Special Education changing: Franklin’s earlier and improved response

Issue: Volume 95, Number 12

Posted: 4 July 2016
Reference #: 1H9d2_

The Special Education Update is working across the whole education system and with sector partners to strengthen inclusion and modernise learning support. Education Gazette will shine a light on a number of local improvement projects throughout the year. In this issue, we look at the Franklin Early Response project, which aims to improve access to special education services in early childhood settings.

An initiative to reduce waiting times for children with special education needs and improve support is having positive results in Auckland’s Franklin district.

The Franklin Early Response project is part of the Special Education Update currently being carried out by the Ministry of Education and others.

The initial feedback from early childhood teachers, parents and whānau has been positive, with requests for follow-up support and advice now being answered within five working days.

A team effort

The overarching idea is to improve the response time in early childhood settings, says Special Education Update Franklin Service manager Denise Deihl.

“When an early childhood teacher has a child who is presenting with some additional education or developmental needs, they may need further ideas and strategies to support them."

“So they contact Special Education, who in turn contact Te Akonga Learning Centre with their request for support."

“Previously requests for support would be responded to in no more than 10 days. With this project, our goal is to respond in less than five days,” says Denise.

Te Akonga Early Learning Centre is contracted by the Ministry to release their early intervention teacher Pam MacPherson to respond to requests for support.

Pam has lived in or near the Franklin district all her life and has good relationships with many in the community. This has helped establish trusting partnerships with the early learning services in the catchment area.

Te Akonga, where Pam has worked for a number of years, is well respected in the district for its work with children with additional needs.

Her first step is to contact the manager of the early childhood centre that needs support to plan a suitable time for the visit.

“When I’m there I spend time getting to know the manager or team leader, and sometimes the parent of the child."

“I then begin to build a relationship with the child through play, making observations as I go."

“The fact that I can ‘stay and play’ is a bonus in that I am able to build that relationship that is very important in truly assessing and observing a child correctly,” she says.

Over a period of several weeks, Pam creates behavioural plans that include strategies for teachers and parents.

If resources such as schedule boards or social stories are needed, these can be made up by the child’s teachers under Pam’s guidance.

She also offers advice about how the environment can better accommodate the child, and continues to visit the child until they are able to see a speech language therapist or other

Any wait is a long wait

Denise says that historically every referral came in and sat on a wait list in order, until a space was available for a Ministry of Education specialist to visit.

“If you have anxieties around your child, any wait is a long wait,” she explains.

Denise says the project is having exciting results.

“So far, the feedback from the teachers and parents involved has been really positive. The fact that someone has come in immediately, looked around the environment and made a few helpful suggestions – that’s all made a big difference to the teachers."

“The majority of them just need a bit of advice and support."

“There will be a number of others who are actually open to having this support now,” says Denise

An Immediate Change

Rachel Thorn-Vercoe is the manager of Tuakau Learning Centre and says the Early Response Project is having fantastic results for her students and staff.

“Pam has visited our centre a few times to share her advice and strategies to help with certain students – she has a lot of knowledge and skills when it comes to working with children with additional needs,” she says.

“We wanted someone’s brain to pick, someone who could just come straight over and talk to us about what we were doing at the centre, get to know our students and look at the big picture with us."

“Pam brought some new ideas and asked ‘have you thought of this? What about that?’ We’ve found we’ve been able to enact her suggestions almost immediately.”

One child had sensory issues and staff were concerned about him chewing on sharp objects. The team arranged for a greenstone pendant which was safe to wear and put in his mouth.

“Another child needed her hearing tested. With Pam’s help we could refer her immediately to a doctor and get her into the system. In the past we would have had to wait for an early intervention teacher to visit and confirm she needed her ears checked,” says Rachel.

Pam believes the service is helping early childhood education centres feel supported and heard.

“The speedy response is important so that children and centres feel supported, and behaviours do not become habit forming,” she says.

“It also empowers and upskills the teachers who work with children with additional needs, meaning that the children won’t necessarily need continued service from the Special Education Service.”

The Early Response project has resulted in a positive shift at Tuakau Learning Centre and this is reflected in the children’s ‘learning stories’ and parental feedback.

“It really has made a difference to the kids – it’s about visible, measurable change – not just backing away from challenges and wanting specialists to take care of them."

“Our teachers are brilliant – they’ve got the relationship with the children and the willingness, but having Pam come in just gave us an extra boost. "

She has so much experience in this field and we were able to bounce our ideas off her. If you’ve already got the brilliant staff, why not work with them to make a difference?

“We set out to meet the needs of our community – that’s our philosophy – and every child deserves to learn here without barriers."

“We just needed a little bit of permission and support to enact our own ideas.”

BY Melissa Wastney
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 4:20 pm, 4 July 2016

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