Hipkins challenges special needs staff cuts

Cuts to frontline staff for children with special needs have been revealed, on the same day as the findings of a new survey highlighted an urgent need to address delays in support for the country’s youngest children.

Figures presented to Parliament by Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins yesterday showed the Ministry of Education had reduced frontline workers, such as speech therapists and advisers, by 41 staff since 2011.

There are now 913 frontline special education staff.

Mr Hipkins contrasted the cuts with the ministry’s spending on public relations, which had increased by more than 200 per cent in the same timeframe to $2.4 million.

The ministry now has 21 public relations staff.

Minister of Education Hekia Parata responded in Parliament that she was unaware of the details of the cuts.

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The revelations about the staffing cuts, during Question Time, came just before a parliamentary inquiry into learning difficulties heard the results of a survey carried out by the Early Childhood Council.

The survey of 153 early childhood centres found 80 per cent of centres believed children were suffering developmental delay due to inadequate support services.

Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said it found 90 per cent of centres said they did not receive Education Support Workers for the time needed, while 59 per cent waited more than three months for assistance with assessment and diagnosis.

Presenting to the Education and Science Select Committee, he said almost a quarter of children waited more than six months for assessment services, and when they did come, 57 per cent of centres rated the services as “poor” or “very poor”.

He said there were teachers with no idea how to help the children, who were sometimes very violent and had punched, kicked, bitten and injured teachers.

“Who is in a position to provide timely and effective help for all those children and their families? The answer, it appears, very often, is ‘no one’,” he said. The survey mirrored figures in the ministry’s annual report which found that almost half of preschoolers referred to a government service because of learning or behavioural difficulties are not getting help quickly enough.

Excerpts from NZ Herald article: 12/11/15


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