Catherine Delahunty

Saints or support workers? Rodney Hide on special education

by Catherine Delahunty

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!

Published in Health & Wellbeing by Catherine Delahunty on Thu, May 5th, 2011   

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