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Specialist teachers could face cuts

Resource teachers of learning and behaviour (RTLB) are in high demand, yet in 2024 there could be a reduction in their numbers.

A group of teachers have delivered a petition to Jan Tinetti, Minister of Education, calling on the government to not reduce the numbers of resource teachers of learning and behaviour (RTLB).

The petition included over 5700 signatures from RTLB and their colleagues. 

In May, 30 clusters of RTLB out of the country’s 40 were advised they may face a reduction in numbers. These cuts were projected from a roll-based staffing formula for RTLB which is being called outdated. The formula is dependent on the number of children at school.  

“In our hardest hit areas, the ratio has dropped so [the MoE] are calling for a reduction in RTLB numbers. Obviously that is a huge shock to the RTLB whānau,” says Tauranga RTLB Nik Smith, who presented the petition to Tinetti in her Tauranga office.  

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In recent years, teachers have reported an increasing need for specialist support. Currently, one in five tamariki require extra support for learning difficulties, physical and mental health and behavioural challenges.  

Anna Hailes, a primary school Deputy Principal in the Otago region and specialist learning needs coordinator says that RTLB are an invaluable resource for her school and others, providing critical support for tamariki. 

“They are incredible advocates,” says Hailes. She notes that for many whānau, formal assessment of dyslexia or other learning difficulties are inaccessible due to cost and wait-times. RTLBs provide “immediate support” which is invaluable to progressing learning.  

“We are crying out for more RTLB,” says Hailes. “It makes no sense that they should be facing cuts. If anything, we need more specialist support.”  

RTLB often provide essential immediate support for those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia. AdobeStock by vejaa

Smith agrees, saying “removing RTLB is shockingly irresponsible and detrimental to tamariki most in need of support.” 

“Disruptions related to Covid-19 caused a tsunami wave of wellbeing issues for tamariki and we’re only now seeing the impact of this. This coupled with the cost-of-living crisis means we’re seeing behaviour referrals increase dramatically. Tamariki are also experiencing ongoing trauma from poverty, housing insecurity, and climate change.   

“It is no secret that students’ learning needs have grown in complexity and number. The current formula is outdated and must change so it addresses the myriad of needs displayed by ākonga and professed by kaiako. That we might now reduce our staffing because of an old formula based on the number of students on a school’s roll is absolutely ridiculous.”   

Smith is part of the Tauranga Moana cluster of RTLB staff that cover 67 schools in the area. There are 42 RTLB on staff. Although their cluster is not facing cuts Smith says that the number of referrals has increased. Manager of the Tauranga Moana cluster Marie Petersen said: 

“We’re here on behalf of clusters that are really hurting, particularly in areas with high Māori [populations], high poverty. It’s just a hard service to lose, schools are relying on it.” 

Specialist teachers could be facing cuts. Photo: AdobeStock by xixinxing

In response, Tinetti has said the MoE are speaking to officials to ensure the importance of RTLB are understood.  

“RTLBs are our specialist teacher workforce. I don’t think people understand this huge resource that we’ve got and the potential for difference that they can make.”  

Minister of Education operations and integration leader Sean Teddy said the ministry is currently reviewing staffing for the 2024 school year.  

“Clusters will soon have these decisions which may include reductions or increases based on the July roll-return data for each cluster.”  

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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