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(New Zealand) Enrollment at 3 residential schools for disabled doubles

July 3, 2023, RNZ: Schools for people with disabilities see rising demand despite UN call to close them

Enrolments have doubled at the country's three boarding schools for disabled children while the government decides their future.

The Education Ministry is paying the residential special schools $11.5 million for a notional combined roll of 84 children this year, and said they had 44 enrolments between them at the middle of June.

That was up from 23 students in July last year, when the ministry also funded the schools for 84 children.

The schools told RNZ more students were due next term, which would bring them close to their maximum rolls.

The growth comes nearly a year after the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recommended the government shut the schools and direct their funding to community-based support.

Education Minister Jan Tinetti told RNZ she expected Education Ministry advice on the UN report and the schools soon.

She said the government had no plans to reduce their funding or close them.

Halswell principal Janine Harrington said the schools had been waiting for a decision on their future since last year.

"We were told that the ministry needed to provide information to the minister and we should know whether we were going to close by December.

"Then it was January, then it was April and at this point we still haven't heard if these three residential special schools will be open or shut."…

But she said enrolments could be higher.

"On the face of it, it could be argued that it looks as though students are being kept out of residential schools by the application and enrolment process being overly difficult and there are certainly some people in the community who promote an ideology that every student should be mainstreamed and therefore specialist schools and residential schools shouldn't exist.

"It's a crying shame that we have empty beds and we can't help more rangitahi." Harrington said the schools were no longer long-term destinations but short-term interventions that helped children gain the skills they needed to return successfully to a mainstream school.

She said the UK and US closed state residential special schools several years ago, only to reopen them as private institutions because there was still a need for them.

Westbridge principal David Bagwell said its enrolments reached a low of three at the start of the year, but the school now had 11 students with seven more approved to enrol next term.

"By mid-term three we'll be up to 18, which is as big as we've ever been in my time here," he said.

However, Bagwell said the school's future was still uncertain.

"Things feel in limbo. The school feels great, you know we've got growing numbers and so the political backdrop feels an anomaly to that….

Bagwell said the ministry's notional roll for the school of 32 was not realistic and the level of funding it received was sufficient for 24 students at most.

Salisbury School's board of trustees chair Janet Kelly said enrolments were growing and the school was confident it would reach its cap of 20 students in term three….

Grant said while the government was strengthening community options it should put more standards and controls around the schools….


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