The Learning Support Action Plan 2019-25 was announced on Friday by associate education minister Tracey Martin with the aim of helping children and young people with learning needs.

It came in response to feedback from education and disability sectors as well as students and families about the need to do a better job to meet young people’s diverse needs, Martin said.

The plan includes introducing learning support coordinators in schools, developing new screening tools for early identification, creating a flexible set of services for neurodiverse children, strengthening early intervention for pre-schoolers, better meeting the needs of gift young people and improving education for children at risk of disengaging.

An administrator for VIPS – Equity in Education NZ (an online advocacy and support group for families of children with special needs) Frian Wadia, said she supported the plan but it needed more work.

“We’re really grateful and thrilled that there’s this first step towards addressing the challenges schools face with regards to moderate and mild needs.”

Following the rollout of learning support coordinators in schools and other initiatives the plan would need to be monitored and reviewed with feedback from families, she said.

“It’s a good start but we definitely need to see more happening and build upon it, which the minister’s already indicated.”

The plan also needed to be done in collaboration with frequent professional development of both learning support coordinators and all teachers, she said.

IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant said the plan is promising because it shows the government’s commitment to inclusive education and acknowledgement that disabled students’ rights to education have not been met but more funding would be needed.

“While we see the plan prioritises new ways of working, we don’t see the investment in children and schools that we were hoping for that will make a tangible difference for disabled students today.”

The plan has recognised the need for more capacity in initial teacher training and development but has not detailed how the funding would work for this, she said.

“It’s hard to envision how the problems students are experiencing currently will change anytime soon.

“Does this Action Plan address all the problems the system currently creates for disabled children and their teachers? No, but the emphasis on disabled children’s rights to education is welcomed.”

NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart said the union was still considering the plan and its ramifications.

“However, it’s clear that to make a real difference for children needing learning support, considerable funding will be required.

“The success of the plan depends on whether the government makes that funding available and how quickly.”

Associate education minister Martin said the government’s first two budgets combined have provided new funding for learning support of $619.7 million.

This includes additional funding of $29.6 million to response to population and demand growth as well as funding for the new learning support coordinators who will start work from January 2020.

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