More resources needed for strained inclusive education in Nova Scotia: report
HALIFAX -- A teacher who co-authored an independent report on inclusive education in Nova Scotia says students with learning challenges cannot succeed under the current program, which is why more funding is needed to transform the province's approach to education.
Adela Njie, one of three commission members who spent a year drafting a five-year plan for reform, told a news conference Monday there weren't enough supports in place to help one of her students, who rarely came to school because of severe anxiety.
"There are numerous examples of students who today are not able to be successful because we have a rigid program," she said. "This is why we need a new model: to meet the needs of the students when they need it and where they need it."
The commission estimates about a third of the province's 118,000 students need some form of support at school.
Their 124-page report recommends more funding for psychologists and behaviour support teachers, and calls for faster student assessments and behaviour intervention.
The report also recommends increasing funding for inclusive education over five years, with the province spending $70 million to $80 million annually by year five, a seven per cent increase for the Education Department's overall budget.
It also recommends hiring 30 behaviour support teachers, 12 school psychologists and 12 regional health nurses this September, as well as paying for 400 school psychology and 200 speech-language pathology student assessments.
In total, the report recommends hiring between 600 and 700 more specialists by 2022.
Nova Scotia's inclusion policy requires the province to make sure students with special needs are given support to succeed in a regular classroom setting.
It's been 20 years since the policy has been reviewed.
That's why the commission is calling for an updated policy and short-term fixes to help priority students in the upcoming school year.
The commission was charged with producing the study in the wake of a bitter labour dispute last year between the provincial government and 9,300 public school teachers.
When the province introduced a bill to impose a collective agreement, many teachers came forward to suggest the inclusion policy wasn't working. Some made emotional pleas about violence in classrooms and having to deal with 30 students with vastly different needs.
Education Minister Zach Churchill said the government has broadly accepted the objectives in the report, but he said flexibility will be required as it works with its partners, including the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
He acknowledged that implementing the short-term recommendations will be a challenge because there aren't enough specialists to fill the positions.
"In Atlantic Canada, there's actually a deficit in those specialist positions," Churchill said. "We have to work with our post-secondary partners to ensure that we're producing more graduates to meet those needs."
Churchill said the government has already established a bachelor of education steering committee with the post-secondary schools that offer the programs.
The government earmarked $15 million in last week's provincial budget to help implement the report, which Churchill said is in line with the commission's recommendations for this year.
Teachers union president Liette Doucet said the union came up with the idea for an independent commission after concerns were raised by teachers and others.
"In many ways, today's report validates the stand that teachers have been taking over the past two years," Doucet said in an emailed statement.
"It is clear they conducted a full and thorough consultation and have captured the concerns teachers, parents, students and stakeholders have been voicing now for several years."
The report also recommends setting up a "multi-tiered system of supports," saying 80 to 90 per cent of students get the help they need to succeed, while five to 10 per cent need more targeted help, and one to eight per cent need more intensive interventions. It said similar models have worked in Nunvut and Saskatchewan.
The report calls for “multi-tiered” supports for kids to support them in classrooms. It will require more specialists like school psychologists, behaviour support teachers, nurses. It also calls for a change in teacher education. #nspoli pic.twitter.com/iBVamlwZsk— Sarah Ritchie (@SarahRitchieCTV) March 26, 2018
In the recent budget the NS government set aside $15M for this fiscal year, which the premier acknowledges is only a start toward funding this kind of change. #nspoli— Sarah Ritchie (@SarahRitchieCTV) March 26, 2018
It’s estimated that the cost of implementing this inclusion overhaul will be between $70M and $80M over the five years. That’s a 7% increase in the education budget overall. #nspoli— Sarah Ritchie (@SarahRitchieCTV) March 26, 2018
This is what the tiers of support look like, according to the commission. The commissioners say this is based on other jurisdictions where inclusion is working. This part of the change requires more staff and more education, including changes to BEd programs. #nspoli pic.twitter.com/addnJ71v3Q— Sarah Ritchie (@SarahRitchieCTV) March 26, 2018
The commission says this “may not match the expectations that all children be in the main classroom at all times,” but is clear that it does not endorse streaming segregation of students based on needs. #nspoli— Sarah Ritchie (@SarahRitchieCTV) March 26, 2018
The commission recommends new provincial strategies: Behavioural Strategy, Autism Strategy, Mental Health Strategy. Also calls for consolidated inclusive education policy. #nspoli— Sarah Ritchie (@SarahRitchieCTV) March 26, 2018
Commissioner Sarah Shea says “it is time for everyone to work together” to reform inclusive education. #nspoli— Sarah Ritchie (@SarahRitchieCTV) March 26, 2018