Saints or support workers? Rodney Hide on special education

In the middle of his other troubles, Associate Education Minister Rodney Hide spoke at our Select Committee on Wednesday about the Review of Special Education.

It was apparent that his 6 month journey with this portfolio has included some transformative moments, as documented in TVNZ’s Make the Politician Work. He has been open about the fact that he did not seek the Special Education portfolio, but that it has turned out to be a wonderful learning experience.

It was good to hear a Minister express strong support for inclusion and a recognition that schools should be 100 percent inclusive, not 50 percent inclusive as they are at the moment. He also said that the voice of the child was not always heard and when decisions were being made for them re inclusivity, which is a welcome message.

So I give him credit for taking on these understandings and being passionate about them. Some awesome people are available to educate the population and politicians if we are open to this.

However, the honeymoon was over for me when we started discussing the role of support staff, and my view that support staff do complex work and deserve far more than the minimum wage. Rodney didn’t agree. He thinks the teachers and workers “are saints”, but like all saints the implication is that they should work for love, not money. He has no plan to pay them more to raise their status or recognise their contribution at an economic level.

There was one piece of good specific news from the officials. It will be compulsory to learn about Special Education issues as part of all teacher training from the start of the next academic year! The Greens have been calling for compulsory Special Eduation training for all teachers for a long time, so it’s great to see this finally happen. If we’re to reach the goal of 100 percent inclusive schools, then we need 100 percent of our teachers trained and prepared!

We also had an interesting exchange over the alignment between the Special Education policy and the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I asked Rodney Hide if the work was aligned to which he replied “probably”.

Credit where credit is due but “probably” isn’t really ok with me.

Rodney Hide is on a journey which is likely to end at the election, so the families and disability communities and activists will have to start again with whoever is the next Minsiter. This is a slow process and it’s why I don’t agree with Rodney that person to person attitude change is the main strategy to build a just education system for all children. The ideology of “one at a time” and “one to one” is random. A commitment to structural change moves us all towards 100 percent fairness for all!

2 Comments Posted

  1. Person-to-person attitude change is only one strategy – unfortunately, the right-wing parties are predicated on the belief that individual responsibility is where it all begins and ends. That is one of the major differences between us, I think – we believe in collective responsibility and action and they want the ‘freedom’ of total individuality. You’d think Rodney would have reflected on that when he was dealing with those special needs children – in earlier times, if they didn’t have skilled, caring family they’d have been locked in a room or sent to beg on the street. In some places they still are – is that what these people want to see?

    I grew up with, in my family, a severely disabled aunt who lived with my other aunt (my mother’s older sisters) all her life around the corner from my family. We loved her and saw her every day, played with her and so on. It wasn’t until years later that I realised that my aunt had given her entire life, and before her my grandmother, to caring for Dora. There were institutions but they were so awful that my grandmother refused to allow Dora to go into one. Without my aunt giving up all chance of working, marrying, having a family Dora’s life would have been so much worse. Not everyone is so lucky – that is why we believe in taking responsibility as a society, not just as individuals.

    Kia kaha Catherine.

  2. Very disappointing that Rodney couldn’t recognize that support staff deserve to be paid well above an inexperienced school leaver. It takes people with a special skill set to do their job well and they have amongst the worst employment conditions around. I am currently working as an ORRS funded teacher and I am continually impressed by the knowledge and dedication of the support staff I work with. One woman spent all holidays creating a special hand made book for one high needs child, she reads up about the various disabilities of each child she works with and often knows more than the specialist advisors.

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