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More teacher training for dealing with special needs kids likely

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Heather Roy
Heather Roy

By Chris Ormond and Kate Chapman of NZPA

Wellington, July 23 NZPA - Money could be put into improving teacher training so they were equipped to deal with special needs students, Associate Education Minister Heather Roy says.

Following an evaluation of 229 primary and secondary schools, the Education Review Office (ERO) said about 20 percent lacked adequate inclusive practices when it came to the development of special needs pupils.

It found about half of the schools reviewed showed mostly inclusive practices and another 30 percent had "some" inclusive practices.

Those with the best practices showed ethical standards and leadership that built a culture of an inclusive school, and had well-organised systems, effective teamwork and constructive relationships that identified and supported the inclusion of students with high needs.

"The key differences between these schools (and the others) was the level of ethical and professional leadership shown towards including students with high needs," the report said.

The schools found to be lacking were inclusive in some less important ways.

"Overall, students with high needs were not included in significant aspects of each school's academic, extra-curricular and social activities."

The review said the situation raised questions as to how more schools could become better at including students with high needs, and suggested more could be done to use school-wide professional learning and development processes.

Children's Commissioner John Angus said the report's conclusions were consistent with stories told by frustrated parents of special needs children.

"In the past year we've received about 250 calls related to education," Mr Angus said.

"One of the most common issues is special education, and many of the parents we hear from are at the end of their tether. Some are distraught after continued attempts to get funding and resources for their child's education."

A culture change was needed in the education system and the right teacher attitude was vital, he said.

Education sector union NZEI said catering for special needs children was complex as there were funding issues, professional support issues and personnel issues.

National president Frances Nelson said NZEI hoped the Government's Review of Special Education, to be released next month, would address some of the issues.

Labour Party special education spokesman Grant Robertson said additional funding was needed to be able to provide the necessary support for improvements in leadership and professional development.

Mrs Roy told NZPA teacher training was the best way to improve education for special needs students.

That may require some funding and she was looking into it, she said.

However, there was not a lot of extra money for special education.

In the 2009 budget, $51 million over four years was allocated to improving special education. Some of that would be used to put in place recommendations out of the Government's special education review.

Initial teacher training at universities offered courses in special education optionally, Mrs Roy said.

Starting teachers were expected to cope with any student, but in all likelihood would not have seen a special needs child or have had the opportunity to teach one.

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