A proposal by the Ministry of Education to close schools catering to intellectually disabled students has been met with disapproval.

The proposal outlines the possible closure of four schools - Westbridge Residential School in West Auckland, Salisbury Outreach Residential School in Nelson, and Christchurch schools Halswell Residential College and McKenzie Residential School.

The schools offer places to students with behavioural issues and special needs. Pupils can attend for up to two years and they live on-campus.

A staff member at one of the schools said the proposal came as "a bit of a shock".

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Robert Chalklen, who is a family support social worker at Halswell school, said he was concerned students requiring the special services of residential schools would be overlooked if one or more of the schools would close.

"Our concern is that those [residential] schools provide a vital important option in the provision of special education [especially] when students are in crisis and are in failure."

Mr Chalklen said he hoped any possible replacement services for such students would cater to their needs.

Salisbury school chairwoman Helen McDonald, whose own daughter attended Salisbury school, said she was concerned at the speed of change under the proposal, which suggests any closing of residential schools would occur by the end of the year.

"It's really a shocking rate of change for something that is quite major."

Mrs McDonald, whose daughter is now 15 and attends a mainstream high school, said a more phased-in approach should be used.

"We believe a one-size-fits-all model doesn't work in special education, so we really think a residential option provides an intense period of 24/7 support in a live-in, learning environment is crucial for some of these kids with intellectual and complex needs."

A spokesman from the Ministry of Education said the proposed "Wraparound" model would provide services to such students through their communities and schools. He said the new model would provide similar services to residential schools at a lower cost.

"The cost of services provided by residential schools average between $70,000 to $90,000 a year per student."