Specialists including psychologists, speech language therapists, early intervention teachers, and other professionals provide specialist, itinerant support to the increasing number of children with the highest learning needs in schools and ECE centres.
In meetings around the country last week, NZEI members voted almost unanimously to move to a secret ballot after months of stalling by the Ministry over a new collective agreement. Online voting closes next Monday at 6pm.
NZEI Te Riu Roa National Executive member Byron Sanders is on the negotiation team and said members felt insulted and demoralised when an offer was finally tabled.
"Our members’ caseloads are overwhelming. We need something tangible from the Ministry to reduce our workload, and an improved pay offer,” he said.
“There aren’t enough specialists for the children who need the support, and those of us in the job are pushed to our limits with extreme workloads. We need more front-line specialists so all children get the support they need without delay, and we have to ensure specialist staff are paid enough to both recruit and retain their skills for our children.”
Numbers of children with high needs are increasing. The government has increased funding for those children to access support, but now needs to ensure the specialist staff are available and able to manage with reasonable caseloads.
The Ministry has offered a 2% pay increase on the day of ratification and a further 2% on 1 September 2019.
The Ministry employs about 850 Learning Support specialists, who include educational psychologists, early intervention teachers, advisors on deaf children, Kaitakawaenga, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech language therapists and special education advisors. These are also the specialists that go into schools to support students, staff and communities after a tragedy.
They work with children with the highest learning needs, their whānau, parents and caregivers, their teachers and teacher aides/support workers, and the early childhood centres and schools they attend. Children are supported to participate in learning through adapted learning programmes and working one-to-one with specialists.
Learning Support specialists should not be confused with Ministry-employed Support Workers. Support Workers work with individual children mainly in early childhood centres, putting into practice the individual programmes developed by their specialist colleagues.