Special needs schooling

It was a privilege to visit Parkside School in September. I took National Leader Christopher Luxon along to meet the staff and students, and we were very warmly welcomed.

It was important that Christopher visit Parkside as it is not your everyday school. Based in Pukekohe, the school provides a rich education for students with learning disabilities, ranging from moderate through to severe.

We held a roundtable with the principal and a group of teachers, teacher aides, therapists and board members, and Christopher and I learnt many important lessons, several of which are relevant to mainstream schools, where staff having to cope with students with learning disabilities is just as much a concern.

A key issue for all schools is the rise of students struggling with FASD – foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Up to 5 per cent of all children in schools across the country are now affected by some form of FASD, but as yet it is not recognised as a disability, so no funding is available for support for teachers and caregivers.

More students are arriving at school suffering from the effects of trauma, and this is not limited to physical abuse; psychological trauma is also common – for example, through neglect. Students act out their frustrations and anxiety at school, and teachers struggle to deal with these behavioural issues. This can lead to them ‘burning out’ and even leaving the profession – this at a time when we are desperate for more teachers.

Parkside staff are incredibly well trained at dealing with students with complex behavioural issues. They have the skillsets to help and support teachers in mainstream schools, and would like to be considered as a resource, but there is no funding available to allow them to do this.

Of considerable concern at Parkside is what happens to their students once they turn 21. The school offers learning pathways for school-age children and those transitioning into young adulthood, but there is currently very little in the way of job opportunities for them once they leave the school.

Parkside equips their young adults with skills and runs work experience programmes to help them decide what they would like to do and where they would like to work. The challenge is to build support within the business community to find facilities and services that students could go to for work.

Like any young person, the goal for a Parkside student is to live a rich and meaningful life after school, and we need more employers within Franklin who would be prepared to take on and support these young people.

While there are already some businesses who are creating work opportunities, I will be talking to others over the coming months to see what might be possible to assist these very special young people.