Part 3 - Ministry of Education: Managing support for students with high special educational needs

Public entities' progress in implementing the Auditor-General's recommendations.

The Ministry of Education (the Ministry) provides support to about 20,500 of the nation's children with the highest special educational needs. The Ministry provides specialist advice; access to therapists, equipment, and materials; extra help in the classroom; and adapted programmes.

The scope of our performance audit

Our audit considered how well the Ministry managed the four initiatives it has set up to support school-aged children with the highest needs. These initiatives were the:

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

Our audit examined how the Ministry:

  • determined the level of need for its support;
  • provided guidance for parents/caregivers and schools about its services;
  • assessed applications and referrals for support;
  • allocated resources to support students; and
  • monitored and reviewed the effectiveness of its support for students.4

Our findings and recommendations

Overall, we found that the Ministry's management of the four initiatives was reasonable. The Ministry was improving its business systems and its quality of service. However, we found inconsistent approaches in different parts of the country to assessing applications, giving appropriate guidance to applicants, and allocating resources.

We considered that the Ministry's understanding of the level of need and the level of support that students received could be improved. This would help to reduce the risk that children living in different parts of the country with similar needs in similar circumstances would receive inequitable levels of support. We were also concerned that the Ministry did not have a good understanding of the progress that students were making at an aggregate level.

We made 10 recommendations for further improvements, including:

  • gaining better information about the level of need for support and about the effectiveness of this support;
  • better timeliness of service delivery for the Severe Behaviour Initiative and Speech Language Initiatives;
  • greater accuracy of output information and better management of staff capacity; and
  • better consistency of guidance, assessment, and allocation of resources.

In August 2009, as we carried out our audit, the Minister announced a Review of Special Education (the Review) and consulted on a range of issues. Several issues that we identified in our audit report were also consulted on. In October 2010, the Ministry and the Associate Minister of Education (Special Education) announced the response to the Review in a document, Success for All – Every School, Every Child.5

The Government announced in the 2009 and 2010 Budgets increases in resourcing for ORRS, with an extension of eligibility and extra funding for those already receiving ORRS support. In 2011, the Ministry changed this scheme to help simplify the funding process. The scheme is now called the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS).

The Ministry of Education's response to our findings and recommendations

We consider that the Ministry has made good progress overall in addressing most of our recommendations. The Ministry has taken action to address our recommendations about consistency, timeliness, data integrity, and managing staff capacity. Reducing waiting lists is a priority for the Ministry, and reporting and reviewing waiting list data is now part of the business as usual reporting cycle.

Some of our recommendations were about the need to build a unified and consistent strategic direction, based on timely and accurate information. The Ministry has piloted new systems for gathering this information, and plans to implement these systems countrywide between 2011 and 2013.6 This information, combined with other information the Ministry holds, will help the Ministry to be sure that its strategic planning to meet the need for its support is based on timely and accurate information.


It is also important that the Ministry continues working to ensure that teachers and teachers' aides working with students with high special educational needs are adequately trained. We noted this in our report, and it was a major theme emerging from the Review. The Ministry has announced a greater focus on inclusive education in training programmes for initial teacher education, teacher professional development, and for boards of trustees and principals.7

We acknowledge that special education is a difficult, complex, and sometimes contentious area. It is too soon to assess whether the Ministry's actions have been effective in making access to services more consistent and timely. Changes can take time, and may require a culture change among some staff.

In our view, this highlights the importance of continued effort to manage resources – staff and funding – strategically for the most effective support. The Ministry's Special Education group (formerly known as Group Special Education) has evolved in the last five years from a fragmented, district-led service to a more integrated, cohesive structure. We expect the Ministry to continue to improve its processes and to continue to look for ways to improve its knowledge and effectiveness. We will report further on the improvements the Ministry has made in our 2012 progress report.

Figure 1 provides more detail about our assessment of the Ministry's response to our recommendations.

Figure 1 The Ministry of Education's progress in addressing our recommendations

Area recommended for improvements Our overall assessment of progress Further action planned or needed
Better understanding of the level of need for support and effectiveness of Ministry support The Ministry has increased its understanding of the level of need for three of the initiatives and has improved its forecasting for ORS. It has also made progress towards being able to judge its effectiveness through piloting two systems for collecting information (Goal Attainment Scaling and Case Management system). The Ministry plans to continue to find ways to determine the level of need, such as through the Positive Behaviour for Learning Action Plan programmes.

The Ministry plans to progressively implement the Case Management system throughout all districts by the end of 2011, and Goal Attainment Scaling, subject to further piloting and evaluation, in 2012/13.
Better and more consistent guidance The Ministry has made good progress in improving consistency through improved information and training for staff, schools, and parents/caregivers. The Ministry plans to simplify the application process for ORS and release revised ORS guidelines in 2011.
Consistency of access to services The Ministry has made good progress in improving consistency of access through consistent access criteria and assessment processes for the Severe Behaviour Initiative and the Speech Language Initiative and closer collaboration with Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour.* The Ministry considers that its new processes for tracking and reviewing decisions to decline support through these two initiatives will help to address inconsistencies in responding to requests for reviews of particular decisions. The Ministry plans to continue to improve and monitor consistency of access, assessment, and response to enquiries and complaints.
Consistency of allocation of funds for ORS and School High Health Needs Fund The Ministry has made good progress in improving consistency of allocation, in particular for teacher aide hours and pooled funding arrangements.
Management of timeliness, accuracy of data, and staff capacity The Ministry has made many improvements in its efforts to reduce waiting lists (resulting in some reduction in waiting lists), improve data integrity, increase staff capacity (for the Severe Behaviour Initiative), and manage workloads better. The Ministry plans to continue to effect changes that will improve timeliness of service delivery.

* The Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour service employs specialist teachers who support students with moderate special educational needs. These specialist teachers are employed by clusters of schools and are often the ones to refer students with higher special educational needs to the Ministry.

4: We did not audit support provided by "special schools", schools that provide support for children with high special educational needs in a day school or residential school setting, or as a satellite unit on the site of a regular school.

5: This report is available at

6: One of these systems, Goal Attainment Scaling, will be implemented subject to further piloting and evaluation.

7: The Ministry's plan Success for all – Every School, Every Child can be viewed on the Ministry's website ( Training in inclusive education involves ensuring that teachers in mainstream classrooms are equipped to deal with students with special educational needs.

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