Schools need more funding for special-needs students

Hundreds of New Zealand principals say they are unable to cater for special-needs students in their schools. 

More than 400 respondents to a New Zealand Principals’ Federation survey said they needed more funding, staff, resources and better communication from the Ministry of Education to support special education.  

The ministry says it is aware “we still have much work to do” and is taking steps to address a “rising demand for services”.  Of the 490 respondents, more than 300 felt they were not well supported in educating students with high behavioural and learning needs. 

Most principals indicated their schools were topping up government special-needs funding.  

Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick said survey respondents, who came from schools of varied size and decile, were simply “being honest” that they needed more resources.  “Obviously, they have got diverse learners in their schools and the low to moderate needs, they’re well equipped for.  It’s the upper end that’s becoming difficult to provide for.”

A select committee report into support for dyslexic, dyspraxic and autistic students recommended capping Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding, which is targeted towards high needs students, at 1 percent of the student population.  

Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said ORS funding had been extended to 1122 further students last year and a new “single point of access for services” for parents would be trialed in the Bay of Plenty this year.

Cormick said the Principals’ Federation wanted to work closely with the ministry and hoped it would listen to the survey results.  He shared a comment one principal had written, regarding the need for smaller class sizes and consistent support for rural schools; “I’m reluctant to say anything here because it has all been said before and ignored.  The frustration of stating the obvious once again is professionally humiliating.” 

Cormick said “I feel that some of our membership feel that they are just speaking to deaf ears.”

By Adele Redmond, The Southland Times, Monday 9 January 2017 (abridged).