Funding freeze might force student suspensions

NZEI Te Riu Roa National Secretary Paul Goulter says the situation is a crisis of funding.

The government’s inadequate school funding and a staffing cap on specialist Ministry of Education staff has forced desperate Northland principals to threaten to suspend disruptive students, says NZEI Te Riu Roa.

The President of Te Tai Tokerau Principals Association, Pat Newman, has advised the media that he is seriously considering recommending to principals that they suspend children with severe behavioural needs when they can’t get the necessary support or services (see this week’s Opinion).

He says the crisis numbers of children suffering trauma at home and issues like Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and ADHD is now a matter of health and safety for staff and other children. Other Te Tai Tokerau principals have echoed his concerns.

NZEI Te Riu Roa National Secretary Paul Goulter says the situation is a crisis of funding, both of schools and the ministry services tasked with supporting children with behavioural and other learning difficulties.

For a number of years, an MoE staffing cap has meant long waiting lists for children to see learning support field staff such as psychologists, speech therapists, behavioural therapists and early intervention specialists.

“Ministry staff are stretched to breaking point, meaning excessively long wait times for diagnosis and support,” Goulter says. “Meanwhile, operations grant funding for schools has long been inadequate and made worse this year by a funding freeze.

“Children who are a real danger to themselves and others might only get two hours a day of ministry-funded teacher aide support each day. The school must fund the other four hours out of their operations grant and it’s not sustainable, particularly in areas of high need like Northland,” he says.

“As we’ve heard at support staff paid union meetings around New Zealand over the past three weeks, schools are cutting support staff hours and jobs to balance their budgets, even as the need for greater support for our students is growing.”

“It’s time for the government to acknowledge the extent of the underfunding problem and support every child to reach their potential. And that means more resources, not just words.”