Labour’s spokesperson for education, Chris Hipkins. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

JAKE BELESKI

jake.beleski@age.co.nz

Regional strategies could be an answer to Wairarapa parents’ concerns about a lack of support for young children with special needs.

Wairarapa’s Labour candidate, Kieran McAnulty, and Labour’s Rimutaka MP and spokesperson for education, Chris Hipkins, visited a group of frustrated parents in Masterton on Monday.

Issues the parents raised included a lack of support for young children with special needs, the amount of travel required to get to places where the appropriate resources are available, and a lack of action from the government.

Mr Hipkins said regional strategies could alleviate some of the issues.

“It’s not going to be the same in every part of the country, and not every kid’s needs are the same.

“One child with autism might have a very different set of needs to another,” he said.

He said it was important parents continued to advocate for change, but said ultimately things needed to change at the top.

“Until we change the system, you’re just continuing to bash your head against a brick wall.

“The system has to change, but the government doesn’t believe it’s a problem.”

The parents spoke of the fact there were no specialist special needs units for children until they reached secondary school, and their frustration at having to get through eight years of school before their needs were provided for.

Mr Hipkins said primarily it comes back to funding from the Ministry of Education.

“I thought it was primarily a funding issue, and I’m convinced that’s true, but I don’t think it’s the only issue.

“There’s a whole complex set of things we need to address in addition to that.”

Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding was available to students with special needs, but the system was flawed, Mr Hipkins said.

“At the highest possible level, the problem we have with our system now is that it’s designed to have a set of criteria to access support.

“ORS funding is a blunt instrument . . . it’s good for the kids that get it, but at the highest end, it’s not enough.”

He pointed to some schools adopting ‘modern hubs’ for learning, where they will often remove walls between classrooms to increase the size of learning spaces, as something that could also be causing harm to students with special needs.

“It often leads to more stress, because it takes away any safe space where the students can be supported, but on the other side it allows them to interact with the other kids and be included in other things.”

The ministry’s cap on the number of people they employ meant there had been a reduction in specialist teachers, including speech and language therapists, he said.

It made it impossible to cope with the additional needs, and he again highlighted the need for a regional approach.

“Not every school is going to be dealing with every child’s needs, but as a region, what’s our strategy?

“The region should get to make that decision.”