20 Feb 2015

Disability groups want tough line on schools

8:32 am on 20 February 2015

Disability groups are calling for a tougher line on schools, following allegations a Papakura school is "awful" to children with disabilities and actively discourages their enrolment.

Papakura MP Judith Collins said the school's attitude resulted in a family seeking private education because they were not in zone for any other state school in the area.

She revealed the situation at a select committee hearing this week.

"I had to write.. recently... to get some funding for transport for a child out of my electorate to an independent school in another electorate, because a particular school in my electorate is absolutely awful to kids who are disabled and they make no bones about it, they don't want the kids there."

She later told Radio New Zealand it was plain from parents' complaints and from her own visits that the school's attitude was that disabled children were difficult.

Education officials at the committee hearing said they did not tolerate such behaviour from schools, but it was often hard to prove.

Chief executive of CCS Disability Action David Matthews said that was not good enough.

"It's a sad reflection on the processes that ERO and others use to investigate these particular matters," he said.

"Isn't it about time that we actually started considering putting commissioners into schools that are obviously failing in their obligations to all students.

"Kids' education and failings around kids' education is a good reason to put a commissioner into a school to find out what is really going on."

Mr Matthews said the school in question should be named and shamed.

"While we hide behind not naming schools, or suggesting to parents that they take their children elsewhere, this is not getting to the heart of the problem, and the heart of the problem are the practices of schools in relation to meeting the needs of all their students."

Director of advocacy for IHC Trish Grant said commissioners should be an option for schools that were unwelcoming to children with special needs.

"Many families say there's a real lack of accountability on those schools that don't meet the needs of disabled children.

"And some schools would say that their colleagues are not doing the right thing, I mean the Principals Federation has said that as well, that these schools should be made more accountable for their actions."

She said the Papakura school was not alone in deterring disabled children, and IHC was aware of others.

But she said many schools, including those that are welcoming to children with disabilities, said they did not have the resources they needed to work with such children.

The Education Ministry's head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said schools need to serve all children and young people in their community, and welcome students with disabilities.

She said most schools were open to improvement and the Ministry has several options for working with them.

"This could range from providing advice to a school, making available professional or whole school development for a school, to providing a specialist advisor, limited statutory manager and finally a commissioner if necessary."

Meanwhile, the Education Review Office revealed that a yet-to-be published report will show 75 percent of schools had practices that mostly inclusive of disabled children, up from 50 percent in 2010.

Mr Matthews said that was still not good enough.

"Seventy-five percent is hardly acceptable, because that still means one in four schools are not meeting their obligations.

The Government had wanted all schools to be inclusive by 2014, but it was not known how many schools the Education Review Office has judged to have no or few inclusive practices last year.

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