Special needs boy 'let down' by education system
A Christchurch mother of a boy with special needs says she feels frustrated by a lack of support for special education in schools and says she has been let down by the Government.
Ataahua Maia Puia's son has autism and epilepsy and is prone to seizures.
"If he has a meltdown from being so overwhelmed, it can bring on a seizure, and if he's in a classroom with one teacher and 30 students, it's going to be quite difficult -- not only for him but for the teacher as well," she says.
Ms Puia and her husband had planned to send their son to a special school when he turns five in two weeks.
But they have been left with few options after they were told the special school was no longer taking enrolments for the year, despite the fact they had been liaising with the school since the end of last year.
"We recently relocated from Australia to get family support for him because he's quite a complex little boy and we didn't have family over there. We got in touch with the Ministry of Education, and also the school that we wanted him to go to, so they knew that we were coming."
Two days after arriving in New Zealand they contacted the Ministry of Education, which said it would help them with the funding needed to apply to Allenvale School.
"About two weeks ago I got a phone call saying that Allenvale had rung to say that they were no longer taking enrolments for the year, although we had been liaising with them from as early as late December to let them know that he was coming and we were going to start the process."
Even if her son's funding is approved, the options are now limited to the mainstream schools she is zoned for. But with her son requiring a full-time teacher aide and an individualised education programme, she says the opportunities just aren't good enough.
"The schools that we were zoned for, they didn't have very good special education units. It wasn't enough."
She and her husband have since placed their son in a special pre-school, which agreed to accept him until the end of the year or until he turns six.
But she says the problem highlights the lack of funding and lack of support for special needs children, especially in mainstream schools.
"There's not that many special education units in the schools in this town, that some children with really complex or high needs actually really need. And then the teacher aide time as well -- because you only get so many hours a week if you're not entitled to that funding, so there'll be children that aren't entitled to that funding but still really need more hours than five hours a week, one hour a day."
Allenvale School principal Graeme Daniel says the school roll is at capacity, and he feels equally frustrated they can't cater to the growing demand.
There are 138 pupils enrolled there this year, with three or four on a waiting list who are likely to make it in eventually.
"There's definitely been an increase in parents wishing to have their students enrolled in a special school setting and this is same with the other two special schools in Christchurch.
"I guess that demand is related to parents wanting to make a choice for their child and it's unfortunate we're in a position right at this point where we just do not have the capacity to enrol any more students so far this year."
The school doesn't have the physical space to add another classroom, but will be co-locating with a mainstream school in the long-term, though it's not yet known where that will be. They're also developing several satellite units around the city.
Mr Daniel recommends that parents having trouble finding places for their children contact the Ministry of Education to see what else can be offered.
In last year's Budget, the Government allocated an extra $62.9 million of operating funding for children with special education needs.
Of that, $39.5 million went to the Ongoing Resource Scheme to support an extra 500 students, meaning around 9000 will be supported by the programme. It pays for specialists such as speech-language therapists, psychologists, and extra teacher and teacher aide time.
But a report by parental support group Mothers' Helpers released on Monday shows more than two-thirds of parents surveyed blamed a lack of resources for reported declines in their children's learning and behaviour. Only 29 said their child was "well-supported" at school.
Other findings from the Mothers' Helpers study found: