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!