Part 6: Ministry of Education: Managing support for students with high special educational needs

Public entities’ progress in implementing the Auditor-General’s recommendations 2012.


The Ministry of Education (the Ministry) supports more than 30,000 children with high special educational needs.8 The Ministry provides:

  • specialist advice;
  • access to therapists, equipment, and materials;
  • extra help in the classroom; and
  • adapted programmes.

This is the second report on the Ministry's progress against our recommendations. In our 2011 progress report, we noted that, for some recommendations, it was too soon to judge whether the Ministry's actions were effective, because of the long-term nature of changes made. In this year's report, we comment on further progress.

The scope of our performance audit

Our audit in 2009 considered how well the Ministry managed the four initiatives it had 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 how effective its support for students was.9

Our findings and recommendations

Our original finding was that the Ministry managed the four initiatives reasonably well. The Ministry was improving its business systems and its quality of service. However, we made recommendations to address:

  • the consistency of approach in providing guidance (to applicants and staff), assessing applications, and allocating resources;
  • comprehensive understanding of the level of need for high-needs support;
  • allocating resources fairly and equitably;
  • the timeliness of delivering services for the Severe Behaviour Initiative and Speech Language Initiative; and
  • effective and accurate gathering, aggregating, and analysing of information about the students receiving support (including about their progress) to help the Ministry to assess how effective its interventions are.

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

In our 2011 progress report, we noted that changes were to be made in delivering special education as a result of the Review of Special Education 2010 and the subsequent announcement by the Ministry and the Associate Minister of Education of the plan Success for All – Every School, Every Child.10 Also, changes have been made since 2009 to resourcing, funding arrangements, and the structure of ORRS (now called the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme – ORS).

In our 2011 progress report, we also noted that the Ministry had made good progress in addressing most of our recommendations. The Ministry's consistency, timeliness, data integrity, and managing of staff capacity have continued to improve.

We consider that the improvements during the last few years have helped to make the Ministry's support for students with high special educational needs more timely, fair, and consistent. It is important that the Ministry continue its efforts to ensure that these children are identified, included, and supported to achieve as well as they can in their education. It is also important for the Ministry to continue to find ways to gather quality information so that it knows whether its interventions and support make a difference.

Understanding the need better

The Ministry has identified ways to better understand how much high needs support is required. In particular, the Ministry told us that it was communicating well with schools and communities where children in need of support may not always have been identified. The Ministry was doing this by partnering with non-governmental organisations, including iwi organisations, to deliver services under the Positive Behaviour for Learning initiative. The approach under Positive Behaviour for Learning is a systemic, wrap-around approach including school, whānau, and community. The Ministry told us that initial data gathered indicate that it is a cost-effective model for providing support for children with challenging behaviour.

At the end of 2011, the Ministry set up a new framework for the Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour service.11 This was to improve the consistency of service provided by Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour, through contracting with lead schools and improving management, professional leadership, and governance for Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour. The Ministry told us that the new structure is more collaborative, incorporating co-referral practices between the Ministry's Special Education practitioners and school-based Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour. Children can now be assessed at any point along the continuum of needs to determine the appropriate support that needs to be provided.

Information from Positive Behaviour for Learning partner organisations and from Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour assessments may enhance the Ministry's understanding about how much need there is so that it can plan appropriately for likely demand for its support. Importantly, it may help to ensure that the system identifies all children who need its support.

Improving consistency in guidance and delivering services

Improvements to guidance show that the Ministry has taken seriously our recommendations for improving help for prospective applicants and ensuring that this help is consistent. These improvements include:

  • streamlining application processes for students with very high needs;
  • better access to the ORS guidelines online, with collated information and forms on the Ministry's website by April 2012;
  • in response to requests, a hard copy services and information folder for distributing through district offices;
  • revised guidelines (including, for some criteria for eligibility, profiles of older children) to go online by April 2012; and
  • education programmes for prospective applicants, to ensure that those applying are clear about what information to provide for the verifiers.

The Ministry told us of other measures that it is carrying out to ensure that services are delivered consistently. These measures are:

  • a dedicated website with guidance and resources for educators (the Ministry is considering setting up another website focusing on behaviour);12
  • a clear "service promise" leaflet given to all new clients that sets out what parents, educators, and others can expect of the Ministry's services, and monitoring performance against this promise through the annual client satisfaction survey and the ongoing service survey;
  • a new system to gather, monitor, and report on feedback about services;
  • an updated complaints process, including providing information to parents;
  • a more efficient and effective complaints process for Ministry staff to follow to help resolve complaints and disputes between parents and schools;
  • yearly sampling in every district to check the consistency of decision-making; and
  • a national re-referral process for parents and educators.

Gathering and recording information better

We noted in our previous reports that, in some instances, a culture change among Ministry staff was needed to improve record-keeping and service delivery practices. The Ministry told us that district offices' efforts to ensure that standards of practice are observed meant that far fewer clients wait more than 90 days for service. Short-term contracting of specialist practitioners has helped to reduce waiting lists in some areas.

As noted in our previous reports, having sound information about its clients and services is important for strategic planning and ensuring that the Ministry meets needs as best it can. In our 2011 progress report, we noted that the Ministry was piloting new systems for gathering information about its clients and the way it delivers services, which it hoped to introduce nationally between 2011 and 2013.

The Ministry told us that the Case Management System for recording accurate case data has been piloted in five districts (three from the beginning of 2011 and two from October 2011). The reliability of the data is improving, and staff in these districts are gradually becoming adept at using the system. However, it is too early to determine the effects on efficiency. The remaining 11 districts will be brought on to the Case Management System progressively during the first six months of 2012.

The Ministry told us that the Goal Attainment Scaling pilots (for the Severe Behaviour Initiative and the Speech Language Initiative) worked well for cases with greater Ministry investment, but showed that this system for measuring outcomes is not cost-effective for cheaper interventions. The Ministry noted that it had put in place different evaluation frameworks for its Intensive Behaviour and Language programmes, and is considering other ways of measuring outcomes in less intensive cases.

8: At the time of our report, this figure was about 20,500. The Ministry told us that this number has since increased to more than 30,000.

9: We did not audit support provided by "special schools". These are 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 another school.

10: This report is available at

11: 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 (managed by a "lead school") and often refer students with higher special educational needs to the Ministry.

12: SEOnline,

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