An NZ teacher writes:
I’m having a remembrance day.
I remember sitting on a couch with a boy who was around six. He was drawing a purple cat under a turquoise scribbly sky. He had dark hair and deep brown eyes. His teacher was across the room from us. Not too far. She said- so very vehemently – “I don’t want him in my class” and pointed at the boy next to me. He lifted his head. Looked at his teacher. Looked at me. I was reeling in shock at the outright rejection I’d just heard so he probably noticed that the smile I gave him – that was meant to be reassuring – was quite wonky.
I remember standing in a long and narrow “resource room” of a secondary school with the head of the English department and a curly haired, hugely built, usually tall but at that moment curve shouldered and stooped teenager. The same teenager that had written me a naïve but still detailed with understanding sympathy card when he had found out my father had died. The HOD was rifling through a grey filing cabinet, outlining all the ways the teenager was failing. She gave me his behavioural contract (lots of red marks and red pen comments from an assortment of teachers.) She gave me unfinished assignments. I recognised the student’s penciled printing and could easily imagine him writing every letter sooooo carefully. She gave me pristine textbooks with relevant pages marked and “The Diary of Anne Frank” which she wanted the teenager to summarise. She kept saying “He needs to take responsibility for this poor performance” and she gave me a deadline for when everything she was shoving my way was due in for him. I was feeling like I’d just been tackled by someone not unlike Jonah Lomu, so the teenager probably noticed the wobble of my voice as I faux merrily said “Do you want to grab all that stuff, mate……my bag is full of lollies and booze……”
I remember walking with a child from my class after school. A colleague came up to me. Very upset. Telling me very loudly in front of the child from my class that one of my other students shouldn’t be allowed at our school. She could see how this child “just didn’t belong with us”. She had seen how this child behaved. She had told the mother of this offensive student that her daughter shouldn’t be here. She was on the way to tell the principal that the child needed to go. I looked at the student from my class. She looked at me questioningly. Then looked down at the ground. So she missed my fake wink – again supposed to reassure that at least one of the adults on the scene wasn’t going to go nuclear.
All these young people I was so, so privileged to work with and have in my life for a while had special needs. And they were all treated so badly.
In my time in special education – and mainstream – I have heard and seen monstrously unfair things. Things so cruel they made me revert to the question children ask of each other when they can’t believe an injustice they’ve just been dealt. “Why are you being so mean?”
I’m a full grown adult – yeah, all altruistic and “overly emotive” (actual quote) – but I still ask “Why are they being so bloody mean?”
As an adult I know – The teacher who didn’t want the child with ADHD and Autism in her class was getting no ongoing support or understanding from her management team.
The HOD had no understanding of the teenager’s diagnosis. She had no idea what to do with him. She was hyper aware of the judgment that was being flung her way over the failing mark in her departmental bell curve of achievement that the teenager represented.
The colleague that was railing at me was also ignorant. And scared. And angry about something that probably wasn’t even to do with me or my student. I can’t rightly say what her exact issue was.
What I can say is that when I first saw and heard these monstrous things and felt like I’d been punched in the solar plexus, a part of me thought “I’ll probably get used to this.”
Yesterday – for reasons long and complicated – a person who has also been in special education for a long time walked into my mainstream classroom. I was relieved to see her. From the moment she started talking I realized how long I’d been worrying for, fighting for and trying to protect this particular student and her parents from “the mean people.”
It was like seeing the cavalry coming.
I can’t describe the relief.
It was only yesterday I figured out that as an “overtly emotive” person I’m never going to get over the shock of people willfully and fearfully misunderstanding others and trying to punish them and isolate them instead of trying to address their own ignorance.
It ALWAYS sucks when people are treated this way , and I will always, always remember it.
~ Secret Teacher NZ
Today’s release of a Cabinet paper outlining changes to support for children with special education learning needs has some positive developments but also raises a number of concerns, says NZEI Te Riu Roa.
As part of the Learning Support Update, the Ministry plans to implement a new service model that will include a single point of access for parents, whānau, schools and local communities, and Local Learning Support teams and a Lead Practitioner.
NZEI President Louise Green said such a move would be welcomed, and teachers and parents had long been asking for a single contact point.
“The concern is that there is still no more funding, even though the ministry acknowledges that the number of children needing learning support is growing, and principals are reporting that the significant needs of children in their schools are not being met,” she said.
“There is no detail around who will staff the learning support teams and lead practitioner roles. If they are existing specialist staff, this reduces the available expertise needed by individual children. If the role is to be taken by teachers or Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) in schools, a lack of resourcing for the extra responsibility will be an issue.”
Ms Green welcomed the acknowledgement that more speech language therapists were needed and that the eight-year cap on frontline staff could be lifted.
“However, they have also signalled a move to some private provision of services, even though it would be more cost-effective to use ministry-employed staff. Fewer children will be assisted if funding is going via private operators. We don’t want to see any privatisation of this essential public service for our children,” she said.
Ms Green was pleased that the new service model would be trialled in one area first, but said many questions remained around the details of the model and their implications on students.
We ended season one of Minister MegaLie Strikes Again with a cliffhanger:
Minister MegaLie released a mega-fib- POW!!! -during Parliamentary Question Time, almost flooring The Hipkins – KAPUTTTT!
Eagle eyed Activist Gal spotted the uber-whopper and challenged said Minister to confess to her super-falsehood – KAPOW!!!
Super Special Ed launched a mighty roar: “Justiiiiiice – we demand truth!” – PZZANG!
Minister MegaLie held off Activist Gal and Super Special Ed with her La-la-la Blinkers of Steel – OOOF!!$!
Monster Media walked away and didn’t look back – ARGHHGGGGH!
The Hipkins was struck mute – ZZZAP!
Super Special Ed wept furiously, as the silence rang in their ears – WAHHHGHGGGH!
Teach-A-Trons throughout the land held their breath – EEEEK!
Activist Gal hoped for a hero…
Season Two: Minister MegaLie and The Cloaked Protector
[Fade in to see Mighty Martin on the top of The Beehive]
Mighty Martin launches her email of shame into an angry Wellington wind – BAZINGA!
Carter the Cloaked Protector flinches and skulks backwards slowly into the Carter Cave – FLRGHGH!
[Tumbleweed and the sound of crows]
Carter the Cloaked Protector unearths an ancient text, The Scroll of Unaccountability – WHOOA!
The Scroll of Unaccountability gives Carter the Cloaked Protector the power to bury Minister MegaLie’s heinous deeds once and for all – MWAHAHAHA!
Super Special Ed let loose a might roar – RAAAARGGGGGH!
Teach-A-Trons arm for battle – KRANGH!
Activist Gal looks to camera and says
“Without you – without your voice – without your power and your vote – this evil will prevail…”
“But together… Together we are strong. Together we are mighty.
“Together We Can Get Justice!”
The crowd beings to whisper.
More start to listen…
Staunchly, Bravely, Intrepid Souls join the chant…
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
There are few things as a teacher that I find more upsetting than hearing from a distressed parent whose child is being let down by the system because it cannot meet their special educational needs (SEN). And then to hear the system let her down too, for the same reason, well that’s a double horror.
If we are going to do inclusion (and I absolutely think we must) then it has to be done properly, with support and training and understanding and compassion. And there must be room for teachers to adapt to the child’s needs and not push them in ways that are not developmentally appropriate.
Having a system where children are deemed naughty far too often simply because the system expects them to fit in no matter what, when in fact we should be adapting to the needs of the child – well that is madness.
A system that prioritises benchmarks over individual growth? Madness.
Having a system where there are very few teacher aides and even fewer *trained* teacher aides is abysmal. And we lose good TAs every year due to the terrible way they are employed, due to appalling funding systems. This is also madness.
A system where teachers are crying out for training and support with Special Educational Needs but little to none is given and where professional development has been prioritised as STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) for the coming few years by government, meaning we are bang out of luck for SEN PD…? Totally bloody madness.
How many of our underachieving students have special educational needs that are not met?
How many of our SEN students end up home schooled because the system is causing them more harm than good?
How many teachers leave the job because they cannot cope with SEN students without support and there is none?
How many distressed people does it take before real, huge, positive changes are made?
The select committee looking at improving SEN provision have an unenviable task on their hands. The job is huge. Massive shifts are needed, both in the system and political ideology, to get this even vaguely moving in the right direction. It will need bold action. Let’s hope the kids are put first in their considerations and that bold action is indeed taken.
Dire SEN provision is one huge mistake we really must learn from.
I urge all educators and all parents of children with special education needs to please write to the select committee with your thoughts on what does and doesn’t work and what you would like to see change.
Your voices matter. They are needed.
Submission can be made online here – click through and then scroll to the bottom of the page.
The select committee’s specific remit is:
“Inquiry into the identification and support for students with the significant challenges of dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorders in primary and secondary schools”, but I urge you to discuss whatever special educational need matters to you. It’s your chance to be heard.
This is my submission, but yours will speak to what matters to you. There is no right or wrong format – just speak from the heart.
My submission to the Select Committee
The issues I would like select committee to look into are:
– that specialist SEN help ends at age 8, which is not supported by evidence of need. There should be a continuation of help from SEN specialist such as speech therapists where it is needed.
– that specialist help is given based on a points system that gives fewer points to children under age 5, meaning early intervention is less likely. Again, this is counter to what specialists say is needed, and is not best practice.
– the Special Education Specialists such as SLTs can work directly with students and not just with teachers. Their training makes them the best people to work directly with students. It is not enough to have a system where they are made to tell a non-specialist what to do and hope they get it right. Non-specialists, with the best will in the world, cannot do what a trained specialist can do.
– that the staffing cap on Special Education Specialists is preventing children getting the help they need and must be reconsidered.
– that the process for appointing new Special Education Specialists is cumbersome and leads to gaps in provision and needs to be simplified and speeded up.
– that requests for provision should not cancel between sectors. For example, a child under 5 on Ministry wait lists for help has the request cancelled when they start school and the family must reapply. Worse still, parents do not always know this and spend months waiting for an appointment that will never come.
– that SEN provision ends at the close of each school year and must be reapplied for at the start of the next school year, causing delays in service and unnecessary admin and paperwork for all concerned.
– that teachers and support staff have more and better access to quality SEN professional training. We *want* to up-skill and do the best we can. We need support in this. (This training should also be available to relief teachers, who have little to no access to PLD despite dealing with many needs in any given week).
– that teacher aid support is not withdrawn simply because a student has made improvement if it can be shown that improvement will clearly be lost once support is withdrawn. This is commonplace and leads to distress for students and parents as well as increased admin, meetings and paperwork for staff in order to reapply for help.
– that processes for getting help are made very clear for parents (and teachers) so that we know who to contact and what we must do. Currently we are passed pillar to post and it is very stressful.
– that consideration is made to establishing proper help for children with emotional needs (anger, depression, etc). At present there is a gap, and yet the need is there.
Make an online submission here.
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.
A 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.
Well, 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:
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.
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…”
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.