The taskforce has reached many of the same conclusions reached by the Government that led it to table the new Learning Support delivery model and the draft Disability and Learning Support Action Plan last year. Basically, support available for students with learning support needs is typically highly fragmented and takes a long time to arrive.
The taskforce has leaned heavily on the new strategic measures which it hopes “will hopefully provide much needed coherence and increased funding and accessibility for these students and their parents”.
The big ticket item here is getting a learning support coordinator in every school.
Additionally it is looking to ensure that Initial Teacher Education providers do a better job of preparing teachers for the realities of teaching students with learning needs.
The Education Hubs would play a role in ensuring that enrolment schemes are fair so that children with disabilities or learning support needs are welcomed and supported at every school. The taskforce heard “too many examples” where the families of students with additional needs were discouraged from attending their local schools, or asked to contribute financially to the cost of teacher aides.
The Hubs would also employ specialist staff, RTLBs and teacher aides to meet the need where it exists across their schools, applying to national funding pools and liaising with health agencies as needed.
Where will learning support coordinators come from, given we’re in the middle of a teacher shortage?
As for the question of where we’ll find the people to work in the Education Hubs, the question of where we’ll find a learning support coordinator for every school is also something to be discussed when we get down to the nitty gritty. The taskforce report outlines how the allocation of learning support coordinators would be linked to school roll and degree of student socio-economic disadvantage.
The current SENCO system is thought to be inadequate. In a 2018 survey of school special needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) conducted by NZEI Te Riu Roa, it was revealed that many are struggling to get adequate support for the children and are swamped by the workload. The survey showed that 48 percent of respondents did not get any release time for their SENCO role and 30 percent do not receive any financial compensation for the role.
Will the Hubs provide schools with access to more specialized expertise?
The Disability and Learning Support Action Plan combined with Education Hubs could well mean that support is targeted to avoid a situation whereby children at some schools are supported while others at neighbouring schools are not.
Taskforce chair Bali Haque says it’s about creating a system where no child is left behind.
“That way we ensure that students do not get lost in the system and we ensure that students are given a really fair hearing and looked after. One of our key principles here is social justice and the welfare of children.”
As with many aspects of the report there is a real emphasis on the sharing expertise within and across schools and Hubs.
What about severe behaviour challenges?
This was a question posed by the Principals’ Federation and it’s a good point. More and more children with complex behavioural and learning needs are presenting at school each year.
The taskforce identified this concern in its report.
“While these principals/tumuaki are loathe to use the disciplinary process, they often feel like they are left with no options when they are told that little or no timely help is available to them to support the child concerned.”