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School for children with learning disabilities needs more funding say parents, teachers' salaries below mainstream

A Christchurch school for children with learning difficulties is surviving on a lot of dedication and goodwill and parents say it needs more funding.

It all happens at Seabrook McKenzie Centre for Specific Learning Disabilities. Source: Seven Sharp

Seabrook McKenzie Centre for Specific Learning Disabilities is a private school for children with learning difficulties like dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Seven Sharp reports learning difficulties affect a staggering one in four New Zealand children, but specialist schools are few and far between. 

Seabrook, even as a private school, is a lean operation, as principal Mary Gillies explained.

"We keep the fees to a minimum, so much so that teachers are on a lesser salary than they would be in a mainstream school," Ms Gillies said.

But the rewards can't be banked, Ms Gillies giving this example: "To hear a child say to me 'could I please take this book home' after he's just read it because he's so proud of what he's just done."

Children with high-end learning disabilities who find mainstream school far too tough are thriving at Seabrook, but they're the lucky ones.

"There are a lot of kids that are just getting overlooked. Teachers aren't trained to be able to identify these children," Ms Gillies said.

Twelve-year-old Maia used to struggle with reading but has vastly improved thanks to her education at Seabrook.

Her mother, Marcelle de Bonth, said the teachers focus on what Maia needs, "not where the curriculum is and where she should be according to her age".

Ms de Bonth said children with learning disabilities deserve to have a good education, "and one size doesn't fit all so we do need the funding".

Seven Sharp asked the Government about this and Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin admitted the system needs work and funding.

Ms Martin wouldn't say any more ahead of the Budget on Thursday next week, May 17.