Last week it was revealed that seclusion is a method used by some schools to manage the behaviour of children. I for one was really disturbed that the schools even contemplate this as an option for any child, let alone special needs children. What was even more disturbing was learning that the Minister of Education had known about this for two months and appears not to lifted a finger until she was outed by Autism New Zealand and concerned parents.
Now she has called for a report by officials and the Office of the Ombudsman is investigating. I think this marks another chapter in her sad and tragic legacy as Minister of Education as this week she announced her decision to quit.
It started with Novopay and the lack of oversight and ignoring the warnings that the system was not ready and full of bugs, she signed off on the launch anyway. Then under a barrage of fire from schools, teachers, principals, support staff, opposition and general public, she could only sustain the fire for so long and sent her Associate Foss into the fray to take some of the heat. Then when all was lost and she couldn’t manage to get the thing back on track after months and months and months of incorrect payments, Steven Joyce, had to step in and fix it up for her.
Then she managed to upset a whole lot of quake affected families in her rushed plan to close and merge Canterbury schools, many of the decisions being based on flawed information and no demographic study at all. Don’t get me wrong, the rebuilt schools are beautiful and most of our children have settled. But there is a cohort of kids who don’t cope with the Modern Learning Environment, for whom there is little alternative, despite inclusion being a right for children who access mainstream schools, schools that should be able to cater for any child with special needs.
Here’s the thing, in answer to written questions from my office about the ability for schools to provide quality learning environments for all children, in particular, children with Autism, her response to me was, “we base our delivery on a child’s needs, not their diagnosis”. She could not tell me how many children with Autism are in mainstream schools, nor did the Ministry conduct any surveys to find out current numbers or future projections. I believe if you don’t know, you can’t adequately provide support. I have a view that a diagnosis is an important factor in determining how a school can prepare to teach a child and provide the best learning environment for them.
This doesn’t surprise me as I have been approached by a few schools in my electorate to support their pleas to the Ministry about additional resource required to cope with increased issues of behaviour. This is not only about special needs children, it is about our cohort of quake kids. Statistics paint a bleak picture of increased rates of suicide and self harm, behaviour that is unmanageable, inability of mental health services to cope, in particular the waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services.
On top of this, schools in my area are experiencing increased rolls as families move to Christchurch East to take advantage of cheaper rentals, as many of the quake damaged “as is, where is” properties become available. The Ministry of Education determines the level of staffing six months out from the start of a new school year. Therefore some schools will have many more students to house in classrooms than teaching staff to deal with appropriately.
I have had to make direct representations to the Minister on behalf of inidividual schools who are finding they cannot cope, and neither are they receiving the support from local MOE officials. I shouldn’t have to do this one school at a time, the Ministry and the Minister should know!
But if any of you have had the pleasure of hearing the Minister answer questions on this and other matters during Parliaments question time, you will know she is the master of double speak. I often attempt to decipher her answers along with my bench mate in the chamber to see if we can understand what the Minister actually means.
Here’s the Minister’s response to a question about unenforceable seclusion guidelines:
“The sector wanted to take the approach of how do they improve the professional practise of schools given that they have been working to eliminate the process of the confusion between timeout for restraint and seclusion and because boards are required under the national administration guidance number 5 to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students it was expected that’s these guidelines would assist boards to carry out responsibilities they already have”
The saddest thing about this whole saga is that there are children missing out on getting the kind of education all of our kids deserve. We expect a lot from our schools and our teachers deliver every day, to the best of their ability and resource available. However all of our kids are being short changed if we cannot recognise need and fill that need appropriately, which ever child experiences that need. Our special needs children are not naughty, they are different in their responses to situations and they need time, love and special routines to be able to get the most out of their time at school. We need to get this right, because second best is not good enough.
Poto Williams – Labour Party MP