From Diagnosis to Support, Part Two: Funding for starting school


Image by Espen Klem via Flickr

Once my son’s fifth birthday loomed, it was time to work on his ORRS application. ORRS stands for Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Scheme, it is administered and supplied by the Ministry of Education. If his application was approved, he would receive significant school funding, for services like speech therapy and a teacher aide. But most importantly for us, a successful ORRS application meant our son would be eligible to attend a special needs school.

We wanted to have our options as open as possible. I had personally always felt he would be best suited for a special needs school. I felt so strongly about this – and so negatively about “dumping” him in a mainstream school – that I was investigating homeschooling if special need schooling wasn’t available to him. I didn’t want to have to homeschool him – I was exhausted and had his younger brother to raise – but I was determined to do what was best for him. At the same time though I did try to maintain an open-mind; if visits to mainstream schools showed he would be welcome and safe, then I was prepared to reconsider.

Applying for ORRS was a very drawn out process. It consisted principally of his two key therapists at the time – his educational psychologist (EP) and speech therapist (ST) – working extensive hours over more than a month, to write-up a draft. The application sums up a child’s abilities, disabilities and needs, across a variety of areas (such as language and behaviour). The application draft was refined and added to by those working with him at kindergarten, and by us as his parents. I spent a fair amount of time reading, correcting and refining it until I personally was satisfied with the application too.

We applied under criterion 8, the main criteria for autistic children. I had been warned that many people did not succeed in getting ORRS funding. I was told that some disabilities were always approved funding (Down syndrome for example), but other conditions like autism were a far less sure-bet. It was only after the application was sent in that I realised how low the application success rate was, usually around 50%!

The whole process was rather too mysterious. Our son’s therapists couldn’t say how good our chance of success was, despite working for the Ministry which made the decisions.

While we waited for the decision about the application, the EP and I began the process of organising visits to the schools he might attend. On the day of the first school visit, we received the news that the ORRS application had been successful. He had been approved the reviewable (not the ongoing) funding; ie RRS rather than ORS (ORRS being the acronym for the scheme as a whole). He was in the “high needs” category, as opposed to “very high needs” – those were the only two categories. What all that meant was that his funding would be reviewed in three years time, at which point – if he still fit the criterion – he would be moved to the ORS. I was not looking forward to going through the whole process all over again, but we had won a big victory for now.

Just under a month ago we received a letter telling us that the government has changed ORRS. The RRS (reviewable) category was being removed – the category our son was under. Instead all the children were being folded into the ORS category – the ongoing option, so he wouldn’t face a review in three years time. He will have the funding until the end of his school days, which could go beyond the normal 18 years-old too if required (up to 21 if I recall correctly).

The reason for this change is given in the letter too. I will write it out here because by golly it’s nice to see a government ministry making sense:

In the past, most students placed in the RRS have successfully applied to the ORS at the end of the reviewable period because they continued to have a high or very high level of need. Thus, the process of re-application was an unnecessary additional task for families, schools, and specialists.

And to reassure those of you who may now be worried about whether that change will make it harder for your child to qualify, the letter goes on to state later that:

This change will not affect the overall integrity of the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme, as the number of eligible students has remained consistent over time.

I’ve had a good look through the Ministry of Education’s website about ORS, and nothing much appears to have changed, other than the removal of the specific RRS category. Autistic children will still tend to come under criterion 8, for instance. And it is still available to 7000 students at any one time, throughout New Zealand.

I will share in a future post, the story of what types of schools we visited and how we made the decision of where to send our son. The purpose of this post was to both share our story, and to inform and help demystify an otherwise confusing process. To that end, please do ask if you have any questions or if something isn’t clear, and I will help if I can!

This entry was posted in From Diagnosis to Support, Parenting an Autistic Child, Resources for Parents, Schooling and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to From Diagnosis to Support, Part Two: Funding for starting school

  1. KWombles says:

    Interesting post; I find it fascinating how the processes differ from country to country and between localities.

  2. KDL says:

    It really is quite a different process from how things work in the U.S. Here there is sort of lump sum funding for each district and it’s up to the district how to allocate those funds among schools…then each school (with supervision from the district) determines which students receive which services. This leaves parents as the main advocates for their children (even if they don’t know much about normative vs. delayed development) essentially arguing with a system that wants to keep a tight rein on their resources. It sounds like your government provides a lot more services, too. From birth-age 3 there are services available for children who have a known diagnosis. After age 3, except for what we fight tooth and nail for at school any other therapy is provided out of pocket by private experts…unless you fall in the bottom 2% of functionality. This method leaves a big gap for those at the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum, who are often not diagnosed before age 3 and after age 3 are usually above the 2% threshold…

    • How frustrating (and not particularly forward-thinking either)!

      We also have pools of funding here that each school uses for special needs students who may not be eligible for ORS funding. For example, the school might provide a speech therapist for students who need it. But that funding is not significant, and wouldn’t have been adequate for my son. The schools can (and do) top-up that special needs funding themselves from other budget sources too.

      One of the particularly useful aspects of going with a special needs school here is they can effectively pool the ORS funding to maximise the services their students can get access too (as I understand it – it’s all rather complicated and I’m learning as I go).

  3. Jack says:

    Thanks for your overview. How long did the process take from starting the application to hearing back about the outcome? Looking at criterion 8 I don’t think my son would meet them at this point in time. Could just be the parent in me looking for the best qualities. I guess our NGO will assist us with these decisions.

    It might be a bit neerdy, but it is interesting looking at the success rate for applications. It always appears to be around 50% each year regardless of numbers approved. This would not suggest that it is a funding cap as each child should cost around the same I would think. Looking at the numbers in isolation I would say that they just reject half submitted each year out of principle!
    Its also nice to see they appear not to take decile rating of the school into consideration. The ‘others’ in the school ratings is interesting. Maybe that could be home-schooled? Very low success rate.

    • It was between one to two months to pull the application together. And it was about two weeks to get the answer. So about two months from start to finish.

      Because they only take 7000 students on the scheme at any point in time, but receive a large number of applications, they’re always going to be turning down the difference. It does seem arbitrary to cap the number at 7000, surely the funding should be based simply on high-level of need. Some years that number of needy students must be higher or lower than other years. From their perspective I believe the idea is that they’re providing support to the top percentage of needy students, with the 7000 representing that top percentage.

      How much funding a child gets will depend on whether they are deemed high or very high needs. I suspect it also differs with the nature of the condition and the child’s specific needs.

      It really is all far too mysterious. It should be easy for both parents and therapists to understand. And the application process should be quicker and more predictable. At least the government is ready and willing to make changes to the scheme as the years go by.

  4. Adele Baller says:

    Thanks for posting this information. I am about to enter the scary world of Orrs application. I do have the intended school on board to help with our case and his ESW worker, however already having a battle with one of his key workers. So difficult when you have negative people supposedly “helping” your son to get ahead, especially when she only talks to me once a school term (if that) and see’s my son about the same amount of time……..very frustrating but fingers crossed. I am so ready for the battle this time!

  5. ming says:

    Hi, I have just happen to stumble upon this blog. We have just successfully applying for the ORS funding for our 5 year old son. We were initially rejected but we had a really good early intervention teacher and speech therapist whom sat down with us to go through the application form and reapplied. He will be starting school next term and I really hope he will do well and enjoy school.

  6. Babs Roberts-Borchers says:

    thanks for the information. I work with autistic young people at Hohepa, Napier, and just coincidentally am doing an assignment on the funding process etc for school age children with autism. So your first hand experience was really interesting. Thank you.

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