Breaking down barriers in Milton

Issue: Volume 99, Number 3

Posted: 27 February 2020
Reference #: 1HA5wF

A Kāhui Ako in Milton, Otago, has found the learning support delivery model (LSDM) has enabled local schools to identify needs, build partnerships and make more informed and collaborative choices for learners and their whānau.

Year 2 students at Milton Primary School:  Abel, Zion, Hemi, Taya, Annalise, Zoe, Ruby, Ned engaged in some playful collaboration.

Year 2 students at Milton Primary School: Abel, Zion, Hemi, Taya, Annalise, Zoe, Ruby, Ned engaged in some playful collaboration.

The Tokomairiro Kāhui Ako, consisting of five early childhood centres, four primary schools and one secondary school, came together in 2017 and has developed a range of initiatives which pull in support and expertise from around the community. 

At the heart of the model is a learning support group consisting of in-school and across-school teachers, principals, a resource teacher of learning and behaviour (RTLB), a public health nurse and a Ministry of Education learning support service manager. 

“The idea of coming together and forming this group, instead of working in our own silos, was so we could identify the patterns and trends across our community and better use both internal and external resources,” says Tania McNamara, principal of Milton Primary School. 

“We are very aware there’s not an unlimited pot of money, and money doesn’t necessarily fix these things. And we had a lot of expertise within our individual schools. By coming together, we could share that knowledge and expertise, which was really powerful.” 

Changing needs and demographics

The collaboration between schools in the area was initially motivated by the fact that increasing numbers of children were presenting with a diverse range of needs. 

“At that stage [three to four years ago] we hadn’t collated our data around needs and were all just looking inwards,” explains Tania.

While Milton is a small community with extremes of wealth and poverty, there have been some recent demographic changes with families facing socioeconomic challenges moving to Milton to seek affordable housing. The Otago Corrections Facility at nearby Milburn has also had a positive impact of encouraging families to move to the area.

“It’s a lovely community – they look after each other,” says Glenis Sim, principal at Tokomairiro High School, where the majority of the town’s children attend secondary school. 

How the model evolved in Milton

Victoria Stephen, the first across-school teacher for the Tokomairiro Kāhui Ako.

Victoria Stephen, the first across-school teacher for the Tokomairiro Kāhui Ako.

Milton Primary School teacher Victoria Stephen is one of two across-school teachers for the Tokomairiro Kāhui Ako. 

“The first couple of meetings were focused on asking how we (principals, RTLB and the Ministry of Education) can all support each other. There were many needs in our community, but there were insufficient resources. We knew we had some similarities across schools, but as the journey has gone on, we’ve realised how significant they are,” says Victoria.

With parental consent, a document, which is accessible to all committee members, is created for every student who requires extra support. Victoria ensures that when a student comes up for discussion at the regular committee meetings, his or her document is updated prior to, and after, the discussions.

This means all people involved with that student know what has been discussed and what support and intervention have been suggested. Meanwhile care is taken to ensure the appropriate protection of sensitive student information.

“We have been doing this for two years. This year, one of our teachers said she had a child come into her class and she was able to go back to the document where there’s a huge amount of history and she felt it was incredibly useful.

As teachers, it’s been quite powerful to know that there’s a pattern and it’s not just something that’s happened in your class.

“The power in it is that it’s a flexible and non-threatening model – we can sit around the table and talk. We have broken down the barriers between the schools,” Victoria explains.

Data provides valuable information

The Tokomairiro Kāhui Ako began to collect two levels of data: information about individual children, and anonymous aggregate data which shows learning and behaviour trends and is used as a springboard for professional learning and development (PLD). 

For example, it was identified that teachers wanted more PLD around managing challenging behaviour, which they saw as a barrier to learning. The Ministry of Education organised a series of optional workshops on the subject, which were attended by more than 20 teachers ranging from early childhood to secondary.

“With the collection of the data, we started to recognise the needs across the whole community and then we could look at the professional learning that was needed for teachers as well,” says Glenis. 

Holistic view

RTLB Craig Moir and public health nurse Lisa Sell have always had their fingers on the pulse of school and community needs, but prior to the collaboration, they worked with individual children, families and schools. Now they bring their broad knowledge and experience to the table and say all the stakeholders now share a wide-ranging picture.

“I used to work in partnership with individual schools, and transitions between schools have been relatively good, but there was still quite a small sample of students identified with needs. We’re now able to target families better. Often they can be quite complex families, but now the information is shared – and not just the academic side but when bigger stuff is happening,” explains Craig.

“If we see a similar need across all the sites, we can target professional development. For example, Lisa and I have noticed that a number of children didn’t have certain life skills when they reached high school.

So next year at Tokomairiro High School, we are helping with some workshops around skills like making your bed and safety in the streets. There’s always a group of students who miss out on the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme but still need a lot of support. Some of them come from some quite troubled homes,” he says.   

Milton's learning support group (l-r sitting): Craig, Glenis, Lisa. L-r (standing): Katie, Colleen, Victoria, Tania.

Milton's learning support group (l-r sitting): Craig, Glenis, Lisa. L-r (standing): Katie, Colleen, Victoria, Tania.

Transitions to high school

Katie Moodie is student support teacher for Year 7 and 8 at Tokomairiro High School and became the second across-school teacher at the beginning of 2019, joining Victoria who was the first across-school teacher for the Kāhui Ako when it was established in 2017. 

“Part of my job is transitioning students into Tokomairiro High School. Having all the data and information has built a good picture and from day 1, we know who is coming through. We have an additional needs register at our school and these children are all tracked very carefully,” says Katie.

Victoria adds: “This year we have already applied for in-class support for students who will need it at high school. If Katie didn’t know about those children, she would have to start the process of applying when they arrive at the beginning of the year, but this now means they can hopefully arrive at school with that support in place.”

Glenis says the LSDM in action has made a big difference to Tokomairiro High School. 

“We now have lots of information about our students. Knowing what is in place for these students and their families before they come is fantastic – it’s really important for us to have that understanding.”

Individual data supports students

When the learning support group was initially set up, they had to obtain consent from parents to share information about individual students between schools. 

“It was quite daunting going to a parent and saying, ‘Can you sign this form to say we can talk about your child around a table with lots of educators?’ But I was really surprised how willing the parents were. They would say, ‘Yup, anything to help my child’,” Katie says.

The documentation for students who need learning or behavioural support is in-depth, with a classroom teacher filling out a request for support form and a document is then set up. 

“There’s a lot of communication between the committee and the teacher. The teacher then feeds back on progress to the next meeting when we review the child,” explains Tania. 

“There’s a wealth of information which clearly documents what interventions or supports have been put in place, what’s worked, what hasn’t and what needs to continue when they go into their next class/school,” she says.

Expertise around the table

The learning support group format of information-sharing allows quicker positive solutions-focused outcomes, says Colleen Wakefield, Ministry learning support service manager for Otago.

“For example, a teacher brought to a meeting some really concerning information about what had happened in the classroom that day. A need was identified and then the public health nurse brought another level of understanding. There were phone calls happening within the half hour and a solution was provided.

“That wouldn’t have happened without at least three key people who were at that meeting. I think the people around the table are crucial and at the moment the people here are fantastic. 

“There are also no surprises – if there’s a need for my service to do something, we can prioritise and plan and make sure the resource will be there if it’s needed. Or we can stop an event or situation building by getting in there straight away and providing some supports,” she says. 

For Lisa, being involved with the group means she can not only share her knowledge and expertise about wider health-related issues, but paperwork to get access to Ministry services has been reduced.

“I have been able to talk to Colleen, which has often saved me having to go through the whole referral process, and we get a really complete picture. It speeds everything up and makes it more holistic for the child at school because if there are health issues that stop them from learning, we break down that barrier. I feel more supported and part of a team – it works really well,” says Lisa.

Professional development

The aggregate data has enabled the group to better target PLD for teachers and teaching assistants. Victoria and Katie look after PLD, facilitating and leading workshops for teaching assistants. 

“The most valuable part for them is to get together and discuss what’s happening in their spaces and sharing ideas. From those discussions, we identify what we can do to support them further. It could be something like the Ministry leading a workshop around managing behaviours, because that’s an issue for some of them,” says Tania.

“They are one of the biggest resources for helping those students requiring learning support. That’s a significant change – they weren’t getting targeted PD before,” she adds. 

Community involvement

The LSDM can call on a range of community groups in Milton. For example, Anglican Family Care is a provider of services to the local community and may be called on to support a family that is under stress or help them with parenting skills. 

The aggregate data identified lack of food was an issue impacting the learning and behaviour for some students.

“At the time that we were identifying food as an issue, a local community organisation called Project Bruce made contact with the schools through the Kāhui Ako. They have worked in conjunction with the Otago Corrections Facility up the road who make the lunches, and now we have delivered lunches for 20 per cent of the roll every day,” Tania says.

Working smarter

The collaborative approach to sharing data among Milton’s early childhood centres and schools has meant situations can be triaged, Craig says. 

“We are working smarter and there’s role clarity so that students’ needs are best met,” he says.

“As a community in Milton,” says Glenis, “we feel that we are actually getting more input from outside agencies than we did in the past.”


Classroom teacher Angela Hubac with Kyle (Year 5) at Milton School.

Classroom teacher Angela Hubac with Kyle (Year 5) at Milton School.

Checklist for setting up a learning support group 

  • Include outside-school experts such as RTLB, Ministry of Education service manager and public health nurse to provide a holistic overview, share knowledge and information about resources.
  • Seek parental consent for information about individual children to be shared among a learning support committee. Guidance and templates are available on the Ministry of Education website(external link) to support sharing information and seeking consent in the context of the learning support delivery model.
  • Collect data for individual children with learning support and/or behavioural needs to be shared via an online register which is regularly updated.
  • Collect aggregate data to identify needs across a community, which can be met through PDL and/or targeted approaches to meet needs across groups sharing similar traits.
  • Develop collaborative inquiry groups across school levels to identify areas where understanding can be deepened and then shared with colleagues through professional learning and development (PLD).
  • Target PLD for teacher assistants in areas where it is most beneficial.
  • Involve agencies such as church social support or Oranga Tamariki in Kāhui Ako initiatives which will support whānau and ultimately a child’s ability to learn and thrive.

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:50 pm, 27 February 2020

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