Across Ontario and across the country, schools and Ministries of Education continue to debate the best ways to serve students with special needs.

Our research shows that across the province, the number of students on special education waiting lists has declined from a high of 48,000 in 2003/04, to a low of approximately 31,000 this year. But this still represents a huge number of children waiting to be assessed or to receive appropriate identification or support.

Because assessments must be conducted by a limited number of school board psychologists, many boards and schools report they must ration their assessments or only put those students in the highest need on waiting lists.

But there’s more to the debate than the number of students waiting for support. Recent Ministry of Education consultations (which are discussed in more detail in our newsletter) raised a number of other questions:

• How can the Ministry develop a method of funding special education that reflects the actual needs of students?

• How can and should the Ministry define and measure success in special education programs? Are EQAO tests a valid way to measure effectiveness?

• How can the Ministry and school boards ensure that all students who need special education support receive it in a timely and equitable fashion?

• How can the Ministry ensure consistency from board to board, so that parents and kids don’t have to go through multiple special education processes if they move?

All of these questions need answers. And they all feed into the biggest question of all:

How should we define success overall in our education system, and how can we ensure that all students in all boards have access to the broad range of programs,   curriculum and support they need to succeed, not only in school, but in their lives?

People for Education has information and resources about Special Education.

Join our special education group in our online community.


  1. anne-marie

    I read your report on special education funding and that brought me here. I don’t think a voucher plan would work for high-needs, “hard to serve” students like my nephew (on the spectrum and also severe reading and language disability). There are some extremely good private schools for kids like him, but their cost is way beyond what a voucher would cover. My sister and b-i-law took out a second mortgage on their home to send my nephew to a school for severely dyslexic kids. He went to a Catholic school for JK-Gr 1 and they tried to help him but there were simply not adequate services to be had.

    Maybe we need to look at providing some scholarships for needy kids to attend such schools. Or, we could try to develop some in the public system, but this is difficult for many reasons, not least the fact that the kids who need such a specialized program are scattered across a wide area. The Ministry perhaps should provide funding for tutorial support for these kids, who *don’t” learn well in an inclusive setting. We need some creative problem solving here. What of the many families who simply don’t have the financial resources to provide outside support services or private tuition. Maybe some public-private partnerships would work. Better training for staff in our schools would also help. Another idea would be highly trained specialist teachers or assistants who could travel to schools as needed to support high-needs students like this. Maybe we need more flexibility in assignment of staff to specific locations. There are no simple solutions that I know of.

  2. Why not give every child a voucher and let the parents decide the course of action?

  3. Salvatore (Sal) Amenta

    Dear Annie…
    As an active member of the Community Living Association, I’d like to point out what is to me an many of my associates, a profound conundrum: Why do we keep talking about and stressing over delivering “Special Education”, when the concept’s shelf-life seems to have expired? Surely, as you say in your March 18 editorial, and as the Ministry now argues, the challenge is to give every single child what s/he needs to attain fulfilment. Every child is “special” in this sense, and so it would behoove us to get rid of the silly notion that some kids are more special than others.

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