Parents Tami Harris, Camillo Spath and Jo Martin took their petition to parliament this week.
Parents desperate for a state school suitable for their children with diverse learning needs have taken their fight to Parliament.
Tami Harris’s 12-year-old son is just one of six children left at Auckland’s Mt Hobson Middle School.
This week, she told Parliament’s Petitions Committee how her son spent most of Year 3 at his local school doing origami in a teacher’s supply cupboard. The previous year he’d been locked in a spare room during a meltdown and broke the glass door to get out.
Mt Hobson was the only place he felt accepted, she said. But when the school’s application to become a designated character school was turned down last year, that door closed for a lot of its pupils.
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Some moved to mainstream school, others to home education. But a group of parents have not given up hope the school can be transitioned into the state system, to offer a tailored education for students who struggle in other settings.
The school is part of the Villa Education Trust, which runs two designated character schools in south and West Auckland. Head of the trust, Alwyn Poole, has put forward a second application for the school to be reconsidered for a 2022 opening as a designated character school.
He said the school is “desperately needed” for students who are “underserved” in New Zealand’s education system.
Camillo Spath, parent to an adopted 13-year-old son who was born with foetal alcohol syndrome, was also at Parliament to present the petition for the school’s application to be reconsidered.
He told Stuff his motivation to fight wasn’t just for his son, but for children whose caregivers weren’t in a position to be such fierce advocates as he and his wife.
When his son moved to mainstream this year, he said they had to fight to get any teacher aide funding – despite the school agreeing he needed full-time support.
He said with Mt Hobson’s small classes sizes and specialised teachers, “this was a school that got him and could tailor stuff for him and work out what he needed”.
“These children have the right to be educated in an environment that is suitable and understanding.
“There was a system in place for that, and they’ve effectively given it the bullet.”
Parent Jo Martin said it was only thanks to Mt Hobson that her daughter’s ADHD was picked up.
Now 13, she’s gone from failing her core subjects to excelling: “It’s just changed her life”.
It shouldn’t be down to how wealthy a child’s parents are to determine whether they get that kind of experience, she said.
“Not everyone can afford to pay private school fees.”
According to the Ministry of Education, one in five children need some kind of learning support.
Just one per cent get Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding, which is set aside for students with the highest needs.
While the ministry’s Learning Support Action Plan lays out a “wider range of flexible support for neurodiverse children”, Harris said she’s been told her son will be over 16 by the time these are funded and operational.
“Children have a right to be educated in a state school. If they require small class size and low teacher to student ratios in order to learn, then it is the obligation of the state to provide this.
“One-size-fits-all education is discriminatory and does not acknowledge that different children learn in different ways.”
The ministry’s Katrina Casey confirmed Mt Hobson had informed the ministry of plans to reapply to become a designated character school.
“We are available to help with the application process, when needed,” she said.