Funding Teacher Aides

Who is responsible for funding teacher aides?

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The Ministry of Education here in New Zealand, claims they provide adequate funding and support for children with special needs, and so parents shouldn’t be paying for teacher aide hours. The schools say they don’t receive enough targeted funding and have to take the money from other funding pools, and end up accepting money from parents to pay teacher aides. The parents can endlessly fill out forms, attend meetings, take phone calls, and deal with emails with both Ministry and school staff, that go nowhere – leaving them in the position of either fronting the money for aides themselves, or having their child excluded from school because the school can’t or won’t let the child attend without one-on-one support.

The answer to who is meant to be funding the aides, is a simple one, both by policy and by law: The Ministry of Education. They provide schools with funding, and it is the Ministry’s responsibility to meet its national and international obligations to allow children with special needs to be included within the schooling system. The funding they provide to schools and families is not enough – that’s not debatable. I have been in the situation myself since the start of the year, that the Ministry out-right refuses to grant adequate funded-hours to allow my son to be safe and able to learn at school. I have filled out their forms, jumped through their hoops; there are no Ministry-sanctioned options left to me – they are refusing the required funding. The school, my son, and my family, are suffering because of their refusal. I am far from alone in this situation; not only do I personally know other people in this situation, but the New Zealand Herald is currently doing articles (here, and here) on this wide-spread reality.

The Ministry says parents shouldn’t be doing this – paying for teacher aides themselves – but it’s happening nonetheless. They know it is happening. Schools know it is happening. It is laughable that the Ministry has told the New Zealand Herald that parents should talk to the Ministry about sorting these situations out rather than paying for aides, when the Ministry itself is the reason parents and schools are in this situation. No parent wants to be put in this financial position – paying huge amounts just so their child can simply access the education system that is meant to be freely available to all New Zealand children – and no parent should be put in this situation. But here we are, and everyone is paying the price. Even parents of children without special needs – you are paying the price too in so many ways; if our children with special-needs are given adequate in-class support, it would make life easier for the teachers of your children, and for your children as class-mates. Everyone wins if this is done the way it should be. You too should be out-raged that the Ministry is claiming there is enough funding and support, because it is only the wealthiest families who can meet the true short-fall – so unless the children in your child’s class are all very well-off and are paying for a service they shouldn’t have to be, your kids may be directly affected too.

And before I have to deal with the classic reply – if your child needs that much support, they should be in a special school – let’s be very clear: It is hard to get into a special school. I have tried all year for my youngest child to qualify, but he has been denied the Ministry funding required to allow his attendance (“ORS” funding). The Ministry does not agree that is where he belongs – they have declined our ORS application. We are stuck in mainstream, with utterly inadequate support. The support we get is inadequate in everyone’s opinion who deals with my son on a daily basis – including his first school who illegally sent him home whenever he didn’t have a dedicated teacher aide. And you know what the Ministry did about that illegality? Nothing. They had an employee in the meeting where the principal said my son would not be allowed at school without an aide, and she just nodded along with the school staff in the room. I complained to her superior about her lack of support, she took my call and noted my concerns, saying she’d call me back. She never did. They cover each other’s backsides, the Ministry looks out for the Ministry, not for the people it is meant to be serving.

I must add this important point here too: Our children have the capacity to be part of the mainstream schooling system, when they have adequate supports. More than that, they have the right to be part of it. I feel like shouting sometimes, shaking some sense into by-standers – how can the government and the wider society not see the wasted potential here? How can they not understand that adequately supporting our children during their school years will pay off hugely when they reach adult-hood? That looking after our kids also allows us parents as potential workers, to return to being productive in the work-force? Why, when we share our stories, are we met with “go take your child to a special school” or “your kid is ruining my kid’s chance to learn in class,” instead of other parents standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us, fighting alongside us as fellow citizens whose rights are being trampled while the Ministry keeps pretending this isn’t happening and insisting they provide adequate funding when everything shows otherwise?

I suppose they think it’s easier to have our children out of schools – and at an extremely short-sighted and superficial level, it is easier for schools and the Ministry to have us out of sight and out of mind. But the reality of that attitude – the real impact of it on society in general, and on the children raised in these artificially sanitised environments – is deep and nasty. And it doesn’t take much to see the parallels with other “unwanted” people of history – people of a certain colour, or religion, or gender. They didn’t take it quietly, and neither should we.

I want to end by making it clear that I’m not of the belief that teacher aides are the be-all-end-all of in-class supports – inadequately funding them is not the only problem our special education system faces, and neither would adequate funding of teacher aides solve all our problems. However, they are a vital piece of the support system, even more so when we continue to create classroom teachers with woefully inadequate knowledge and training on how to help children with special needs flourish in the classroom. For me – and for many others – the inadequate funding of teacher aides and the attitude of the Ministry of Education towards this problem, is highly symptomatic of the wider and deeper issues at play in our special education system: Lack of funds; lack of support; inadequate training of teachers; passing the buck; turning a blind-eye to the reality families and children face. Lots of things need to change, adequate funding of teacher aides is a good starting point.

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13 Responses to Funding Teacher Aides

  1. Patrick Lane says:

    Great article.
    We were fortunate to get ORS for our Autistic son. My wife who is brilliant at these things was in tears as she wrote out the application. She then helped others with their applications.
    Subsequently, another parent who was making an application was shown an anonymous application for another child by her MoE case-worker with the comment “as you will see, this child is far worse than yours and they did not receive funding, so it is highly unlikely that you will”. My wife was shown the case in question. She immediately recognised the application as one that she had written on behalf of. It was true that the initial application was turned down; what was not true (A BARE FACED LIE) was the a subsequent application was successful.
    The lesson is that whilst it is difficult, keep trying.
    On another note; I have sat with my sons principal and seen him “rob” one budget to ensure sufficient funds for the special needs community within the school. Other schools in the area would point their families to our school because of the climate of understanding and inclusivity that the principal had fostered – unfortunately, non of the funding from the other schools came with the children.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, and for the encouragement Patrick. One of my sons does receive ORS, and was approved the first time we applied. The other has been declined, even though I thought there was a solid and fair case there – in some ways, my second child is a lot more difficult than the first, and yet he was the one declined. The irony is even if my second son had got ORS, he still would not have got enough teacher aide hours each day within the mainstream setting, but it would have helped by opening the door to the local special school where there is definitely adequate support.

      • Mum and Dad says:

        We have a 12 year son and a 3 year daughter both diagnosed with autism. My son was also born with Down Syndrome. We have found that due to my son’s diagnosis with Down Syndrome, we received support without too much difficulty. However, my 3 year daughter was refused support and turned away from two Early Childhood Centres. The first ECE (our local Kindy) told me that they were not there to do GSE’s job and I would need to provide or supply support. We can not afford this. The second ECE told me after three weeks of visits that we would need to look for a smaller centre.
        I contacted the Ministry who said that “it happens all the time” and “you are encouraging discrimination because you won’t take her back”. How can you give your child to people that do not want her.
        Finally, we found a lovely ECE that welcomed and embraced my daughter. After much resistance, the Ministry reluctantly agreed to complete an assessment for support but it was refused because the lead assessor had resigned. An IEP was completed but it was not recorded. Apparently, we had to wait another 6 months for another Early Childhood Teacher to be assigned.
        To cut a long and horrible story short, a referral was sent to MoE in January 2014 and we have just been told today that she will receive support next month (August 2015). The assessment was completed by a private Early Intervention Centre and not the Ministry.
        The discrimination from the ECE’s, the fighting with the Ministry and keeping the positive relationships with the current ECE has been a hard task and it’s not something that should be “happening all the time”. We are getting quite use to been knocked down but we are also getting quite use to getting back up – it is really inspiring to hear the strength from you all. Thank you for letting me share.

        • wife of jack says:

          So there really is no accountability for ECEs or other providers who practice discrimination. Not from the MOE at any rate. That’s a pretty exhausting story, so glad your daughter is finally getting the support and education she deserves.

  2. sewsable says:

    We have ORS for our youngest, it doesn’t provide sufficient support and without a TA he doesn’t do what he should be, he’ll be sidetracked on his BYOD instead. We’re lucky that his current school have been providing the extra hours out of their budget (got to thank the earthquakes for something!), he has a history of being a runner so it was necessary. Unfortunately this is his last year at primary school and I have no idea what will happen next year, I’ve been in contact with the new school, but am going to have to chase them again next term as we need to get supports in place. I’m also concerned about the outdoor environment there, they have no playground suitable for tweens and he needs that to ground himself when he gets overstimulated. When they took over the kids from Manning Intermediate the MOE in their wisdom sent the playground equipment to a local primary school that already had some.
    I’m actually quite worried about next year, I suspect our battles will be harder than they were for primary school at the beginning and those had me in tears a few times!

    • Sewsable, my heart just goes out to you. I completely understand – and share – your fears. Transitions between classes are hard enough, let alone transitions between actual schools – it is such an important time to have everyone on board. I have heard that secondary school is often so much harder for our kids – most especially because social skills become that much more important to teens. It sounds like you’re advocating well for him, and thinking well ahead. Keep at it. Wishing you all the best.

      • sewsable says:

        Thank you, it’s always a worry though, I always wonder what more I could do. I wish things were different, that the government was more forward looking and realised that spending a bit more now would reap greater rewards in the future, but we have to live in the world as it is, not as we would wish it.

  3. Tei says:

    My parents had this battle with my oldest brother many years ago. My mum remains a support person for ‘parent to parent’ and is very passionate about this.My brother is now in his late 20s working full time (with an honours degree) and has exceeded everyones expectations . So let me take this oppotunity to tell any parent or family going through this – you are AMAZING! The fight is never fair but believe me its absolutely worth it. All the best to you all and may you all have the happy ending our family has.Its not without struggle but that makes it all the more wonderful in the end.

  4. Anonymous mum says:

    Great article. Sadly not all special needs schools see the potential in their students either. My son’s school was great the 1st 2 years as his teacher in year 1-2 was a lot more positive and saw his potential. However in Year 3 that all turned to custard as his current teacher constantly gives into his meltdowns over not wanting to participate and put him into the too hard basket so we had so much regression into old behaviours that were there before he started school. Plus last year also was excluded from a school trip last year that till later on I found out he was the only one excluded from it in his class. My child is perfectly capable of doing the work, and in fact according to a private therapist that we get to work with him has the ability to do work at a mainstream level rather than the preschool level work that his class with students aged 8 years up with various disabilities are doing because nothing is individualised to each childs needs and abilities. We just need to do more work with improving his compliance, behaviour and social skills I know that it also my responsibility aswell to teach my son, and not just the school, but I find it ironic that since he goes to a special school that things like this happen still there, and feel like his current class is more like a babysitting service than school. I agree that all teaching staff need proper training and it is about time the MOE got their act together and are held accountable for their lack of action, allowing schools to discriminate despite it being illegal to do so and many other things. Sorry for the novel, but the situation in NZ education really bugs me, and major changes do need to happen.

    • No need to apologise at all. Thank you for taking the time to share your family’s experience.

      • Anonymous mum says:

        No worries. Just no longer sure what to do with my son as his potential is going to waste at his current school, but am nervous to take the plunge and have him go to a mainstream school for academic reasons as you hear too many bad things about mainstreaming too. Sometimes I think a lot of his behaviour is due to boredom,as the work is stuff which he learned in mainstream kindy, and year 1-2 class at school. He is one of those kids who despite his speech delay is very bright but challenging with behaviours and this is used against him at school :(. I have talked several times with the teacher and even the principal once , but nothing has changed.

  5. wife of jack says:

    I have just met a woman who privately funds an educational language specialist for her child twice a week during school hours. Is it wrong of me that I asked her how much she charged and what was her number? Here am I actually entertaining the idea of suggesting this to the school, because once he started school all his one on one specialist driven therapy dried up within a very short space of time. We are realistically in a position were this might be the only way our child get the targeted support he needs. At best what can the school offer us? An consultative resource teacher? This is happening because there is just not enough, not enough specialised knowledge employed to work one on one with our children, not enough money in the pot for all sorts of unmet needs. It’s not just teacher aides that parents fund privately, it seems that a variety of private therapy is going on outside of school hours to make up for a range of shortfalls. There are children out there who instead of a quiet afternoon nap, playing in the back yard or an afternoon of some TV time are going to speech therapy, ABA therapy, physiotherapy, psychologists, counselling, behavioural coaching or remedial class after school. It seems parents cannot wait for change and are unwilling to sacrifice their children’s future for ideology or agenda. The Ministry has known about private funding of teacher aides for years, it was convenient for them to ignore it. The schools were in a position where they could make parents think it was the norm.
    Conversely if a parent wants to use outside specialists funded by them does the school have any right to refuse if they have nothing of similar quality to offer? An interesting point, parents have relied on schools to know best for so long, it seems that the current rumbling disquiet points to the fact that parents realise that they know what supports best suit their child and this is often not what is provided.

  6. wife of jack says:

    Please excuse grammar and spelling, I wrote this in a hurry.

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