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Education Ministry’s funding for high-needs students ‘woefully inadequate’

Arakura School’s principal is calling the Ministry of Education’s funding for students with high needs “woefully inadequate”. 

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Funding for teacher aides who help our most needy students is being described as woefully inadequate. Source: 1 NEWS

The Ministry of Education caps the hourly rate for teacher aide support for these students at $23, leaving schools who employ teacher aides that are at a higher level on the pay scale, struggling to cover part of the shortfall with funding from other budgets.  

Since teacher aides achieved pay increases in a historic fair pay settlement last year, schools have been receiving top-up funding in instalments to cover the difference between the 2019 pay scale rate and current pay equity rate. Regardless of the specific Ministry of Education funding source.  

Arakura School principal Tute Porter-Samuels said this has helped, but for experienced teacher aides, who were earning more than the Ministry of Education’s teacher aide support hourly rate in 2019, there’s still a gap that schools have to cover. 

Porter-Samuels said this equates to around a couple of dollars per hour for every hour one of the school’s four students who qualify for ORS (Ongoing Resourcing Scheme) funding have a funded-teacher aide, and that adds up to several thousand dollars a year. 

“When you're a smaller school every dollar really matters because for every dollar that you invest into experienced and skilled workers, you know our teacher aides working in the classroom, is money that can't go into other equally important areas such as the equipment in our classrooms, the consumables that our teachers need for their teaching,” Porter-Samuels said. 

“I have to weigh that up constantly.” 

Porter-Samuels says it’s another example of funding for learning support not keeping up with the demand for support in the classroom. 

“It's growing in terms of needs of children with varied needs in the class and so our teacher aides play a really critical role alongside our teachers.” 

“I'm having to top up the hours that they (ORS students) receive as well as the deficit between the Ministry top-up and where they (teacher aides) are in terms of their experience and their skills on the pay scale,” Porter-Samuels said. 

She said schools are tasked with providing rich learning environments, being inclusive and also culturally-responsive, however being able to deliver in all areas is affected by receiving inadequate funding. 

“Resources to support our Pacific and Māori learners… it's Matariki and we are scratching to find resources to support our teaching of this really important time of the year.” 

Porter-Samuels said it’s “hard” knowing teachers are spending personal money to pay for classroom resources and that she can’t change the situation as much as she would like to. 

“That to me is the responsibility of the education system… this is an investment in our children and in their future and therefore the future of our nation and yet it’s woefully inadequate and that seems to be okay at the highest levels and I suppose what I want to say is it’s not okay.” 

Maraea Toko, the mother of Arakura School student Akasha, who qualifies for 13 hours of teacher aide funding per week but receives 20 hours with the school providing more, said students are not getting enough help despite being the future of the country. 

Toko said as her daughter is non-verbal, she’s speaking up for her daughter when she can’t herself. 

“When she (teacher aide) is there, she's got a really good bond with my daughter, it's really hard bonding with a child with autism unless they’ve taken that time,” she said. 

The Ministry of Education increased the teacher aide hourly funding rate for targeted student support from $21.85 for schools with more than 101 students to $23 this Thursday. It has also increased the rate every year by a dollar since 2018, national director learning support David Wales said. 

Schools with a smaller roll receive a slightly higher hourly rate to attract teacher aides as these schools can have more difficulty recruiting, a statement from the agency said. 

Wales said the teacher aide hourly funding rate for a student who qualifies for greater support is a “contribution” to the cost of employing a teacher aide. 

“Schools decide what rate they pay teacher aides at and it's their decision if they want to pay over and above the funds are that are available,” he said. 

“Teacher aides don’t work in isolation, they work amongst a team of people around a student including the class teacher, perhaps a specialist teacher, maybe some specialist help from the Ministry.”

“So the consideration needs to be given to what the needs are around that student - there's not necessarily a single formula that would fit all experienced teacher aides.” 

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NZEI vice president and Berhampore School principal Mark Potter said the funding issue is widespread among schools. 

“It tends to be a lot of low decile schools experiencing higher numbers of children with complex needs, but it doesn’t mean that they alone get them, the high decile schools also have challenges,” Potter said. 

He said receiving inadequate funding to meet the needs of all children at a school puts the school in a compromised position. 

“There certainly is a passing by default to board of trustees and principals the responsibility of meeting all the needs of children - the Ministry's not playing its entire part, only part of what it needs to do.” 

Potter said when the Ministry of Education calls the hourly teacher aide support funding a contribution, he questions the agency’s commitment to a public education system. 

“The term contribution from the Ministry, that came about because they initially use to say they fund the needs of the children, once it became patently clear that they weren’t, then they started saying they only make a contribution,” he said. 

Pūaotanga, an independent review into primary staffing levels funded by NZEI, stated one of the most urgent improvements necessary is to increase the number and quality of teacher aides. 

The report stated various recommendations for teacher aides including funded release time from working in the classroom to carry out tasks like learning support planning, having a teacher aide in every classroom and making teacher aides centrally funded by the Government like teachers are. 

Wales said centrally funding teacher aides is not currently being considered. 

“Local schools know best about what their needs are, what the needs of the students are and how best to resource that from their community in terms of the people involved.”