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Special Education

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Green Party initiates inquiry into education special needs

The Green Party has initiated a Parliamentary Inquiry into dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorders in schools in New Zealand.

Following a request from the Green Party, the Education and Science Select Committee has today agreed to investigate the identification of and support for students facing the significant challenges of dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorders.

“We want to change the system so every child has a fair go.”

Green Party Education spokesperson, Catherine Delahunty

“So many students are missing out on education because their learning differences are not identified early enough and help is not made available. We want to change the system so every child has a fair go,” Green Party Education spokesperson Catherine Delahunty said.

Significant numbers of New Zealanders live with these conditions.

  • 13,000 children between 2-14 have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum disorder (including Asperger’s syndrome),
  • autism is estimated to affect 40,000 people,
  • dyslexia is estimated to affect 70,000 people, and
  • dyspraxia is estimated to affect 70,000 schoolchildren.

“Of course, these figures are speculative because the identifying of these learning issues has been so contentious,” Ms Delahunty said.

“There needs to be strong processes and support in place to enable these learners to make the most of their educational opportunities.

“Investigations at an early level of education are important before students may become discouraged from education at higher levels.

“Decile 10 schools are seven times more likely

to get Special Assessment Conditions assistance

than students in Decile 1 schools”

“Of particular concern, has been the inequality in access to support for these conditions. Decile 10 schools are seven times more likely to get Special Assessment Conditions assistance than students in Decile 1 schools.

“It can cost well over $700 to get these special assessments done. Parents and schools need assistance to ensure that these conditions are picked up and students get the assistance that they need,” Ms Delahunty said.

The Terms of Reference include:

  • Investigate current screening in schools
  • Identify best educational practice
  • Investigate why Special Assessment Conditions differ so greatly among schools

“While this is great news for special needs learners, I am disappointed that the Select Committee has not taken up my Te Reo in schools inquiry as well.

“I urge a wide range of parents, schools, and teachers to participate and engage in the Select Committee process that is going ahead.

“It is very encouraging to have the support of the other parties on the Select Committee to address this problem. I hope it will result in students being able to get the right help that they need,” Ms Delahunty said.

– END

Study challenges Govt to fix “system failure” for special needs students – NZEI

nzei logoA UK study which has found that teacher aides in some cases did not improve learning, challenges the New Zealand Government to come up with its own research, as part of a general system-wide “fix” of special education in this country.

NZEI National Secretary Paul Goulter says in New Zealand the Government has continued to short-change students with special needs.

“The ‘system fix’ needs to urgently address the fact that it is impossible to develop a professional teacher aide workforce because of the way teacher aides are funded through the paltry Operations Grant.”

The grant received a one percent increase in this year’s Budget.

“These are dedicated hardworking people, yet they have no job security and often receive no professional development or proper training.  And despite working with children with extremely challenging educational needs, there is no formal qualification and no career pathway for teacher aides.

“Many receive little more than the minimum adult wage. This is an insult to special needs students, their parents and teacher aides.

“It is a system failure and it shows that the Government is not committed to improving learning for students with special needs.

“We need a professional teacher aide workforce and the Government system works against that.”

Government’s Budget announcements for kids can’t be trusted – Green Party

Green party logoA huge underspend in special education shows that Government Budget promises can’t be trusted and Ministers have no idea about the real needs of children, the Green Party says.

More than $32 million of funding for children with special needs has not been spent by the Government, despite families of children with special needs complaining for years that they’ve been denied the support they deserve.

“It’s hard to know whether this is deliberate penny pinching or a complete lack of understanding about the extent of the need in schools; either way children with special needs are missing out,” Green Party education spokesperson Catherine Delahunty said.

“This is what happens when the Government is not focussed on the needs of kids, but on other things, like keeping its disastrous Charter School experiment alive.

The Green Party commissioned analysis after last year’s budget showing that spending on education and health was falling in real terms under the National Government. Yesterday we saw the Prime Minister pretending he was spending more on education this year when all he was doing was re-package funding that had already been announced for new schools needed to keep up with population growth.

“The Government likes to be seen to be doing things in education because it knows that is what New Zealanders want, but the experience of special needs kids and their schools is that the promises are increasingly empty.

“The special needs sector has been crying out for more resources for years, and its shocking that the Government is not even spending what they said they would on the most needy learners in New Zealand,” Ms Delahunty said.

– END

Thinking differently about education

He looked at me with a crumpled face and mumbled “I can’t read it.”  There was a moment of nothingness, both of us trying not to cry. I swallowed hard. “I know, sweetie,” I said, and I rubbed the back of his hand in a bid to convey how I felt, to tell him I understood what was swarming around him. Around us both.

“I can’t make it so you don’t take the test,” I told him.  I didn’t tell him I’d tried and been turned down. I couldn’t.  Instead, I explained that it was my job to help him be able to sit those tests and do his best, be proud of himself, and stay happy. That I’d do my best to make sure we achieved that, and he shouldn’t worry, because we were an awesome team and we could do it.

I didn’t tell him that what I was doing had little to no educational value.

I didn’t tell him that the other kids would all do fine but he would fail the test.

I didn’t tell him that he was being treated disgracefully.

But he knew.

child sitting a testSo we spent the next few weeks out of the class, me, him, and a few other strugglers learning what I called “exam technique” but what really was how to survive testing without losing your marbles, your confidence and all belief in yourself.

I taught him how to scan for key words that he recognised and then guess what the question might be.  I taught him that it was worth circling (a) (b) (c) or (d) even when he had no clue what he was answering.  I taught him that it was okay to put his pencil down when it all felt too much.

And I taught him that being dyslexic was not a personal failing. I told him that kindness, perseverance, hard work, and honesty were brilliant qualities to have.  I told him he would find his place in the world.  I explained that these tests didn’t define his worth.

So the test came and went, and he didn’t cry or get stressed or panic.  He remembered the strategies and gave every test his all.

Of course, he failed.  At least according to the tests, anyway.

To me he was a hero.

At the final assembly before he and his classmates went to ‘big school’, each student had to say what they were looking forward to at the new school and what they had enjoyed at their current school.  He said he was looking forward to learning to read and his favourite thing about his time at this school was me.

I cried.

His teacher laughed.

The class’s test results were very good, overall. The teacher became a deputy head teacher the following year on the back of those great results. Great test results mean a great teacher, apparently.

Cam and I think differently.

~ Dianne

#28daysofwriting

Special Needs Support Sadly Lacking

mazeWhat’s going on in New Zealand? We have the Ministry of Education saying they want to support special educational needs, we have Hekia Parata demanding (quite rightly) that all children are given a fair crack with their learning, we have teachers crying out for support, and we have parents tearing their hair out, being pushed pillar to post and at every turn asked to pay, pay, pay.

Where are the students in all of this?

The system is broken. In fact, calling it a system is being generous – it’s more of a series of disparate services that each tell you they can’t help.

You have a child with behavioural or emotional problems? Tough.  If you’re lucky you’ll be offered a leaflet for a parenting course… or should I say another parenting course. Because the first thing you have to remember when your child has issues is that it’s automatically deemed to be your fault.

Heaven forbid anyone with an ounce of training in child psychology, mental health, spectrum disorders, behavioural issues, or anything useful gets to observe and evaluate your child. If you want a diagnosis, you’re going to have to get battle ready and prepare to fight.

You will also need to prepare to open you wallet. Often. And widely.

All too often I hear of parents asking school for support – school refer the parent to their doctor or child mental health services – they pass the buck back to school – school then tries the next agency – the buck is passed again. Often the school is trying so hard to help, but they are hitting brick walls all the way, just like the parents.

And meanwhile, that child is still waiting for support.

At some point, parents are advised to go private and get help. There are two problems here.

  • First of all, who has $120 an hour spare for a series of sessions? Not everyone by any means, and help shouldn’t depend on whether the child has well off parents or not.  It should be available to all students.
  • Secondly, finding the right help is a mine field,  If you don’t know what the issues are and are searching for a diagnosis, you will often see a raft of people who are not qualified to do that properly. So you try another specialist, and another, and all the time you are paying for this non-help.

Some time ago, Peter Hughes, head of the Ministry of Education, said “When things aren’t working [the Ministry of Education] will own that and work with everyone involved to find solutions.” Well things aren’t working, Peter, truly they aren’t.  So what is being done?

As I said in July, you have a complete overhaul to do, after years of neglect of special needs provision that is to the detriment of all of our students and is a disgrace.

Caring parents and teachers are doing all they can. But we need a good system that supports us to do our part well. And our children deserve nothing less.

~ Dianne

Also read:
Peter Hughes thinks Ministry has work to do on Special Needs provision, does he?

Why I left the classroom and won’t go back (yet), by Sarah Aiono

I left the classroom after deciding I simply couldn’t be the teacher I wanted to be.

In front of 32 Year 2 students (5 and 6 year olds) in a school in South Auckland I became more and more frustrated at the lack of time I had to connect with my students on an individual basis. Despite the enormous hours I was putting in, I was not satisfied in any way with the quality of my instruction I was able to deliver.

H20140713-084836-31716449.jpgekia and her gang will argue that it is quality of teacher instruction not quantity of students in the room that lifts student achievement. As a quality teacher (or so I’ve been told) I am incredibly offended by this moot.

My last classroom consisted of 32 Year 2 students from some of the most challenging socio-economic backgrounds. Over 3/4 of my class arrived in front of me operating at a pre-emergent literacy and numeracy level (operating below 5 years of age).

As a quality teacher, my programme adapted swiftly and often to meet the needs of my students. I taught to their level and at the time (fortunately) I did not have today’s pressure of meeting a national standard of achievement. I used my data gathered to address learning gaps and to respond to student interest all the while meeting the national curriculum objectives.

I worked on weekends, holidays and late nights in order to be very prepared, thus freeing me up to spend time building relationships with my students.

I had children with significant learning and behaviour needs, supported by RTLB.

I had children regularly involved with counselling services. I had children reintegrating from withdrawn programmes and residential schools.

I made sandwiches for my kids who regularly didn’t have lunch. (This became more covert when the Principal banned staff from doing this).

I also worked as an associate teacher, guiding a provisionally registered teacher in her first year of service.

I ran before-school alphabet groups and basic word revision.

In summary, I worked my butt off.

And yet I felt a sense of dissatisfaction at my ability to reach those children in my class that needed even just a little more of my time. I found there were days in my classroom where it felt like I was directing traffic. I had to work hard consciously to connect with every child every day. If I didn’t, I could easily have passed over an ‘invisible’ child in the day.

There could have been children in my class, who, apart from roll call, could have not had a single individual conversation with their teacher that day.

And yet Hekia says the amount of students in a classroom has no bearing on lifting achievement.

Cle20140713-084815-31695665.jpgarly I was misguided and misinformed. I was obviously not of the quality Hekia wants in her classrooms, as I couldn’t ‘fix’ all the issues before me.

While I chipped away at learning levels, lifting my students from pre-emergent through to 6 months below, I settled for providing my students with a fun and safe environment from 9am to 3pm. For many of these students that took precedent.

My level of dissatisfaction grew to the point where I decided I couldn’t work in these classrooms any longer. For me to work in a smaller classroom setting, I would need to look up the decile rankings and even into the private providers to achieve this.

But this was not attractive in the sense that I enjoyed working with children in the lower decile schools. So I left the classroom altogether.

For me to be the quality teacher I wanted to be I needed the quantity of students in front of me to be less. It really was that simple. Fewer students gave me the ability to do my job even better.

So I left the classroom.

Every year I feel the pull back. I long to have ‘my kids’ again. To enjoy being in front of children, exploring, investigating and imparting knowledge as a year-long journey.

And every year I decide I simply could not teach the way I would enjoy in the current education environment. I would rage against a system instead of working happily within it.

Perhaps next year?

~ by Sarah Aiono, first published on her blog, Cheeky Kids.

Sarah Aiono holds a B.Ed (Dip Tchg), PGd.Dip.Ed (Dist) and a Master of Education and has worked for over ten years with children exhibiting challenging behaviour. She is an Accredited Incredible Years Facilitator and Peer Coach. She is currently employed as a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour and is a Company Director for Little Ninjas Ltd, a service for parents and teachers in understanding children who work outside the ‘square’. 

Hipkins and Martin well received, Parata not so much – what happened at the Tick For Kids Education Forum 12.8.14

There was an air of excitement, tension and hope at last night’s Tick For Kids education forum in Wellington.  The room was packed, and people were very keen to hear what the parties’ representatives have to say about education policy.

Kiwis are no fools, though, with people well aware of what Chris McKenzie called the pre-election lolly scramble to present popular policy, only 10% of which we might see post-election.

Given what we have heard so far and what was presented at this forum, we can only hope that far more than 10% of the promises come to fruition should there be a change in government.

So, to the night.  

The panel comprised Hekia Parata (National), Chris Hipkins (Labour), Tracey Martin (NZ First), Peter Dunne (United Future), Chris McKenzie (Maori Party), Suzanne Ruthven (Greens), and Miriam Pierard (Internet-Mana) and was MCed very well by Dave Armstrong.

The candidates’ names were drawn from a bowl to determine the order in which they spoke – all very fair and orderly – and Armstrong made clear that people were welcome to mention each other, refer to other parties’ policies, and so on – unlike the shambles at Helensville the previous night.  That got a big giggle.

(Clearly the Helensville event wasn’t run by Tick For Kids, otherwise it would have been far more interesting and informative.)

First up was Chris McKenzie (Maori Party)

McKenzie outlined a credible background in education and then won a significant ripple of applause when he said the Maori Party will reinstate ACE (Adult and Community Education) funding.  

McKenzie also said they would make Te Reo compulsory and would look into the teaching of civics so that students understand the democratic process.  

Given I had spent 90 minutes the night before trying to explain that very thing to my babysitter, I could well understand the need for civics in the curriculum.  Maybe my high school colleagues can fill me in on what they feel is needed?

Peter Dunne (United Future) was up next 

Dunne spoke mostly in generalities, with lots of feel good stuff about great teaching and high expectations, saying he wouldn’t be more specific as United Future’s policy is not out until next week!  

He did, however, go out on a high note by stating UF would work to repeal charter schools.  

Cue more audience applause.

Hekia Parata (National; Education Minister) was the next to take centre stage

Hekia tfkWellyParata started by saying that student achievement had risen during National’s time in government and that now students are staying in school longer, saying that there was still more to do, especially for the neediest groups.

There was a wee round of clapping from one corner of the room.  I later spotted that group leaving with Ms Parata – whether anyone *not* in her entourage clapped, I cannot say for sure…

Parata then said that special education needs was a key area of focus, and this elicited mumbling from the audience, most of whom are no doubt well aware that SEN provision is diabolical and has only got worse under this government.  For my own part, it was all I could do to stay quiet and not shout “Tell that to Salisbury School!”

Parata continued on to say that Investing in Education Success (IES) policy would see to it that those issues are all addressed.  This did not go down well with the audience. There was muttering.

Parata ended with a flourish by pronouncing “decile is not destiny” and banging the lectern. It might have gone down well were it not for the fact that teachers KNOW THAT already and don’t take kindly to being patronised.  If she was waiting for a round of applause for her showmanship, she was disappointed.

And if showmanship is what was called for, we were in luck, because the next person to speak was Tracey Martin (New Zealand First), who always gives a clear and excellent speech.

Tracey Martin (New Zealand First)

Martin pulled no punches, opening by saying that teachers and the education system have been under constant attack by this government and it’s been relentless.  She listed what we have seen from National: increased class sizes, charter schools, national standards and more.  

Martin said parents were tricked into supporting (or at least not fighting) National Standards by the promise that they would be helpful, but said that’s not turned out to be the case.  

Tracey Martin tfkWellyMartin said that *if* Hekia Parata actually meant the things she said and did what she said, things would be far better, but she says one thing when she is means another.

In other words, the sales pitch doesn’t match what’s delivered.  

The audience seemed to agree, with a large clap and mutterings of “too right”.

There was no pause as Martin went straight into EDUCANZ and the assault on teachers’ democracy.  More clapping.

Martin then made absolutely clear that NZF would repeal both National Standards and charter schools.  Applause from the room.

She went on to say that the conversation about how to improve education needs to be given back to teachers, that the sector itself needs to be involved and listened to.  

She said change should be driven by teachers and facilitated by politicians, not the other way around.

Barely pausing for breath, Martin said Boards of Trustees (BOTs) would get compulsory training under NZF plans, ORS funding would increase to 3%, and there would be more money for special needs across the board.

This was all very well received by the audience, and Martin ended by saying (in a wee dig at Dunne) that New Zealand First’s education policy is already online, in full, and had been there for three months.  She urged us all to read it.  You should.

Suzanne Ruthven (Green Party)

Tracey Martin was a hard act to follow, but Suzanne Ruthven from the Green Party (who was standing in for Catherine Delahunty due to a family emergency) spoke to the effect of poverty on a student’s chances of success, said that education needed to be seen in its wider context, and outlined briefly the Green Party’s School Hubs Policy.  

Ruthven explained that School Hubs would be flexible, there was money there for a Hub coordinator so that teachers were not expected to run them on top of their workload, and that schools and communities to mould them in whatever ways best suited their own needs.

And now to Chris Hipkins (Labour)

Chris started by saying he got a top rate education in a state school, and thanked his maths teacher who he had spotted at the back of the room.

He won the crowd over further by quoting Beeby:

“…every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted, and to the fullest extent of his powers.” C E Beeby

Without a pause for breath, Hipkins said charter schools would be repealed under Labour. National Standards would be gone. IES would be gone.  School donations would be addressed. 

He then said the Advisory Service would be put back in place, and the audience erupted into applause and cheers.

He went on – ECE would be funded to 100% qualified staff – more clapping

– and EDUCANZ would be ditched – HUGE applause and cheers, again, from the audience.

Hipkins sat down with the clapping still going.

Miriam Pierard was next up

Pierard explainsed that until very recently she was a teacher, and she believes once a teacher always a teacher.  

It is, she says, time to take the education system back.

Pierard was clear that poverty and education need to be addressed together and that any government must work alongside teachers to find solutions.  She stressed that the Internet Party want to hear from teachers about what they believe needs to be done. 

Pierard reminds the crowd that ACT Party describe teachers as “vile” and says not all politicians feel that way.

Pierard ends by asking how many teachers in the room have been stuffed over by Novopay? Over half the hands went up.  There’s applause for the recognition of the scale of the problem. She nods, sagely.  

We all nod.  

And sigh.

And with that, the candidates’ speeches are over, and we are onto Question Time… which deserves a post all of its own….

________________________________________________

Other articles about the event:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/10378693/Hekia-Parata-put-in-corner-at-debate

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11307961

https://storify.com/Dianne_Khan/tick-for-kids-education-forum-wellington-12-8-14

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/election-2014/252029/crowd-puts-tough-questions-to-parata

Northland schools should be praised – Te Tai Tokerau Principals

poverty and school reform“Northland Schools should be praised and recognised for the hard work and expertise of their teachers and principals”, says Pat Newman, President of Te Tai Tokerau Principals Association.

He continues, “I’m actually amazed at how well we are doing. Northland leads NZ on every negative socioeconomic indicator available, yet despite this, despite the simple fact that resourcing for Special Education, behaviour, truancy, health, and wrap around support for families is totally inadequate, teachers and principals in Northland continue to teach to an extremely high level of expertise and dedication.

“Principals up here for many years, have told the Ministry, that whether the Ministry/Minister believes we have the necessary help based on their paper shuffling in Wellington, it is totally inadequate to cover the glaring needs of our children. Now instead of recognising we were correct, instead of providing the help we need, the Minister continues to refuse to acknowledge this and offers more talk as the solution! Northland again short changed!

“As a principal, I spend most of my days as a principal, screaming and fighting the agencies set up to help these children, who are themselves hamstrung by the resourcing levels set for Northland.

“It is soul destroying. Schools up here are dealing on a daily basis, with children who regularly throw furniture around, abuse teachers verbally, hit out at others, threaten, have no lunches, come from homes where drugs are rife etc. We know none of this is the kids fault, but it is impossible to get adequate help for them. Lots of assessment but little “dooey”!

“The Ministry itself has research that is kept quiet that clearly shows that absenteeism is the biggest factor in school success.

“The Minister continues to trumpet how she has improved learning in NZ, based upon what is widely recognised as based on shonky National Standards Data.
What is her answer? To send in more advice! More talking! More assessment.

“I know words are powerful, but we don’t need this. What we need is less talk, and more realistic resourcing to support to cover the needs of the children in Northland!”

Peter Hughes thinks Ministry has work to do on Special Needs provision, does he?

less talk more actionWell, I think that is the understatement of the year, Mr Hughes.

You say that “[e]very child is unique and teachers and other parents don’t always understand that or get it right.” And yet when teachers are crying out for money to be spent on training and on good provisions for special needs students they are ignored.  When the government want to spend money on change principals and lead teachers via the IES proposal and teachers shout out that they don’t want bonuses but in-class support and training, the Minister says we are whining.

So, when teachers don’t get it right, bear in mind, Mr Hughes, that you and your Ministry are part of that problem.  .

You say that “When things aren’t working [the Ministry of Education] will own that and work with everyone involved to find solutions.”  Really?  Because parents and educators instead talk of huge waiting lists to get help, paperwork mountains no money available, and children having their funding removed whenever a slight improvement is seen, only for they to slip back when the support is removed.

You throw in that $530 Million is spent yearly on Special Needs, but so what?  How much is spent dealing with children who haven’t had good support?  Maybe paying for health problems brought on by the stress of fighting the system for every little thing?  Paid out in years to come to those students who weren’t given the best chance and are not unemployed?  What is spent is a mask for what it costs to *not*get it right, and to throw it in as if it proves how hard Ministry is trying is an insult.

And it hardly helps when the Minister cares so little for special needs provision that she is happy to close special needs residential schools – sometimes illegally.

Let’s face it, Mr Hughes, you do not just have work to do – you have a complete overhaul to do, after years of neglect of special needs provision.  And this neglect is to the detriment of all of our students and is a disgrace.

Start by looking at the lack of good professional development out there for teachers and teacher aides.

Try investigating at the minuscule bit of teacher training that is spent learning about special needs.

Look at the detrimental effect of National Standards on both students and teachers.

Ask parents and teachers how hard it is to get help even for the kids with severe learning disabilities.

Then tell me again you just “have work to do.”

___________________________________________________________________________

References and further reading:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/10265079/Education-ministry-still-got-work-to-do

http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/assignments/nz-election-school-of-politics/10253672/Imagine-your-child-going-through-this

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/8611167/Angry-and-upset-at-lack-of-school-support

http://www.nzei.org.nz/NZEI/Media/Releases/2014/1/New_plan_to_establish_elite_teachers_ignores_biggest_hurdle_to_student_success_.aspx#.U8PCzPmSwcE

https://www.facebook.com/NZSpecialNeedsEducation

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/7833594/Call-to-reverse-special-needs-education-cuts

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/learning-challenges

A shameful shadow of an education system

The article below is about the saddest thing I have ever read about education, and fits exactly what I saw starting before I left the UK to come to New Zealand.  Sadly, this government is following the UK with this madness, and this horror is now here too.  I am devastated.  This is a shameful shadow of education and in years to come will be reflected on as a period of utter and total disgrace.

Secret Teacher, writes in The Guardian (UK):

speech marks blue bubbleWhen I began teaching I worked in early years. Back then, personal, social and emotional development was factored into every aspect of the curriculum. It was understood that to become a successful learner you needed to develop a love of learning and feel secure in your abilities to overcome challenges.

I remember rejoicing the first time a painfully shy child answered their name in the register and when another proudly taught the class to say hello in their home language. But these normal everyday achievements did not happen by magic; the children only achieved these things because they felt secure in their school environment and the right opportunities were available to them.

Roll on a few years and I recently found myself teaching key stage 1 in a new school rated good, and aiming for outstanding. But in this quest, levels and targets have become more important than anything – more important than the children, it seemed.

One Autumn morning I was summoned to the assistant headteacher’s office for the first round of target setting for the year. I was asked to predict the levels my year 1 class would get in their year 2 Sats. I should mention that 70% of my class arrived in year 1 below the expected reading age, which posed a problem; my literacy levels did not meet the targets and could not be submitted to the borough. Apparently, my predictions were “not ambitious enough” and were up levelled. The new targets were accompanied by a speech making the pressure of these expectations clear.

As a new member of staff, I was interested to see what approach the school would take to ensure the levels were met. Their preferred method was manipulation, making sure no one had access to enough information for a full picture. Parents were held at arm’s length and assistant headteachers were present in all formal meetings to monitor what information was shared and how. If a teacher was seen talking to a parent for too long in the playground, an assistant head would appear and join??????????????????????????????????????? the conversation. Nothing quite says you’re not trusted like being watched constantly.

In one meeting I was horrified to witness just how far they were willing to push the pursuit of targets at the expense of the children. My year group included four children that were in the learning support centre. Although they weren’t taught in mainstream classes, they were included in our all-important levels, which unfortunately meant our “quota” of children not at expected levels had already been accounted for.

One child who came under particular scrutiny had been a “problem” in reception. He fidgeted and struggled to manage his behaviour in certain circumstances. Compared to other children I had taught, he had minor behaviour needs, but he was behind academically. With a little bit of nurturing he was improving – the other children were not being affected by him and he was making academic progress. Even so, I was told to put pressure on his parent to take him elsewhere. At the sight of my horrified expression this softened to nudging them gently. Officially, the reason given was behaviour, but I have no doubt that unofficially levels and the extra time he required were the biggest factors in this decision.

When I didn’t follow orders, meetings began taking place that I was not invited to or informed of. I have no idea what the parent was told, but several secret meetings later they must have got the message and made the decision to move him to another school.

Read the rest here.

Food for Thought:

The comments below the article are food for thought. Below are some of the ones that stood out for me.

“This problem is now worsening due to the pressure being put on us by unrealistic performance management targets. If we don’t get the children to a certain place by the end of the year, we now don’t move up the pay scale. Horrid.”

“You aptly sum up why I, with deep regret, turned my back on headship. Loved the job but the conflict between doing what was morally right and what was demanded politically had moved beyond an uneasy compromise and into the territory of being expected to sell one’s soul.”

” This target driven culture comes directly from the DfE (past and present) and is enforced with an iron fist by Ofsted. If a school fails to meet targets it gets taken over, the head will be sacked as may be many other teachers. The only people willing to become heads and deputies now a days are those who are willing to play this game and whose ambition (and often limited talent) drives them to fiddle figures, bully and coerce others into making often impossible targets.”

“It’s obvious that the education system is broken to varying degrees across the country and in many schools. I have seen the type of behaviour, described by the secret teacher, towards children who ‘won’t make the grade’ happening more and more as the performance management has been directly linked with pay rises or lack of them, and the need for more and more children to make targets that are at best challenging but for many completely impossible. Those teachers who don’t get their quota of children to the grades required are not just not getting pay award but also in danger of the competency procedure. It’s a very very sad and bleak world for those children who for one reason or another cannot/ or will not make the expected grades and gain the results schools need to keep ofsted et al off their backs.”

Final Word

And the last word goes to this commentator, who I think speaks for so many of us when they say “This is just terrible. It’s not what we went into education to do.”

 

 

 

 

GERM agenda sucks money out of public education – NZEI Press Release

The 1 percentFigures in yesterday’s Budget show that millions of dollars are being skimmed out of public schools to pay for the government’s ideological experiments with the Global Education Reform Movement.

More than $12m over two years is being transferred to five charter schools (which currently teach a total of just 367 children) and $1.145m into Public-Private Partnerships.

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Judith Nowotarski said the incredibly high per-head cost of running charter schools was being paid at the expense of public school students and teachers.

“It seems parents of special needs children can beg for more funding until they’re blue in the face, but when it comes to the government’s ideological projects, money is no problem – just take it out of the public system,” she said.

“Treasury officials warned that any Public Private Partnerships for building schools would result in minimal savings – after all, tax payers have to pay the construction company’s profit margins. But on top of that, the government has pulled more than $1m from public school budgets for the PPP projects in Hobsonville.”

Charter schools
Charter schools received an extra $7.978m from the Secondary education budget line through appropriations (p 211 Vote Education Supplementary estimates of appropriations document) and an additional $1.252m from Primary Education (p 210 of the Supplementary Estimates) for the first tranche of schools in 2013/4 and they will get an additional $3.384m in 2014/15. (page 2 of Vote Education Initiatives paper).

Public Private Partnerships
$1.145 has been transferred from the School Property Portfolio Management to Hobsonville Point PPPs.

Hoping for some honest answers on charter schools

 

bagbreatheTeachers don’t often switch off.  A good friend refers to holidays as “non-contact” time. And given our government’s habit of pushing through major education legislation during the holidays, you start to feel like those kids in Jurassic Park, sheltering and hyper-aware of every movement as the velociraptors keep testing for gaps in the perimeter.

Saturday’s the one morning I do try to disengage the teacher brain and enjoy a meander round our local farmers’ market with my mum. But this weekend, the Act party were on the “community group” stall – including the Epsom candidate, David Seymour, who assisted John Banks with the drafting of Act’s charter schools policy.

I’ve read and archived more than 500 articles and op-eds on the decimation of American public schooling in favour of charter schools; that virtual pinboard records the same cynical treatment of state schools in the UK – and now here. It fills me with a cold anger that this is being done to students, teachers and schools. Community as a concept is avidly being unpicked. And schools are some of the nicest communities I’ve ever experienced, held together by a lot of personal sacrifice. Targeting them seems like the educational equivalent of harp-seal clubbing.

So this was a chance to talk to the people who are doing things to education – and fair play, Seymour was fronting up in public. Some other politicians who are neck-deep in this aren’t very good at that.

The charter schools pilot makes me want to grab a paper bag and breathe into it vigorously. Part of my job is to promote scientific thinking in children. It’s the simplest of bottom lines: you keep all variables but the one you’re examining the same for it to be a fair test. Charter school students were receiving more funding per head than public school students, and class sizes were 12-15 compared to 28+ in public schools. So that was one of the questions I put to Mr Seymour – how can this test be called “fair”?

The information on funding is “untrue”  and class sizes “will grow,” he said. But, I said, that’s not what some charter schools are advertising on radio.
I was then informed that it was a “natural experiment”, and results would be “corrected”, controlling for covariates after the trial.  I did a bit more reading later on – yes, they are an option when testing in science. The following gave me slight pause:
“Natural experiments are employed as study designs when controlled experimentation is extremely difficult to implement or unethical, such as in several research areas addressed by epidemiology (e.g., evaluating the health impact of varying degrees of exposure to ionizing radiation in people living near Hiroshima at the time of the atomic blast) and economics (e.g., estimating the economic return on amount of schooling in US adults.”

(Also see this paper  and this paper for a deeper discussion of this type of test.)

Apparently I’m a ‘conspiracy theorist’ for believing that charter schools are the beginning of privatisation by stealth, no matter how much evidence there is for it in America and the United Kingdom. But you heard it here first, and I asked if I could quote him on it: schools will not be forcibly privatised against the wishes of their communities, as is happening in Britain. I look forward to following that up.

I asked him about the effect of competition on the thing that makes good education: sharing of knowledge and resources. He hadn’t heard of the charter school in New York visited by a New Zealand teacher, where all doors, windows and cupboards are locked – not because it’s a dangerous neighbourhood, but because teachers are worried about others “stealing” their ideas.

Seymour challenged me on what I would do with a middle school like the one he attended, where children were apparently allowed to run around and do whatever they liked. (Aren’t there mechanisms in place already? Commissioners?) He also asked if I had visited any of the charter schools myself – the people behind them were all good people, doing good things. I asked him if he’d visited any of the schools in the area where I work to see the good things they were doing, too.

Seymour was lukewarm on the idea of National Standards – shock! common ground? – but it’s because they run counter to Act’s ideas of “freedom” from government control. It was my first real-life encounter with someone who believes so fervently in decentralisation, and it was a strange feeling. Like standing on opposite sides of a Wile E Coyote canyon and trying to make ourselves understood.

It was also fairly heartbreaking to hear an older supporter on the stand, someone kind enough to volunteer to read with children at a school in an area of very high need, ask “Why can’t we just give it a go? Why can’t we have a choice?”

If it really was just about choice, and getting the best deal for our kids, and the public system wasn’t steadily being undermined at the same time, maybe I wouldn’t be so angry.
So I left, feeling like I’d engaged in some harp-seal clubbing of my own in directing that beam of fury at the two ACT supporter ladies. (And embarrassed that I’d lost track of time and stood Dianne up for breakfast.)

Funny how a day can pan out, however. Later at the Quality Public Education Coalition forum, chairman Bill Courtney caused heads to swivel when he greeted Alwyn Poole in the audience before giving an update on charter schools. Poole is the principal of Mt Hobson Middle School. He’s also a member of the Villa Education Trust, whose South Auckland Middle School is one of the first in the charter schools pilot.

What a magnificent thing it was to be able to ask questions openly of someone involved in this, and to receive frank answers. (At last!) And to know that this person has extensive experience in education (and multiple teaching qualifications).

Courtney’s talk used South Auckland Middle School’s figures to explain how funding has been allocated. He also made the point that the charter school model has been hijacked by the privatisation movement. One of the first proponents of the idea, Albert Shanker, saw it as a way to allow teachers greater autonomy, to engage the students who weren’t being served by normal schools.

This sounds like what Poole’s schools have been able to do: Poole said he works with children with needs like dyslexia or Asperger’s, or kids who need a “boost” at middle school level. He was asked why couldn’t he achieve it within the system as a special character school. In 2002, that option was “blocked”. They were looking for “ways of expanding what we do”, so applied for the partnership school option.

The school doesn’t carry the same infrastructure as state schools, principals do admin and teach, and they have “a nice lease agreement”. They also have qualified teachers and teach to the New Zealand Curriculum.

Poole was also asked if some of the biggest barriers to learning faced by many schools in Manukau, such as transience, were problems for his school. Transience, less so, but they have had a small degree of truancy (10 hours), and two students had a conflict and left during the school day.

 

Chest

Class size, and the basic mathematics of time for giving one-to-one support, seems to me to be the elephant in the educational tent. It’s splitting it at the seams as most politicians studiously try to avoid treading in its dung.

Unlike many politicians, Poole openly acknowledges that their 1:15 ratio is part of their success in helping students. Why not campaign for the same ratio for state schools? an audience member asked.
Poole:  “We love our 1:15 ratio and we would advocate for it very strongly.”

Poole said that they’ve also applied to the Ministry for funding to evaluate their model with the help of the University of Florida.

I went up to him afterwards to say thank you, and realised he must have seen some of my trail of articles on charters on the SOSNZ Facebook page (eek).

We touched on something that came up when he spoke to us: dyslexia. When I was a BT, I had a fantastic student who was also dyslexic.  I also had a fairly big class and very basic training in how best to support him, but fortunately, he had a proactive mum who could share her knowledge. I still collect resources now based on what I wish I could have done for him.
Poole started to talk about the things they do, and there was that moment, that neat spark you get when you meet another teacher who might have the solution for the child that you want to help, who will no doubt share it with you, because that’s what we’re both here for, after all.

And that’s what I find hardest to accept: we have educators being pitted against educators in this. Experience, training and knowledge is being dissed.

When stuff like this is happening, the problem is now having faith that the current Ministry of Education is “getting out of bed every morning”, as Courtney put it, with their main aim being to guarantee every child a quality education.
But as Courtney notes, there is no official, publicly available ‘Isaac Report’ to enlighten us on the findings of Catherine Isaac’s working party.  There is no attempt to be scientific and explain how the government intends to evaluate the pilot schools, and the concept. Instead there’s a second round of schools funded before any meaningful data has been generated by the first.

There’s not a recognition that public schools overseas are still managing to deliver results, even though they’re being treated like the Black Knight in Monty Python, battling on and squirting blood as another limb gets lopped off.

I got a lot of answers on Saturday. Now I have a new question. Will all educators – partnership school and state – be willing to dare to do what annoyed Tau Henare so much about the Problem Gambling Foundation: stand together to “bag the hand that feeds them” and oppose the secretive development of policy that serves ideology – not kids?

Screen-Shot-2014-03-21-at-7.47.40-pm

Dyslexia and the new super roles: The perfect storm?

dyslexia chalkboard

Today the Dyslexia Foundation New Zealand (DFNZ), who I have a huge amount of respect for, sent out an email celebrating positive changes for dyslexic students in the education sector.  But the email has me concerned. It tells me:

“There is … a tidal wave of change driven by ultra fast internet access and the “bring your own device to school” model, and a significant financial commitment by government aimed to improve leadership and retain great teachers. This might well signal a “perfect storm” that will further advance changes that will benefit our dyslexic students.”

Fast internet – great.  But, of course, the key is still that there must be a teacher there who understands dyslexia and knows what apps would be best for the student.  The internet without the expertise is of limited use.

BYOD – great. So long as all students have access to a device…..

… and I agree dyslexic students need better support and changes need to happen.

But I’m not sure how DFNZ sees the new roles as supporting this.

Perfect Storm?  Really?

More of a tsunami

Does the Dyslexia Foundation really believe current government initiatives will “improve leadership and retain great teachers”?Because that’s not the feedback I am hearing.

In fact, teachers are saying in their droves they have had it up to the back teeth with the constant reforms hitting the wrong areas and that special needs students are being let down badly by the system.

When the “super roles” were first announced, DFNZ put out a press release in which it said:

“it is critical that the external panel filling these new school roles has recognised expertise in addressing a range of learning differences and preferences. It has welcomed the Government’s intention to work with key sector groups to further develop and finalise details of the new approach.”

DFNZ seems to be unaware that key sector groups are being given incredibly limited say in the roles and that the bones of them have been set by government and are not up for negotiation.  Maybe they could watch and think about this video, which shows that the principals will be chosen by government not by the education sector.  And the roles themselves are to be driven by “achievement”, by which the government mean more National Standards and NCEA results.

National Standards

DFNZ responded to my querying their stance by saying “The DFNZ hasn’t entered the debate around National Standards, and doesn’t plan on doing so.”

But they have.  Unwittingly, maybe, but it doesn’t change the fact that their email essentially shows they are in support of proposals and roles that are to be underpinned by test results, which for primary schools is National Standards.

That would be all well and good if NS helped students.  But having ‘Standards’ for reading and writing does not help teachers do any better job of teaching anyone let alone special needs students.  Nor does it help students learn better.

Teachers already had, before National Standards, plenty of benchmarks and rubrics to refer to.  They already undertook regular testing to check where students were and what to teach next.  Sadly, all National Standards has added is more admin (oh the teacher hours inputting the data), a stick with which to beat schools via league tables, and another damaging label for those most in need.

“Teachers in most of the schools were clear that labelling children ‘below’ or ‘well below’ was unhelpful or damaging. This was considered especially problematic when there were lots of children with ESOL backgrounds or children with special needs…”  

(p.22) Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) Project: Final Report: National Standards and the Damage Done, Martin Thrupp et al.

Entrenching National Standards further is counter-productive to the goal of ” personalised teaching, multi-sensory and experiential learning, and the opportunity to present alternative evidence of achievement instead of standard written material” that DFNZ wants.

When grades are given such a huge focus, especially at primary school level, the focus inevitably drifts to getting those just on the cusp of ‘passing’, up and over that threshold.  Those deemed to have no hope of getting above or well above often end up faring worst of all.  That shift is not always done intentionally, but it happens.

Is that really a perfect storm?  Or just a storm?

What would really help?

What teachers want is time, resources and support to improve their own understanding of dyslexic and other special needs students.

  • More and better-quality special needs training for teachers and teacher aides;
  • Teacher aide support for severely dyslexic students;
  • Better availability of RTLB expertise;
  • Funds for specialist resources;
  • Less admin and hoop-jumping for teachers, so that there is more time to plan and implement targeted and individual learning for all students.

When I was teaching dyslexic students I had none of that and was left to do what I could by reading up online and learning on the fly. Other teachers told me they were in the same boat. And since I have been out of teaching, I am told things are far worse, with parents and teachers constantly upset by having to fight to get support and help for students, end even then they nearly always end up with nothing.

Hey, look, The Dyslexia Foundation know all of that already, they know that more support and training is needed, and they do a brilliant job advocating for that.  They are great, and I applaud their advocacy for dyslexic students and families.

Why they seem so supportive of the super roles, however, remains a mystery.

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The List: What National has done to New Zealand education

It is astounding the list of wrongs done to the Kiwi education system in a few short years.  I’m not exaggerating – it is just beyond belief.  To the point that when I try to think of it all, my head hurts and a thousand conflicting issues start fighting for prominence rendering me unable to sort through the spaghetti of information and in need of a big glass of Wild Side feijoa cider.

I live and breathe this stuff, and if I find it bewildering I can only imagine what it does to the average parent or teacher, grandparent or support staff.

So I am truly grateful that Local Bodies today published a post listing the long list of things public education has had thrown at it since National came to power.

This is the list.  It needs to be read then discussed with friends, colleagues, family, teachers, students, MPs and the guy on the train.  Because this is it – this is what has been thrown at education in a few short years.  It is no overstatement to say that New Zealand Public education is under attack.

Take a breath, and read on:

A National led Government was elected and New Zealand’s public education system came under heavy attack:

You can add to the list the change to teacher training that allows teachers to train in 6 weeks in the school holidays and then train on the job in one school without varied practicums, just as Teach For America does to bring in low cost, short term, untrained ‘teachers’. (Coincidentally great for charter schools, especially those running for profit.)

The full Local Bodies article is here.  It is well worth sharing and discussing (share the original, not this – the full article is better)

Please be aware that what has already gone on is just the preamble to far more extensive measures getting increasing more about Milton Friedman’s “free market” than about good, equal, free public education for all.

Unless you want NZ to descend into the horrors being seen now in England and the United States, you need to act.  How?

  1. Speak up. Talk about the issues with others – encourage them to think about what’s going on and what it means in the long run;  and most importantly,
  2. Vote.  VOTE.  Definitely vote. And encourage everyone you know to vote, as well.

Because three more years like this and the list above will look like child’s play.

~ Dianne

one person stands up and speaks out

Ravitch - public schools under attack

Special Assessment Conditions in NCEA – improvements to system announced

Hundreds more could get special NCEA assessment support, says the Ministry of Education.

The NZQA and the Ministry of Education are moving to ensure hundreds more students get extra help for NCEA assessments to meet their special learning needs.

“It’s important that students at all schools have access to special help if they need it at exam and internal assessment time,” says Brian Coffey, group manager of special education at the Ministry of Education.

child sitting a testThe agencies today released a review of the use of Special Assessment Conditions in NCEA. The review found lower decile schools were much less likely to apply for NCEA exam help for their students with special learning needs, and that the $400-$700 cost of an independent expert assessment was one of the major barriers. Assistance during exams can take the form of a reader and writer, technology support or extra time.

Two major changes are to be made, in time for this year’s exams.

Firstly, NZQA has redesigned an alternative application process that is free to students. The application process has been made quicker and easier to use. Applications made this way use teacher observation and assessment information rather than an independent expert’s report.

“This option hasn’t been as widely used, or as easy to use as it should be. So we’ve streamlined the process and we will urgently be reminding schools this option is available.” says Richard Thornton, deputy chief executive, qualifications, for NZQA.

Secondly, the Ministry of Education will target 250 of the country’s 518 secondary and composite schools to ensure eligible students apply for special assessment. These are schools, many of them lower decile, that are being supported by the Ministry to achieve better NCEA results.

“Our NCEA facilitators will work with these schools to help identify students who could benefit from Special Assessment Conditions for their exams and other assessments this year,” says Mr Coffey.

In 2013 nearly 4000 students were granted access to Special Assessment Conditions, 3% of students in Years 11 to 15. Hundreds of extra students are expected to get help through targeted schools, and through an easier application process.

New technology for students with special learning needs is a priority in the medium term.

“At NZQA we are trialling special headphones so that students with reading difficulties can listen to a recorded exam. If the trial is successful, special headphones will be available in 2015,” says Mr Thornton.

The Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand (DFNZ)

The Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand (DFNZ) responded to the news positively, saying the review gives credit to the recognition of dyslexia as the cause of the increased demand for SAC applications over the last few years. Furthermore, what is also clear from the comprehensive review is that where schools are addressing the needs of students that learn differently [by way of accommodations] they are achieving higher student achievement in areas of language, literacy, numeracy and overall academic achievement.

The DFNZ said the review also highlights the critical need for accommodations to be activated in the primary years, and for great transitioning between primary and secondary, and outlined these additional important things to note:

1. NZQA have extended the official SAC deadline from Fri 10th April to Friday 17th April (the last day of Term 1)

2. NZQA will allow a case by case further extension to the deadline of Monday 5th May for any schools that want to complete their application over the Term 1 holiday. The only requirement, to get the extension, is for the school to contact NZQA so that they are able to manage the anticipated increase in volume and follow up.

3. All RTLB clusters have been contacted and asked to make contact with their local secondary school to see how they can help with identification of students who may be eligible for SAC and to support schools in gathering of alternative evidence.

4. The Ministry’s NCEA advisors who are in schools can help with identification of eligible students and work with RTLB and school staff to support the alternative evidence process.

5. NZQA will meet with and provide workshops for schools, parents, or groups about the Special Assessment Conditions process on request.

Don’t forget – This Sunday, March 16 at Noon on TV3. This is when the acclaimed documentary “The Big Picture; Rethinking Dyslexia” screens.

You may wish to like the Dyslexia Foundation on Facebook to keep up with the latest news from them.

For information on this year’s Dyslexia Awareness Week (DAW) starting Sunday 16th March, see here.

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