Update: The battle for our daughters education

By Phil Treweek

Two years ago I wrote here about my daughter Ellen and our family’s two year battle to get her into Salisbury School. Here's what's happened since.

Two years ago I wrote here about my daughter Ellen and our family’s battle to get her into Salisbury School. Now at the end of her secondary schooling, it seems a good time to update Ellen’s journey and what’s happening with Salisbury School.

Ellen has an intellectual disability and was experiencing behavioural problems. After 10 terms at Salisbury the behavioural difficulties have largely gone. She has a range of strategies for dealing with conflict. They don’t always work, but Ellen is much calmer, and knows when to walk away. She still has moments when she finds it hard to cope but she generally tends to meet a situation appropriately. At 18 Ellen is becoming a mature young woman.

"Before Salisbury there was no way we could have imagined this as an outcome."

As well as her individualised Salisbury curriculum, Ellen has been attending regular classes at Waimea College. She is the first Salisbury girl to do so since the roll was downsized in 2012. Recently Ellen completed the credits to achieve NCEA level One (English, Maths, Hospitality, Food technology, Fabrics). Its taken two years, but she’s diligently worked away at it. Before Salisbury there was no way we could have imagined this as an outcome!

Ellen tells me that for the first time in her life, she has real friends. She has a peer group in which she can thrive. She is now a senior student in the school, and has really flowered in a mentoring role with the newer girls. I’ve been visiting regularly and that is really good to see. The feedback from staff is amazing.

Late last year Ellen moved out of the dormitory into a supervised flat at Salisbury. She has had all the experiences of interacting with flatmates and developing a good range of life skills. It helps that she still loves to cook and bake!

Ellen has also had the opportunity to participate in a wide range of external activities  aqua-size, karate, and basketball. Last year her team won their division in the Fulton Hogan league, and this year Ellen has been a player manager. Ellen’s favourite activity is being a St. Johns cadet. With three siblings at home, there previously wasn’t the opportunity for her to be so active.

Ellen has been doing one day a week work experience in a local café in Richmond. As a result, she decided hospitality is where her future lays. The plan for next year is for Ellen to attend NMIT (while concurrently at Salisbury) and complete a level 3 certificate in hospitality.

We expect Ellen to return home next July. Then we will be looking at finding her a supported living arrangement, and doing some job-hunting. In my last blog I said our long-term goal was for Ellen to be a functional member of society. She seems to have found her niche, so it looks like this is a real possibility.

"The government finally announced a year ago that Salisbury would remain open."

So how has the journey been? As well as addressing Ellen’s behavioural and educational issues, Salisbury has afforded Ellen opportunities she would otherwise not have had. The specialist skills, the low staff-student ratio, the environment, and the extra-curricular activities make a real difference. She would not have had that kind of support in her own community. But it has not been easy. After the stress trying to get access to Salisbury, the ongoing question of if the school would remain open has seen enrolment confirmed one-two terms at a time. IWS have provided counselling as we try to put our family back together.

What of the school? The government finally announced a year ago that Salisbury would remain open. In August a new enrolment pathway was announced to provide broader access to residential special schools. To date however this appears to be another Ministry run panel with no school input. I feel sorry for parents, as this doesn’t really appear any simpler than the current IWS process. As a parent I have to ask if the IWS barrier has supplemented by another? But the school is open, and if you are a parent seeking help for your daughter, it is definitely worth the battle to get in to Salisbury School!

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