3 Oct 2015

Labour claims 'back-door' tactics

8:20 pm on 3 October 2015

Government figures showing a residential school of nine students to cost $3 million a year is an 'immoral assessment' and a 'back-door attempt' to shut it down, Labour MP Damien O'Connor says.

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West Coast-Tasman Labour MP Damien O'Connor said the drastic drop in the roll at Salisbury School in Richmond, near Nelson, was because the Ministry of Education had made it so difficult for students to gain entry.

Ministry figures showed the roll at the school for disabled girls had dropped from 43 students in 2012. It also showed the school's funding for 2015 was $3m for its current nine students, which covered the salaries of seven teachers and 34 non-teaching staff at the school.

Mr O'Connor said it was an "immoral assessment" of the cost, which stemmed from ministry threats in 2012 to close the school for special-needs students. He said the ministry had squeezed the entry criteria which had made it difficult for students to gain access to the school.

Salisbury was one of four residential schools the Education Ministry planned to close in 2012 in favour of establishing a new "wraparound service" where each student has a plan of support at school, home and in the community. The High Court ruled against the ministry and ordered the school to remain open.

Mr O'Connor said entry criteria to Salisbury had since tightened, which was a "back-door" way of closing it by reducing the roll, to then say it was not needed.

"The school is desperately needed. It's immoral and unethical for us to turn our backs on these young people," he said.

The residential school is for girls from three to 11 years of age who have high and complex needs.

The Education Ministry said rolls were dropping in such residential schools because more students now lived at home.

Head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said children with complex needs no longer had to live in an institution in order to get intensive support.

"Instead they can apply for help through our Intensive Wraparound Service, which gives them the option of remaining at home."

She said there were currently about 300 students from around the country helped by the service.

"Where a child is approved for the Intensive Wraparound Service, the family can still choose to place the child in a residential special school. But in practice, a minority take that option, which has led to declining rolls at residential schools," Ms Casey said.

Research showed children and young adults who were supported generally did better when they remained with family in their local community and attended a school with their age related peers, she said.

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