New Zealand children with learning difficulties missing out on crucial support

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The majority of New Zealand’s children and young people with learning difficulties are missing out on timely and needs-based access to educational psychologists, a briefing drawn up by the country’s Institute of Educational and Developmental Psychology (IEDP) says.

The briefing was produced for the incoming Education Minister following New Zealand’s recent general election. It says that only school-aged children with extreme needs receive services from an educational psychologist employed by the Ministry of Education’s Learning Support Service and that the new Minister should prioritise policies and programmes that ensure all learners can access the support they need.

The IEDP, a subgroup of the New Zealand Psychological Society (NZPsS), makes several recommendations to improve the current assessment system. In particular, it says that the Ministry of Education should employ more educational psychologists.

Educational psychologists play an important role in working with children and young people who have an intellectual disability, learning disability, developmental disabilities (e.g. autistic spectrum), physical disabilities, sensory impairment, social, emotional or behavioural difficulties, and family or community challenges.

We are concerned that the services educational psychologists can provide young people, whānau and school communities are seriously limited by the number of psychologists available. This has resulted in a form of rationing of services.

The Briefing states.

There are currently 202 practicing registered educational psychologists and a number who are registered in the general scope. As noted, the Ministry of Education is the largest employer of psychologists in education. They currently employ 172 full time equivalent psychologists.

To meet the needs of a similar population, and provide an equivalent standard of care to Scotland, we would need to double the number of psychologists employed in the public sector. The demand for educational psychologists to provide service and supports in the natural learning environments of tamariki and ākonga consistently exceeds the current capacity of staff in Learning Support for the Ministry of Education.

The Briefing says that practical and relevant research for effective change in schools should also be a priority.

We would like the Ministry to provide an ethics committee so that educational psychologists can deliver evidence-based interventions that are relevant in the Aotearoa New Zealand context. This vital research would meet the government’s aims to ensure that money is not wasted on untested, potentially harmful, or ineffective and costly packages that have not been trialled in the local context.

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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