Finding special needs education 'stressful'

Choice in schooling is "nothing more than an illusion" for high-needs special education pupils, CCS Disability Action research reveals.

The organisation started a survey late last year looking at the choices parents and families have when their disabled child starts school or needs to change schools.

It found about half of the 217 respondents, who had applied for ongoing and reviewable resourcing schemes (ORRS) funding, felt they had "not always had real choice" between schools.

About 25% who had not been able to enrol their child in the school of their choice reported an "unwelcoming" atmosphere, lack of special services and poor equipment and physical access.

Chief executive David Matthews said "in theory, a wide range of educational choices are available to parents of disabled children".

"However, based on this research, we can't ignore the fact that for many parents, there is limited choice for their children's education and indeed, choice in education is nothing more than an illusion."

The research also revealed 60% of respondents found the process of finding a school emotionally stressful, 29% found it financially draining, 35% found it negatively affected siblings, and 32% had to enrol their children in distant schools.

When it came to selecting a school, it was found the most important factors were availability of necessary facilities to support the child's learning needs (51%), school reputation (46%), and attitudes of principals (45%) and teachers (44%).

"A crucial factor in schooling decisions for many families is the attitude of the school principal and staff. Yet we have many stories of families feeling unwelcome, even discriminated against due to lack of understanding and knowledge of disability and special needs," Mr Matthews said.

Parents and caregivers have indicated that in order to improve the process of choosing schools for their children, they want better information and advice, more support and for legal and funding issues to be addressed.

Mr Matthews believed the research added further support to IHC's case against the Ministry of Education, before the Human Rights Tribunal, about the education system failing disabled pupils.

"We are continually told that New Zealand has been committed for many years to inclusive education of disabled children. This research brings into question the strength of this commitment."



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