SPELD NZ responds to Government’s Draft Disability and Learning Support Action Plan

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Draft Disability and Learning Support Action Plan

Submission by SPELD NZ Inc 31 October 2018


SPELD NZ Inc makes the following submission to provide feedback on the proposals in the draft Action Plan, and identify priorities and any gaps.

SPELD NZ was established in the 1970s. For nearly 50 years we have been New Zealand’s most experienced and leading nationwide provider of diagnostic assessments and one to one specialised tuition for those with specific learning disabilities (SLD), like dyslexia.

  • We are a Private Training Establishment registered with NZQA as a Category 1 provider (with Excellent in all areas reviewed. We are accredited with NZQA to host a Level 3 Introduction to SLD course and a level 5 Certificate Course in Specific Learning Disabilities.
  • Our assessor training is recognised by NZ Council for Educational Research (distributor of Woodcock-Johnson diagnostic assessment tool)
  • Since our inception, we have trained thousands: teachers, specialist teachers such as RT:LB, RT:Lit, SENCO, DP, AP and Principals
  • We are research-based and our methods are proven to be successful[1]
  • Our assessment reports are recognised by NZQA for Special Assessment Conditions (SAC) for NCEA
  • Our teachers all have NZ recognised teaching qualifications, classroom teaching experience and hold our L5 Certificate. Due to the rigour of our training, ongoing Professional Development and appraisal programme, our teachers are able to maintain teacher registration with the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand
  • We support family, whanau, schools and employers by providing education, resources, information, advice and advocacy.
  • We are a registered charity and receive no Government funding. We do however receive referrals from schools (at parents’ cost) and from bodies such as ACC and Oranga Tamariki who pay the client costs.

SPELD NZ is delighted to see the announcement of the Disability and Learning Support Action Plan. We support the Government’s approach and are pleased to see that many of the recommendations following the Report by the Education and Science Select Committee, including our own recommendations (delivered at the Select Committee hearings, and also our submission to all members of Parliament dated July 2017) are being implemented.

  • Focus Area One

1.1   Definition of those needing extra learning support

By referring to ‘dyslexia and dyspraxia,’ for example, you are restricting and excluding the range of neurodiverse conditions to be taken into account in your Action Plan. Consider using standardised terminology ‘neurodiverse’ as the umbrella term for all Specific Learning Disabilities (including but not limited to dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia), as well as higher functioning autism spectrum disorder, gifted and ADHD.

1.1.1      Discourage the use of the term ‘assessment’ in your Action Plan. Feedback SPELD NZ has received shows that ‘Assessment’ is misunderstood by family/whanau as meaning the Action Plan will include a full diagnostic cognitive and educational assessment. Use instead a term such as ‘screening’ which more accurately describes the process.

1.2          Early Identification and intervention

1.2.1      We endorse the use of standardised screening at different stages in a learner’s journey in the education system, and the collecting and sharing of the data gathered

1.2.2      Early screening to be done by Plunket, at age 3 or 4 within early childhood education, B4School check and new entrant intake. This would highlight children who are at risk of learning, social and language delays through neurodiversity. Those children whose learning difficulties are caused by developmental delay would not be prejudiced if incorrectly identified and given extra support in those early learning years.

1.2.3      ‘Screening’ at the early childhood education stage could be teacher observations of the child’s basic literacy and  numeracy, oral language and social skills, motor coordination, balance, proprioception (body awareness), auditory and visual discrimination skills.

1.2.4      More comprehensive screening included at the time of the 6 year net (by which time literacy and numeracy skills should have been established), would identify neurodiverse learners with greater accuracy. At this age, most children, who through neurodiversity have inexplicably fallen behind their peers, have not lost their self-esteem nor their willingness to keep trying.

1.2.5      Further screening should also be done at entry to intermediate and high school, or at any age, where the learner presents with persistent underachievement despite otherwise appearing capable of better educational achievement. Screening limited only to high school is too late in the learner’s educational progression.

1.2.6      Early Intervention at early childhood centres and early school years should include teaching reading through comprehensive phonemic and phonological awareness-based programmes for all learners.


2              Focus Area 2: Strengthening the range of support

2.1          Look at alternative ways to teach reading, which include a strong phonemic and phonological basis. This will benefit all learners, not only the neurodiverse.

2.2          Ensure that Learning Support roles recognise that Reading Recovery is not the best and most efficient programme for neurodiverse learners. Schools must be allowed the flexibility to provide the best programme for the individual in need, and not be tied to the ‘one size fits all’ mentality.

2.3          Ensure that the current gaps in learning support delivery are filled by those who are trained to recognise neurodiversity; have the appropriate skills to support the learner and classroom teacher; or have appropriate knowledge to make referrals to local specialists.

2.4          Ensure that all school staff whether administration, teaching or  employed in roles of learning support (LS Coordinator, SENCO, RTLB) accept that neurodiversity is real; that the school’s role is to provide education for all children, including the neurodiverse, and to  make those children and whanau welcome.

2.5          Ensure that schools and RTLB do not veto learners from accessing SPELD NZ tuition, nor prevent staff (eg teachers, SENCO, RTLB) who are SPELD NZ trained teachers, from working privately in that role

2.6          Ensure that the LSC/Learner ratio is manageable to ensure adequate coverage and timely response; that LSC have sufficient training both in pedagogy and disability; are employed by Ministry rather than the School to be able to advocate for the learners impartially; and are accepted within the system as part of the school leadership team.

2.7          Ensure that the LSC role support is available at  ECE level.


3         Focus Area 3: Improving how learning support responds to neurodiverse and gifted learners

3.1          Ensure that more comprehensive compulsory teacher training on neurodiversity is included in all Initial Teacher Education. This must be of sufficient depth to give teachers confidence in the recognition, understanding and possibilities for remediation of neurodiverse learners.

3.2          Ensure that Professional Learning on neurodiversity is promoted and readily available for teachers, teacher aides and those involved in learning support. It is critical that all educators are aware of the common indicators for neurodiversity.

3.3          Dyslexia was recognised by the Ministry of Education in 2007, yet there are still educational providers (including principals, RTLB, teachers) who do not believe this. Take steps to ensure that your Action Plan is embraced by all within the education system. We are impatient for meaningful change and cannot wait another 11 years for recognition and support.


4              Focus Area 4: Ensuring that Learning Support is resourced to increase support and services

4.1          Ensure that SPELD NZ is recognised as a specialist service provider for assessment and one- on-one tuition, whether the services are provided during, before or after normal school hours.

4.2          Ensure that there are sufficient numbers of Learning Support Coordinators and Facilitators to implement timely support, and not become bogged down with administration.

4.3          Ensure that aligned government agencies have appropriate awareness and knowledge of neurodiversity. The impact of neurodiversity poorly catered for pervades every aspect of society. A multidisciplinary approach is needed amongst Ministries such as Education, Disability, Health, Youth, Social Development and Corrections.

4.4          Call on those teachers, RTLB, SENCO who already hold our L5 Certificate in Specific Learning Disabilities to fill the role of LSC or LSF.

4.5          Ensure that families/whanau do not have to pay for extra support.


[1] SPELD NZ remedial intervention for Dyslexia, Karen Waldie et ors NZ Journal of Educational Studies. Vol.49, No1, 2014