Kirsty Johnston is an investigative reporter at the New Zealand Herald.

$15m special needs boost for schools called 'patch job' by advocates

Education Minister Hekia Parata said an extra 1250 students would benefit from the funding. Photo / Dean Purcell
Education Minister Hekia Parata said an extra 1250 students would benefit from the funding. Photo / Dean Purcell

More children with special needs will have access to teacher aides after the Government increased funding for in-class support by $15 million.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said today an extra 1250 students would benefit, with those who qualified receiving five hours a week assistance.

The payment was the second wave of an operational funding increase the Government had made to classroom support. It now funds an extra 550,000 hours, and has plans to increase that to 800,000 each year.

The $15 million would be spread over four years and is designed to help students who don't meet the higher threshold for the top-level Ongoing Resourcing Scheme, such as those with dyslexia, autism, ADHD and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The announcement follows a Herald investigation last year which found desperate parents were paying for their own teacher aides to ensure their children had the help they needed at school.

In response to today's announcement, the IHC said it still would not necessarily mean disabled children received the education they were entitled to.

"Many teacher aides do a great job," said IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant. "But the fact remains that they are the least well paid, least well trained and supported and are therefore the less capable of ensuring quality education for children.

"Children with disabilities do best in schools where the board, principal and all teachers are committed to inclusive education and ensuring good learning outcomes for all children," Ms Grant said.

She said the funding was a "patch job".

After eight years IHC was still waiting for its Education Complaint to be heard by the Human Rights Review Tribunal, she said. The Education Act said all children have a right to reasonable accommodations to get a fair education at their local school but the IHC argues not all children currently have that right.

"Any investment is good, but $15.3 million over four years is not nearly enough. Teacher aides are a valuable part of the solution -- but we need much smarter thinking and a far greater commitment to our children's future."

The head of NZ Kindergartens, Clare Wells, also raised concerns.

She said no money had been allocated to early childhood education (ECE) services.

"It is false economy to only increase funding to schools when the research says early intervention is critical for children to experience success during their school years," Mrs Wells said.

A 2015 survey of kindergartens found 9 per cent of children attending the kindergartens surveyed needed extra support to gain the same benefits of participating in ECE as their peers. Sixty-five per cent of their teachers said there was not sufficient education support worker funding available to meet children's needs.

A 2011 Education Review Office report on inclusive education in ECE recommended the ministry review the current provision of education support workers.

"The current funding allocation for special education support in ECE is not working for children, their whanau or their teachers. Despite their own evidence and advice, the ministry and the government continue to ignore the need for more funding to support young children with special education needs," Mrs Wells said.

"We need to turn that around if we are serious about making sure every child can succeed in education."

The minister said there were still more funding announcements to come.

"I know from my visits to schools that teacher aides play an invaluable role in the classroom, working alongside our teachers to enable students with additional learning needs to become more independent and confident," Ms Parata said.

[NZME-NZG-NZC]

-NZH

- NZ Herald

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