Clearly, the Ministry of Education is lost for ideas (if not words) in response to a SENCO survey that shows special education is woefully under-resourced in New Zealand schools and centres.

There is no doubt that Ministry spending on special education is growing, but need has grown faster.

There is little if any official research on why reported need has jumped. But there is anecdotal reporting and indications that growing inequality, the rapid of growth of ECE of questionable quality, and National Standards may be behind it.

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In September 2015 NZEI Te Riu Roa sent out a survey to find out more about the role that SENCOs play in schools.

The survey of 800 SENCO’s by NZEI Riu Roa, with a 44% response rate, found:

  • The number of students requiring additional support has grown and far exceeds the
    one percent eligible for ORS funding. This survey shows on average 16% of students are listed on schools’ special needs registers.
  • A large majority of SENCOs see current funding for diverse learning needs as inadequate. 89% consider that government support for this aspect of teaching and learning at their school is inadequate.
  • Almost half of respondents reported that up to 60% of children on special needs registers were not receiving adequate support and funding.
  • Two thirds of SENCOs reported that there is not enough time during their working day to be able to fully meet the needs of children they work with. 66% commented that they need more or a lot more release time to do their role. Over a quarter receive no extra compensation for undertaking their complex role.
  • Many SENCOs are unable to access the professional development that they need. Almost 40% took on the role in spite of having no prior professional development specific to inclusive education. This problem continues for SENCOs once in the job, with 23% having received no relevant professional development since taking up the role.

Around 10% of New Zealand students receive some sort of extra Ministry support, but in countries such as Finland, the norm is around a third of students.

Clearly, New Zealand children need and deserve more. But it appears the government is a long way from acknowledging the problem.

An email exists that shows the ministry peddling its response to the survey. It says that special education registers held by schools include students with “asthma and diabetes”. It’s been a running joke all day. (Though it must be added that educators do consider diabetes and asthma to be very serious conditions.) But from the Ministry’s own figures, just 745 students out of the 80,000 students receiving extra support are on its books for “high health needs”, or 0.9%. Which is probably about the proportion of students on special needs registers with asthma and diabetes.