Education union NZEI Te Riu Roa has called for a continuing role for special residential schools because of a high risk that some students will not receive the intensive service they require if the schools are closed.
In a submission to the Ministry of Education today, NZEI President Ian Leckie says residential schools mean individualised support for children with severe behavioural and learning needs. They also provide periods of necessary respite for students, their families and their local school.
He says the Ministry's proposed new "intensive wrap-around service" that would see the closure of residential schools presents a high risk that some students will not receive the intensive service they require.
"As a strong advocate for truly inclusive education, NZEI is very concerned that this shift in policy direction appears to be driven more by fiscal imperatives than by sound evidence-based practice and pedagogy," he says. "While the ideal would be that all children fully participate in mainstream classrooms, the reality is that residential services are critical for some students either in the short or long term". NZEI is concerned that the Ministry is considering dismantling the current resourcing system without providing evidence and assurances that the "wrap around" system would provide a better learning environment for students currently meeting the criteria for access to the residential special schools, and for students in mainstream schools.
"Unfortunately there is no evidence to show a 'wrap-around' approach is robust enough to provide the concentrated support needed for many of the very high needs students currently enrolled at residential special schools."
He says the Government should retain sufficient residential special schools to ensure equitable access for children who live anywhere in New Zealand, and that residential special schools should continue to be fully part of the state school network, resourced by the Ministry of Education and governed by a board of trustees.
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