The announcement of $217m in funding over four years for the positions was made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin on Sunday, at the Labour conference in Dunedin.
The Government pledged funding for approximately 600 Learning Support Coordinators to be employed as early as the start of 2020 in what Ardern called in a media release “the first tranche of these positions”.
It follows Martin’s release of the Draft Disability and Learning Support Action Plan in late September, which proposed the roles to support students with special learning needs.
“For too long these students have been poorly served by an underfunded system,” Martin explained.
“Our targeted investments, along with our work to streamline the support system, will reduce the issues parents and teachers face and lead to better student wellbeing.
“[Learning Support Coordinators] will work alongside classroom teachers to ensure all students with needs – including disabilities, neurodiversity, behavioural issues and giftedness – get the support they should expect.
“Feedback from public consultation, which has just closed, will inform what the final job description looks like and the appropriate ratios for both urban and rural schools.
“This will also inform the final number of coordinators,” she said.
The coordinators will be registered teachers, however the role is its own full-time job.
“The new Learning Support Coordinators are a win-win; kids with both high and moderate needs will get on-the-ground support, parents will have a specialised point of contact and teachers will have more time to teach,” Ardern said.
Meanwhile, NZEI Te Riu Roa noted that having a funded Learning Support Coordinator – also known as a Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) – position in every school has been one of its core claims in this year’s collective agreement negotiations.
NZEI President Lynda Stuart said the need for more support for children with additional learning needs has never been greater.
"It's a constructive response from the Government to the fact that the number of children with complex needs is growing, while the Learning Support Coordinator/SENCO job is currently being done on top of or squeezed in around the day job of principals, deputy principals and classroom teachers.
"This announcement potentially enables schools to release highly capable people into these roles and improve inclusion for all students.
“Although the current teacher shortage will make finding an additional 600 teachers challenging, the creation of this role will help support teachers and school leaders and reduce their workload – so making the job of a teacher better supported and more appealing.”
NZEI stated that despite the current shortage being experienced by the industry, it agreed with the Government that the new role should be filled by qualified teachers employed in and by schools.
It said those who filled the roles needed to be close to children and their whānau, understand the process of teaching and learning and be able to build capability in other teachers and education staff.
However, Alwyn Poole, Academic Advisor at Villa Education Trust, questioned the necessity of the roles being filled by registered teachers.
“It makes no sense.
"There are highly skilled people in the community able to do these jobs [like] ed psychs, there is already a teaching shortage and this takes people out of the classroom, and it is a non-teaching role,” he said.
“We have a genuine qualitative and quantitative shortage of teachers in New Zealand.
“We also rank 33rd in the OECD for overcoming socio-economic disadvantage.”
He noted that Villa had had similar roles in place in their partnership schools for five years.
And although the announcement goes some way to addressing a key claim made by NZEI in their collective bargaining, the rolling teacher strikes announced by the union will proceed next week.
Likewise, NZEI said facilitation at the ERA will continue this week.