“Funding learning support is a matter of priorities.”
Berhampore School in Wellington has prioritised learning support in a way that demonstrates how a well-funded system could support all children to success, says principal Mark Potter.
“The current system is financially deficient. For example, we have five Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funded students, but as a school we still need to find $8,000 per student per year so they can access meaningful education. We do this by making learning support a priority, and that means we have to let other things go, like building maintenance. We put the children at the centre.
Our philosophy is based around the child’s right to be here. Berhampore School is everyone’s school – we don’t turn people away. Instead, we ask what accommodations do we need to make so this child can access school like their peers?
We employ 16 teacher aides because we believe a classroom teacher alone cannot support children with communication and behaviour challenges and still meet the needs of the whole class. We fund our own learning support coordinator (LSC) to take the admin load off the teachers. When a child has a melt-down it is often the LSC or me that deals with it so the class can continue. The LSC also develops a team around each child with a need, even if it’s not formally diagnosed or funded. The team always includes the parents – family communication is key. I support the idea of LSCs but one who can get to know the community, not ‘drive by experts’ with no connection to the school or the children.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the way we measure success. For some children it could be using the toilet independently or making a genuine friend in the playground. There are so many different ways of looking at success, and each child is supported to succeed in their own way. The way we resource children to achieve is flexible to the goals, not just academically focussed.
The Tomorrow’s Schools review has some key concepts underlying it that will enable change, but it is lacking in financial resourcing. We can’t keep reducing money in comparison to what we need that money to do. We need a clearer idea of the need, and we need to fund it appropriately.”