Thursday, 25 August 2016

Where are those wrap around services, Hekia?

I have a very sad story playing out for a friend with her son.  It's been ongoing, but the last three years have been a train wreck. 
The education system has washed it's hands of him as the MOE won't cater for him.  He was excluded from his local high school before the end of his first term of Year 9 despite the best efforts of senior staff to support him and get funding. 
He's too old for health camp, and no one would put him in a residential school like Halswell, probably due to funding and a lack of placements available since Hekia has cut that funding dramatically.  He is too old for that option now. 
Youth mental health services are ineffective.  CYFs won't help, despite the impact of his actions on his younger siblings.  The police and fire service have tried their best, are sympathetic to this lad's mum and would like to do more, but are constrained by law as he is 15. 
If the mum tried to get him to go to a drug and alcohol treatment programme, despite the fact he is a minor, he can refuse.  Alternative education has provided him with delinquent associates who are teaching him how to break the law and encouraging to consume alcohol and drugs.   
This kid has a label: oppositional conduct disorder.  CDC say that he'll never fit into a traditional education setting. 
His mum is convinced she will be putting him in a box or he'll be in jail by the end of the year after he has committed several crimes and been given a 24 hour curfew.  She has resorted to getting a Section 333 on her son - that's a full psychological assessment.
Two years ago I sat in a meeting in the St Peter's Cathedral Hall in Hamilton listening to another desperate mother tell Education Minister Hekia Parata about her battle to keep her intelligent child in the education system despite him not fitting into the mould of the education landscape.  He was not attending school as a result and was doing Correspondence School instead.  This mother explained the processes of the schools with her son, of how the Ministry of Education said that he did not fit their definitions for assistance.
And Hekia Parata's response to that mother, in front of a room full of principals, BOT members, teachers, politicians, unionists and officials was: the BOT of your son's school has the power to sort this out.
There was a collective groan.
Since then, Ms Parata has trumpeted the role of the wrap around services for students who struggle in the mainstream, particularly as she has knobbled the ability of Salisbury School to enrol the girls who have traditionally needed the help, support and education they provide.
So here's my question:  Where is the wrap around services for my friend's child and his family, Hekia Parata?

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

When should a child begin formal schooling in New Zealand?

Currently New Zealand's education system is going through its biggest shake up in nearly thirty years.  It currently feels like every day we are having new revelations come out of Minister Hekia Parata's office to see how much higher she can push an education professional's blood pressure and heart rate!

Earlier this year Ms Parata raised the possibility of more "flexibility" with the age of starting school to give parent more "choice" and allow schools to set "expectations" for their community.  This may mean the following could happen:
  • a school could still receive children from the day they turn 5 years old, as happens now.
  • a school may decide that children will start schools at set times.  This may mean one intake a year at the beginning of the school year, or twice a year (terms 1 and 3), or at the beginning of each term.
  • children may need to already be five and start at the next intake of new entrants.
  • children may start earlier than five years old to met the date of an intake of new entrants.
At the website for the Education (Update) Amendment Bill I found the following:

Currently, most children start school on their fifth birthday or soon after. Some schools are encouraging parents to start their children at school as part of a cohort on set dates during the year.
Under the current Act, however, schools must allow any child who has turned five to start school on the day requested by their parents.
The Education (Update) Amendment Bill (the Bill) proposes to enable schools to implement a cohort entry policy whereby new entrants could only start school at the beginning of each term. The earliest that children would be able to start school is at the beginning of the term closest to their fifth birthday.
Before introducing a cohort entry policy, school boards of trustees would be required to consult with school staff, parents of current and prospective students of the school, and local early childhood education services.

The website then goes onto explaining the details more:

When will these changes take effect?

The Bill is expected to come into force in 2017.

Who will these changes affect?

These changes will affect schools with Year 1 students, children starting school and their parents and whānau, and early childhood education services.

What are the benefits of cohort entry?

Some education professionals consider that cohort entry enables them to support better transitions to school, simplify school and classroom planning, and minimise disruption for existing new entrant children.

When will children be able to enrol in a school with cohort entry?

Children will be able to start at a school with cohort entry at the beginning of the term closest to their fifth birthday, or the beginning of a later term. This means that some children will be able to start school up to eight weeks before they turn five, while other children will have to wait up to eight weeks after their fifth birthday before they can start school.
The precise cut-off dates for each term will be published in the Gazette and on the Ministry of Education’s website. Children turning five before the cut-off date for a term will be able to enrol in a school with cohort entry at the beginning of that term.
  • Hana turns five in week eight of term one. As her birthday is closest to the beginning of term two, if she was enrolling in a school with cohort entry she would need to wait until the beginning of term two to start school.
  • Tom turns five in week six of term four. As his birthday is closest to the beginning of term four, if he was enrolling in a school with cohort entry he could start school at the beginning of term four, or the beginning of a later term.

How will parents know which schools have cohort entry policies?

Schools will be required to publicise their cohort entry policy at least a term before implementing it. This could be done through their website, for example. Parents will also be able to find out whether a school has a cohort entry policy or not using the “Find a School” function on

Will this change affect the compulsory age for schooling?

No. Parents will continue to have the option of not starting their child in school until their sixth birthday, irrespective of whether or not the school they enrol in has a cohort entry policy.

If a child is unable to enrol in school until after their fifth birthday, will they still be eligible for ECE subsidies?

Yes. Any Ministry of Education ECE subsidies, including 20 Hours Free, are currently available up until a child turns six or enrols in school. The Ministry of Social Development will be making changes to the childcare assistance regulations to ensure that children who are not able to start school until after their fifth birthday will continue to be eligible for the childcare subsidy.

If a child enrols in school before their fifth birthday, will they be eligible for the OSCAR subsidy?

Yes. The Ministry of Social Development will be making changes to the childcare assistance regulations to ensure that children starting school before their fifth birthday will be eligible to receive the OSCAR subsidy.

Naturally this topic encourages a great debate.  There are a number of concerned parties:  children, parents, new entrant teachers, principals and early childhood educators.  Let's look at how this impacts on all of these groups and various views they may have.

Every child knows that they can start school on their 5th birthday.  It has been a long established custom in New Zealand to do so, and children will look at other children whose birthdays fall in the school holidays with pity. 

Last year my nephew turned five and began school the day after his birthday (he wanted to have his cake with his day care mates on his birthday), and he was very excited.  In the tradition of my family, my mother went to see him off to school as his Nana.  This is a tradition as my great grandmother saw my mother and myself off to school when we turned five.

So changes to when a child starts school may dampen the excitement of the ritual and anticipation of beginning school for children if this is changed.

The change in the culture of when children begin school will have to happen for children and their parents if changes are made.

Many parents welcome their child turning five and beginning school. 

First there is the knowledge that they and their child have achieved the milestone of starting school. 

There is the ritual of the fifth birthday and the giving of a new school bag, lunch box, drink bottle and pencil case loaded with goodies to help them learn (or lose on the first day of school). 

The anxiety of taking them to school and leaving them there... the amount of parents who cry themselves back to their car and home/to work usually outnumber the tears of the child!

And then there is the joy in no longer forking out for day care fees (my brother's biggest joy when his son started school) for working parents.

Any change to the starting age/time of a child being a new entrant to school will affect parents.  It either means they may end up with their child at home or in day care for longer, or it may mean they are required to start their child at school earlier than the established New Zealand custom.  Many will feel the need to "keep up with the Jones'" so they can "give their child a head start" by starting their child as a new entrant before they turn five, so this needs to be carefully considered and will require parents to be educated about the options that will be open to them if changes arise.

New Entrant Teachers
The debate about when it is best for children to start their school journey is long established in the world of a new entrant teacher.  Some enjoy and celebrate new ones joining them as and when they have their fifth birthdays, other lament the disruption of settling in a new child every few weeks and having to start all over again.

Some teachers support having set intakes, either annually, at the beginning of the school year and mid year, or at the beginning of each new term.  Some welcome the idea of an intake at the beginning of each month.

New entrant teachers will roll with what happens, but their main concern is that the child has had a practical amount of pre-school visits before they officially enrol at school so they can become familiar with the teacher, class and other children as well as some of the routines.

Principals currently have a big headache.  While they will endeavour to collect the appropriate information about who is a pre-schooler who is likely to attend their school well in advance, there is often a surprise enrolee who may pop up out of the blue to start on their fifth birthday without warning.  This can play havoc with class numbers, teacher:child ratios and space considerations for classrooms.

Early Childhood Educators
Children legally currently do not have to enrol in a primary school until their sixth birthday.  But if we start having children enrolling in primary school before their fifth birthday, this will have implications for early childhood providers. 

On one hand there will be less children, and this could affect their funding.  Then again, it frees up a place for a younger child to come into the early childhood facility. 

My opinion
I think that a change in this custom of when children start school is a good idea.  However this legislation will make it messy.  Under this legislation no one will know what the preferred enrolment of any of their local schools are unless they do a bit of research.  How many parents are going to do that?  How many irate parents and distressed five year old will school office staff and principals be confronted by?

I think, for the sake of children, parents, teachers, principals and all other interested parties that there has to be uniformity in this custom of when children start school up and down New Zealand.

I believe the best way forward is intakes of cohorts.  Each cohort should start school at the beginning of each new term.  Every child should already be five, or turning five within two weeks of the first day of the term - no four year olds who turn school after two weeks of the new term - but if you want your child to be closer to six years old before they start, that is still your choice as a parent.  This gives every child a group of students they will move through school with.  It will allow principals to appropriately plan staffing and use of classrooms within their school to accommodate the group of children starting each term.  It will allow the new entrant teacher to start the term with all their students and plan accordingly for them.

This has great possibilities for improving the transition for school for many children and giving them the best start to their school journey.  But the Minister has failed the standard by making the proposal too complicated in allowing different schools to have different intake policies after consulting with their communities.  The Minister will be failing children and parents as well as teachers and principals if this continues in this form.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Special Education - Let's Change the Name and Solve Everything!!

Somewhere, in the dark depths of the Beehive:

"If we change the name of the outfit, Minister, it will look like we've fixed everything thing!" grovelled an MOE official.

"Hmmmmm...." mused the Minister. "I've heard of this strategy before... but where...?"

"Well, Minister, it's a strategy Mrs Tolley is using with her portfolio."
On Friday the Special Education Update (aka Review) was released... with a new fangled name, Learning Support Update.  You can view the report here and also the Cabinet Paper here.
By releasing it on a Friday, the Ministry of Education was trying to sneak it in under the radar.  But as many people have been awaiting it and also contributed through submissions and speaking at Select Committee meeting, with widespread consensus that many children are missing out and the funding is inadequate, this was never going to slip into obscurity.  Over the weekend, people have become more aware of this report, especially in light of the debate over another large pot of money, covering the Operations Grants of schools, with the looming threat of a form of Bulk Funding called Global Funding.

While Hekia Parata talks up the Update, Chris Hipkins from Labour and Catherine Delahunty from the Greens raised concerns they saw in the final report about the lack of financial resourcing and shifting money from other students with needs.  (See 'Special needs'' term singles out students and will be scrapped, NZ Herald, 22/8/16).
Essentially, this is what the Learning Support Update boils down to:
  • there is no more money.
  • there are more kids who need assistance.
  • a younger age band of children will be targeted to tackle issues earlier.
  • the money to do this will come from the older age band of children.
Can you see any educator or parent of a child who needs extra support satisfied with this?
While I agree that it is sensible and vital to target children as early as possible, it should not be to the detriment of the older children who are struggling to learn and achieve.  To do so it to fail these children yet again.  They already missed out due to a lack of an appropriate professional resources in their early years, such as a speech language therapist or a consultation at the Child Development Centre, and now they are being punished for being too old to fix by this change! 
We should be adequately resourcing all children to access appropriate support rather than rationing it and playing God over who should receive the help they need!!
Within the Cabinet Paper, the Minister discusses:
  • how there has been an increase in the school age population,
  • an increase in students requiring learning support,
  • approximately 10% of the school population requires learning support,  
  • that 95% of those receiving learning support are in mainstream schools,
  • and that there will be no extra funding until she has determined if the current funding is adequate or not and it is being used efficiently.
She also discusses redesigning how learning support is delivered and accessed.  Below is a Service Delivery Model for an Individual from page 13 of the Cabinet Paper:
And this is the Service Delivery Model through using Communities of Learning, also from page 13 of the Cabinet Paper:
Now the fact that there is a Service Delivery Model through the Communities of Learning (CoLs) concerns me.  Is the Minister considering pooling money for learning support with CoLs with a contestable pool for each school to compete for access to from their CoL?  Will individual schools, principals and teachers be over ruled or dictated to as to how to support the learners in their school?

While the above models talks about it as having a role of analysing and reviewing learning support provision and providing professional learning for classroom teachers, I am wary of putting learning support under the CoLs umbrella.
This phrase also concerns me:  "Improving investment decisions using social investment analysis".  It concerns me because it is taking indicators like the mother's lack of education, a parent being in prison, or being a long term beneficiary and labelling a child as at risk without actually looking at the child themselves.  The Minister often chastises teachers as having deficit thinking towards certain students - well Minister, this is the pot calling the kettle black, because using these indicators is deficit thinking too.

Another aspect that concerns me about this phrase the way it looks at children as their learning potential as an investment, that it all boils down to money, almost like widgets off the production line.  I baulk at this view.  While I agree we need to be prudent with money and we need to ensure it is used efficiently because there is not an unlimited budget, as a teacher it is off putting to think of children as an investment, that their achievement outcomes are all that matters.  We are not just there to ensure they can read, write and do maths.  We are there to ensure these children become effective communicators, are co-operative, can think critically and problem solve, and are kind people who can contribute and function in our society.

I am also concerned about where the support for students who do slip through the earlier interventions will come from.  Some children do not show their learning needs until after their first year at school.  By the time it is realised there is a deficit in their learning they may have moved out of the age band targeted for early intervention and therefore miss out.

I have grave concerns that money will be taken from the current Special Education Budget for use by the Ministry of Social Development to be used for vulnerable children.  With another Ministry using MOE money that reduces the slice of the pie for schools and MOE specialists.

As Chris Hipkins said about the money in the Operations Grant pool on Q&A on TV1 on Sunday, when more people are eating the pie there is less for all of them and more of them will go away hungry.

While I can see that the Minister has the intention of trying to improve how learning support is delivered to children, I can see many fish hooks and concerns.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not an answer.  Not adequately resourcing it so all students can be effectively helped to achieve is a concern.  The role of CoLs and MSD having access to MOE funds is a concern.  Changing the name from Special Education to Learning Support is a minor consideration and just creates confusion.
Quite frankly, I do not think the Minister has met the standard with this Learning Support Update.