Friday, March 19, 2010

Special Education Review Closes

So the New Zealand 2010 Review of Special Education closed for submissions yesterday.

I was fortunate enough to be in a position to make a submission. I'm literate, supported and have access to a computer. I'm skeptical about what measures were taken by the ministry to canvas the views of the more disenfranchised amongst our ranks.

For those suffering from insomnia I offer my submission next for your reading pleasure! This is written from the perspective of a mother of a primary school aged child on the Autistic Spectrum, mainstreamed, with ORRS funding.

We are all entitled under the official information act to recieve a copy of all the submissions, should you so desire.

Q 1A. What is needed to help schools succeed?

1. Inclusive Education becoming a core part of the teacher training curriculum.

2. “Index for Inclusion” By Tony Booth & Mel Ainscow (being revised in 2010)compulsorily implemented in all schools. Audited by ERO or independent body such as Standards and Monitoring.

3. Ongoing professional development around Inclusive Education to maintain teacher registration.

4. Auditing by independent body of non ministry specialists, disability sector professionals and advocates.

5. Genuine specialist support for Students, Teachers Aides, Teachers, families and schools. There is too much GSES rhetoric with precious little planning, strategy, implementation and accountability.

6. Acknowledgement of the critical role Teachers Aides play in the students’ education. This would come through remuneration, training and sector recognition of the status of the role they perform. These workers hold a most critical position and are currently being failed by the system.

7. A genuine belief in the potential, capabilities and equal value of people with impairments.

Q 1B. How could schools work together to succeed?

1. All schools collectively moving beyond the notion of “special education” to a true model of inclusive education. Having the support, expertise and passion to meet the needs of all learners in one environment. A genuinely inclusive society starts with the Human Rights of all people being practised in education.

2. Holding twice termly interschool peer review and resource/success sharing meetings. Attended by SENCO’s, ORRS Teachers, Teachers Aides and Teachers (from two randomly selected schools) and a parent advocate representative & independent sector representative.

Q 2. What needs to be done to make transitions work better?

1. Establish flexibility and continuity. For example a Support Worker from the early childhood setting could be utilised in the transition school visits. This provides familiarity for the child in a time of uncertainty and stress. This would also be a wonderful resource to transition the new staff by passing on skills and knowledge of the child.

Q 3. How could services be better coordinated and focused on the needs of students and families?

1. Creation of a “One File” system. This would be a computerised centralised file where all the professionals on the team would post assessments, planning and evidence of efficacy and implementation of strategies. Families would have open access to all files at any time. Certain files of a sensitive nature may be private eg. Where a family member/student has expressed that a criticism of another agency is “off the record”.

This would also enable internal/external case managers to assess at a glance if service delivery is up to the required standard.

An independent body such as Standards and Monitoring could provide auditing.

Q 4. What arrangements for funding, decision-making, verification and fund holding should we have?

1. Funding needs to be individualised.

2. Funding decisions need to be made by people close to the child. Parents, early childhood professionals and support workers know the child’s impairments, needs and capabilities. Schools know what supports will be required to include and educate the student. Families have better things to do than ‘rort’ the system getting unnecessary support for their children. In partnership with Early Intervention professionals they are more than able to be trusted as gatekeepers for funding decisions.

3. The system needs to be equitable. Currently the ORRS system is referred to as “a lottery” or worse still a “prose competition”.

Funding for misunderstood and complex conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder is the domain of those able to fight for it. Those with the education, supports and endurance may succeed in battling the system to fund their child. Those less fortunate miss out.

Hundreds of precious family and productive hours are wasted battling the system for individual cases. Early Intervention teachers and other specialists are unable to spend critical preschool time working with the child therapeutically as their role becomes a funding gatekeeper entering battle with their own Ministry on behalf of families.

Families and professionals are being traumatised by this process. Anecdotally stories of Post Traumatic Stress are not uncommon within families.

4. Criterion 8 of the current verification schedule is discriminatory. The criterion is based on the outdated DSM IV that uses a male presentation of ASD as its basis. Current global best practise would acknowledge the emerging and established understanding that the female presentation of this disorder is vastly different than that of the male despite it being equally disabling.

For example, females with ASD commonly express an interest in other children however this very fact is, in ignorance, being used as a reason to turn them down for ORRS funding.

There is a real risk of causing co morbid mental health conditions by exposing females to relentless anxiety/depression due to a lack of educational support. In certain age groups this has the potential to be fatal.

International expert opinion from people such as Dr. Tony Attwood and educational expert Sue Larkey (both Australian based) needs to be gained to completely revise this criterion to end the gender discrimination.

Caution needs to be taken when consulting the new Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline as the female presentation is not specifically referenced within this document.

Q 5A. How can individually targeted services and supports be made more efficient?

1. Specialist services from Group Special Education are not working. Specialists have completely been disabled from spending any time working with or for the child. They are solely concerned with intermittent observation of the child and administrative issues. This makes absolutely no difference whatsoever to the outcomes for the child.
Anecdotally many families have just given up on their child receiving any assistance beyond what the school can offer. It is incredibly traumatising as a family to realise that the specialists have no time, ability or mandate to help.

2. Ensuring that Specialist 0.1 & 0.2 Teachers have extensive expertise in teaching learners with impairments. Centralised resources and teaching systems should be easily available and readily customised. The main teaching resource could be developed round a generalised presentation of a learning impairment and customised to the individual child.

It seems that the constant reinventing of the wheel is very inefficient. It appears as if an individualised curriculum is a completely new concept in a modern school. Why? Professional development and adequate peer and specialist support would clearly address this.

Q 5B. Is the current mix of programmes, services and supports right and does it provide value for money? What changes would you suggest?

1. Families and schools having the option of directly engaging specialists on behalf of their child; having the option to look beyond Group Special Education for these services without self funding.

2. Teachers Aides represent incredible value for money and are invariably undervalued. Many are enthusiastic to engage in professional development. Too much is being expected of them (tackling social communication deficits, written communication impairments etc) without the training to back it up. They commonly fulfil the role of teachers.

3. Where a need for specialist input has been identified (eg. Help with handwriting or communication) there is a time cap within which time the student must be assisted. Delays of weeks and months are simply unacceptable and leave the learner unable to access the curriculum.

Q 6. How can the quality of services be improved?

1. By the development of an augmented New Zealand Curriculum. Collating and creating resources and frameworks that clearly outline and standardise the methodology of teaching for specific impairments.

Much is known nationally and internationally about how dyslexic children learn for example. Similarly the learning strengths and weaknesses of those with ASD are known. Why does it have to feel like starting from square one and teaching in isolation with every new learner?

2. Accountability: there is currently none.

One way to provide accountability is for the position of SENCO being held outside of the school. This could be one person, with considerable expertise in inclusive education, overseeing a cluster of local schools. Schools & specialists would be accountable to this coordinator for implementation of the IEP. The SENCO reports directly to the parents.

Initiating randomised auditing of school and specialist services, by a wholly independent expert body. Findings presented locally to a voluntary Parent Advocacy panel. Measures would be against the augmented curriculum and the service delivery targets of parents and students.

Developing a Trans Tasman online journal of international best practice in Inclusive Education. Requirement on those in key decision making and policy roles to publish papers on contemporary inclusive education practice and outcomes and have them peer reviewed.

Compulsory attendance for principals and specialist teachers at The Inclusive Education Conference New Zealand.

Central Government creating policy with schools, parents and the education ministry around accountability and liability.

Ultimately central government would be held liable for the outcomes where students with clearly identified support requirements (by school, family, students or relevant services) have their needs minimised/unsupported, leading to:

-Negative educational outcomes eg.exclusion from school, inability to attend.
-Negative mental health outcomes for children and families.
-Negative fiscal outcomes.
-Breaches of Students Human Rights.
-Forcing families and health professionals to knowingly/unknowingly abandon their responsibilities and legal duties outlined under the Code of Health & Disability Consumers Rights. A breach of which, for example would be placing someone in an educational environment with insufficient support.

Q 7. How can families and schools be better informed?

1. Many parents are already incredibly informed about their children’s conditions and requirements. Professionals currently rely heavily on the input, research, education and legwork families provide. Many parents voluntarily take on advocacy roles for the greater good. This input should be valued and formally utilised. Parent Advocates and Student Self Advocates could be a wonderful interface between the “system” and families.

Q 8. What does successful Special Education look like and how should we measure it?

1. Successful Inclusive Education is a system whereby all learners have their needs met in order to fulfil their life’s potential.

The mainstream educational setting becomes capable, confident and excited to meet the different learning needs within the school.

This will come about not only through adequate, accountable use of funds but also a community wide philosophical shift. Unless there is a genuinely held belief that all people are equal and have an innate entitlement to the realisation of their Human Rights (of which quality education is one) people with impairments will continue to be treated as second class citizens.

2. Developing clear strategies for assisting learners to access the curriculum. These need to be practically implemented; without implementation ideas are merely rhetoric that are measured by how beautifully they sit on a power point presentation or in a glossy Ministry A4 publication.

This is measured by assessments by parents and students.

Q 9. When things do not go well, what arrangements should be in place to resolve issues?

1. An external panel could be contracted to hear and resolve issues. This group would need to be outside the Ministry of Education to be impartial. A panel of several members Human Rights Commission, Health and Disability Commission and an independent body such as Standards and Monitoring could be utilised.

Q 10. What is the most important change that would improve outcomes for children and young people with special education needs?

1. Create a system that believes in all children and honours their lives and that of their families.

2. Honour the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Pathways to Inclusion, the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

3. Allow all people their right to maximise their educational experience and go on to be contributing, independent members of society.