Te Kura O Okiwi. Photo via Auckland Council

Barrier Schools Face Learning Support Crisis – NZEI

Rural school principals across New Zealand, including those on Great Barrier Island, are facing a dire shortage of learning support specialists, warns Jane Corcoran from the education union NZEI Te Riu Roa. The issue is particularly acute in isolated areas, where access to essential services like speech language therapists and psychologists is severely limited.

“A national shortage of learning support specialists means rural principals are always on the back foot when it comes to getting learning support for their students because those specialists are hard to come by in isolated areas,” says Corcoran, principal at Brunswick school in Whanganui.

“Those that do travel long distances to support a student in an isolated place like Great Barrier Island end up overworked, and that takes a toll on everyone trying to meet those children’s needs.”

The lack of specialists means that many rural schools are unable to meet the diverse learning needs of their students, leaving teachers and principals burnt out, and struggling to fill the gaps. In many cases, principals of small, isolated schools find themselves taking on the roles of both teacher and learning support coordinator, adding a significant burden to an already demanding workload, she says.

“Providing adequate support for a child with learning challenges requires identifying their needs, making referrals, liaising with agencies, then managing any recommended strategies and taking responsibility for ongoing monitoring and reporting,” says Corcoran.

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“This role lands solely on a teaching principal’s desk in many small and isolated schools. It’s a huge job and takes up many extra hours on top of a full principal workload.”

The Minister of Finance delivered Budget 24, yesterday. In total, this year’s Vote Education package adds around $2.9 billion over the next 4 years to improve student outcomes. The additional funding increases the total investment in schools and early childhood education by 3.6% in the coming year to $19.1 billion.

The NZEI is calling on the government to address the inequity faced by rural schools by providing more funding for staffing and resources.

“What rural schools need is more funding for staffing so we can attract the best and the brightest people into our communities and retain them,” says Corcoran. “The Government risk putting us at a disadvantage precisely because of our rural status and because we can’t access secure funding.”

The union is also urging the government to address the national shortage of learning support specialists and to ensure that all students, regardless of their location, have access to the support they need to succeed.


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