Govt commits funds for kids with learning difficulties

By Talisa Kupenga

The government has announced $217mil over four years for a new education workforce to help children with diverse learning needs from 2020. The funds are already committed from next year's budget.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement at the closing of the Labour Party conference in Dunedin and calls it a  “game changer”.

”If a child needs support and is not getting it, that's not fair and I'm not prepared to tolerate it,” she says.

“It will be a game changer for teachers, who've been crying out for these roles, so they're freed up to do what they do best- teach.”

Six hundred new full-time learning support coordinators will work alongside the one-in-five Kiwi students with learning and behavioural needs.  This includes students with dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism.

They will be registered teachers and operate similar to Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCOs), a role which is often an additional responsibility for existing teachers and funded through their school's own budget.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says, "We'll ultimately need at least twice as many as that but that is going to be subject to future budget rounds. This is a pretty big instalment, an extra 600 teachers in the current environment by 2020 is something very ambitious and we're going to have to work very hard to ensure we can fill those jobs."

The programme will extend to 2,500 schools throughout the country and will include Māori immersion schools.  However, with a teacher shortage and a shortage of fluent te reo Māori teachers this could present a challenge.

Hipkins says, "We're going to have to have have a specific workforce strategy around te reo Māori speakers and that's what we're considering as part of the overall education workforce plan.  There is no question we need a lot more te reo Māori teachers in this education system generally."

Once the first tranche is complete and the workforce needs become more clear, planning for the programme's second phase will begin.