Schools are under resourcing demands and parents are experiencing difficulties with diagnosis as increased numbers of children with behavioural issues continue to put pressure on classrooms.
Teachers are reporting they are dealing with children with a range of issues varying from attention deficit disorder, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, Autism and Dyslexia with little support available for families or in the classroom.
Health and PE Coordinator for Kaikohe East School Kelli Witana teaches children from year two – six and said she has three students that have behavioural issues with one child being partially deaf.
A normal day in her class consists of constant interruptions, reminding of rules, bribery with reward systems and stop/starting which eats into other children’s learning time she said. These incidents are then recorded, tracked and filed to agencies in applications for support however they are often declined.
“We need support for children straight away instead of waiting years to gather a history of behavioural problems then finally giving support when it’s too late.
At the moment the teacher counsels the children involved. If they cannot be calmed they are removed and sent to the principal to calm down. We would like to see a teacher aide in every class for high needs kids who cannot function without one on one adult support,” Witana said.
Currently under the New Zealand education system children requiring special assistance are taught in mainstream schools in standard classrooms under the “inclusive education” model which promotes being present, participating, learning and belonging”.
The Ministry also implemented their positive behaviour for learning (PB4L) framework into over 700 schools which is built on principles that behaviour can be learnt and that schools have the adaptability to change their teaching environments to support effective teaching and learning.
Kaikohe East School is working under the PB4L initiative and Witana said they have had good progress for most students school wide but high needs children are not responding.
Deputy principals for Hora Hora primary Cheryl Vallance and Richard Buckland said they have noticed an influx of five year olds coming into the system with issues relating to trauma. Currently the ministry of education can provide an educational psychologist but there is limited resources for psychologists trained in trauma who must travel up from Auckland to assess their students.
“Children are experiencing trauma as a result of being uplifted by CYFS, the housing crisis or employment issues at home, they come with behaviour problems because of what is going on at home,” Vallance said.
We have children in years five and six still on a waiting list to get a diagnosis and there is currently a two year waiting list for a foetal alcohol diagnosis.”
We have a social worker on site that connects families to services but she is over worked and services she connects whanau to like child mental health are also over worked so it is a very long process.”
Hora Hora primary has the highest number of teacher aides in Whangārei but the school is struggling to cover the funding required to meet these costs.
“Getting a teacher aide is not that simple. We have to match the child to the aide and if you have a kid with high needs who cannot be left on their own it is very hard to find quality people.
They are paid a pittance but we do believe that if you put the support in now it will save in the long run but it’s trying to get the people with the purse strings to understand that”, they said.
A parent of a child with Dyslexia and ADHD Tania** (who does not want to be named to protect identity of her child) said the diagnosis process was long and the method of testing provided by the MOE was not comprehensive enough and seemed to be based on a lot of guess work.
She said she had gone to the school for almost three years with concerns about his behaviour only to be fobbed off and told it was ok. It wasn’t until a remedial teacher called them in for a meeting with serious concerns.
The family decided to pay for a private SPELD assessment which cost $500 but gave a clearer picture of what was going on and how to tackle the issue.
“That assessment was worth its weight in gold but not everyone can afford it. Low income families would just be left hoping and trusting the MOE were doing right by their children,” she said.
I feel sorry for the teachers because my son isn’t the worst. I feel like teachers are expected to wear so many hats and I just don’t know how they do it.”
I wonder how different things could have been if serious attention was given to him in year one and supports put in place then.”
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Witten by Shannon Pitman