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Schools angry they've missed out on long-awaited influx of learning support staff

The Government has responded to schools that have called the allocation of long-awaited learning support coordinators unfair, saying there’s a "misunderstanding".

“The learning support coordinators are not just for those children at their very high, complex physical end of what is this conversation, they’re for all those children in the middle and gifted end who’ve had no support at all for a number of years,” Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said.

NZEI President Lynda Stuart said there’s been a lot of feedback from schools around the country saying they don’t understand how the roles were allocated.

“We’ve got people who are really concerned about it being inequitable,” she said.

The first 623 coordinators will be working to support 1052 schools in communities around the country from next year, from a total of around 2500 schools, at a cost of $217 million.

“What we know is it works. It works better than what is a system that is currently broken,” Ms Martin said.

The role is designed to identify students in need of support in an area and make accessing services easier.

Ms Martin said she will be putting in a bid for more coordinators in next year’s budget, but may not secure as many and there is no guarantee.

“It’s in increments as I can manage to win over my colleagues, I suppose,” she said.

Ms Martin rejects criticism from some teachers that there’s been a lack of information about the learning support delivery model and requirement to be introducing the new system to be eligible for a coordinator.

She said the Ministry of Education has used various avenues for communication and reached out regionally to schools.

“I do want to know if they weren’t aware of the learning support delivery model, why not? Because it was implemented prior to my sitting in the seat.

“What we can see is, let’s say they were in a kāhui ako (support group of schools in same area) - the  lead principal may have been the person who was being contacted… but they may not have, they have not, passed that information down…” she said.

The associate minister said another reason is a principal might have been contacted about the learning support delivery model a year ago, expressed they didn’t want to participate, and since then have not read about it in ministry communication or other information channels. 

The voluntary model sees groups of schools coming together to raise common issues and share information about students in the same area. 

The Government says it will be in place around the country by the end of the year, but some schools are not convinced it’s effective.

Oropi principal Andrew King said a number of low-decile schools on the Tauranga Peninsula have missed out on a coordinator, and are crying out for more time to organise support for students in need.

He said the model is “very diagnostic”, which carries the danger of determining what a child’s learning need is without considering personal factors behind the need and personal solutions.

“They’ve made an assumption that the learning support model and tool is the solution to addressing the need of catering for our special needs children.

“I think it’s very dangerous if we get to the point where we’re labelling 90 kids… with anxiety… when actually we’re not identifying what is the cause behind that group of children having anxiety in the first place and what you will find is the cause is different for each child,” he said.

Mr King is calling on the Ministry of Education to hear the views of communities on how to improve learning support and said not enough schools have been included in consultation with the ministry. 

“We need those stories heard, not stories of success for those who are choosing to follow a top-down model that’s being put upon us.”

Greerton Village School board chairperson and parent Erika Harvey said with more than a quarter of the roll of 400 students needing learning support, there’s no reason why the school should have not been allocated a coordinator.

“'How could we not qualify?' is probably my question… If we don’t deserve one, who does,” she said.

“This is your worst case scenario and this is ours…Why I'm getting emails to say that I’ve got to now stop or cut staff and I'm have to choose between health and safety or following the law of inclusion, that's ridiculous!”

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Six hundred coordinators will start work next year at a cost of more than $200 million. Source: 1 NEWS