Up-date on CADDAC’s Meetings with Ministries of Education Across Canada
Over the past three months CADDAC has been meeting with Ministries of Education across Canada as part of our ADHD Right to Learn Campaign. All provincial and territorial Ministries of Education were contacted with a request to meet and an ask that they recognize ADHD as a serious learning risk on par with Autism and learning disabilities. Only Nunavut did not respond to two e-mails and phone call and one province, PEI confirmed receipt of our second e-mail, but did not follow-up on our request to meet. CADDAC researched all provincial and territorial special education systems prior to meeting with representatives from the Ministries. Here is a summary of the meeting content, our findings and our concerns.
For a complete summary of our meeting with the Ministry of Education in Ontario and our on-going concerns in this province please access this LINK.
Recognition of ADHD as a Learning Risk
All provinces with systems of inclusion (simply mandating schools to meet the needs of all students) agreed that students with ADHD are recognized as students with exceptional needs if they exhibit a need in the classroom. Provinces still using a system of identification (officially identifying students with exceptional needs under a category) who include ADHD under a category, are Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the later two indicating that they are transitioning to a system of inclusion, stated that recognizing ADHD in a category recognizes learning risks. BC, who recently developed new guidelines for moving to a system of inclusion, stated that ADHD would be recognized in their guidelines under the domain of cognition. Please access the Ontario summary for Ontario’s continued lack of recognition.
Ministry Web sites
Each Ministry’s web site was evaluated for their content on ADHD. We found that they contained little or no information on ADHD while they frequently contained information on Autism and learning disabilities. Some sites also hosted information on teaching strategies for Autism and LDs and included additional information on specialized Autism programs. CADDAC shared this fact in our initial correspondence with the Ministries pointing out that this sends a clear message to parents, educators and the public that the Ministry does nor recognize ADHD as a significant a learning risk. When this was reiterated during our meetings the Ministries all agreed that there was a lack of ADHD information. Some stated that they could not change the information quickly, but would bring up our concerns during up-coming meeting, while others offered to share CADDAC links on their sites.
Needs Based Approach
Prior to each meeting CADDAC researched each province and territory’s process of recognizing the needs of students with ADHD. During the meetings we discussed, how individualized learning plans (provinces use a variety of names for these plans) were initiated, who could initiate them, who developed these plans, and how they were implemented and reviewed.
Most ministries spoke about moving away from a medical model to a needs-based approach for all students with exceptional needs, regardless of whether they currently use a system of inclusion or identification. While consistently using this term, provinces rarely defined it with any specificity, but we inferred it to mean that supports would be implemented to meet a student’s individual needs. The term universal design for learning, an approach to teaching aimed at meeting the needs of every student including those with learning differences, was also mentioned several times during these meetings. When these terms came up, CADDAC pointed out that for these practices to actually work for students with ADHD, educators must be trained in the multitude of ways ADHD impacts a student’s learning. They must also be trained in appropriate ADHD teaching strategies and accommodations and then mentored on how to apply and individualize these strategies. CADDAC has identified the lack of educator training in ADHD across Canada as one of our biggest concerns and the factor that directly impacts our students on a daily basis.
Lack of Educator Training
During our discussions with Ministries, all provinces and territories spoke about principals and teachers being mandated to recognize and meet special needs in students. CADDAC specifically asked each Ministry how they were educating their teachers and administrators about ADHD. While most Ministry representatives were aware that teacher’s Colleges provided very little ADHD training, they admitted that in-service structured training on ADHD did not occur. Some mentioned the ability to go into the odd school board to present on ADHD if specifically asked to do so while others mentioned that teacher’s unions had the ability to provide training. All except Nova Scotia were unaware of any online training for their educators, but most were open to learning more if CADDAC had resources or knew of any good educator programs.
Changes in Some Funding Models
The vast majority of all provinces now use a jurisdictional funding model that ties special education funding to student enrollment numbers even if they still use a system of identification. For instance, Ontario for some time and Alberta since 2020 use this funding model even thought they still identify students under categories of exceptionalities. During our meeting with Alberta, they shared that while they are still asking boards to collect coding information, they will only be using it to discern trends. During out meeting with BC, they confirmed that they are still looking to transition out of the current system of identification (where they exclude students with ADHD) and into a system of inclusion and jurisdictional funding. To-date, special education funding in BC is directly tied to the number of students who are identified under special education categories.
The Special Education Inclusion Model
While researching and speaking with Ministries across Canada, a clear trend emerged. The majority of provinces have either moved away from identifying students with exceptional needs and moving to an inclusive system or were looking to do so. Even provinces that still identify students, speak about the ideology of an inclusive classroom where all students, no matter what their needs are, are together in a communal classroom. However, some issues with the implementation of this system came to light during our research and were discussed with the ministries.
Concerns with the Inclusive Model
As provinces move away from formally identifying students with special needs, new terms for individualized education plans, such as SLPs, Student Leaning Plans, are being developed. Parents are voicing concerns about the legal accountability behind these new forms of accommodation documentation, since IEPs have always been recognized as legal documents that help hold a school and board accountable. For instance, Yukon has removed IEPs for more than 130 students and will only be developing IEPs for students who are not on target to graduate high school. When CADDAC discussed this issue with the Yukon Ministry we received assurances that these new forms of documentation would have the same level of accountability, however whether they are actually considered to be a legal document will only be confirmed when a legal challenge occurs.
In 2013 New Brunswick completely embraced the inclusive education model launching a policy that would facilitate the full participation of all students, whatever their abilities or needs in their community classrooms. Last year New Brunswick announced that it would be reviewing their classroom inclusion policy due to continued complaints from parents and teachers. Education advocates have long pointed out that an inclusive system that places students with all types of learning needs into one classroom without adding additional staff and supports rarely meets students’ or teachers’ needs.
During our meeting with BC CADDAC reiterated a concern that was previously shared in a formal submission to the Ministry. We are asking that as the province moves to a system of inclusion, they send a strong message to educators that ADHD is indeed recognized by the Ministry as a serious learning risk. By excluding ADHD from all special education categories in the past, the Ministry has intentionally sent the opposite message to educators and done significant damage.
What Qualifies a Student for an Individualized Education Plan?
Other Ministries, such as Nova Scotia shared that they only develop a learning plan, such as an IPP, Individual Program Plan, if there is an “academic” issue of concern. While this sounds reasonable, it is of significant concern to CADDAC and many parents of students with ADHD. The term “academic concern” is arbitrary because it depends entirely on the school’s interpretation of what designates a concern. Is it a student who is failing, a student who is academically behind, or a student who is not meeting their potential? We would hope that it is the later, yet that is rarely the case. In Ontario, the Ministry allows each school board to set the bar of what meets their level of concern wherever they like which has led to significant inequity throughout Ontario boards. Parents in many other provinces also report great discrepancy between what the school defines as a student who is struggling and how they recognize their own child’s struggles. Most parents will tell you that they still need to advocate, or actually fight, for the development of an individualized education plan for their child.
Holding Boards Accountable
Across Canada one of the main issues with accountability is that Ministries have few ways to hold school boards accountable for meeting the needs of students with ADHD. We have clear evidence that this does not happen in Ontario. BC reported that they are building this into their new system, but again, only after the new system has been in place for a while will we truly know if it is effective.
CADDAC’s National Education Concerns in Order of Importance
- Lack of educator training in ADHD
- Equitable support for all students with ADHD to be able to meet their potential
- Systems of Inclusion that
- Remove IEPs and introduce education plans with reduced accountability
- Have insufficient resources to meet the needs to students with a wide variety of needs in one classroom
- Do not affirm that ADHD is a serious learning risk