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(New Zealand) Autistic students excluded for lack of school aides

May 5, 2024, The Press: Children with autism excluded from school due to lack of teacher aide funding

Children with disabilities are being excluded, stood down and sent home from school because of insufficient funding for teacher aides.

Schools say they do not get enough government money to pay for the specialist help, and are often forced to dig into their own pockets to make up salaries.

But much of the time this isn’t enough, leading to children with disabilities being forced to stay at home.

One teenage girl can only go to school for three hours a day, leaving her mum fearing her daughter will never be able to leave home.

Meanwhile, Jessica Short's 9-year-old son Apollo, who has autism, does not understand why he cannot go to school when his younger sister leaves in the morning.

After moving schools, being stood down more times than Short can count and with the new school only able to provide a teacher aide for 40 hours a year, Apollo was approaching an exclusion. Short pulled him out of school before it went on his permanent record. . . .

According to the Education and Training Act 2020, all students under 16 must attend school each day, and children with special educational needs and disabilities have the same attendance rights as other children. . . .

Velda Chan, a lawyer at Youthlaw, said principals should not be standing down or suspending students with disabilities.

“There is a guide given to schools. For gross misconduct it asks the principal whether the misconduct was blame-worthy.

Rolleston College principal Rachel Skelton says schools do not receive enough funding to pay for teacher aides to support children who need them. . . .

 “Schools cannot actually afford to staff learners with the funding they are allocated due to this short-fall.”

According to Careers New Zealand, pay for a beginner teacher aide is $23 an hour, but for specialist teacher aides it ranges from $25-37 an hour. The Ministry of Education funds $23 an hour for schools with more than 150 students.

Rolleston College has tried to help Payson Alsop attend for longer, according to mum Mckayla, but it can only fund her teacher aide for so long. Principal Rachel Skelton, pictured, says funding teacher aides is “challenging”. . . .

One mother, who wished to remain anonymous due to her position, said she had seen both sides of the system. She has three children with autism under the age of 16 and is chair of her school’s board of trustees.

Two of her children have been stood down before, both for “gross misconduct”. But she does not blame the school.

“You can see how hard the schools are working and that isn’t their fault. Schools pay extra money to bring in teacher aides, the ministry has offered no support to help my kids attend full-time.”

As chair of her board of trustees she deals with children who have been excluded from school, and said the majority are children with traumatic backgrounds or who are neurodivergent.

“These are kids that could succeed in life if they are given the right support. If they're constantly being stood down or reprimanded for their behaviour that they can’t actually control, that’s a pretty sad situation that we are in.”

Because Walker and Short’s children are high functioning and “smart,” they do not meet the threshold for ongoing resourcing scheme (ORS) funding, which provides support for students with the highest level of need for specialist support.

They both have a single income in their households and children who desperately want to go to school but cannot. They feel their only option now is homeschooling.


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