The mother of a 10-year-old autistic girl believes introducing 600 specifically trained teachers into schools to support children with special learning needs is a big a step in the right direction.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday the first 600 dedicated staff to support special learning needs such as dyslexia, autism, physical disabilities and behavioural problems would be introduced into primary and secondary schools from the start of 2020.
They would work alongside teachers, parents and other professionals to give students individualised support, she said.
Whangarei woman Lynne Hansen gets a text or call from her daughter Amy's school about twice a week asking her to collect her because they don't know how or have the resources to deal with her.
Amy has sensory sensitivities so can get overwhelmed and agitated after lunch and without the teachers understanding her needs, it's the best way to avoid a meltdown.
But it means Amy misses out on a lot of lessons - something Hansen is hopeful the new learning support co-ordinators will be able to address by working closer with the teachers and students and understanding their needs from the start.
"For our little girl because she's so intelligent it's not obvious in some situations. In others it is obvious. She really struggles to be part of the school environment.
"Teachers need to understand what makes up a diagnosis of autism and the difficulties to support a child effectively."
Ardern called the announcement "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."
The co-ordinators would not only help unlock the potential of thousands of children with learning needs, they would free up teachers so all children get more quality classroom time to learn.
The commitment to more staff will cost $217 million over four years will be from next year's Budget and comes on top of an extra $272.8 million in the 2018 Budget operational spending for learning support.
New Zealand First MP and Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin has been leading the work to develop a new model for delivering learning support in schools.
"These co-ordinators will be a specialised point of contact for parents with someone who understands their child's unique learning needs," Martin said.
"They'll also provide expert assistance for teachers. They will work alongside classroom teachers to ensure all students with needs – including disabilities, neurodiversity, behavioural issues and giftedness – get the support they should expect."
Altogether Autism national manager Catherine Trezona was cautiously optimistic a specialised role would help right the current education system that was failing the majority of autistic children.
"We've got so many instances of children that have been stood down because there's not the capacity or the capability to work with them effectively in the school. So that's not inclusive education."
Altogether Autism was keen to be involved in the training of the teachers to make sure they had the skills to address the complex learning needs of autistic children, she said.
NZEI president Lynda Stuart said the announcement was a big win for children, teachers and principals.
"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."