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Source: IHC

IHC New Zealand says families of students with intellectual disability are at breaking point as more and more principals are being hamstrung by limited funding.

“I am working with families and schools most days, and the frustration and anguish about the outdated, non-responsive and inadequate Ministry funding is palpable” says IHC’s Inclusive Education Lead, Trish Grant. “Principals are forced into making hard decisions about student attendance and families get to breaking point. It is a situation that has gone on for too long.”  

A nine-year old boy with autism, ADHD and intellectual disability at a Wellington school is currently facing disciplinary processes because the support he needs to be at school is not available.

Trish says even when a specialist or amount of funding is available, Ministry processes and layered sign off creates problems at the chalkface for everyone.

Secretary for Education Iona Holsted was spot on in the defence of the Ministry of Education’s five-year 36 percent staffing increase before Parliament’s Education and Workforce Select Committee this week.

IHC welcomes Iona’s candour and razor-sharp analysis. It will be no surprise to Iona that IHC agrees with her view that the funding for disabled students is inadequate and that the policy beginnings were wrong from the start. IHC has been advising the Ministry about those inadequacies for several decades.

“It’s great that the Ministry of Education and IHC are on the same page,” says IHC’s Inclusive Education lead, Trish Grant.

Despite the increase of 780 specialist staffing, identified by Iona, disabled children and schools struggle to get the resources they need for inclusion.

“Iona is right that successive governments have attempted to solve these problems but those attempts have not resulted in the system changes needed for better student outcomes.”

IHC agrees that a more explicit centrist role for the Ministry would enhance school and student performance. We agree that school governance arrangements have not worked and a substantive reconsideration is needed.

The Ministry has diligently briefed new governments for years that New Zealand has greater numbers of students with complex needs are coming through the doors of New Zealand schools.

“There doesn’t seem to be the political will to build a quality education system that supports learning and teaching,” says Trish. “The current Government’s focus on initial teacher education, professional development and student outcomes is a positive step towards system change, but, as Iona says, we need to be bolder in creating funding policies that meet levels of student need and make explicit a stronger role for the Ministry in supporting school management and governance.”

About IHC New Zealand

IHC New Zealand advocates for the rights, inclusion and welfare of all people with intellectual disabilities and supports them to live satisfying lives in the community. IHC provides advocacy, volunteering, events, membership associations and fundraising. It is part of the IHC Group, which also includes IDEA Services, Choices NZ and Accessible Properties.

About IHC’s Stand and Action on Education

All students with a disability have a human right to attend their local school, feel welcome and included, have access to the curriculum and fair outcomes from a quality education.

For too long, disabled students have been disadvantaged by an education system that does not include them.

In 2008, after decades of work with the Ministry of Education to solve the problems, IHC lodged a complaint under the Human Rights Act 1993. Initially the case had to go through the Human Rights Commission and government lawyers applied to “strike-out” key aspects of the IHC case. We had a hearing in the Human Rights Review Tribunal in 2015.

After five years, at the end of 2020, the Human Rights Review Tribunal handed down its decision and dismissed the Crown’s “strike-out” arguments. This means the discrimination experienced by students with disabilities in education can now be heard by human rights experts.

Early in 2021 the Director of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings agreed to provide legal representation to IHC. He thinks the way in which disabled students experience discrimination in their access to education is a serious matter of great public interest. The Director has said he wants to talk with government about what they could do to better protect disabled students from discrimination at school.