level for reading and maths - her progress level is just going up and up whereas in mainstream she just copied things down but there was no learning."

The little girl - who used to sit on the bench at lunchtime watching other children she couldn't relate to - now fits in and has friends in her class. "She's so much happier and there's nothing like seeing your kids happy and wanting to go to school."

However, the school has to close the unit at the end of next year as a result of changes that are being made to the RTLB system, meaning Cassie and her 11 classmates will have to go to mainstream classes.

Takapuna Primary principal Cindy Walsh said Cassie will have to go into a classroom with children who are working at levels four to five years above her ability. She has funding for a teacher aid for only 11 hours a week, effectively leaving her on her own without any one-on-one support three days a week.

"I'm afraid for children like her in the mainstream," she said. "It's really difficult for some of these children and their parents because some of them have already been in mainstream and it hasn't worked."

SPECIAL CASE

What will each party do to help Cassie if elected?

* National: Continue with plan to restructure RTLB (Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour) service.
* Labour: Push to keep unit open while reviewing the situation.
* Greens: Investigate further, agree with mainstream inclusion but not at the expense of children going backwards.
* Act: Didn't reply.
* Maori Party: Investigate further, support the idea of mainstream inclusion but knows not every child fits into the model.
* Mana: Make funding available to keep the unit open.
* United Future: Keep the unit open, providing there are no hidden circumstances.

- NZ Herald

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