Wylie Review of Special Education 2000: Picking up the pieces Publications
Early in 2000, the Government asked Dr Cathy Wylie, who is an educationalist and a researcher, to undertake a review of aspects of special education policy, SE2000. The review involved extensive consultation with schools, parents, other educators, disability organisations and providers. More than 1,000 submissions were received and Dr Wylie's review was released in August 2000.
Author(s): Dr Cathy Wylie
Date Published: August 2000
This review was commissioned by the Minister of Education, the Hon Trevor Mallard, and the Associate Minister, the Hon Lianne Dalziel, to provide an analysis of the Special Education 2000 policy, and to make recommendations for any changes which would improve the provision of education for children with special needs.
There was strong interest in the review, with more than 1000 submissions made within the 2 months of consultation, from a wide cross-section of New Zealand society. The review also included site-visits to schools around the country, public meetings, meetings with relevant organisations and interest groups, and draws on all available research, official papers, guidelines and statistical data, and relevant international overviews of special education provision.
The Special Education 2000 policy has expanded the number of students receiving some special needs support to around 5.5 percent of the school population. It has improved opportunities for some students with special needs, but not all. The division of the policy into a number of separate initiatives and funding pools has made it hard to offer students, parents, and schools, the seamless, integrated service which works best for students with special needs.
Contestability between the fundholders working with students with ongoing high and very high needs has created fragmentation, gaps in accountability, and inequalities of resourcing and opportunity for students with special needs.
Funding is less predictable, and has led to the casualisation of employment for many teachers, teacher-aides and therapists. This leads to the loss of expertise, which is hard to replace. Professional development has been patchy, focusing on the policy itself and the new support service of Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour, but with little available for specialist teachers and teacher-aides. There is too much reinvention of the wheel required in individual schools, for people already working at full stretch.
Students with High Special Needs
The Ongoing Transitional Resourcing Scheme (OTRS) for students with high or very high needs is surrounded with considerable tension. Because it is the only funding which appears to offer continuing support, many more applications are made than fit the criteria. Just under half the current applications succeed. Yet the application process is time-consuming, and often painful for parents.
OTRS funding is divided between the Specialist Education Services (SES) and 77 other fundholders. The support each individual student gets is not a fixed dollar sum, as some parents believe, but is related to the nature of the students’ needs within the fundholder’s pool and their costs. This model works best for special schools and some others. The model does not work well for the 57 percent of OTRS students served by the SES, which serves a much larger number of schools over a wider area, including the rural and remote areas which are not attractive to other fundholders. The SES cannot benefit from the same economies of scale, and appears to have higher costs.
The SES is the provider of the Severe Behaviour Initiative, the main provision under Special Education 2000 for students with behaviour issues which need more intervention and support than the school or Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour can provide. The initiative attracted continual criticism during the review.
The SES is also the provider of the Speech-Language Initiative, geared to support students with severe need for speech language therapy. This initiative was widely welcomed, but there were problems with access. There is a real shortage of speech language therapists who have educational backgrounds.
The Role of the SES
The SES is the key provider or fundholder for all three of the high needs schemes. While there is considerable and impressive expertise within SES, it was not as accessible as it needed to be. SES has also lost experienced staff, and has not always been able to recruit credible replacements. Overall, it was judged as increasingly ineffectual, fragmented, and distanced from schools and parents.
It has been put into this difficult and probably unviable position by contestability with the other OTRS fundholders, the development of the RTLB service, the segmentation of funding, and the probable under-resourcing of some initiatives.
In its current form, the SES is unable to provide the more co-ordinated, seamless service, serving students with both high and moderate special needs, which was identified in the review as key to educators and parents, and key to making real improvements.
Students with moderate special needs
Around half the country’s schools feel able to meet the needs of their students with moderate special needs through the Special Education Grant (a decile-weighted per capita amount which goes to every school), and the support they can access with the Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour, who are usually shared between a cluster of schools. Many schools also use other school funding to provide remedial programmes which cater for a range of students, including those with moderate or mild special needs.
The SEG is not enough however if a school has OTRS students whose costs are higher than the funding or support available for them, or if a school has a reputation for welcoming students with special needs. Schools which had had special needs units were particularly disadvantaged with the disestablishment of unit staffing at the end of 1998, and the loss of support and opportunity for these moderate needs students was a marked theme in the consultation.
Staff expertise and workload were also raised in the consultation, linked to the need for more resource materials and professional development, and greater co-ordination of services.
The set of recommendations made here arise from careful consideration of the issues raised by the review. Sometimes the obvious answer is not the one which will really provide the changes needed long-term. I have sought to develop a coherent framework which should provide a more integrated and rewarding system of special education over time. They are inclusive of all students and groups.