Residential schools and inclusion – a genuine challenge

Unlike the absurd proposals to raise class size, create league tables that rank schools, or bring in performance pay for teachers, the future of the residential schools for disabled students is a genuine dilemma now for some families.

Like all the people I have met from the education sector and from a number of families, the idea of 100% inclusion remains the goal. This means all students being fully included and valued in mainstream schools, including those who are disabled.

However let’s have a reality check based on the lived experience of the current generation. The concept of wrap around support is a good one and it is the future. We must educate our young people about inclusion, what that means, and how they can participate and benefit from an inclusive community and an inclusive school. We must have skilled support staff to make this work. Sadly however if the resources are not committed the project won’t work.

I am working with a family whose son was at Halswell, which they thought worked well for him, but since the earthquakes he has returned home to a local college. There, he has been refused ORRS funding, despite appeals, and education is now not working for him at the school. He is not an isolated case. We must move to a model of inclusion that is broad enough and honest enough to recognise who is at the centre of our decision making. If we are going to close all the residential schools and the units attached to schools like Ranui what will replace them? Will more students be eligible for ORRS? Where do families go if local schools do not support and accommodate them? Where do disabled students get time out from the stress of dealing with the disabling world? On the other hand, how are we going to get to inclusion if we don’t push the boundaries and build a new model? The people close to me who grew up in a disabling world say that being ghettoised didn’t work for them. But schools without support certainly won’t work either.

Let’s admit we are in transition; always a painful and complicated place to be. Let’s challenge the Government to be very careful that they really do “wrap around” all the disabled students and fund this before they close off all other options. I want to be convinced that we can make it work now. But there are too many stories out there showing that it’s not always successful and that it’s the disabled students who pay the price.

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