Overview of findings

This evaluation focuses on the governance and management of the Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) service. It follows on from an Education Review Office (ERO) evaluation in 2009 that recommended improvements to the quality and consistency of the service. The Ministry of Education (the Ministry) responded to the evaluation by undertaking a substantive transformation of the RTLB service in 2012 which provided a new model and structure for the service. This transformation has been successful in addressing the majority of concerns ERO reported in 2009.

The RTLB service aims to improve learning and teaching for students with learning or behaviour difficulties. RTLB are a group of trained itinerant specialist teachers, working across clusters of schools, who provide support to ensure good educational outcomes for Years 1-10 students. There are nearly 1000 RTLB in New Zealand today, working in 40 clusters throughout the country. RTLB services are managed by full-time cluster managers, situated in 40 lead schools/kura. The Ministry funds the RTLB service at a cost of approximately $90 million per annum.

ERO’s findings highlight very positive improvements to the quality and consistency of the RTLB service, especially in overall governance and management. This is largely attributed to the new structure that brings cluster managers, lead school boards of trustees and lead school principals together within clearly defined roles and responsibilities to lead, govern and manage the service. Cluster leadership is also a key factor in the transformation of the service. A reduction in the number of clusters (199 to 40) has enabled schools to have access to a wider pool of RTLB expertise. However it has also created some geographical challenges in areas where schools in a cluster are quite spread out, with long-distance travel a reality for some RTLB. These challenges have been addressed through an RTLB liaison role that has minimised isolation for some schools and kura and supported access to the service for students with learning and behaviour needs.

The RTLB service is making a valued contribution to the wider provision of learning support in our education system. The service is also taking a pro-active approach to engaging with Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako (Kāhui Ako).

Well governed and managed clusters

Almost all clusters were found to be well governed and managed. Documentation and practice clearly aligned to requirements set out by the Ministry. Roles and responsibilities were well defined and understood, and evident in practice. Comprehensive planning and reporting, along with ongoing monitoring and review, supported decision making and improvements in many clusters. Although some clusters were starting to implement a more evaluative approach to this improvement, most were at an early stage with developing capacity and capability to evaluate service provision and RTLB practice.

Most clusters were using the RTLB Outcomes Framework in the Professional Practice Toolkit as required in their casework - gathering and reporting pre and post data for each intervention. However the data was not so useful when aggregated to report at a cluster level and to the Ministry. ERO identified issues with the broad, subjective nature of the outcomes framework along with issues related to the aggregation of pre and post data. When outcomes data was averaged for all students or cohorts of students, it was meaningless without clear expectations about what constituted appropriate gains on the 10 point scale and a narrative explaining the impact of the intervention. This evaluation highlights some challenges for the RTLB service in evaluating the impact of the service for both short-term and longer-term outcomes for learners.

Generally clusters were well led, with many taking a distributed approach to leadership. Practice leaders played a key role in supporting and building RTLB capability. Some RTLB took on additional responsibilities that reflected national priorities and cluster needs. Leaders promoted high levels of trust and respect and strengthened professional relationships at all levels of the cluster. Many clusters still needed to strengthen relationships with iwi and early learning services.

ERO found most clusters were providing a highly responsive service and this was largely attributed to good leadership, the highly valued RTLB liaison role, well-known referral processes and effective monitoring of case work.

The RTLB liaison role was a critical part of the service - developing professional relationships, providing ongoing support, and maintaining good communication with clusters, schools and kura. As a result, requests for support included sufficient information to enable prioritisation and effective decision making.

Personnel management was a strong feature of most clusters. Robust practices included implementation of recently reviewed appraisal systems, the strategic recruitment of RTLB, and RTLB professional development that was well aligned to cluster priorities. RTLB were well supported through induction programmes and targeted professional development, along with coaching and professional supervision on an individual needs basis. ERO found a strong culture of reflection in the RTLB teams, led and supported by practice leaders. The professional role of RTLB was highly evident in most of the clusters.

Most clusters were proactive in their approach to working with Ministry and other external agencies. However, a common issue for many clusters was frustration with other agencies not being sufficiently responsive to the increasing needs of learners, especially when these often sat outside of the scope of RTLB work. Changes to Learning Support (previously known as Special Education) regional Ministry offices during the time of ERO’s evaluation were affecting the extent to which RTLB and the Ministry were able to successfully collaborate to provide a seamless service. Leaders in some RTLB clusters were minimising the impact of such changes by maintaining established relationships with key frontline staff or developing new relationships in flexible and responsive ways.

Not so well governed and managed clusters

The RTLB clusters (four) that were not so well governed and managed had several aspects of practice in common. Most were well placed to improve because of recent changes in leadership or because of specific interventions in place.

Personnel management in these clusters was not sufficiently robust to address issues of inconsistent RTLB practice. Some were in the process of reviewing personnel management processes, for example in areas of recruitment, induction, appraisal and supervision, to improve the capability and capacity of the service to respond to the needs of schools and kura. A few were also working on improving team culture and repairing internal relationships.

Most of these clusters were yet to fully engage with the RTLB Outcomes Framework and lacked collated and analysed cluster data. They tended to be at an early stage with using the RTLB database.[4] Internal evaluation was not well understood and ERO found a lack of strong monitoring, reviewing and reporting. These clusters need additional support from the Ministry to ensure they are meeting their responsibilities as set out in the Funding and Service agreement.

[4] There are two RTLB databases available through private providers who contract services to RTLB clusters.