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Supporting Special Needs Students Into The Future

Posted on 08 Aug 2009

Hon Heather Roy launch of the new Transition Service for Secondary Aged Students in Christchurch; Ministry of Education, Riccarton, Christchurch; Friday, August 7 2009.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Grant, for your warm welcome - and thank you to the Christchurch Transition Services Steering Group for inviting me to speak to you this evening.

I am delighted to be here as Associate Minister of Education to launch this new service.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to everyone here: representatives from Government agencies; from Ngai Tahu; from schools and businesses; and those of you from the Wayne Francis Charitable Trust.

Welcome to students, families and whanau; and to the other speakers we have here with us today - Wayne Francis Trust Chair Helena Francis; Peter Townsend, from the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce; and Sonja Carpenter for your perspective as a parent.

I think you will all agree that the stars of tonight's launch are Caroline Quick and Andrew Dever, who are representative of the students we are here to acknowledge. Getting up and speaking in front of a large group of people you don't know is no easy task, and today you both did it exceptionally well. Congratulations to you both and our thanks for your contribution to this project.

Background to the Transition Service
The transition from secondary school to adult life, work and study is one of the most crucial times in a young person's life. It is a time when students need advice, support and encouragement to choose the path that is right for them. I know as a parent myself the great excitement of this transition for our children and the challenges they face at the same time.

Students with disabilities face exactly the same excitement and challenges - the have the same rights as others to choose from the opportunities available to them when they leave school, but they can require a different type and level of support.

The Transition Service that we're launching today will provide a consistent and co-ordinated approach to the transition of students with disabilities from secondary school to the next stage of their lives. It will be based on the principles of valuing disability, of flexibility and accessibility, of partnership and - perhaps most prosaically - the importance of planning.

I'd like to briefly talk about how this Transition Service came about. It's a great example of a community identifying a need, and working together and with Government to ensure that that need is met. It's also a great example of schools making a difference for their students by working together and maximising their resources.

In 2006, the Wayne Francis Charitable Trust identified the need for more effectively supported transition for disabled secondary aged students in Christchurch.

In pursuit of this the Trust brought together people from the disability sector to form a reference group, undertook a stocktake of current transition services, and made recommendations to Government based on its findings.

In response, the Ministry of Education formed a Transition Working Party with members from across the sectors - the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce; the Ministries of Education and Social Development; the tertiary, schooling, and disability sectors; and, of course, the students and their parents.

The Working Party developed a vision of what an effective transition service for secondary students with disabilities would look like; what its key activities would be; how it could meet the needs of students, families, and schools; how it could be funded. It was from this vision that a new approach to transition services we're celebrating today was developed.

How the Transition Service will work
The Lead School Model Transition Service will deliver a whole range of transition services to disabled secondary school students across eight Christchurch schools.

Allenvale Special School and Resource Centre will be the Lead School, with the Transition Service also covering: Hillmorton, Papanui, Riccarton, Mairehau, and Cashmere High Schools; Ferndale School; and Waitaha Learning Centre.

Hopefully, over time, more schools will be able to take part as the service develops. Your model and experiences here in Christchurch are being closely monitored by others around the country who are looking on in awe of the progress your project has made.

The Transition Service will support schools to develop student-centred transition planning - 'student-centred' meaning the process will be driven by the students and their families. Rather than just receiving the service, the student is actively involved in setting their goals and how they'll achieve them.

Students and their families will also drive the evaluations of the service - evaluations that will inform future planning and service delivery.

To explain more about how the Transition Service will work, I would like to talk about the report of the Wayne Francis Charitable Trust, made after the Trust had completed its stocktake of transition services.

Among the recommendations made in the report were 10 guidelines for transition best practice identified during the Trust's research.

The first is that the transition process must start early - no later than the student's age of 14.

The second guideline is that partnerships between the school and supports in the community - such as tertiary providers, local business and commerce, and social support organisations - be developed at least two years before the student leaves school.

As with so many things in life, planning early and planning well will be key to a successful service.

The best practice guidelines emphasise the need for a transition programme to be integrated into students' general education, rather than as a separate and parallel programme.

They state the need for a clear distinction between the transition needs of the student and those of their family; for transition skills to be included in the curriculum and practised at home; and for adult settings to be available for students aged over 18 who are still at school.

The guidelines also include: identifying and overcoming barriers to disabled students, offering the information and support that will ensure students have a wide range of options, and regularly evaluating the outcomes of the transition service.

These elements can be all too easy to overlook if there is insufficient time and planning.

I'm delighted to see the depth of thought and preparation that has gone into the Transition Service we're launching today. Firmly based on the 10 best practice guidelines the service will maximise students' access to employment, tertiary and community-based options after secondary school.

The service will provide accessible and much-needed information to students, parents and whanau, schools and other stakeholders. It will provide training and professional development for schools and associated service providers and build links with the tertiary, business, and commerce sectors.

Before I finish, I'd like to highlight two aspects of the development of the Transition Service that have impressed me.

The first has been the development of strong links between local agencies and local businesses. The business sector has been actively involved in the project since its inception. One of the things the Wayne Francis Trust identified early on was that employer attitudes to disability were an essential feature of a successful transition.

The links developed through this project will take us a long way toward a better understanding of the capability, attributes and skills that disabled students offer for employers in our communities.

The second aspect is that the Transition Service has been developed without requests for additional funding despite the current economic climate. Tough times call for fresh thinking, and innovative ideas and solutions.

The current financial climate has meant that schools have contributed to the project through their current funding streams, the Wayne Francis Trust has made a generous one-off donation to assist with funding costs, and the Education Ministry has assisted with some establishment staffing costs to ensure the project gets off the ground started.

All of this has enabled the project to become operational and sustainable.

When I look around the room and see the passion, drive and generosity of this community I am very encouraged that the interests of disabled students in Christchurch when transitioning from school to adult life are well catered for.

Congratulations to you all for your contribution to this project.


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