Some answers on special needs

Tracey Martin.
Tracey Martin.
Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin has attempted to quell concerns about the Government's plan to introduce 600 new learning support co-ordinators who will work with special needs pupils.

Over the next four years, the Government will invest $217million in a new workforce of educational professionals, who will work alongside teachers, parents and other professionals, to ensure children with diverse learning needs get the support they need to learn.

However, principals have raised concerns about whether the new LSC roles will be purely administrative or include classroom work with special needs pupils, whether they will be fulltime or part-time positions, if the roles will be filled by trained teachers or teacher aides, and if placement of the 600 co-ordinators will be decided using a roll-based or needs-based system.

Ms Martin said it was still early, but was able to confirm LSCs would not be sitting in the classroom helping children with their learning, on a day-to-day basis.

Rather, they would deliver a series of screening tools for dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and those children on the very mild end of the autism spectrum.

They would also support and provide advice to teachers and teacher aides on how to work with particular children in the classroom.

She said it would be a fulltime job for fully qualified teachers who would build on the skills they already have, ''in the same way that resource teachers of learning and behaviour do now''.

They would be trained in professional development workshops by organisations like the Dyslexia Foundation.

''Whatever it is that we need to professionally develop them into, that is what will happen for the learning support co-ordinators.''

While many principals were concerned that pulling teachers from the classroom to fill the LSC positions would exacerbate the teacher shortage crisis, Ms Martin did not believe it would.

She said the positions would not be implemented until the start of 2020, by which time it was hoped the teacher shortage would be rectified.

''[Education Minister] Chris Hipkins and I are very confident that we have the numbers.

''We believe we are on track to have a registered and qualified teacher in front of every classroom from the beginning of next year.''

Ms Martin said she was still working with the Ministry of Education to decide how the 600 co-ordinators would be allocated to schools, but preferred a needs-based model.

''We should be looking at schools where 30% or more of their roll have complex or moderate learning needs.

''I'm still to nut out what is the best way to identify where I'm going to place the first 600.

''I'm not a major proponent for just doing everything based on decile, because it's such a blunt instrument.

''I'm looking for something more nuanced than that.''

She said this was just the first tranche of LSCs to be funded.

''Minister Hipkins and I will be pushing as fast as possible for the next tranche to be funded and rolled out.

''This is about spreading the support for our children. It's not a silver bullet to inclusion.

''It's just one step on a pathway to making the system a much better system for all our students.''

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