'P babies' are now at primary school

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Methamphetamine use has been endemic in Northland for more than five years and the inevitable outcome has begun to turn up at primary schools.

Children suffering the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome are now "more than common", according to Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman, but teachers were now facing another problem.

"I can't talk on behalf of secondary, but P babies are now in primary schools," Newman said.

The leading education advocate has been on a campaign to persuade the Ministry of Education to commit more resources to deal with children with significant learning and behavioural problems.

Newman said he was disappointed in the latest response from the ministry to genuine calls for help.

The ministry's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, had said on Radio New Zealand there was no hard evidence that schools were dealing with more children with behavioural problems.

"What evidence is needed? What is hard data? Do we have to wait until a child or teacher is seriously hurt? There is not one principal in New Zealand, and certainly not in Te Tai Tokerau, who is not telling the ministry that this is the reality," Newman said.

"In fact a few years ago we in Te Tai Tokerau, in partnership with the ministry, researched the levels of violence we were putting up with in the north, and the ministry has that information."

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Casey said the ministry spent about $95 million on behaviour assistance for about 10,000 children last year, and that number of children had not changed much in the last couple of years.

"If this is the case, why are we only receiving help to cover two hours a day on average for high-end behavioural needs? The answer is always that there is no more money available," Newman said.

"Why is there little help for psychological counselling for these children?

"Why does it take a year to get a foetal alcohol assessment done, and little funding to actually help the child once diagnosed?"

Casey had claimed that stand-downs and suspensions for assaults had remained static for the past six years, and a recent survey of secondary school teachers by the Council for Educational Research found student behaviour had become less of a problem.

Newman rejected that, too.

"We have severely abused children in our schools," he said.

"The ministry has the figure in Whangarei of the high behavioural needs children currently in early childhood education in this town who are due to come through the primary service, and it is huge."

He welcomed the suggestion the ministry would need to talk to principals who thought they had cases that had not been given support for, however, and he would be urging his colleagues to make those cases known.

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