Part 1: Introduction

Ministry of Education: Managing support for students with high special educational needs.

In this Part, we discuss:

The purpose of our audit

We carried out a performance audit to examine how effectively the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) manages its support for those school-age students1 whom it assesses as having the highest level of intellectual or physical disabilities, speech language difficulties, or behavioural problems. The Ministry provides much of its support through its Group Special Education.

Group Special Education provides resources – such as funding, aides, specially trained teachers, adapted programmes, modified learning environments, or specialised equipment or materials – to children and young people based on their level of need, and to schools. Group Special Education staff are based in the Ministry's 16 district offices (with one or more service centres), four regional offices, and the national office in Wellington.

The arrangements for supporting children and young people with intellectual or physical disabilities, speech language difficulties, or behavioural problems, have been in place since the late 1990s. They arose from a policy – Special Education 2000 – to teach such children within the mainstream education system.

For the students who need the most help, the Ministry provides most of its support through four initiatives. These are the:

  • Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Schemes (ORRS);
  • School High Health Needs Fund;
  • Severe Behaviour Initiative; and
  • Speech Language Initiative.

There are between 16,600–20,500 students receiving support through these four initiatives. Students supported through ORRS and the School High Health Needs Fund generally receive more support for longer periods than students supported through the Severe Behaviour and Speech Language Initiatives.

Staff in the Ministry's national office assess a student's eligibility for ORRS and the School High Health Needs Fund. Staff in the district offices assess a students' eligibility for the Severe Behaviour Initiative and the Speech Language Initiative. Figure 1 provides more information about each of the four initiatives.

Figure 1
The Ministry of Education's four initiatives to support students with high special educational needs

Description Age range Target number of students for 2009/10 Funding (budget for 2009/10)
Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Schemes (ORRS)
Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS), for students who will need the highest level of support for the duration of their schooling 5 - 21 years (ORS) 6550–6950 $140m*

Based (together) on 1.1% of total student population
Reviewable Resourcing Scheme (RRS), for students whose needs may change over time)

These schemes support students with the most severe physical and intellectual disabilities. The Ministry funds extra teacher aide time, and provides specialist support and therapists
5–17 years (RRS)
School High Health Needs Fund
This fund provides teacher aide time for students who, for health reasons, need care and supervision at school for more than six weeks (for example, to preserve their life, prevent severe health problems or injury, or control infection) 5–17 years 550 $3.1m
Severe Behaviour Initiative
The Ministry's behaviour specialists work with students (and their families and educators) who display severe and challenging behaviour that may endanger themselves or others, or adversely affect their learning 5–14 years 4000–6000 $24m

Based on 1% of total student population

Speech Language Initiative

The Ministry's speech-language therapists work with students who have trouble making themselves understood or understanding others, or have social communication difficulties 5–8 years 5500–7000 (as at February 2009) $9m

Based on 1% of total student population
Total 5–21 years 16,600–20,500 $176.1m

* This comprises $64m in teacher aide funding provided to schools (allocated through district offices), $14m for service delivery by district offices, and $62m paid directly to schools for a proportion of dedicated teacher time.

How we carried out the audit

To assess how effectively the Ministry manages its support for students with the highest needs, we focused on how the Ministry:

  • determined the level of need for its support;
  • provided guidance about the four initiatives, and assessed applications and referrals for support;
  • allocated resources to support students; and
  • monitored and reviewed the effectiveness of its support for students.

We conducted our fieldwork from October 2008 to April 2009.

We examined relevant Ministry documents and data. We also spoke to the Ministry's Group Special Education staff in the national office, and staff in six of the Ministry's 16 district offices. The six district offices were in three of the Ministry's four regions. The districts and regions we visited were:

  • Northwest and Manukau districts in the Northern Region;
  • Taranaki and Greater Wellington districts in the Central South Region; and
  • Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast and Canterbury districts in the Southern Region.

We also spoke to representatives of national educator2 and stakeholder organisations, including:

  • the New Zealand Principals' Federation, the Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand, and the New Zealand Secondary Principals' Council;
  • the Post-Primary Teachers' Association, and the New Zealand Educational Institute;
  • the New Zealand Resource Teachers Learning and Behaviour Association (including their Māori Caucus); and
  • the Inclusive Education Action Group.

What we did not audit

We did not audit:

  • the effectiveness of the Ministry's support for students with high special educational needs;
  • the performance of schools in supporting students with special educational needs;
  • how the Ministry provides support through:
  • assistive technology and equipment;
  • special education school transport assistance; or
  • The Correspondence School;
  • support provided by Accredited Special Education Service Providers (special or "fund holder" schools);
  • the Ministry's policy decisions about residential schools for students with special educational needs;
  • how the Ministry formulates policy around its funding models for the four initiatives;
  • how the Ministry provides support allocated through the High and Complex Needs Interagency Strategy; and
  • how the Ministry provides support for school-age students with other levels of need, or for children before entering school.

1: In this report, students are school-age children. Under the four initiatives, school-age means children from school-entry age (5-6 years) to school-leaving age (17 years, or 21 years for the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme).

2: In this report, we use the term "educator" to describe professionals in the education sector such as teachers, principals, Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour, and providers of professional development services for teachers.

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