A new review into how our education system treats students with the highest learning needs could help between 50,000 and 80,000 children, the Government says.

The Ministry of Education review will look at how all students with high learning support needs can get the education they deserve.

That will include whether current supports like the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme are working – but it will also look at the needs of those kids who don’t currently get support or find it hard to access.

But IHC – which advocates for people with intellectual disabilities – is concerned the review won’t go far enough to give all children with learning needs the support they need to thrive.

Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti said the purpose of the review was to make sure kids who needed the most help could get what they needed, at the right time, for as long as they needed it.

Tinetti – who was a principal at Merivale School before becoming an MP – said she had seen first-hand the importance of supporting kids with high needs.

The Government was committed to barrier-free access to education for all students, she said.

“I look forward to seeing a range of options for improvements to supporting our tamariki next year.”

The review’s terms of reference say it will take a “whole child approach” that “does not define children and young people by specific diagnosis, disability, disorder or learning difference but instead is focused on what support children and young people require and how they can access the support”.

That will include reviewing the current “rigid and deficity-focused criteria and application processes” that parents and schools have to go through when seeking support for their children.

It will also look at how many children actually need help, compared to the amount of funding and resourcing available.

The review has come out of the Learning Support Action Plan which runs until 2025.

Universal design for learning in schools, teacher aide funding and career pathways, Special Education Grant funding and truancy will be considered but are not officially in scope as they are already being looked at elsewhere.

The review’s recommendations could have “significant policy implications for the Government”, the terms of reference say.

Feedback and submissions will be gathered until December, and solutions will be worked on from January – September 2022. The review will then take its recommendations to Cabinet which will decide whether to implement them.

Current services and supports will stay in place until then.

IHC director of advocacy Trish Grant said many in the sector had warned the Ministry they were not interested in just tinkering with the current funding system – they wanted it transformed.

She said there were some very positive aspects to the terms of reference, including the focus on human rights, plans to review ORS, and looking at the current difficulties getting access to supports.

But the focus on the students with the “highest” need meant the promise of transformation had not been kept. There appeared to be a continuation of the “hierarchy of need” approach that had been in place since 1998.

“Disabled children, families and schools have said clearly that there needs to be an individualised approach to resourcing the learning and support needs of all children, not just a select few.

“Equitable access to education is reliant on students and schools being provided with what they need to access education. In human rights terms this is called reasonable accommodation.”

IHC has a case before the Human Rights Tribunal arguing the Government is discriminating against disabled children by breaching their human rights.

That case was about reasonable accommodation, fairness and equity, Grant said.

“If the education system is not planning to fund the supports that each child needs to have a fair go at school then this is discrimination.”

Frian Wadia, an administrator for the “VIPS – Equity in Education” Facebook group, said her biggest disappointment was that the review looked to be focused on individual children rather than taking a school-wide approach that could improve inclusion for every child.

“This is what continues to segregate our disabled children into several factions of haves and have-nots.”

There were positives including a commitment to the Enabling Good Lives principles, plans to work across government agencies instead of in silos, and looking at the “whole child” instead of defining kids by their disabilities or learning differences.

She was also pleased that there would be a “long-overdue” review of the application process parents must go through to try and get support for their children. That process was expensive for the Ministry of Education and emotionally harmful for whānau, Wadia said.

But there was no attempt to shift school-wide cultures to end the discrimination, punishment and exclusion that many disabled children suffered.

Without such a shift, inclusion at school would still be a lottery for disabled children, she said.

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