Implications and recommendations

This evaluation provided an opportunity for ERO to investigate the impact of the transformation of the RTLB service following our 2009 report. The overall findings present a positive picture of the RTLB service five years on from transformation. They also highlight more specifically the successes and next steps for RTLB clusters and the Ministry.

The transformation has been well managed and led, resulting in a much improved service in terms of the extent to which RTLB clusters are governed and managed in general. Effective leadership and improved systems and processes have positioned the service well to continue to positively contribute to learning support for students in Years 1-10.

ERO’s findings also highlight the changing system-level context for supporting students with additional learning needs and the establishment of Kāhui Ako. These changes present many opportunities for the RTLB service as well as issues and challenges going forward.

Priority needs to be given to ongoing capacity and capability building in clusters, so practice can move beyond monitoring and review. A key area for improvement is developing robust internal evaluation of service provision and RTLB practice. While ERO notes this is occurring in many clusters, internal evaluation is not sufficiently robust or evaluative to provide evidence of the impact of the service, and RTLB practice, on learner outcomes at cluster and system level.

This evaluation highlights several issues related to assessing and reporting on outcomes. The Outcomes Framework does not align well to assessment and curriculum frameworks in schools and kura. ERO also identified the need for a more systematic way to track sustainability of progress, achievement and wellbeing for learners who have received RTLB support. This would also need to include evidence of the impact of RTLB work on improving teacher capability and school-level systems, to better respond to learners with learning and behavior needs over time.

Data management systems were also not yet compatible with systems in other agencies, thus limiting the extent to which data could be shared and used to make sure learners are at the heart of the system. This is an area for the Ministry to pursue at a time when such systems are being developed and/or aligned.

While kura and wharekura were making increased use of the RTLB service, ERO identified barriers to their equitable access largely because the referral system and associated database has been set up for English-medium schools. Steps need to be taken to address this to ensure equitable access, regardless of where the referral is coming from.

In a few clusters, ERO found professional relationship issues were negatively impacting on performance. The extent of these issues varied, with new leadership or mediation interventions in place to bring about improvement. The Ministry needs to monitor these clusters to make sure improvements are sustained.

A challenge for many clusters was to broaden communication to include iwi and early learning services. In a few clusters, improved communication could help address some misunderstandings about the role of the RTLB and what the service provides. ERO’s findings highlight a need for the Ministry to monitor and evaluate how well RTLB clusters and Kāhui Ako are working together.

This report highlights the successes of the transformation of the RTLB service over the past five years and identifies some real challenges for RTLB clusters and the Ministry going forward. Changes at a system level have the potential to bring about a more coherent, learner-focused approach to service delivery for our most at risk learners. The RTLB service has shown that it can be adaptive, flexible and responsive to the needs of schools and their students. The next steps for improvement and subsequent recommendations in this report need to be priorities for action by RTLB clusters and the Ministry, so the service continues to be a valued and integral part of the system supporting communities, schools and learners.

Recommendations

ERO recommends that the Ministry of Education and RTLB clusters work together to:

  • review the existing Outcomes Framework to strengthen evidence gathering and reporting of RTLB interventions on students’ progress and achievement, in both the short and longer term
  • develop clear expectations and responsibilities for monitoring and evaluating joint work with other agencies
  • develop a shared vision of Learning Support provision and the service expectations for RTLB in light of the skills and expertise of this specialist group of teachers.

ERO recommends that RTLB clusters:

  • strengthen their capability and capacity for robust internal evaluation of their impact on learning and wellbeing outcomes for learners.

ERO recommends that the Ministry of Education:

  • works with other relevant agencies to ensure students with extreme behaviour needs and mental health issues receive ‘the right support, at the right time, from the right service’
  • reviews the expectations of the RTLB service (as set out in the Funding Agreement) to ensure the scope of what RTLB do reflects their specialist role in the system
  • recognises and maintains the role the RTLB service has in supporting learners with increasingly diverse and complex learning needs
  • supports induction for new cluster managers, lead school principals and lead school boards of trustees
  • closely monitors and supports collaboration between RTLB clusters and Kāhui Ako to make sure the learning and wellbeing of students is central to decision making.

ERO also recommends the following areas of research and evaluation be considered:

  • the impact of the RTLB service on the progress and achievement of students with learning and/or behaviour needs who receive an RTLB intervention
  • the impact of the RTLB service on building teacher capability to support learners for sustained resultst
  • the impact of the RTLB service and the associated investment of approximately $90 million per annum
  • the ways that RTLB clusters collaborate with schools to evaluate both the short- and long-term impact of their work.