Special education needs require more resources

| 16/06/2015 | 18 Comments
Cayman News Service

Lighthouse School, Grand Cayman

(CNS): What appears to be a growing number of students in the government school and even pre-school system with special educational needs (SEN) and learning difficulties raised concerns among legislators last week, when the education minister’s budget for 2015/16 come under scrutiny. Tara Rivers said that SEN as well as the behaviour and social issues that are impacting very young children, even in Reception class, have been neglected for some time but it was now a major focus for her ministry.

The growing number of very young students who are entering the government school system with a range of severe learning difficulties and behavioural challenges was a subject that caused concern for many of the MLAs. The members were worried that teachers in Reception and early primary classes were already struggling in some schools with large numbers of young students and face the added problem of troubled and challenging children that they are not trained to deal with.

Government has budgeted more than $7.7M in this financial year for special education needs, over a million dollars more than last year’s allocation of $6.6M, but Rivers said more resources for this area would still be welcome as government attempts to intervene to assist kids in need at an earlier point in their school lives.

During Friday’s Finance Committee proceedings Rivers spoke about the focus on special education going forward, as it is now part of the proposed education law that will be before parliament in September. She also said the Department of Education Services was working to ensure that intervention can happen at an even earlier point to prevent problems later in the system.

Rivers described herself as “championing” the issue but she said her ministry, like others, was constrained by resources. However, she welcomed the discussion and questions from members as she said it was a subject that had been neglected for years by multiple administrations. But with members all raising questions about the need for more investment in this area, she said she was hopeful that she could count on their support to increase funding in future.

Julianna O’Connor-Connolly, who despite being the parliament’s speaker can sit as a member of Finance Committee, also warned that many more children appeared to be getting diagnosed with autism and urged more attention for special needs to ensure the children did not “end up in Northward” as a result of inadequacies in the system. The committee heard that at least one SEN student had ended up in prison recently because of a lack of aftercare support when he returned from an overseas placement.

Rivers said the ministry was working with other government agencies and departments to ensure better aftercare programmes and a smoother transition for these vulnerable students when they return home.

Bernie Bush, the UDP member for West Bay, told Rivers that he had spent time with nine sets of parents over the last few months who were all battling with scholarship applications. He said in some cases the children’s needs could only be met at overseas institutions, and despite medical recommendations, the Education Council was blocking the scholarships. He also urged the education department to monitor the overseas institutions where children were being sent and where the government was paying the school fees.

Rivers said there was quality control and that scholarships for SEN students were based on diagnosed need, the desires of parents and specific availability but not cost, as she noted that there was “no cookie cutter approach” for government sponsored special education scholarships. She said there were currently 19 students receiving full government grants, most of whom are being educated here in the private sector and just five are currently going to school overseas.

Most students’ needs are met within the local school system, not just at the Lighthouse School, which was in the spotlight recently, but in the government primary and secondary schools, which requires support from specialist teachers and experts.

Recognising the problems and gaps, Rivers said the education department was working on developing policies to address the shortcomings and look at special needs education provision in Cayman more broadly.

Meanwhile, Bush pointed to the concerns of his constituents that funding constraints have resulted in unequal treatment. He said some young students are getting some of the recommended services and support they need but with others with significant special needs are not receiving any support at all, setting them up for more difficulties in future.

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Comments (18)

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  1. Educationalist says:

    More is spent per child on educational support services (educational psychologists, counsellors and the like) in Cayman than almost anywhere else in the developed world, so I would suggest that throwing even more money at special needs is unlikely to work. Cayman kids in government schools sit IQ type tests several times during their primary and secondary years and the results of these show that there is little difference between their innate ability and that of children in the UK. What is still different, though, is the basic quality of teaching, which is sadly still much less good in most schools. This means that more kids are ending up labelled as SEN who are just failing to make good progress because they are not being taught what they need to know. However, having said that, there certainly is a need for some extra provision around child and adolescent mental health, which is very poorly provided for at the moment and probably also around meeting the needs of kids on the autistic spectrum. When children with these issues are not being properly supported in schools the impact on the rest of the class (and the teacher) can be catastrophic. However, there is now almost no one at the top of education in Cayman who understands anything about any of this so it is not surprising that Tara and Winston are leaping to the wrong conclusions…….

  2. Anon says:

    The problem needs to be addressed when these children are babies The government needs to realize that when parents are not aware that being left in poor quality childcare or with underpaid uneducated “helpers” their children will not develop to their potential. Many of these children with special needs and behavioral problems would not exist if there was affordable access to quality childcare and educational support for parents. This is not just a problem in Government schools
    The amount of SN children in private schools is abnormally high. The new Early years framework will help in the long term but more needs to be done. I cannot understand how the education of a child is not a priority when they are young. 0-5 are the most important years in child development. Put the money into the children then and you are unlikely to have to pay for extra tutoring and speech therapy, Occupational therapy, etc etc. The cost of undoing damage caused by early neglect is tenfold of what it would cost to implement decent care to start with. The problem will continue to get worse and the quality of education for other students at school will fall. The government should be providing schools and preschools that the ministers themselves are proud and comfortable sending their own children to. If they are not, then they are failing the people that voted them in.

  3. Rp says:

    These children require specialized individualized attention as in the case of special needs one glove doesn’t fit all. This can’t be achieved in classrooms. Recently I learned from a friend that there is at least one place on island offering such services as her son has been enrolled for more than a year in a ADHD program at Cayman Leanring Center. Education ministry should meet with such private institutions and see if programs are available locally through these special needs centers.

    Pooling students in a 5 hour class is not the answer for instance for those kids with attention span difficulties. They may benefit from 1-2 hour sessions targeted to their learning needs while being supervised in a maximum of 3-1 student-specialist ratio.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Always always always the same solution – throw more resources at the problem and somehow they will magically disappear. No, change takes time, change takes commitment and stickability, change requires continuous good quality professional development, change takes leadership and lastly teachers should be supported in their roles and provided with supervision.

    • John Henry says:

      Special Education needs and problem children at very early ages is nothing new in the Cayman Islands. Ministers of Education since the 1980s have grappled with finding a solution and have been throwing funds at the issue since then with insignificant results being achieved. The root problem is the parents of the children, who themselves did not have any assistance or for whom there were and still require that teachers and resources made available to identify and correct the malaise. Now it has grown and keeps on growing and the byproduct is illiteracy, gangs becoming the surrogate parents and a continuos cycle in many cases of abandonment, criminality, and other social woes with no apparent end.

      A number of members of present House of Assembly and those of the past have not necessarily turned a blind eye to this issue, but, neither have they solved the problem by voting funds time after time. There is no one in the House with the expertise to diagnose and come up with effective solutions to this never ending problem. This situation demands outside expertise yes it does, expertise that assists us in formulating and implementing a long term national strategy that addresses early Parenting training, Education of young adults who fall by the way side; wholesome diets at school and at home, which affect the growth off our children as well as as focus on enhanced family standard of living, early diagnosisand treatment of psychological and learning disabilities, and social behavior therapy.

      The problem will not go away by just throwing money at it, but by careful analysis and strategic policies which are under constant review to ensure that the end results we wish to obtain are made in a consistent fashion; and that changes are made thereto on a timely basis to ensure effectiveness.

      • Anonymous says:

        We have all the policies we need right now but I fully agree with the rest of your post. The expertise needed we periodically get and when those people point out the glaringly obvious and make suggestions and try to talk candidly about the problems in the system, they are systematically marginalized and contracts not renewed or moved to lesser posts. There is an enormous problem in special needs not through lack of resources, but because we do not have people with vision and “true” expertise heading it up.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do you think the person who gave this post a thumbs down does not think commitment and stickability is needed or that teachers require do not need good quality professional development, or for that matter leadership is important. Wow!

  5. Anonymous says:

    S.E.N. classes were abolished per se in John Gray 4 years ago. Most students are being taught in the mainstream by non-specialists now and so the production line is out of sync, without provision for these differences in ability apart from a little adjustment in expectations (to the lowest common denominator).

    • Anonymous says:

      A lot of children can be main streamed if they deal with the issues from the beginning but they wait and put an half-hearted attempt into it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Firstly, this problem at the Light House School has been going on for years and year and years. Secondly, Tara has been in office for over two years and the only reason it has been brought to light is the situation that happened with the teachers making fun of the children. Everyone of those teachers, teacher assistance, etc who were involved in that should be FIRED!!! PLAIN AND SIMPLE!!! FIRED!!! And the principal should be FIRED TOO for he/she knew what was going on. What kind of example are we setting? What kind of people are we hiring? I for one if I had a child in that school and the teachers made fun, that wouldn’t just end with a simple reprimand. Unfortunately the harm has been done to so many children that went to the light house school and came out learning nothing…..Government should be ashamed of themselves. There are no facilities in cayman for the learning disabilities, handicapped children. The Island has very few handicap (wheelchair access areas). Hell, the police don’t even respect Handicapp Parking!!! Do I need to say anymore???

    • Anonymous says:

      People need to get their facts straight. No child was being made “fun” of at LHS. Please read the snippet from the article written by a LHS teacher. Educate yourselves before you open your mouth.

      “The attack on this school over a misinterpretation of a game that was not mocking or bullying our students regarding their disabilities has gone too far. I am a mother. I have children. I mimic funny things my children do all the time. Funny statements or mannerisms that distinguish them from everyone else because they are special and are memorable for me. My students hold a place in my heart just like my own children do and while I was not a participant but an observer in the game I can assure the public that no one mimicked anyone’s mannerisms related to their disability. Do you really expect that we work with children all year long and they won’t do things to make us laugh or say things that we find funny? Even their very own laugh could put joy in our hearts and maybe they are well known in the school for their laugh. Maybe they are well known for the way they call a teachers name. Maybe they are well known for certain things they love the most like that song that they always choose to sing. These are just a few examples and how are these related to their disabilities? Or how can this be misinterpreted?”

  7. Anonymous says:

    Is that the same place that they put people who undertake criminal activity like buying votes?

  8. Shhhhhh. says:

    Thank you Minister Tara for moving the ball forward, and thank you Michael Myles from Dept. Of Ed. for doing the seminal research producing the necessary data for these decisions to be made. This problem has been the elephant in the room for far too long.

  9. Anonymous says:

    By and large, the problems experienced by the children -behavioural and academic – are caused by a far, far too high proportion of drink/drug/violence/no male role model/ contempt for education/entitlement/dysfunctional set of parents and it has been that way for the last 50 years. A Special Needs expert reported 40 years ago that he had never seen so many extremely low performing students as those in Cayman, even though he came from one of the worst, deprived, housing estate areas of England. His contract was not renewed so that solved that problem.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sounds familiar and the not renewing of contracts is still going on for the same reasons. There have been some glaringly wrong non renewals over recent times. Its so sad for the children and the country.

    • Anonymous says:

      I would suggest that you google “Autism Spectrum”. People with no training have no idea what is going on. I thought that my son’s behaviour was the result of issues between his father and I so I ended the relationship. There were no changes and only through researching something else did I encounter an article with the behaviours and realize that was the problem. Even though a Psychologist suspected that was the problem, she didn’t tell me. I had to bring it to her attention.

      If you think alcohol/drug problems causes Autism, please notify Autism Speaks as no one seems to know the answer to that question.

      Just for the record: I rarely drink and I definitely have never done drugs. His father drinks some but not on a regular basis and he doesn’t do drugs.

      I’m not saying that we don’t have these problems but if we don’t address it somewhere , like Ms. Julianna said, “they will end up in Northward.”

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