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Katrina Casey, Deputy Secretary of Education Sector Enablement and Support Speech 11th March 2020

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. I just want to start by saying that it's not it's not often that you get to see that things that sort of start years ago come to fruition. As you can imagine, every year we have lots of great ideas and it takes us some time to work our way through various barriers and mechanisms put in the way and this one has been a long time coming. I want to talk a little bit about the Learning Support Action Plan, which you have a copy of, and a little bit about what the priorities are, here, so that you can see the work that is still to come.

And I just want to start with the vision, really. The vision that is sitting in the Learning Support Action Plan is your vision and my vision and the vision of parents and whānau for kids all the way through the education system. Actually, not just through the education system, but throughout their lives.

In a way, I'm pleased to say that Learning Support is actually, the changes we're making there, is ahead of most of the other education changes that will come through in the next three to five years. And it really is because we did take the time to talk to a lot of people.  The first thing that happened really might seem insignificant, but it was to move away from the concept of Special Education and talk about Learning Support. This was partly because nobody in the whole of the education system had a line of sight across all of the needs of children and young people and all of the potential supports available for children and young people to assist with their learning, whether it was all of the time, some of the time, or parts of their education journey.

So Learning Support is not about Special Education. Special Education, as we used to call it, is part of Learning Support. The term denotes any kind of support that a child needs to help them with their learning. And that is a huge change, because it means over time it widens quite significantly the resources that we have available. It also means that for the first time, the Ministry will, working with you, look right across the system, not just at the services that the Ministry delivers. And we want you to work with us so that we are able to present a much more coherent learning support system as time goes on, and that we are able to go to government with prioritised funding requests.

The Learning Support Delivery Model

The key thing that I just need you to understand is you can't do this by yourselves. The simple way that I like to look at it is that your job is largely to know about the needs, identify the needs, some of which will need to have our help. Our job is to help you get access to the services and supports you need.

So I don't actually envisage you're going to be running around a lot trying to work out we should get help from. I envisage we will be doing that. That's why the Service Managers are sitting in the middle of that picture. That doesn't mean that you can't run around and find support because we all have connections and those connections are really valuable and we're not saying that you must go through a bureaucratic process via the Service Managers - that is not what we're saying.

What we're saying is we need to see how this works, but actually, Service Managers should find you the support you need. If you already have that support within your cluster or you know your contacts elsewhere and you know how to get it quickly, then by all means you do that. This is not a bureaucracy. It's not a hierarchy. It is about a team.

6 Priorities of the Learning Support Action Plan

There are six priorities in the plan and there are a range of actions underneath all of them. You will note that Priority 1 is you. So we were, Minister Martin was, able to get $217 million dollars for 623 Learning Support Coordinators. That is Tranche 1. The aim is to have a learning support coordinator for every 500 students. That means we would need around about 1800 of you.

Priority 2 is about screening. So we're busy working away on this. We have got a lot of work underway with Health, for example. So we are thinking and working with Health on whether the before-school-check should be brought back to age 3 and whether there should be a check, a health check done perhaps age 6 or 7, and screening at that point.

And also we think that there is room to be at least discussing at this stage a health check at teen, a teen health check as well.

So for that, that is our second priority. We need to be able to find out more and support schools more and early learning centres earlier, when it comes to the health of our children and young people, particularly our interest which is as it affects their learning.

Early intervention is a priority for us. We have been struggling under wait lists and wait times for this area where we have been given funding over the last two years, we have managed to recruit a large number of additional specialists.

We're doing quite a lot of work with the universities and with scholarships and internships and anything that we can think of to get more folk in to particularly speech language therapists. This must be an area where we make a major hit and it will benefit you if we do. A child that is supported at age 3 will start school in a much better state than if they were not supported at all.

Priority 4. Flexible support for neuro-diverse children and young people. One of the things that this comes from is that, there has been a pattern of learned behaviour over the last few years. Which, you know, we're guilty of promoting, and that is that because the Ministry focuses its service delivery on top of the triangle high complex needs, parents and schools feel like they have to make the child have the worst possible needs they possibly can have in order to get some kind of support.  So the kids that are missing out are not the ORS kids. The kids that are missing out are those that have the moderate and low needs and that's partly why you'll see quite a bit in the plan about other kinds of needs and what we need to be doing.

Fifth priority is gifted children and young people. This is a forgotten group of kids quite often, but actually they do have learning support needs and it isn't right to leave them to their own devices. Now note that we have dropped the terminology that people used to use, which was gifted and talented young people. And the reason for that is that, as you well know, every child has got, is, every child is talented. We might not understand at this point what their talents are, but every child is talented. Not every child is gifted in the way that we're talking about here. So there has been some material or resource worked on over the last 12 months in this area and it will continue to be a priority.

The last priority is around improving education for those children and young people at risk of disengaging. So there is a major redesign underway here. And we've got a couple of pilots underway, a couple of the attendance service contracts, one really big one in Auckland and one in Kawerau, we dropped the contracts because they weren't performing and we are working with the schools in those two areas on a school-based model.

So those six priorities are very, very practical priorities. They are what we have heard. They are what ministers and government has heard. They are all under some form of action or another at this point, and they are all relevant to you.

It is fundamental change for how we think about supporting our children and young people and yes, you are part of that. That is not mean to scare you. It is meant to say ‘please don't wait for a perfect set of answers’. There isn't going to be any. We need you to try some stuff, work with us. See what's actually going to work, what’s going to be needed. Drop the bureaucracy around who does what and think about the child at the centre and how we're going to do that.

This is really the start for you, the start of your journeys. It isn't an end point, you’re not going to get all the answers. You will have more on the Learning Support Register. This is going to be the first time in our history that we're going to be able to roll up needs data from a school level to a region level, or a cluster level to a region level, to a national level.

Ultimately, this is going to provide the evidence for us to put stronger business cases together and to redesign how we operate both as a Ministry and with you and with other parts of the sector.

Next Steps

The next thing that will happen will be that the regional directors will get their LSCs together with service managers, RTLBs, and anybody else that needs to be in the next kind of meeting, and that will form the basis for how you start really working out, how you're going to work with the people around you.

And the only other thing I encourage you to think about is, you know, what does ‘team’ mean in this context? Because we've all been trying to do this all by ourselves and that doesn't work, we know that it doesn't work. We will be also evaluating Learning Support Coordinators. This is because largely we want to see if the concept is working and what adjustments we need to make to it, but also it's a requirement, a government requirement of all new initiatives that have large chunks of funding attached to them.

I have no concerns about this, this is the right thing to do. Putting the resource in school and not on the Ministry is the right thing to do. And I'm pretty sure the evaluation will demonstrate that this is the right thing for our children and young people.