Quebec City summit on “The integration of students with handicaps or difficulties” – QESBA priorities: local Board flexibility, intensified focus on students with behavioural problems, enhanced classroom support and training
MONTREAL, Oct. 22 /CNW Telbec/ – The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) looks forward to joining some 30 educational partners in Quebec City next Monday at a summit convened by Education Minister Line Beauchamp on “The integration of students with handicaps or difficulties”. QESBA will focus its interventions throughout the day-long session on three key messages:
(a) Individual school boards must be given the fullest possible latitude to deliver tailored educational and complementary services that match the needs of their particular student population; a “one-size-fits-all” approach to integration of students is a recipe for failure.
(b) Specific and focused attention must be placed on addressing the specific issue of students with major behavioural problems. The integration of students with other handicaps or difficulties remains, to the greatest extent, the most promising and feasible strategy. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that new training strategies, resources and learning models must be explored to address the behavioural issue.
(c) University teacher training programs must better prepare teachers for the integrated classroom. Ministry of Education statistics demonstrate that anywhere from 10-30 per cent of students in today’s classroom are experiencing some handicaps or difficulties. Managing that reality is demanding of our teachers; they need the training and additional support resources to perform their duties well.
“Overall, Quebec should be proud of its progressive and student-centred approach to addressing the needs of students at every point on the spectrum of potential,” QESBA President Debbie Horrocks insisted. “That said, the demands on our school network are enormous, and the time is surely right to validate how we are doing things, and to assess how we might improve. QESBA will be using this summit to highlight some particular English sector accomplishments as well as challenges in addressing the needs of all students. We will highlight a high school graduation rate in our network of close to 80 per cent – the target set by the Ministry for the year 2020, and we’ll point to the steadily-improving outcomes of our students with special needs. All of this is being accomplished by favoring a balanced and focused approach to integration.”
Among the other points QESBA will be raising are the following:
– The discussion on integration, and finding the right balance between students with special needs and those who do not have specific difficulties, must always be centred on the needs of students and not framed solely as an issue of working conditions for teachers and professionals.
– While students’ welfare must be at the centre of these discussions, QESBA acknowledges that our teachers, as well as administrators, professionals and support staff, must be given the pre-service instruction, in-service training and support resources necessary to the practice of quality teaching.
– The summit must acknowledge the complexity and variety of current integration models. There is a wide spectrum of current models; it is simplistic and unhelpful to frame this discussion as a debate between “Integration and closed classes” for students with handicaps or difficulties.
– QESBA absolutely opposes any wholesale suggestion of a system of “capping” the number of students per class with handicaps or difficulties. This is not, in the Association’s view a realistic or responsible (or, perhaps even legal) approach to current challenges.
– QESBA urges all summit partners to remember that some 70 per cent of its member board schools are small schools, where classroom groupings do not even allow for the possibility of closed classes; any model for solutions must take that major reality into account.
– Integration, implemented intelligently and with necessary support resources, is not a zero-sum game. Our English school boards, in all their diversity, place a priority on including all students in the development of a sense of community, civic responsibility and pride. QESBA maintains that this approach, with an emphasis on parent involvement and extra-curricular activities, is contributing positively to the ultimate goal of student success for all.
– The Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) should take steps to promote the sharing of best practices in balancing special needs services with quality education services to students at every spectrum of potential. It should (a) provide financial resources in a strategic manner that facilitates this outcome and (b) encourage the creation of a labour relations environment that promotes such tailored solutions.
– The particular realities of the English sector must be fully considered. For example, access to supporting health and social services in English is increasingly problematic, especially in rural regions but in many metropolitan regions as well. There is a definite need for more collaboration between the education sector and other Ministries and public establishments responsible for related services to students in need. Also, there are specific challenges caused by the increasing number of students with difficulties or handicaps at a time when over-all enrolment is dropping.
– School boards should be sharing – and getting MELS support for – best practices in addressing diverse student needs. For example, there are English school boards employing roving resource teams to work intermittently with students with serious behavioural difficulties outside of the regular classroom; others are operating small and focused alternative programs for at-risk students; others are developing teacher and principal “shadowing” or mentoring programs to better equip new educators to deal with new classroom realities. All of these strategies, QESBA believes, are contributing to average high school graduation rates that are substantially higher than the Quebec average.
“We hope that this summit will be a springboard to important improvements in services to students across Quebec, and at every level of potential,” Horrocks concluded. “For that to happen, the government, school boards, parents and teachers will have to make sure we are working in partnership.”
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