Discussion

Looking to the future: questions and challenges

The right expertise and support, at the right time, for the every learner.

This evaluation highlights positive shifts resulting from the transformation of the RTLB service in 2012. It also raises questions and identifies challenges for the education system, and the place of the RTLB in the wider context of Learning Support.

How well placed is the education system, through the provision of learning support, to respond to the changing needs of diverse learners?

This evaluation, through the lens of all 40 RTLB clusters, signals a changing profile of learners needing additional learning and/or behaviour support. Many of the key stakeholders ERO met with talked about learners with needs that are more complex and challenging than ever before, as shown in the following excerpts from interviews.

Most of the children we’re having difficulty with have mental health issues. Principal

In my school we have some real high needs but there’s no one out there. XX [RTLB] helps but it’s not his role. Principal

The nature of cases and complexity pushes RTLB to limits of expertise. RTLB

We see changes under the current system in the complexity of cases RTLB picking up partly because other agencies are not picking them up. Principal

Evidence from this evaluation indicates that the RTLB service is taking on more complex cases, particularly in relation to extreme behaviours and students with mental health issues. It is timely and important to explore the extent to which the current system of Learning Support can respond to this complexity, and where the RTLB service sits in such a response.

To what extent is the role and function of the RTLB service (and of RTLB) fit for a proposed future system?

RTLB are recruited from the teaching profession and undertake an additional post-graduate qualification that enables them to work as specialist itinerant teachers. They have a ‘niche’ set of capabilities to work with schools and kura building teacher capability, and increasing school-level capacity.

ERO’s evaluation highlights the valued contribution the RTLB service is making to the wider provision of learning support. While the role of RTLB has remained largely the same since 2009 (pre-transformation), changes in expectations of the service (as set out in the Funding and Service Agreement) have widened its scope. This widened scope is stretching the service and as a result RTLB are working in areas beyond those key to their role.

ERO found positive examples of opportunities to engage in: specialised work, increased leadership, co-working cases, successful collaborations (especially regarding transitions), new relationships and ways of working in Kāhui Ako, and different approaches to managing referrals for support. We heard from stakeholders that the RTLB service is both valued and stretched.

Principals and SENCO commented positively that RTLB are in schools every day through their liaison role and their casework. They value the accessibility and availability of RTLB when other agencies and services are not so quick to respond. The following examples reflect these commonly held views.

RTLB are part of the problem-solving team for Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) in our school. Principal

There are 10 kids in my school who wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the RTLB. Principal

I really value the RTLB for the links they make to other organisations. Principal

Accessing services for children is frustrating in contrast to responsive RTLB service. Principal

Looking forward to a ‘one service delivery approach’ – what are the implications and challenges for the RTLB service?

ERO’s findings identify some of the successes and challenges in the way in which the RTLB service interfaces with Ministry Learning Support and with other agencies.

The Ministry’s plans for updating Learning Support provision focus on a single point of access for parents, whānau and schools. The intent is an inclusive system that puts “learners who need support at the heart of everything we do, so they get the right support, when they need it.” It is not yet clear where the RTLB service will fit into the new approach. The capability and capacity required for a seamless, single point access to services is substantial, and some of the issues identified in this evaluation report will need to be addressed. These include the need for more responsive specialist services, timely access to these services, greater collaboration and growing specialisation in working with learners with increasingly complex mental health issues.

Principals and SENCO commented positively about the work RTLB do that sometimes extends beyond their role and expertise. These stakeholders shared their views about the system and what is working and what is not as shown in the following comments.

It is the service that is working that I can count on. SENCO

I like the fact that an RTLB leaves a legacy of skill set with the teacher. Principal

We had a serious behaviour incident last year- called the Ministry of Education and RTLB service. RTLB responded quickly, Ministry said there was a 90 day wait. SENCO

It takes a year to get a foetal alcohol assessment. Principal

If we could have a one stop shop where we’re not just looking at learning but where the whole complexity of need could be looked. Principal

The system in place is the problem, not the people. Principal

RTLB are holding cases that should be with Learning Support. Principal

It is also interesting that the RTLB service is being positioned by the Ministry as a ‘behavioural service’ in the broader provision of system-level Learning Support. As noted in the findings section the bulk of requests for support are for ‘learning’ or ‘learning and behaviour’. Students with specific learning disorders, such as dyslexia and dyspraxia and those whose learning is impacted by exposure to alcohol and drugs, place pressures on the system to respond to their learning and behaviour needs. So positioning the RTLB service as a behaviour service is misleading and does not recognise the important and valued work that RTLB do to support a wide range of increasingly complex learning needs.

In repositioning the RTLB service, the Ministry needs to consider RTLB’s current work, and the value placed on it by the education sector. Where is the RTLB service best placed within a new approach to Learning Support? What actions need to be taken to ensure the coherence of service provision across the system to “get the right expertise and support at the right time for every learner.”