There have been a number of analyses and reports into education for disabled people in New Zealand recently. Each has identified various issues and concerns.
The Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the Auditor-General and the Education Review Office have all made various findings, some of which are summarised here.
The Office of the Ombudsmen states that education remains a high priority for their office. They continue to receive a large volume of education related complaints, many related to concerns about access to education for "special needs pupils". The Ombudsmen is concerned about the plight of teachers and pupils in situations where children with special needs are not adequately supported in the classroom. The Ombudsmen will keep monitoring this.
The Office of the Children's Commissioner says enquiries and complaints to their advice line indicate students with disabilities are most at risk of exclusion from school.
Statistics from the Ministry of Education (released on 23 September 2009 under the Official Information Act) indicate that during 2008 30 per cent of suspensions were disabled students. Of all students excluded from school, 38 per cent were disabled students. Statistics New Zealand indicates 10 per cent of the school-age population have disabilities. Thus, disabled students are grossly overrepresented in suspensions and exclusions.
The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) released a report in November 2009. This report assessed how well the Ministry of Education manages its support to disabled students with the highest level of need. This included looking at the Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Schemes (ORRS).
OAG staff found that assessment and allocation practices across regions varied. This risks variation in the level of support provided to students with similar levels of need and in similar circumstances. Their report states that the Ministry needs to improve how it identifies students with high special educational needs to ensure that those students eligible for support receive it in a consistent and timely manner. In addition, the support they receive and the progress they make needs to be appropriately monitored.
The OAG's report made 10 recommendations, including encouraging the Ministry to:
- continue to improve its information about the level of need for support
- provide students who have similar needs and circumstances with similar support, regardless of where they live
- better assist and explain the initiatives to educators and parents/caregivers
- put in place more effective systems for collating information about the Ministry's support for students.
Since the release of this report, the Ministry stated work is under way to improve their practices and systems, and that the Review of Special Education focuses on many of the issues identified in the OAG audit.
The Education Review Office (ERO) released a report in September 2009 looking at the governance and management of Resources Teachers Learning and Behaviour (RTLB). This report found wide variability in governance and management practice.
ERO found evidence of Ministry staff giving advice or making decisions that were inconsistent with the stated RTLB policy. This was particularly in relation to decisions about employment practices and RTLB training.
Accountabilities for the use of funding and management of RTLB remains an issue. A similar evaluation in 2004 reported the same findings demonstrating that there has been no real improvement since 2004, despite increased guidance and support from the Ministry of Education.
ERO reported that as a result the current model for governing and managing the RTLB service does not ensure all students referred to the RTLB service are well served. ERO recommends that the existing governance and management model should be reviewed to ensure a more cohesive and consistent approach to the service that RTLB provide for schools.
The Human Rights Commission released a report in 2009 on Disabled Children's Right to Education, providing evidence about the extent to which disabled children are denied the right to education. "When compared against international human rights standards, there are significant outstanding issues about the availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability of education for disabled people in New Zealand."
The Review of Special Education Discussion Document states that reports such as these mentioned here will help inform the review.