Learning support proposals met with disappointment

The long awaited parliamentary select committee report into learning needs of students with dyslexia, autism and dyspraxia has just been released – and it is a fizzer, says the Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand.

So much so that several members of the select committee have declined to support the report, including Green Party education spokesperson Catherine Delahunty, who helped initiate the inquiry. Instead they have compiled a Minority View section of the report, outlining 26 recommendations designed to give the main report more teeth.

The Foundation is now urging the Government to implement the Minority Report recommendations, saying the main report is “well meaning but ineffectual unless tougher recommendations are implemented”.

“It would be a crime if the thousands of hours invested by the many individuals, students and organisations that made submissions to the select committee, and by the select committee in analysing and organising this information is all for nothing. We need the minister to show some leadership in this.

“If the Minority Report is not adopted, then the system will continue going in circles with limited funds available to support these students. We support calls for the rights of students with learning differences to be enshrined in the Education Act, for the urgent collection of data so the issues and progress are measurable, and for increased special education funding to be made available to address the needs of said number of children.”

Teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa says the report “has some positive developments” but also raises several concerns.

The proposed single point of access for parents, whānau, schools and local communities would be welcomed, said NZEI president Louise Green, and teachers and parents had long been asking for a single contact point.

“The concern is that there is still no more funding, even though the ministry acknowledges that the number of children needing learning support is growing, and principals are reporting that the significant needs of children in their schools are not being met,” she said.

“There is no detail around who will staff the learning support teams and lead practitioner roles. If they are existing specialist staff, this reduces the available expertise needed by individual children. If the role is to be taken by teachers or special education needs coordinators (SENCOs) in schools, a lack of resourcing for the extra responsibility will be an issue.”

Ms Green welcomed the acknowledgement that more speech language therapists were needed and that the eight-year cap on frontline staff could be lifted. 

“However, they have also signalled a move to some private provision of services, even though it would be more cost-effective to use ministry-employed staff. Fewer children will be assisted if funding is going via private operators. We don’t want to see any privatisation of this essential public service for our children,” she said. Ms Green was pleased that the new service model would be trialled in one area first, but said many questions remained around the details of the model and their implications on students.

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