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Source: New Zealand Government

Tēnā koutou tēnā koutou katoa

I’m delighted to be speaking with you about a subject that is so close to all our hearts – strengthening supports in schools and kura for the one in five children and young people who need additional support to learn.

I was looking through the list of participants this morning and see that you cover one end of the country to the other.

This is important work, and has been a driving force for me throughout my education and parliamentary careers.

As a teacher and primary school principal for 27 years, I appreciate the expertise and experience you bring to these roles.

I know first-hand how invaluable it is, having you working collaboratively to identify the students who need the additional support and to help connect them, their whānau and teachers with what they need.

All of us know some young people who have perhaps more moderate learning support needs – and neurodiverse and gifted children too – who may not have received the help they need in the past.

The experience that we all have had in our classrooms shows us how important your work is to help these children to succeed.

It’s now been just over a year since the first Learning Support Coordinators – a new dedicated, fully-released role for experienced teachers – started work in 1,052 individual schools and kura around the country, grouped in 124 clusters, serving 300,000 of our learners.

Last week, I was very happy to have the opportunity to meet last week the team of LSCs for the Newlands Community of Learning near Wellington.

I was visiting Newlands Intermediate to learn more about what you do on the ground to help students and whānau, and teaching staff.

That team is doing great work across the Intermediate, Newlands College, and local primary schools.

One of the things they are concentrating on is really helping students to transition smoothly between schools. The five LSCs across the community have also run workshops to upskill teacher aides.

And the school also kindly hosted an event at which I released a report on the initial evaluation of LSCs – which shows implementation has got off to a great start.

Before I talk about the evaluation, I want to acknowledge my predecessor – Hon Tracey Martin – for ensuring a strong evaluation phase in the setup of LSCs, which is ensuring the job description is fit for purpose.

But also, I want to thank all of you for being part of this evolution in how we provide learning support – it’s clear that LSCs are doing excellent work to assist the one in five students who need some level of additional support for their learning.

The Evaluation Report shows LSCs are off to a strong start. LSCs are working in dedicated roles in schools and kura, coordinating a team of school leaders, teachers in the classroom, whānau and other learning support staff to better assist ākonga with learning support needs.

We’re seeing positive benefits for teachers, students and whānau, and this evaluation means we can continuously improve the role and we can fine-tune how we assist students with learning support needs.

The findings show LSCs are proving effective in working with whānau as a ‘bridge’ between home and school. This is something I am particularly passionate about. Parents appreciate being able to talk to you – rather than having to have individual relationships with every one of their children’s teachers. It is just so valuable.

We have consistently heard that parents, educators and whānau place a high priority on having a dedicated learning support role in schools, and the evaluation shows how important the team approach in learning support is.

The first tranche of LSCs are an “extra helpful person” – adding much needed capacity and capability within their schools, kura, and across communities – including better engaging with learning support services such as Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB).

You are helping schools and kura to support all students with learning support needs – not just those with the highest and most pressing needs.

And I know many teachers in the classroom – especially those beginning their careers – will be gaining excellent skills and confidence from your guidance.

This is an aspect of the evaluation that excited me the most. Often we forget that teacher training includes the first two years in the classroom. Many starting out feel overwhelmed and under-prepared to deliver the best for their students who require learning support. You are helping to build their confidence and capacity – thank you.

Overall, it’s clear you are really filling that gap that was clearly identified through the 2016 Select Committee enquiry to improve identification and support for children and young people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism.

This report is the first of three evaluation phases – so we can get a full picture of how the role is going, and how we can help you to make refinements as needed.

For example, we can see from the feedback that working in one school is much simpler than working across multiple schools.

After all, the LSC role is so dependent on relationships, which can be more challenging when working across multiple schools where there may be differing ideas about the scope of the role.

Equally most of you work alongside a SENCO and schools and clusters need to consider how the two roles can best complement each other in a team approach that meets local needs.

I know this is an area that is still developing – but I was excited to hear the SENCO at Newlands Intermediate tell me last week that the LSCs are allowing her to work with low and moderate needs children for the first time ever – something I could only have imagined and dreamed of for my SENCO.

RTLB staff’s understanding of the LSC role varies – but they see your ability to work with families and whānau as a real improvement in what the system has offered in the past.

The next phase of the evaluation will draw on the perspectives of an even broader range of stakeholders, including more whānau voice.

As you know, the Learning Support Action Plan is the roadmap to 2025 for how we will be improving the provision of learning support for our tamariki.

And getting LSCs working in schools is the first of the six priorities that we’ve started with.

The other priorities have also progressed. For example, last year all LSCs, and all schools in New Zealand, received a kete of resources to help identify and support learners with dyslexic-type traits. We are developing other tools and flexible supports for neurodiverse learners, as well as looking at how we can strengthen early intervention so that children’s learning needs are identified early and promptly responded to.

Opportunities for gifted learners to extend and challenge their learning and support their wellbeing have already been developed – like the Awards for Gifted Learners and other events and opportunities outside the classroom. This will continue to evolve over time.

We’re also taking a closer look at how to improve supports for those at risk of disengaging – it’s vital we assist our young people to stay engaged or to re-engage.

As the Learning Support Action Plan continues, I am confident we will see continued progress towards better learning outcomes for all children and young people, particularly those who have additional learning support needs.

Looking ahead I can see there’s potential to develop the LSC role further. We are doing this carefully, and deliberately taking a phased approach to rolling out coordinators across schools.

This is why the evaluation phase is so important. It’s important we get this right.

We’ve inherited a significant teacher shortage, and planning for the second phase will be worked through as a clearer picture emerges of medium and long term workforce needs.

As LSCs you are uniquely placed to understand what and where the needs are and to work with teachers across your cluster to plan inclusive practices and systems for all learners, as well as targeted and individualised supports.

And it’s worth remembering your efforts are being complemented, and indeed are a part of, other major education work programmes underway – including those driving improvements for Māori and Pacific learners.

We’ve released strategies that set the direction on how we will achieve our 30-year vision for an education system that values the culture, identity and language of Māori and Pacific learners. These are Ka Hikitia, Tau Mai Te Reo; and the Action Plan for Pacific Education.

The good news is 70 percent of respondents from schools reported strong confidence in your abilities to respond to the cultural needs of Māori and Pacific learners. So, well done!

We’re looking at how the LSC works best in the Kura Kaupapa Māori and other Māori-medium settings. The roles for some LSCs are being adapted organically in kura to suit local needs.  This is the benefit of getting feedback early in the implementation – we can make the changes necessary to ensure future success.

I applaud those of you who have taken part in the on-line network that’s been developed to support your PLD and enable you to keep updated and network with your colleagues.

Hundreds of you have used the Learning Support Toolkit or registered to take advantage of the Network of Expertise launched last year. This is where you will get the latest information about new resources and developments in the learning support space.

And the Ministry’s regional offices will continue to hold local meetings and workshops with clusters and learning support communities to further strengthen networks and induct any new LSCs.

Please keep using this network, these resources and contacts at the offices to talk with each other and to share your experiences and expertise.

We’ve come a long way since the days when children with “special education” needs were denied access to our schools.

LSCs are at the forefront of helping to fulfil our vision – that we all share – for an inclusive education system where every child feels a sense of belonging, and where they are engaged – and making real progress. 

You may have read the article about the history of learning support in the 100th anniversary edition of the Education Gazette out recently

One of the leaders of the Manurewa Kāhui Ako – the Principal of Manurewa Intermediate School and a good friend – Iain Taylor, is quoted in this article saying the Learning Support Delivery Model is “proving transformational – particularly the support provided by you, as LSCs.”

“Transformational,” he says, “in helping our young learners achieve and reach their full potential. I couldn’t agree more.”

Iain and I don’t always agree on everything, but on this count I couldn’t agree more.

So, on that note, I say keep up this great work! I wish you all the very best with your role in our continued progress towards better learning outcomes for all young people, particularly those who have additional learning support needs.

You’re doing an incredible job, keep it up!

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa.

MIL OSI