Govt announces $90m for specialist school repairs, builds

Minister of Education Erica Stanford (L) and Minister of Finance Nicola Willis speak at...
Minister of Education Erica Stanford (L) and Minister of Finance Nicola Willis speak at Sommerville School in Panmure. Photo: RNZ
The government is committing $90 million to redevelop specialist facilities and increase satellite classrooms for students with high needs, Education Minister Erica Stanford has announced.

Speaking to parents and teachers at Sommerville School in Auckland's Panmure this morning, Stanford said a report recently released by the Education Review Office (ERO) had highlighted that some of the most vulnerable learners were in classrooms that were in a terrible condition.

"I was horrified to learn about the unacceptable state of specialist school property and the long wait lists of more than 650 children, following significant underinvestment in maintenance and growth."

Minister of Finance Nicola Willis said half of the new funding would go towards maintenance and repairs to existing schools throughout New Zealand, including Sommerville School.

Most of the money would repair run-down facilities and $26m would pay for 17 new satellite classrooms in regular schools.

Stanford also announced that Sommerville would be one of three schools to be entirely redeveloped.

Earlier this year, the school reported it had leaking sewage, with mould and mushrooms growing on classroom walls.

Stanford said construction would begin early next year and would last 18 months.

The announcement signalled the government's "firm commitment" to specialist schools who did "incredible work for young people with the highest needs", she said.

But a group supporting children with disabilities has condemned the announcement.

Paul Brown from the Inclusive Education Action Group told RNZ it was "absolutely not" the best use of the money.

"What we're talking about here is $90m that could have gone into the general education system to enable disabled kids and non-disabled kids to be able to be educated together at their local schools," he said.

"It perpetuates a system which segregates disabled children out of the mainstream."

Brown said nobody wanted children in a mouldy classroom, whether it was a special school or a local school, but building new special school satellite classrooms took the education system back decades.

He said it was contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Education Ministry's guidance about inclusive education.

Brown said families used special schools as a last resort when mainstream schools had let them down.

"It's usually when there's a failure in the mainstream local school," he said.

Brown said mainstream schools were under-resourced in terms of support for children with disabilities and that was partly because money was spent on special schools.