In 1921, children and young people with disabilities in New Zealand were denied education and confined to institutions. A century later, we know that inclusion works for all, and celebrate the fact that more than 99 per cent of learners are enrolled in local schools. What happened in between is the evolution of learning support.

The door to inclusive learning opened when the Education Act 1989 stipulated equal rights to learners with disabilities, however that law change did not bring schools the services they needed to deliver education to students with disabilities.

“Prior to 1989 there was not much support for schools, only teacher aide money,” says Sally Jackson, former Chief Adviser Learning Support at the Ministry of Education.

“Schools had to compete for a small pot of funding and the division of resources became unequal between high and lower decile schools.”

Special Education 2000 followed with funding lines to make education more equitable. These included the Special Education Grant to help schools cater to students with mild to moderate needs; the Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS), for children with the very highest learning needs; and the introduction of Resource Teachers: Learning & Behaviour (RTLB).

“We put in ORS for the top 1 percent of children with the highest needs… we wanted to stress that all children can learn including those with the highest needs,” says Sally.

The Ministry partnered with universities to develop post-graduate training and establish RTLB, with an emphasis on learning and strengthening behaviours that promote learning.

In 2010 the Education Review Office (ERO) reported that half of schools surveyed could be described as inclusive and that the most successful models operated three key principles:

  • Having ethical standards and leadership that built the culture of an inclusive school.
  • Having well-organised systems, effective teamwork and constructive relationships that identified and supported the inclusion of students with high and very high needs.
  • Using innovative and flexible practices that managed the complex and unique challenges related to including students with high and very high needs.

By 2015, ERO reported that three-quarters of schools surveyed were operating an inclusive model. “The ‘mostly inclusive’ schools were more likely to have a coordinated, systematic approach, working strategically to provide for students with special education needs, and ensure they make progress and experience success.”

Sally Jackson says inclusion is in language and mindset as well as practice. She is eager to see a continued shift away from anything that perpetuates an ‘us and them’ kind of attitude.

Twenty years ago, she says, there was a tendency to refer to anything relating to a child or a young person with a disability as ‘special education’ and curriculum design would sometimes lack a focus on children with learning support needs.

“If a family has a child with a disability, they don’t set them aside because they’re different. And nor should schools.”

Sally says teachers can’t expect to be experts in every single impairment – that’s where collaboration with others comes in.

“If this child isn’t learning the way that I have been teaching, then I need to do something different. I need to change my teaching. It isn’t the child who needs to do something different. None of us has got all the answers; the key to success is collaboration and working as a team and that includes the young person and their family, putting all the ideas together.”

Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs) have played a key role for many years, in leading this collaboration between school and whānau to help support the learning and social needs of students with special education needs and disabilities.

The Learning Support Delivery Model (LSDM) brings together learning support services in a community so all children and young people in that community can benefit from shared expertise. Clusters of schools, kura, early childhood education (ECE) and kōhanga reo work together with their SENCOs or Learning Support Coordinators, RTLB and Ministry facilitators to identify needs across their community and decide how best to use resources.

Iain Taylor, Manurewa Kāhui Ako leader and principal of Manurewa Intermediate School, says the LSDM is proving transformational, particularly the support provided by Learning Support Coordinators (LSCs). The LSCs were employed when the Kāhui Ako established its LSDM at the beginning of 2020, among the first tranche of LSCs to be allocated across the country.

“These LSCs are in our schools, they’re seeing teachers on a daily basis and I’m seeing our teachers developing a higher knowledge of learning support,” he says.

“And whilst they’re there to help children with learning disabilities and additional learning needs, their expertise is permeating into our school so those kids who are below the line, so to speak, but above the line of the needs of the kids that the LSCs were set up to support, are also being addressed more effectively.

“They’re helping with the identification and planning for the needs of kids in our schools; they’re starting to connect with a range of specialist supports and services so they’re able to make direct connections with the likes of other Ministry expertise and resource teachers, and all that will feed into part of their overall plan.”

Iain says the weekly meetings of LSCs, SENCOs and Ministry staff have allowed communication to “open up”, and the formation of strong working relationships.

“It was also a way of encouraging schools to have consistent protocol across our schools. They’re able to problem-solve and improve the data systems.”

Given the disruptions of 2020, Iain says he was expecting the end of year data to be “horrific”. Instead he was happily surprised by good results, an achievement he says was greatly helped by the LSCs who joined the school shortly before lockdown.

“When Covid hit, the LSCs were right there collaborating with the leadership team and classroom teachers to develop hard copy resources that kids would be able to do at home on their own.”

It’s one of a number of successes that he attributes to the LSDM.

“In their year with us, the LSCs have had a big impact embedding a cultural collaboration between the LSCs and the SENCOs in our schools as well as our Ministry Service Manager. This is the first time that we’ve been able to cajole everyone together and that collaboration is pretty significant.”

School-whānau connections have been strengthened too.

“Because LSCs are not rushed with a hundred thousand other jobs like SENCOs or DPs, they’ve been able to take time to establish those relationships with the parents and the parents are feeling more listened to.

“We’ve also placed LSCs in a space away from the hierarchy, so to speak, so that parents can feel comfortable.”

 

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