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Decision on residential special schools

CCS Disability Action Chief Executive, David Matthews, returns to discuss the recent decision on residential special schools

The Minister of Education’s decision on residential special schools will create more choice for families and students in education than ever before.

Having worked in education for many years, I certainly feel for the staff of the two schools closing, but this is about what is best for students. The Minister of Education has made a difficult, but responsible decision. There are finite resources in the education sector and tradeoffs have to be made. The Minister has struck the right balance between rolling out the Intensive Wraparound Service and maintaining a residential special school service.

Students will still be able to attend a residential special school, but now more families will be able to choose to receive support in their local community and at their local school. This is a victory for families and a step forward for inclusive education, although I understand that some parents are nervous about the changes. To address these concerns, the Ministry of Education now needs to deliver on its promises and make sure the Intensive Wraparound Service will enable students to access truly inclusive education.

The four residential schools have been running below capacity for some time now so the overall numbers attending the schools will only be slightly reduced (from about 115 to 100 students). Halswell College will also be made co-education (meaning that both female and male students can attend) so that female students with disabilities can still attend a residential special school.

This small decrease in students attending residential special schools will enable an extra 110 students by the end of 2013 to receive the Intensive Wraparound Service. These extra places will initially be primarily for those students who are transitioning back from residential special schools to their local school at the end of 2012.

Throughout the consultation process, we have spoke out strongly in support of an increase in the Intensive Wraparound Service, even if that means a reduction in the number of residential special schools. We believe firmly that students and their families should have genuine choice over where to go for their education. This can only occur when the support student’s need is provided in a student’s local school at the same level as in a special school. The expansion of the Intensive Wraparound Service should help provide this support and enable genuine choice.

As more funding becomes available the service needs to be expanded to enable more and more students to receive the support they need in their local school. Inclusive education is about finding new ways to meet student’s needs that don’t involve having to remove them from the mainstream environment the majority of their peers use. The flexible individualised approach of the intensive wraparound service should enable that.

I know this transformation period has been controversial so I am interested to hear what people think about the changes now that all the information has been released. Let me know what you think or if you have any questions in the comments below.

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