From special needs

March 2011

 

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to success for all?

subheader: Inclusive Education

intro: The government’s vision in Success for All – Every School, Every Child is that all New Zealand schools must be inclusive by 2014. ALEX STAINES finds that, for disabled children and their families, the playing field might be levelling out.

As it turned out, 2010 was a big year for disability rights in New Zealand.

The government’s response to its review of Special Education was a strategy for inclusive schooling, titled Success for All, launched by Associate Minister of Education, Hon Rodney Hide, in October last year. The most important change is that the government has set targets for New Zealand schools to become fully inclusive, expects these targets to be met, and is providing support to schools to help them achieve the targets.

In fact, for the rights of disabled people globally, it’s been a big three years.

Ross Brereton is chief executive of DPA – the Disabled Person’s Assembly, a

New Zealand not-for-profit organisation, 1100-plus members strong, with an international reputation for representing the rights of disabled people. For Brereton, the journey toward fully inclusive schooling would not be possible without the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (‘the Convention’).

Basically, the Convention declares that all disabled people must have the same human rights as everyone else in society; they must be able to make their own decisions and live the lives they choose. New Zealand ratified this Convention in 2008, thereby agreeing to abide by it as an international law. The Convention now underpins policy planning across central and local government as far as disabled people’s rights are concerned.

“The government’s recently announced vision for special education, Success for All, is a true reflection of the importance and influence of the Convention on disability policy,” Brereton says.

The right of disabled students to be educated and to achieve in the same educational settings as all other students is a fundamental human right. The vision of Success for All is a turning point, requiring all schools to demonstrate welcoming and enabling learning environments. This should mean the end for disabled students and their families of being denied access to their local schools. At the time of the Special Education Review, around half of New Zealand schools were not inclusive.

Hide spoke about the new vision and strategy at the DPA conference in Invercargill in November 2010. “It must be automatic that every special needs child is included and gets the support they need – without having to fight for it,” he said.

Among the changes heralded in Success for All are:

  • The existing fragmented specialist teacher resources for hearing and/or vision impaired students will be reallocated to three centres, resulting in a workforce for around 630 students.
  • There will continue to be specialist schools, but their role will change. Some of the special schools will gradually move to providing outreach teaching.
  • A performance target will be set so all schools reviewed by ERO in 2014 can demonstrate inclusive education practice.
  • School boards will be able to provide evidence on how they are supporting special needs students to take part and achieve.
  • Boards, principals and teachers will be supported by revising professional development and training programmes to include special education.
  • There will be a link with school development and professional learning opportunities in the new Student Achievement Function.
  • The New Zealand Teachers Council has published the expectation that special education needs be a core competency of all teacher training programmes (see story page 4.)

“It is critical that disabled people are directly involved in the review processes for schools and in the professional development of teachers and other professionals,” Brereton says.

According to a survey conducted by a coalition of disability organisations in 2010, bad attitudes toward disabled people are the biggest barrier to the equal rights of disabled people in New Zealand. Success for All is about changing the attitudes, behaviours and expectations of our school communities so that disabled students can strive and achieve and all students can benefit from their participation. This, in turn, will have a positive long-term effect on the attitudes of the wider New Zealand public about disabled people. n

More information on Success for All: www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/SpecialEducation/SuccessForAll.aspx

DPA (NZ) Inc: www.dpa.org.nz