Changes to special needs education
By Kym Moore | August 30, 2016
Special needs

When my daughter was four, her daycare suggested that she might have some mild special needs. It was like a gut punch. My daughter was a bright, creative chatterbox. To my mind she was a normal four year old girl. I went straight to my GP and asked for a referral. I reasoned that if they saw how normal she was, they would tell daycare as much and that would be the end of it. Child Development Clinic (CDC) agreed with me.

A label

Roll forward two years and we were facing another awful year at primary school. The first year had been a nightmare of “defiant” behaviour. Questions around our parenting flew and all fingers were pointed at a possible lack of discipline in the home. 

I asked people involved in our case, “should I take her back to CDC?” The answer was no. But it became apparent that we were getting nowhere with answers and so off to the GP I went a second time. An official letter from her school about her behaviour pushed our appointment somewhat and this time we were given a label. 

With a label came funding and support to help identify my daughter’s needs and meet them as quickly as possible. The school and the ministry were amazing, once we had that label. I hold no ill-will towards them pre-diagnosis. There wasn’t enough information for anyone to make an accurate assessment back then.

National standards

Seeing the proposed changes to special needs education in the newspaper last week really got under my skin. Outlined in a New Zealand Herald article, the proposals will likely not come into effect until March 2017 at the earliest.

One of the proposals was to measure the effectiveness of the support these kids get via national standards and NCEA. Inside a mainstream school these kids are already measured by national standards. But this measurement system adds no value for our family. My daughter is never told what her results are (our choice). National standards feels like a measure of failure. They don’t show the journey she has taken to get to where she is. They don’t measure how the school have successfully managed to keep her in the class for longer every day. Nor does it measure how she can interact with others and share ideas. The focus is not on capabilities but on how she doesn’t measure up.


The other concerning proposal related to funding. Last year, $590m was spent on special needs education. While there’s no proposed change to the funding amount, the way it is dispensed to education may change. They know they need to get better at identifying the needs of students earlier. But whether early identification is possible is often down to how the behaviour presents.

There are a number of children like our daughter, who are unlikely to be diagnosed before school. I see at least three reasons for this:

  • The child’s needs are masked in some way and so it takes a long time to rule out other possible factors causing the behaviour
  • The child’s needs are obvious, however the parent(s) have chosen to not pursue a label
  • The child’s needs are obvious, however specialist(s) cannot agree on the label(s) required which delays support

I’m not against an increase to the funding for ECE to be able to provide further learning support to the kids who need it. I can see the sense in helping kids earlier where it’s possible. But, I would not want to see this come at a cost to primary and secondary school funding either. 

Not only do we have kids getting diagnosis later in their schooling, many children will continue to have behaviour issues in class even once assessed and taking positive steps. We call it a blip. As parents of a child with special needs we know well, that smooth times can and will end.  The strategies that were working before may stop and then a new approach is needed and more support. 

What happens in the future if the funding isn't there for these blips?


This blog was written by Kym Moore. Kym loves to write when she isn't working, hanging out with her two awesome daughters, or spending time with her awesome husband after bedtime.

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