A public education system that works for all learners?
By Trish Grant, IHC Inclusive Education Lead
In this last month before the election, all political party education spokespeople will no doubt be turning their minds to “what I will do first?” when and if elected.
IHC has some advice for you.
DO NOT initiate a review of education/special education/learning support or a select committee inquiry.
It has been done before by successive governments – many, many times - with good intent- those processes have successfully redefined the problems and identified the barriers- time and time again - without constructing the enduring solutions so badly needed.
Tragically, despite all that effort, time and money invested by many, New Zealand still does not have a public education system that works for all.
And we need one – the time is now.
Sixty-six national organisations from across the children’s, education and disability sectors, including IHC, are calling on all political parties to do better.
The key message is – you must work together to build a public education system that works for all.
That means every child has a chance to attend their local school and early childhood setting, learn and achieve, be part of social, sporting, camps and other activities, and leave school able to contribute to society.
It’s a big ask we know- the work involved will take as long as 30 years and requires sustained investment and cross-party agreement to get the complex system right for all.
However, the human costs of doing nothing, doing only a little or doing the wrong thing have gone on for too long.
Generations of learners, whānau and educators have been negatively impacted by a flawed system that embeds unfairness, discrimination and ableism.
Paul Gibson, Former Human Rights Commissioner Disability, describes the educational neglect experienced by generations of disabled and neurodiverse students as systemic abuse. I agree with Paul.
On top of the human costs caused by the flawed system, poor educational outcomes flow on as costs to our nation in respect of reduced social cohesion, wellbeing and economic prosperity.
The last 10 years has seen a groundswell of shared agreement about the failures of the current education system to respond to disabled and neurodiverse learners.
IHC’s unwavering education advocacy efforts were built on the wisdom of our founding whānau, who knew 75 years ago that access to education for disabled children was the foundation for a life of inclusion in the community. A community that celebrated diversity, where everyone has a valued place.
In 2023, there is now a strong collective voice calling for the changes IHC believes are required for a public education system to work for ALL learners.
What is new is that it’s just not those outside of government talking about the need for substantive change. Ministers, politicians and government agencies are talking about the failures of the current system but yet, all we’ve had is reviews but no commitment to the right funding or action needed.
Hon. Jan Tinetti, the current Minister of Education has said the system is broken. Politicians across the house I have spoken to agree with her.
The Education Review Office has confirmed in their 2022reports that disabled learners of all ages are let down time and time again by the system.
Teacher and principal unions and their allied organisations are emphatic that teachers don’t have the capacity or resources to do their best by learners who require different approaches. The Teaching Council and the Early Childhood Council support the call for systems change. A report launched last week from the New Zealand Initiative underscores what many of us have known for a long time, that initial teacher education does not prepare teachers for the real life of teaching in today’s classrooms.
So, what would a quality public education system look like that valued every learner including neurodiverse and disabled learner?
The system would:
- Respond to every individual learner, by providing what they need to learn, belong and participate, without question, without judgement- this will require abandoning the current outdated, data and evidence-poor, deficit, rationing-based funding model and moving to legislative, policy and funding frameworks that reflect human rights principles of dignity, equality, non-discrimination and respect.
- Collect, aggregate and disaggregate data relating to student achievement, belonging and wellbeing.
- Establish empowering legislation that includes definitions of inclusive education and reasonable accommodation.
- Ensure that every teacher, principal and early childhood provider has the knowledge, skills and support to teach every child, through quality initial education, professional development and mentoring. We have great teachers – they need better support and a better system.
- Ensure that students and schools and early childhood providers have easy and timely access to the specialist supports and advice they require.
- Link seamlessly to other government systems including the disability support, social development, community and health systems.
- Prioritise internal and external monitoring mechanisms that drive accountability and innovation.
- Stop blaming and punishing students. They are not the problem. Invest early in understanding and responding to diversity and disability.
- Intervene with statutory authority and certainty where there are breaches of a student’s human rights at the school, early childhood centre or system level.
Enough agreeing that there is a problem. It’s time to have cross-party sustained agreement to develop, implement and invest in the solutions. We have been talking about this for decades. It’s time to stop talking and get on with it.