Judith Collins Writes: Disability is a part of life

Source: Sunday Star Times

Disabled-kids-toysAny parent will tell anyone who will listen that their child is special – often gifted, sometimes challenged but definitely special.

So what happens in the education system when our kids really are special, gifted or challenged, kids with disabilities or special abilities? Sadly, the answer is very dependent on the school zone and more importantly, on the school’s principal and the Board of Trustees.

There is no particular standard reaction from school principals to kids with disabilities or some other form of special needs. One family was told by a high decile state school principal that their child would only be enrolled if the parents funded a full-time teacher aide. Yet, a principal of another high decile state school refused to allow a parent to fund a teacher aide to assist her disabled child. When I questioned the principal about this, he said that allowing a parent to fund assistance to the school was against his beliefs in free education.

Most schools welcome children with disabilities. Unfortunately, that’s not universal. The Ministry of Education says 75 per cent of schools do. So what if your child is zoned for the 25 per cent of schools that don’t want your child? Parents tend to find out very quickly if their child is wanted in a school. The tried and false assumption that all kids are entitled to be enrolled in their local school is true only in name not in reality. The principal who refuses to accept an in-zone child is acting illegally, but, have a thought for the unfortunate parents: our zoned school’s principal sees your beloved child as a problem, not special, just a problem to be avoided. The principal sees your child as taking teacher time away from other children. The board picks up the attitude from the principal and the teachers get the message that this kid isn’t wanted at this school.

Unsurprisingly, the other children work it out too. Their parents agree. This kid doesn’t fit.

This child (your precious child) is too different.

So, what is the reality? Parents shift school zones, if they’re able. Those that can, get their children into those independent schools that don’t have ideological issues. And yet, for those schools that really try, there are children with disabilities who end up topping the school academically. But this only happens in schools that value the individual child, that focus on what they can do, not on what makes this kid a bit different.

The answer to this is not just money. What is needed is a change of thinking. If schools and school principals were graded and it affected their funding, on what outcomes are achieved for children with disabilities, then the children would be seen as a positive not as a negative.

Special funding is available for children with the most severe disabilities. It’s called Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS). As it is, ORS funding for children with very serious disabilities is welcome at school.

But ORS funding doesn’t go with children with lesser disabilities. Most kids with, for instance, Asperger’s Syndrome, won’t qualify for ORS funding even though these kids have been shown to be able to reach extraordinary achievements with the right help.

Some argue that kids with disabilities take time and resourcing from others. I’d argue that disability is a fact of life. Better educational outcomes for people with disabilities means less welfare dependency and a more productive life. It’s money well spent.

Most of us will have to overcome disabilities as we age. Some people just have to work with disabilities at a much earlier time in their lives.

Another immediate solution is to allow children with disabilities to be able to shift across school zones to go to those state-funded schools that welcome them.

Combine that with a rating system for schools, principals and boards of trustees and we’d see an improvement in attitude.

Judith Anne Collins (born 24 February 1959) is a New Zealand politician and lawyer. Born in Hamilton and now residing in Auckland, she graduated in law and taxation and worked in this field from 1981 until 2002, including running her own practice for a decade. She entered Parliament in 2002 election as an electorate MP for the centre-right National Party, and became a Cabinet minister when National came into government in 2008. Her Initial ministerial roles were Police, Corrections and Veterans’ Affairs. After the 2011 election, her portfolios changed to Justice (including responsibility for the Law Commission), Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) and Ethnic Affairs. With a fifth-placed ranking, she was the highest ranked woman in the current Cabinet. She resigned from Cabinet on 30 August 2014 following email leaks alleging she had undermined the head of the Serious Fraud Office when she was the Minister responsible for that organisation. (Wikipedia)


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