Salisbury School Board of Trustees is recommending that the Government defers its proposed plan for special education in favour of relevant research to ensure its vulnerable students are not used as 'test cases'.
The Ministry is currently reviewing the provision of special education in New Zealand, and could close one or four of New Zealand's residential special schools, including Salisbury, in favour of a proposed 'wrap-around' approach. Submissions on this proposal closed today.
On behalf of the Salisbury School Board of Trustees, Salisbury Principal Brenda Ellis has today hand-delivered the School Board's submission to stay open, along with a petition of 2800 signatures and the personal stories of past and current students, to the Ministry of Education.
Brenda Ellis, who flew from Nelson to Wellington this morning to deliver the submission in person to the Ministry, said the school has been overwhelmed with the support it has received during the Ministry's consultation on a proposed closure.
"We wanted to deliver the full submission by hand, to acknowledge all the support we have received from current and past parents and students, whose voices are a big part of our submission," she says.
Meanwhile, Board of Trustees Chairperson Helen McDonnell agrees that support for the school has been significant and widespread.
"Girls come from all over New Zealand to Salisbury, as we're the only residential special school in New Zealand that provides 24 hour / 7 day education, along with an outreach service in the community, for girls with intellectual disabilities," McDonnell says. "This means that over the years the school has touched many many people from around the country.
"The submission that was delivered today included a petition of 2800 supporters, and a community submission, which 240 supporters put their names to, including Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio, Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne, Dame Alison Roxburgh, and a number of school teachers and principals of New Zealand schools, and professionals from the social services and health sectors," she says.
"In essence, in the Board's submission we have asked the Minister to: defer implementation of the proposed 'intensive wrap around' service for post primary girls with complex learning impairments until January 2018; enable Salisbury to undertake an action research project which will inform a future model of excellence in special education provision from 2018; and immediately, establish a stakeholder-wide working group that would consult, advise and contribute to the development of this future model.
"The Ministry's proposed wrap-around system is worryingly based on research that does not provide any evidence that it works for secondary-aged girls with intellectual disabilities - which is Salisbury's student base," she says. "We are deeply concerned that they are using these vulnerable young women as a test case, without any proper evidence that a new model could match the success Salisbury's students currently achieve.
"We invite the Ministry to review what we do at Salisbury in our residential and outreach programmes and enable us to undertake a five year research programme that will then provide evidence to support a future model of excellence in special education provision," she says. "There is no research at all about intermediate and secondary aged girls with complex intellectual needs, so we encourage the Government to not rush into major change that could negatively affect some of New Zealand's most vulnerable girls.
"As the proposed 'wrap around' service would impact on all New Zealand schools, including ours, we also recommend the Minister establishes a working group of sector representatives, to ensure we get this right," she says. "In the meantime the Board invites the Minister Hekia Parata to visit our school, to ensure she fully understands the services we provide and the outcomes we achieve.
"It is well recognised that one in five young people are failing in mainstream education, and Salisbury has the quantitative and qualitative evidence that demonstrates that for post primary girls with complex intellectual needs we are addressing the three ministry priority areas:
1. The long tail of underachievement in the New Zealand Education System
2. Maori having the opportunity to experience success as Maori
3. Meeting the needs of special education students throughout New Zealand
"Salisbury has the low student/teacher ratios and quality teaching processes that the Minister craves to meet her objective that five out of five New Zealander's receive the education they deserve," she says. "We support this vision and wish to work with the Government so that this can be fully achieved."
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