Green MP Teanau Tuiono: Vital we urgently increase funding for learning support

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Green MP Teanau Tuiono: Vital we urgently increase funding for learning support

OPINION:

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When it comes to education, I often reflect on this whakataukī: Te manu e kai ana i te miro, nōna te ngahere; te manu e kai ana i te mātauranga nōna te ao. The bird who partakes of the miro berry, their domain is the forest; the bird who partakes of education, their domain is the world.

Helping the birds get those knowledge berries is what education is all about. Our education system should provide everyone with the best possible start to a lifelong journey of learning. A journey that happens inside and outside the classroom, and that starts with supporting those who support them on that journey.

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I was in Feilding at the beginning of this year and heard first-hand about the education journey at a hui – and I am grateful we were able to meet before Covid disrupted things again. The meeting was with NZEI members – principals, teachers, support staff and early childhood teachers – as they prepared for the upcoming year. I had met with some of the learning support staff late last year, so it was important to once again hear directly about the issues they are facing at the chalkface of education.

It might surprise some people, but learning support is massively underfunded. Issues of funding and extremely long wait times mean many tamariki are not receiving the support they need to thrive. It is vital we urgently increase funding for learning support, so a child can feel connected, supported and valued at school or in their early childhood education.

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Ongoing research means we have expanded our knowledge of the different learning needs of tamariki. However, while our understanding has evolved, the funding and resourcing needed to support tamariki hasn’t.

Our current system means our youngest learners are waiting an average of 80 days to access an early intervention service. Access to funding is no easier, with about one-third of Ongoing Resource Scheme funding applications being rejected.

Making sure support staff can show up to the mahi is an important step in the right direction. The implementation of Covid-19 policies in schools has brought into sharp focus the urgent need for support staff to have access to disregarded sick leave, like their teacher colleagues have. Disregarded sick leave is when time off for sickness or injury isn’t deducted from your sick leave balance.

There’s a big difference between the Primary Teachers’ Collective Agreement and the Support Staff In Schools’ Collective Agreement when it comes to access to leave. Both teaching and non-teaching staff work in the same environment, but support staff don’t have the same access to leave provisions. All support staff – teacher aides, admin staff, science techs, food techs and librarians – work closely with students. And in the case of teacher aides, they work physically close with the most vulnerable of our students. It is important we support those who support our children.

Because when we support children from an early age, and throughout their education, it enables them to live healthy and fulfilling lives. An inclusive education system means all tamariki will thrive.

• Teanau Tuiono is a Green list MP based in Palmerston North.

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