That’s just one of the proposals contained within the Government’s draft Disability and Learning Support Action Plan, announced by Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin last week.

The plan, which is now open for consultation, has children and young people at its heart, the Associate Minister said.

“We know that for too long, too many children have been missing out on the support that they need to participate and achieve in education,” she said.

“Once finalised, the Disability and Learning Support Action Plan will provide a clear structure and path for delivering this help.

“The goal is that we have an inclusive education system where children and young people with additional learning needs, including disabilities, are welcome, and where their achievement, progress, wellbeing and participation is valued and supported.”

There are four priority areas identified in the plan, which was developed in response to feedback from parents and whānau and the disability and education sectors.

The four priority areas are:

  • Improve the way children and young people are assessed for learning needs
  • Strengthen the range of supports for children and young people with disabilities and additional learning needs
  • Improve the way the education system responds to neurodiverse and gifted learners
  • Ensure that learning support is resourced for increased support and service delivery.

Specific proposals stemming from these priority areas include developing screening tools to help identify learning needs such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and giftedness when a child starts school, and the creation of a new role - learning support coordinator.

This role would build on the role of special needs coordinators (SENCOs) and would be the primary point of contact for parents and whānau, supporting them to work in partnership with the school while also supporting schools and kura to build the capability and knowledge base of teachers.

Learning support coordinators would also make connections for transitions from early learning services.

The proposal to create a learning support coordinator role within schools has been welcomed by primary teachers’ and principals’ union, NZEI Te Riu Roa.

“This is something that NZEI has been campaigning on for a long time - the formalisation of the SENCO role,” NZEI president Lynda Stuart said.

“The SENCO role has been tagged on to teachers’ and principals’ other duties, and with more children being identified as having additional needs, schools are struggling to get children the support they need."

A key claim of primary teachers and principals currently locked in collective bargaining negotiations is the employment of a SENCO in every school.

“We welcome this initiative, but we want to see it rolled into any final settlement of the Primary Teachers Collective Agreement, along with guarantees of funding in Budget 2019,” Stuart said.

She added it was critical that the new role was properly resourced, with release time for teachers taking up the role, professional development and financial recognition of the skills and expertise the job required.

In a statement, giftEDnz praised Martin’s plan to recognise and provide for giftedness as a special need.

“We are pleased that the Ministry intends to grow teacher capability to identify and provide for giftedness, and, hopeful, that will include advanced opportunities for in-depth teacher learning,” giftEDnz co-chair and doctoral student researcher, Justine Hughes said.

In its statement, the organisation noted that learning progress by gifted students in regular classrooms had likely been stifled by low expectations set by assessment systems like National Standards, and a lack of opportunity to work with like-minded peers due to funding cuts to specialist programmes.

Massey University’s Dean, Research, Tracy Riley, who is serving as secretary of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, added her voice to the statement and said the plan would make New Zealand’s education system more inclusive.

“This plan proposes a step change that will place New Zealand amongst a small number of countries, like Scotland, that acknowledge the special needs of gifted students, as part of a fully inclusive education system,” she said.

“In my 22-year career as an academic in this field, the debate around whether we should include gifted in special education or not has never been resolved.

“Perhaps now is the time to include our gifted,” she added.

Minister Martin said the draft plan will benefit children and young people who are already supported, as well as those who are currently missing out.

“We want to ensure every child with learning challenges has access to the tools and professionals they need,” she said.

The final plan will be phased in over several years and any new actions will need funding before being implemented.

Consultation on the draft Disability and Learning Support Action Plan will run until October 31.