New report calls for school access to psychologists, more funding for First Nations schools
BY MATTHEW PEARSON, OTTAWA CITIZEN MAY 28, 2012
The People for Education's 15th annual report, released Monday, makes recommendations on nearly a dozen key areas - everything from school-community connections and special education to early learning, aboriginal education and school closures.
OTTAWA - Ensuring that every school in Ontario has access to a psychologist, providing top-up funding for schools on First Nations reserves, and launching a public review of special education programs are just some of the recommendations contained in a new report on the state of Ontario's publicly-funded schools.
People for Education's 15th annual report, released Monday at a Toronto high school, is based on surveys completed by more than 1,000 principals from virtually all of Ontario's 72 English, Catholic and French school boards.
Twenty-six Ottawa-Carleton and 18 Ottawa Catholic schools participated, while less than 10 schools from each of the local French-language boards took part.
The challenge for any public education system, the report says, is to serve all students well. But in order to do that, schools must focus on more than academic achievement and instead build relationships beyond the school's walls. "They cannot operate in isolation from their communities, or from other services and programs that support children and youth," the report says.
It then makes recommendations on nearly a dozen key areas - everything from school-community connections and special education to early learning, aboriginal education and school closures.
The education advocacy group wants the government to launch a full public review of special education to evaluate the quality of current services and develop a better funding model and fairer process for determining which students are assessed. They also think the province should create a special education ombudsman to help families navigate the system.
It also wants the government to develop a framework for health promotion in public schools that goes beyond traditional health and physical education classes. It says the province should work with school boards to ensure every school has access to psychologists and other professionals to support the mental health of children and youth.
Currently, 14 per cent of elementary and 17 per cent of secondary schools report having no access to a psychologist.
There's also a push to forge more school-community connections - currently something that's too often done off the side of a busy school principal's desk.
People for Education envisions a new inter-ministerial secretariat to oversee an integrated policy framework for children and youth that includes education, physical and mental health, children and youth services, recreation and culture.
The report says bluntly that Aboriginal children - particularly those living on reserves - "are receiving educational services and funding that is markedly inferior to other Canadian children." It urges the province to follow the Drummond Commission's recommendation to provide top-up funding to ensure that schools on-reserve are funded at a level comparable to other school in Ontario.
There was also some tough talk about before- and after-school programs for four- and five-year-old students, which less than half of the province's schools currently offer as part of the full-day kindergarten program. "The implementation of [full-day kindergarten] has been heralded as a success by schools and has reached many children in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. But the provision of extended-day programs remains patchy, and is marred by inequitable access," the report says.
With 120,000 fewer students in Ontario schools than there were a decade ago, the report notes there are 125 schools slated or recommended to close in Ontario between June 2012 and June 2015, and a further 142 schools undergoing reviews for possible closure.
People for Education wants the government to conduct a public review of the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) process and develop a more effective, less divisive method for making decisions on school closures.
Although the province has a $15-billion deficit, the report calls for some new spending.
People for Education wants the province to develop a new "Equity in Education" grant for schools to offer programs that mitigate socio-economic and ethno-racial factors affecting students and reinstate a grant designed to enhance new and existing programs in music, arts, outdoor and physical education.
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