Salisbury parent: Govt had strategy to shut school

Education Minister Hekia Parata (File)
Education Minister Hekia Parata (File)

A parent of a student enrolled at a school for girls with complex learning needs says the Government has used a "deliberate strategy to fool everybody" and get it shut down with little complaint.

On Thursday, the Government announced it had entered consultation with Salisbury School in Nelson after its roll fell drastically from 72 students in 2011 to the nine it currently has.

Education Minister Hekia Parata says the cost of schooling for each Salisbury student has now risen to $214,909 as a result of the plummeting roll, a cost she believes is too high.

That's a claim Matt Clayton, whose daughter Poppy is enrolled at the school, agrees with -- but he says the Government's implementation of the Intensive Wraparound Service (IWS) is a long-term tactic employed to cause the downfall of schools like Salisbury.

According to information on the Ministry of Education (MoE) website, the IWS is a service designed to cater for children with behavioural and learning difficulties, and includes a process of identifying the needs of each child and developing a plan that "wraps around" their needs.

But according to Mr Clayton, the service has just resulted in kids who would normally get Government financial help for their learning difficulties no longer being eligible.

"It's incredibly difficult to get funding. It took us 20 people sitting around tables filling out forms for hours and hours to get it. It was a huge process involving multiple agencies," he explained.

Ministry head of enablement and support Katrina Casey says it is no more difficult to get funding for children with special needs than before the IWS was in place.

"The criteria for students who should be referred to residential special schools has not changed," she said.

"Once accepted to receive intensive support at home, students are assessed by IWS psychologists and the family, local school and any other organisation or people involved with the child are part of this process.

"Access to residential schools is then decided together with the family based on the students and whānau needs."

But Mr Clayton maintains IWS is the sole reason for the number of students enrolled at Salisbury School undergoing such a dramatic reduction over the past five years.

"Once they realised they couldn't shut Salisbury's immediately because of the public uproar, they changed their strategy and they changed the way students could access it by using the IWS," Mr Clayton said.

"They did that knowing it was the way they were going to justify shutting the school: by pushing it down to nine [enrolments].

"Now they can quote these figures about $200,000 per student, and it looks to the public like its valid -- but it's their deliberate strategy to fool everybody and shut this school."

Mr Clayton's 14-year-old daughter Poppy has ADHD and an attachment disorder that has seen her have bad experiences at some high schools and get expelled from others -- and he says at Salisbury, for the first time in her educational journey, she is happy and achieving at a good level.

However, according to the ministry's website, the priority is "keeping the student in their family, local school, and community, or returning them to it as soon as possible".

That means that under the Government's system, Poppy, who receives her schooling in Nelson, is more likely to end up at a school back in Auckland, where her father lives.

"She's left with nothing at high school; she wouldn't get a teacher aide. I'm a high school teacher, and they're just not designed for the extreme five percent at either end of the academic spectrum," Mr Clayton explained.

Ms Casey says the residential option is discussed with parents of kids in the IWS, but most opt to keep their children at home.

He says consultation over the school's closure is purely so the Government can tick the necessary boxes -- and says it would be "a tragedy" if, as it looks now, it were to shut down.

"It's the most incredible place with the most caring staff, and it breaks my heart to think that they will close that down when there's so many young ladies in such desperate need to get there."