Another 70,000 children across New Zealand will have easier access to additional learning support services, following the expansion of a pilot in three Bay of Plenty Communities of Learning (CoL).
The pilot involves a Ministry of Education senior staff member working directly with the schools and early learning services in the CoL as a facilitator making sure that the children are accessing what works best for them. When additional needs are identified a key worker then becomes the one point of contact for the student, their family, teachers and other specialists.
Education Minister Nikki Kaye says the new process has made access to learning support faster and more flexible to meet the needs of the children and young people.
“This is about identifying at a much earlier stage the most appropriate support for each child. So rather than parents and teachers filling in multiple forms to request different types of support, or dealing with multiple people across the Ministry they have one person who knows their child.”
The pilot will now be expanded out to another 70,000 children in early learning services and schools in another 30 CoLs across the country.
However, the Ministry has been criticised for limiting the special education reform to CoLs.
Education union NZEI Te Riu Roa’s president Lynda Stuart says every child in every school, regardless of whether it is in a CoL or not, must have equitable access to learning support.
“To design a new special education system that discriminates against children based on whether the school they attend is in a Community of Learning or not is abhorrent,” she says.
New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick agrees.
“What the Minister is proposing is not solutions for the teachers of young people with severe behaviour disorders. This is another layer of bureaucracy for CoL,” he says.
Labour’s education spokesperson Chris Hipkins also says schools shouldn’t be punished for choosing a different path.
“The reality is that demand for learning support services is rising and this Government refuses to invest in the resources to meet it. For instance, more than 500 applications for the Ongoing Resource Scheme are being declined each year, yet the Government has reduced forecast funding for ORS by 50 student places,” says Hipkins.
The Ministry estimates around one in ten of the children involved will require extra support for a variety of reasons.
“Nationally we will be placing the equivalent of up to 15 Ministry of Education senior staff as facilitators across the participating Communities to coordinate learning support, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results. We are changing the way these people work to free up this resource,” says Kaye.
The Minister points to other benefits that have come out of the pilot, including earlier intervention and better links with local health services.
She gave the example of the Learning Support Facilitator for the Otumoetai Community of Learning established a connection with local health services that resulted in the Bay of Plenty District Health Board providing funding for a dedicated Child and Adolescent Mental Health Practitioner to support the Community with its mental health priorities.
The process has also allowed groups of children across CoLs to be supported together. The Taupo CoL worked with a group of students on oral language needs, for example.
“This is part of my desire to see us move to a system where we better assess the additional learning or health needs of children and deliver more flexible and faster services to support their personal needs,” says Kaye.