Thursday 13th April 2017
Kia ora Former Minister of Education Parata
I would like to wish you well for your remaining months in parliament and on into your next phase of your life. As a principal of a school that was the recipient of an adequate slice of funding to build a purpose-built set of facilities for our learners now and into the future I am extremely grateful. It is just a shame that the standard that was set here has not been replicated across the modernisation projects in Christchurch and in the new schools in Rolleston.
I started writing this letter having just left a Family Group Conference (FGC) for a ten-year-old child, and I thought I should share my dismay at the infinitesimal contribution the ministry of education is willing to make to help turn this struggling young child’s life around. I have slept on it and greatly moderated my initial writings.
The facilitator of this well-attended FGC explained the role of her new ministry:
- To prioritise existing services, resources, and new ways of working to create joint responsibility for our at-risk tamariki.
- To get practitioners and professionals from health, education, NZ Police, Justice, and the social service sector to work together, to put the needs of children first, and share responsibility.
- To improve the capability of the children’s workforce to work in a child-centred, trans-disciplinary way in partnership with whānau.
Immediately after the conference had concluded I was informed by Brent Hastie from the ministry team that this child will only be funded for 50 hours of support next term.
Oranga Tamariki is involved due to concerns for the child’s safety in the home because his behaviour pushes his father to the point of wanting to harm him physically. He was removed from the home, term 4 last year, and lived in another city after completing 3 months at Halswell. When he returned in February 2017 he was in his 8th school in 5 years.
This child is a very capable thinker and learner who is currently working well below the government’s standards in both literacy and numeracy. He has been attending Halswell School for the last 4 weeks, mornings only until this week but, in the main, in an out-of-classroom context. I have had a parent (father and former farmer who is between jobs) with no previous experience of supporting children with extremely challenging behaviours, employed to supervise 1-on-1.
The initial period was spent making skateboard ramps, erecting cricket nets, and other tasks related to making a positive contribution to the school and therefore being the recipient of positive feedback from his peers. Three other boys have also worked alongside them, giving positive encouragement and feedback and being good positive role models for him. These boys will be in the same Learning Studio.
The three boys have earned the right to have the choice to work on the ramps and are strong positive y. 8 role models. We developed a collaborative behaviour plan and a process to integrate the child concerned back into a Learning Studio which started last week , Wednesday – Friday, with 1-on-1 support 9am to 12 noon. He is working with 93 other children mainly y. 7 and 8, but also including the 20 oldest y. 6 children. Although it did not go without incident he has not harmed anyone else and his disruptive outbursts have been at the lower end of ‘his scale’ and largely ignored by our other children, until today.
He continues to exhibit behaviours that will make it difficult if not impossible for him to be re-integrated back into the Learning Centre full-time even with 1-on-1 supervision. Problematic behaviours exhibited have included: talking out of turn, disruptive talking, non-attentiveness, chronic avoidance of learning, disrespecting and rudeness towards teachers/ teacher aide, disobedience, verbal aggression, violating the implicit norms and expectations of the Learning Studio, interfering with teaching activities, harassing other children, verbal insults, non-co-operation, defiance, non-compliance, and hostility.
Obviously, these misbehaviours retard the smoothness and effectiveness of teaching and also impede the learning of the other 90 children in the studio.
The programme we have been running has provided him with an opportunity to get re-established in the school setting without disrupting the learning of others, while giving him total supervision. This has not gone without incident, but nothing as hugely significant as the events of 2016, so we are making progress. His worst days tend to follow on from how he has arrived at school. If he has a negative attitude on arrival, then he struggles to follow instructions and remain focused on the tasks at hand, and then resents the re-direction, but has been begrudgingly complying, though not completely dropping the negative attitude. We have a rewards-based incentive programme in place which he has responded to.
The parent referred to has been employed to work with child for three hours a day, 9am until 12 noon. So far the he has been supported building the scooter ramps, and joining the y. 1 and 2 children at 9am until 10:30, to support the children during Learning through Play.
His presence in Huritini (y. 1 and 2) has been welcomed by my teaching team and while he has had challenges around remembering that it is about helping the younger children and not about him having the best of the activities, we have made significant social progress. For several days we focused on helping him with understanding the concept of ‘sharing’ and then teaching this to the younger children. We had planned to continue this next term, for the child to learn other social skills while helping our y. 1 and 2 with 1-on-1 supervision.
The next major community contribution project would have been making a hen-house and run. He has spent time researching this with the parent helper, developed a design concept, and together they are in the process of ordering material to complete this project.
We have introduced a 9-week-old huntaway puppy into the mix, with plan to having the child spend some time on a ‘station’ watching working dogs at work.
Ideally I would have liked to integrate this child into the y. 6 to 8 (Otumatua) Learning Centre early in the new term. He has been spending intervals in the playground without any significant issues (until today); he has been observed at a distance and is being encouraged by some of our y. 8 Leaders, who are all supportive of him and understanding of their role.
Successfully growing him into a full-time student, in my opinion, will need to be a gradual process. The funding stream that we would need to accomplish this should provide cover for him from 9am to 3pm, at least initially. with his programme being a blend of appropriate classwork and some practical activities building things for our Learning Community. This opportunity has been denied by the ministry.
The parent who was between jobs (Rural Real Estate Agent) had offered to defer starting his new job to provide the child with stability through the next phase. A very generous offer, but I do not have the funding to support that desired approach.
This morning I broke the news to the parent and he has accepted that we will not be able to retain him next term. This is an awful shame as the trusting relationship that had been built up between him and the child will now only result in disappointment and resentment.
The child will only be able to attend for 1 hour a day in term II.
I do not intend to let this matter lie here. I totally appreciate that those who are allocating this resource have a very limited pool of funding to work with and I have no intention of attacking the local ministry officials. I received a call from a ministry official this morning (who had received an earlier version of this email) who regretted to tell me that he was already $90,000 in the red.
The recent article by Te Tai Tokerau principal Pat Newman demonstrates the feeling that is festering in that region. Pat has for a long time been a lone voice in the wilderness. A man who has contributed much to education nationally. Te Tai Tokerau schools’ plight is duplicated across the country and needs to be acknowledged. Katrina Casey has her head in the sand and needs to be told so. In my role as Waitaha Rep on the NZEI Principal’s Council I have the privilege of collaborating with principals from across NZ. At the last Principal’s Council hui the common theme around the table was the increase in problematic children and aggressive parents.
When the ministry dismantled the likes of McKenzie Residential School we were promised a wrap around service for the most significantly challenged children. The most complex behavioural children do not get anything like a wraparound – a band aid at best. Most of these children are destined for a life of incarceration contributed to by education sector neglect which is unfair to it, and hurtful to me.
I have suggested to CPPA, NZEI and NZPF that principals be encouraged to express their outrage on behalf of the neglected large numbers of challenged learners and email Casey with their ‘At Risk Registers’ (behaviour) with value in dollars of support given and shortfall of funding. It is obvious that she is naively unaware of the reality of what is really happening, perhaps the shortfall information sits in local offices – not being requested – therefore she doesn’t know.
Interesting to note that billions of dollars are about to be spent on new prisons to house these neglected children when they become of age, when for a fraction of the cost many of them would have taken a different pathway and been equipped to make a positive contribution to society.
At Halswell we are already investing $123,000 more than SEG, plus 0.4 staffing, in trying to help children reach the government’s national standards, unattainable for many children due to reasons of nature or nurture, but still we must try, so I don’t have funds to prop up the lack of funding for severely disturbed children.
It has taken 10 years, five of compulsory sector neglect, to determine this child’s future. Having been in the system for 43 years, 32 as a principal, teaching special class, streamed extension classes, and the majority of my career in low decile schools on the East Coast, I have seen numerous schemes for managing resources around the most disadvantaged children. But for so many of those children into which I have put my heart and soul, my reward has been to read about them in the court news sometime later. In my opinion the education system has never been well enough resourced to allow schools to be the change agent that they potentially could be, but the current environment is the worst I’ve seen in 43 years.
Needless to say I will take some time to ponder my next move, but I will move. I consider myself a-political as I have never belonged to a political party. But I plan to make it my personal crusade on behalf of New Zealand’s thousands of neglect children.
Might I also ask that you inform Elizabeth Clapham, case manager of Oranga Tamariki, and the child’s family, that he will only be able to attend one hour a day. I am too embarrassed to relay that news.
Obviously the end of term can be traumatic for children like him. Yesterday he refused to engage in learning activities specifically designed for him, abused my teaching staff and the parent employee, and threw a chair across the Learning Studio. I did ponder exclusion, as then he wouldn’t be our challenge, would he?
Maybe if I join a CoL all of the world’s problems will disappear.