600 learning support coordinators in schools by 2020 - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Approximately 600 learning support staff will be employed in schools by 2020, in a move the Government is labelling as a "game-changer for students, parents and teachers".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement at the Labour Party's annual conference in Dunedin on Sunday.

Ms Ardern said learning support coordinators will work alongside teachers and parents to provide individualised support and "free up teachers so all children get more quality classroom time".

Associate Minister for Education Tracey Martin said it's "designed to allow schools as much time as possible to prepare for the new role".

But a final job description has yet to be decided, nor the ratio between urban and rural schools. Ms Martin said feedback from the public will be taken into account.

The Prime Minister's office confirmed to Newshub every school should have access to at least one of the new coordinators.

600 learning support coordinators in schools by 2020 - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Ms Ardern said learning support in schools has been neglected for the last decade, and since one-in-five Kiwi children have a disability or other learning or behavioural need, support is necessary.

"The Coalition Government has listened to the parents and students who've asked for more support, and teachers who have been calling for this new fully-funded role."

The 600 coordinators will be the "first tranche of these positions" and will provide expert assistance to teachers.

While chief executive of Austism New Zealand Dane Dougan said the 600 coordinators were a step in the right direction, he believes more than double that amount is needed.

He would also like to see autism training integrated into teacher training, as one in every 59 child is now diagnosed with autism.

The investment over four years will cost $217 million, and Ms Ardern said that brings the extra funding the Government has put into learning support to $500 million.

The move has got the support of Labour's confidence and supply partner, The Green Party.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said on Sunday that the 600 coordinators would assist teachers who are "stretch beyond capacity trying to teach curriculum whilst juggling the diverse and complex needs of students".

A new learning support model developed by Ms Martin has been piloted, with plans to roll it out by the end of 2019.

Some schools already employ a version of the role, called a special needs coordinator, but there is no central funding for them reports the Otago Daily Times.

In September, New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) president Lynda Stuart said the suggestion of a learning support coordinator was exciting.

"Great to see that. We do need to see it being properly resourced, and we do need to see the training," she told Newshub.

National Party education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said in October one of her first actions if she became Minister of Education would be to provide better special education support to students at primary schools.

Learning support specialisers went on strike in August across the country over workloads and pay.

The conference is Ms Ardern's first as leader and Prime Minister, and Labour's first while in power since 2008.

Ms Ardern said the Government had many achievements to be proud of it in its first year in office, including getting KiwiBuild underway, ending charter schools and banning new oil and gas exploration.

"I am incredibly proud of that list, and I'm a little bit exhausted by it as well… There is much more to do to make our economy more sustainable and to better spread prosperity to all."

Newshub.

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