The disability community is changing it up. We’re having a rally at Parliament today to let the government know that it must invest in inclusive education.
This action has not been taken lightly. Like most of the community sector, our aim is to have constructive interactions with government and we are a little nervous about damaging what feels like a fragile relationship. So it says a lot that the Education for All collaborative who are organising the rally felt that it was time to do something different. Disabled people and families, in particular, feel that they have not been listened to and it is time to take a stand.
The final straw was the proposals in the Ministry of Education’s Special Education Update. This Update is the latest in a long line of consultations, reviews and inquiries that have done little to remove the barriers to education for disabled students.
In many ways the Update was set up for failure from the start. Despite a lot of goodwill and good words too many of the real issues and barriers were out of the Update’s scope. And as usual we were told there was "no new funding". Any changes that were proposed were always going to result in funding one part of the system at the expense of another.
This is a familiar story to most of us in the community sector. What worries me the most is that we’ve come to accept it. I’ve been working in the community sector for a decent amount of time now – through successive governments and through good economic times and bad. I’ve constantly been told that it isn’t about money. It’s about making sure the money is going to the right supports and services. I get this. It makes sense to most of us. So we re-structure and do more with less and use euphemisms when we talk about money. Words like "resourcing" and "investment".
But when can we talk about money?
According to that well-known economic commentator Mike Hosking, we are lucky enough to be living in a rock-star economy and the good times are rolling. If Mike is right then maybe now is finally the right time to talk about money – and to see some of those good times roll into things like social services and education.
Because at the moment in our free education system we’ve got a situation where schools are having to fundraise in order to top up the special education funding they get from the Ministry of Education. Parents are having to pay for their children’s teachers aides and additional learning supports. And disabled students are not receiving the education that they are entitled to.
The result is families under stress, schools under stress and disabled people leaving school without the qualifications they need and without opportunities to go on to further education. It’s hardly surprising that the unemployment rate for disabled people is double that of non-disabled people.
The Ministry of Education is likely to tell us that it has increased special education funding by around 29 per cent over the last five years. Great. But if that was enough we wouldn’t have children on waiting lists, or children having to compete against other children for learning supports rather than just getting them because they need them.
So we hope that you will all join us at our Rally at Parliament today, Thursday, at 4.30. It’s a family-friendly event and everyone is welcome. We could really do with your support.
And if you can’t be there in person, then we hope that you will sign our Open Letter to the Minister of Education. This will be available on the Education for All Rally Facebook page.
Tess Casey is CEO of Inclusive NZ , a membership organisation working for those who provide employment, participation and inclusion services for people with disabilities.
She is also a member of ComVoices, which actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.