Andrea Matheson writes:
Today, as a Mana [Porirua] resident, I had the ‘pleasure’ (amusement) of receiving the Minister’s MANA MATTERS newsletter. It has a feedback section, in which I particularly like the comment:
“I’m always interested in hearing your feedback and learning more about which issues matter to you. I’d appreciate it if you could spare a few minutes to complete the survey below.”
Well Minister, I would appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to read and respond to the TWO letters I have sent you where I outlined very clearly what issues matter to me! So I really don’t think you ARE interested in hearing about what issues matter to me or anyone else for that matter!
And I’m intrigued by your statement in the letter:
“We are expanding the ORS and the Intensive Wraparound Service to ensure that every child is catered for, no matter their circumstances”
How, pray tell, are you planning to achieve that, when you have made it quite clear there will be no increase to the special education budget!?
Andrea’s full letter to Hekia Parata follows:
Dear Ms Parata,
I am very disappointed that it has now been a month or so since I sent you my letter regarding the proposed overhaul to Special Education funding and I have not yet had a reply from you. I had very high hopes that my words would make a difference – I guess I am a glass half-full kind of girl.
You state in your opinion piece on Stuff, dated September 25th that “I will work with any groups or individuals that are seriously committed to improving children’s learning and raising achievement.” Well, Ms Parata, we have been trying to get your attention for WEEKS now – parents as individuals and as part of wider groups, have written letters, organised education rallies across the country, commented on news articles, commented on your Facebook page (and been blocked for their efforts), spoken to the media, left messages on the Ministry’s phone line and signed petitions. These efforts have been plastered all over social media – you surely cannot have missed these actions by passionate, proud, exhausted, anxious parents who are praying that the dire situation of inadequate funding in special needs is rectified, and fast.
The lack of response has given me additional time to think of more important questions I need to ask you as well as provide you with some further thoughts that have arisen during this long wait.
In several articles I have read in recent weeks, you have stated that no child currently receiving funding will lose that funding. This implies that individuals such as myself only care about their own child/children and will be satisfied with this reassurance. BUT – I wrote to you expressing my concern about the education system as a whole – I am NOT an individual parent who likes to whinge, who only cares about the impact for her own child – I care deeply about what will happen to children who desperately need funding who do not have any to begin with. So whilst your statement on this point seems to imply that my son will not lose the ORS funding he currently has, he was NOT my only concern. I am not that selfish. Therefore your ‘reassurance’ is of no comfort to parents of children about to enter the school system without ORS funding or teacher aide support, or to parents like myself who care about the bigger picture in education.
Could you please outline any school visits you SPECIFICALLY made as a part of the ‘consultation’ process to help you create your cabinet paper on inclusion? For example, did you:
Visit and personally meet with a wide range of children who have additional learning and physical needs?
Spend time with them in their school environment to understand how crucial additional funding is to ensure their success?
Observe a wide range of learning and physical difficulties, eg: neuro-developmental disorders such as autism, GDD and ADHD, physical disabilities, genetic disorders and learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia etc?
Ensure that you saw the VAST differences between what a teacher, teacher aide, child and parents can achieve with adequate funding, versus a teacher and child who have no additional funding or teacher aide support?
Or was consultation done without the real-life context of what it is like to be struggling to meet the demands in the classroom without support?
How do you propose to support children in primary school who do not meet the criteria for ORS funding? There is currently not enough funding to support children with learning difficulties or disorders, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and autism. If a school cannot meet their needs through their operational or SEG grants, what becomes of these children? Are they supposed to struggle through their school years with little or no support? What will the outcome be for them when they have to enter society as an adult? It is a frightening prospect. We are meant to be a forward thinking and innovative country but at the heart of it, we are not supporting the children who are struggling through every day and having their confidence eaten away bit by bit. I am sure I am not the only person in New Zealand who strongly feels schools need targeted funding to meet the needs of children with these disorders if they do not achieve ORS funding (and we all know the vast majority of children with these disorders do not). We all know these disorders are on the rise Minister – what does your government plan to do about this issue?
We have repeatedly asked you how you plan to improve services to ECE without increasing the overall budget for special education. No satisfactory answer has come from you as yet. Instead we have to listen to radio interviews and read articles where the majority of journalists have not dug deeper to properly dissect the information that is being fed to them. But we as parents have a vested interest in the changes to funding and we know how to read between the lines. We will not be satisfied by the usual vague statements such as “The proposed changes that we’re making in education are all about putting our kids at the centre of the education system, lifting the educational success of every young New Zealander” and “Everything I’m working towards is about putting children and their achievement at the centre of the education system.” Are these statements intended to keep us quiet? I’m afraid they won’t. I guess the giant governmental PR machine may have underestimated our fortitude and determination.
Whilst we can appreciate the sentiment behind your statements, which I’m sure is genuine, you have not given us the answers we are seeking. How will you achieve better funding to students through ‘streamlining’ and what will streamlining look like? Until we get those answers we will continue to be noisy (deafening in fact).
We as parents are striving 24/7 to raise children who can become happy, appreciated, well-understood and productive members of society. All we ask for is that you work with us to better understand their needs, and the successes they can achieve with better funding and more support. Please LISTEN to what we are trying to tell you.
We want to be listened to, we want to be heard. You say that you want to work with us – why are you not responding to our questions? Why are you deleting perfectly reasonable questions and comments from your Facebook page? As a passionate parent and advocate recently suggested, we see plenty of pictures of you planting trees and other lovely photo opportunities, but where are the photos of you working alongside children with additional, high or very high needs, trying to understand how teachers meet their needs with no funding? Where are the photos of you talking to parents whose children have been turned away from schools or stood down because there are no teacher aides to help the teacher support their learning and behavioural needs? Where are those photos Ms Parata?
I respectfully ask (again) that you respond to these thoughts and concerns with REAL answers. We WANT to be involved in the direction that these changes will go, nobody knows the needs of children with ‘special’ needs better than their parents. We want to give you the benefit of our guidance. I am not setting out to be a trouble maker. I have spent an hour and a half on this letter, an hour and a half I could have spent playing with my son. But I am forced into this situation because I need to fight to be heard. Please respect our combined knowledge and experience, there is so much that we could add to help you lead an education system that we can ALL be proud of.
With kind regards,
Mum to a super special, endearing, pride-inducing and heart-warming wee lad.
Letter reproduced with Andrea’s kind permission.