Kids who have dyslexia and autism and other learning difficulties, and so have much more difficulty sitting exams, are able to get help from the Ministry of Education. The help provided might include extra time to write an exam paper, or having someone to read the paper to you, or a room to yourself so that you are not distracted. It’s all fairly standard stuff, intended to ensure that people with dyslexia and autism and other learning difficulties have a fair go at completing exams.
Except that it turns out that you are much more likely to get help if you are in a decile 10 school, or a private school, than if you’re in a decile 1 school.
The NZQA spent $433,000 on SAC resources in 2012 – an increase of about $159,000 from 2011 – in an unexpected anomaly that meant many students missed out.
A Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand report analysing the data shows decile-10 private schools were getting as much as five times more funding than their lower-decile counterparts, as applications for help skyrocketed last year.
Decile 10 private schools had the highest percentage of candidates approved for SAC – about five times the rate of decile 1 to 3 candidates. Auckland private school King’s College, which regularly tops national academic tables for its boys’ results, received funding for special assistance for almost a quarter of its NCEA candidates in 2012. Of its 180 pupils who sat NCEA exams last year, 44 qualified for special exam conditions. By comparison, neighbouring school Otahuhu College, which is decile one and had four times as many NCEA candidates in 2012, had no SAC applications.
The explanation for the disparity is simple. In order to get help with exams, you have to prove that you have extra learning needs, and to do that, you need a report from an educational psychologist. And that means that your parents have to have enough money to pay for that report.
Guess which set of parents is much less likely to have the money?
So kids in low decile schools miss out.
To the credit of the Ministry of Education, it is launching an immediate review, and doing what it can to ensure that this disparity is removed.
But it in the meantime, it’s an object lesson in privilege. Let me be quite clear: it is NOT the fault of the children in decile 10 schools that they were able to get much more assistance than children in low decile schools. Those kids need the extra time and readers and rooms to themselves just as much as the kids in low decile schools.
What this does show is that it is so much easier for wealthier people to access resources and navigate government systems in this country. And that delivers a message to politicians and policy makers: one of the critical questions that must be asked, every time policy is being developed about the allocation of resources, is whether all New Zealanders will be able to access the resources to which they are entitled. This is part of ensuring that everyone has a fair go.
Congratulations to the Manawatu Standard, a provincial newspaper, for breaking this story of national significance. The editor of the Standard also wrote an excellent editorial on the issue: Funding disparity must be resolved.