Will 2023 finally be the year for disabled students?
For years IHC has been telling the Government that disabled students are not getting the education they are entitled to.
Now, just when IHC’s 14-year-old education complaint is getting close to a hearing in the Human Rights Review Tribunal, there has been a change of heart.
In November, Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti said the system for disabled learners was one of the most broken areas in education and announced that the Government would develop a new funding and support system.
“We have been talking about this for 14 years and suddenly they are agreeing with us,” says IHC Education Advocate Trish Grant, who has led the long campaign to fully include students in their local schools and end the discrimination.
Trish believes the pressure of the litigation has been very important in getting the parties to think differently.
“When we get a Minister saying the system is broken, there is greater acknowledgement at the official and Ministry of Education level that disabled children have missed out.”
Complaints about the education of disabled students reached a tipping point late last year with three reports echoing the concerns IHC has been raising.
In September, the Education Review Office (ERO) released two reports saying the families of many disabled learners are being discouraged from enrolling their children in early childhood services and schools.
ERO found that as many as one in four parents are being asked to keep their disabled child home.
The reports, Thriving at school? Education for disabled learners in schools, and A great start? Education for disabled children in early childhood education, found many early childhood and school teachers lacked the confidence to teach disabled learners, particularly those with complex needs.
“Their findings directly mirror the issues that we highlight in our statement of claim,” Trish says.
Then in November the report of a six-month Ministry of Education Highest Needs Review was released. The review, which received over 1000 submissions, was told there was an urgent need for change because the current rigid funding system creates discrimination and lifelong disadvantage for students, families and schools.
The Government has outlined a 10-year plan to turn the system around.
Trish says the issue for IHC has always been about inclusion. “Inclusive communities begin with schooling when you go to the local school with your brothers and sisters and the kids from down the road,” she says.
“IHC has been very clear with the Ministry and Crown Law about what is required to achieve that vision.
“The system doesn’t recognise disabled students as learners, it doesn’t provide them with what they need to learn in their local schools, and it doesn’t provide schools with what they need for successful inclusion of all students.”
She says there is not enough data – the Ministry of Education doesn’t know how many disabled students there are, where they are and what they need to access education. There is not enough money, not enough resourcing and not enough training for teachers.
“We have also got problems with the way we monitor the participation and achievement of students,” Trish says.
“The fact that they are not counting what happens to disabled students means they are not valuing those students as learners.”
Trish says we need to reset the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding, improve teacher capacity and support, improve and acknowledge the rights of disabled students, and ensure access to specialist supports.
Meanwhile Trish says the IHC education complaint is moving forward with a timetable for a five-day hearing.
Before that IHC will be gathering evidence and witnesses.
“For the first part of this year we will be out talking to families. We will be talking to schools. We will be talking to witnesses. We are confident we are going to get that support. There are people lining up to give evidence and we are delighted with that.
“We have never been as close as we are now.”
Tell us your story
One in four families is being told to keep their disabled child at home. One in five is being discouraged from enrolling their disabled child in their local school.
This is not just what IHC says. This is official – from two latest reports from the Education Review Office looking at the experiences of disabled students at school and pre-school. ERO has recommended the relevant agencies report improvements by July this year.
What has been your experience? IHC is now gathering evidence to lodge ahead of a five-day hearing in the Human Rights Review Tribunal. Because of the importance of the case, Michael Timmins, the Director of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings, is providing legal representation for IHC.
“We want people to tell their stories because we know that many people’s stories involve difficulties getting in the door – with enrolment,” says IHC Advocate Trish Grant.
She says there are problems with teachers not knowing how to teach, and children being disciplined for behaviour relating to their disabilities.
“We want to hear evidence of all these things.”
Trish says families and others who have direct experience of difficulties involving disabled students can log their experiences on the IHC website campaigns.ihc.org.nz or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.
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