Six-hundred new positions specifically to help children with special learning needs will start going into New Zealand schools by the start of 2020.
That is the pledge made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her keynote speech to the Labour Party conference in Dunedin.
Presently there are staff in schools who work with children who need extra support, but it is paid for out of existing school budgets and is often on a part-time basis; this new money will pay for full-time learning support coordinators outside of those budgets.
They will help children with physical or intellectual disabilities, and those with the likes of dyslexia, or behavioural problems.
They will also be a point of contact for parents.
Ms Ardern said one in five New Zealand children needed extra help in the classroom, but support had been lacking.
“A big concern I hear regularly from teachers is the amount of time they spend trying to get support for children with additional needs.
“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.”
The policy would be rolled out in two phases, Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said.
However, the numbers and funding for the second phase had not yet been finalised.
“We’ve inherited a significant teacher shortage and implementation of the new role in full from the beginning of 2020 would place huge pressure on the education workforce supply”, said Ms Martin.
Feedback from public consultation would help to inform what the job description looked like, she said, and the best place for the coordinators, including the split between rural and urban schools.
There are 2500 state or integrated primary and secondary schools so there would not be a coordinator in every school. Their placement was more likely to be decided on a ratio per number of students, and depending on the level of need.
It will cost $217-million over four years and will be in the 2019 Budget, and will fund the salaries and professional development for the first 600 coordinators.
Ms Ardern’s speech was the first time she had addressed the Labour Party membership since winning the election, and she acknowledged their support.
“That means my first order of business is a very simple one – to say thanks.
“When I took over the leadership from [former Labour leader] Andrew [Little] at the beginning of August last year, the election was seven weeks away.
“I said we’d run the campaign of our lives. And we did.”
Ms Ardern drew on Labour prime ministers past in her speech, quoting Norman Kirk and Michael Joseph Savage as they responded to voters of their time.
She herself talked about the letters she received from the public, making a subtle point about men and women in politics in her early days as an MP.
“I still remember, as a brand new member of parliament, being given the opportunity to feature alongside a National Party MP in a weekly breakfast TV slot known as ‘The Young Guns’.
“One day I received an email from a member of the public politely advising me that she thought my hair clashed with the National MP, and perhaps I should consider dying it.
“I replied that perhaps she could make the same suggestion to the other MP. After all, his hair was shorter.”