Learning Support Coordinators Evaluation: Phase 1 Formative and process evaluation Publications
Phase 1 of the Learning Support Coordinators evaluation has been completed to provide feedback on initial implementation of the new role of Learning Support Coordinators (LSCs) a long-awaited, fully-funded, in-school learning support role and inform the success of future delivery.
Author(s): Sarah Andrews, Dr Sarah Appleton-Dyer, Zaffar Ansari, Emilia Masari, Hera Clarke, Synergia Ltd.
Date Published: March 2021
Learning Support Coordinators (LSCs) are a long-awaited, fully-funded, in-school learning support role. It was a key recommendation of the 2016 Select Committee Inquiry to improve identification of, and support for children and young individuals with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism. LSC implementation represents the culmination of many years’ work to shift to a more local, collaborative and responsive approach to learning support defined in the Learning Support Delivery Model. The purpose of the LSC role is to make sure that children and young people with mild-to-moderate, neurodiverse, or high and complex learning support needs receive appropriate help when they need it.1
In August 2019 623 full-time permanent LSC roles were allocated to 1052 schools in 124 clusters of schools, kura and early learning services me ngā kōhanga reo (clusters). These roles were to start in the 2020 school year as a result of $312 million of new operating and capital funding.
The phase 1 LSC evaluation has been completed to provide feedback on initial implementation of the new role and inform the success of future delivery. The original evaluation plan was disrupted by COVID-19, but the evaluation team completed interviews with 99 individuals across 13 clusters, and surveyed LSCs and schools/kura with an allocation of an LSC in term 3, 2020. Given the pressure on the sector in 2020, the survey response rates were satisfactory: 62% (n=371) LSCs and 40% (n=419) schools/kura completed the surveys. The condensed opportunity for data collection prevented the intended iterative cycles of learning and evaluative enquiry. The timeframe also meant some clusters were less well represented in interviews than others, and enabled very limited input from whānau. This report presents these findings, structured around the key evaluation questions.
What did learning support provision and processes look like in schools/kura before the LSC role?
There are many contributors to effective learning support in education settings. Prior to LSC implementation, some learning supports were provided within schools or at a cluster level by school staff and others were accessed externally, via the Ministry or other providers. While those accessing support were generally satisfied, not all students with learning support needs received support. This includes children and young people with moderate needs who are neurodiverse, gifted, and those at risk of disengaging from education. Limited capacity, capability and system complexity were identified in interviews as barriers to receiving support. Schools/kura said they were better at identifying learning support needs than responding to them, and didn’t have the capacity to support teachers/kaiako to work with students with diverse needs as much as they wanted to. Prior to LSCs, Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCO) were the main conduit to learning support within schools/kura. Kāhui Ako or clusters of schools/kura were already engaged in developing collective responses to supporting learning.
How was the LSC role recruited for and established?
Across Aotearoa, 124 clusters received an LSC allocation based on a ratio of approximately 1 LSC to 500 students. Each cluster decided which schools/kura would employ the LSCs (employing school). Some clusters adjusted the allocation of LSC for each school/kura in their cluster. Adjustments in allocation were made predominantly to reduce the number of schools/kura an individual LSC would have to work across. For most, recruitment went smoothly with eight in ten positions filled for the start of the 2020 school year. By July 2020, 596 of 623 FTTE (96% of the LSC allocation identified by payroll data) had been recruited.
This LSC cohort consists of very experienced registered teachers/kaiako and those with specialist learning support experience. Māori medium settings, rural and isolated schools and kura found recruitment harder and the role needs adaptation for Maōri medium settings. This experience is not unique to the LSC role.
Overall, the initial implementation of the role went well for most schools/kura. Schools/kura and LSCs with a vision for the role or a plan to integrate the role introduced it into the school more purposefully than those taking a more organic approach. The Ministry-led induction forums, regional meetings and the publication Learning Support Coordinator: A Guide to the Role were very useful but did not provide the role clarity many still expected. COVID-19 disrupted the momentum of early implementation, but the time was used productively by LSCs, often supporting the broader school efforts to maintain student engagement.
How was the LSC role implemented and how is it now functioning?
Implementation is still in a relatively early stage, and nine in ten schools/kura that responded to the survey said the role was partly or fully operational by August. There is evidence that as a cohort, LSCs are delivering on all the five functions identified in the role description. Of these, identifying and supporting students in schools/kura through individual responses or proactive work programmes was the main focus. Connections across the cluster are being made and collaborative working practices are becoming, or are, established. While aspects of the role are transactional, some LSCs require support and vision to grasp the potential for transformational change.
Working across multiple schools/kura provides logistical challenges, alongside some positive role experiences both for LSCs and schools/kura. Recruiting and operationalising the role is challenging for rural areas, and the role needs adaptation for Māori medium settings.
LSCs have altered the dynamic for existing roles key to learning support. Defining role boundaries with SENCOs has been quite straightforward for many but this is still a work in progress for four in ten LSCs working alongside SENCOs. Similarly, the potential overlap with Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) is recognised and is being worked through, with complementary approaches emerging. The facilitation function played by service managers is varied and all stakeholders would benefit from more consistent and clearer expectations regarding this function.
Overall, there is a high degree of satisfaction from schools/kura and LSCs with the role. The LSC role is implemented very differently depending on the context of the clusters but is implemented as intended. The allocation formula seems about right, though further consideration of the requirements of rural schools/kura and those with greater need is warranted. For some, there are barriers to accessing external services and supports for students, or accessing tools and resources required for LSC delivery.
What differences has the LSC contributed to meeting learning support needs?
The introduction of LSCs has made a significant positive difference to the ability of schools/kura to support learning needs. LSCs are a catalyst; doers as well as system enablers. The role is adding much-needed capacity and capability into the system, with benefits emerging where the role is integrated into the school. LSCs are reportedly identifying students whose needs would have previously gone unrecognised, as well as enabling SENCOs and teachers/kaiako to work more effectively. The response to learning support needs is becoming more proactive and strategic. The potential for transformative change is emerging in schools/kura and clusters where the role has been grasped with both hands. Schools/kura struggling to implement the role (around one in ten) are yet to reap the benefits.
How can the implementation and contribution of the LSC role be improved?
Completing planned work relating to defining the service manager facilitation function and launch of Te Rito (standardised Learning Support Register), will support the effectiveness of the LSC role. Where implementation has not gone as well as expected, the evaluation has provided useful insights to support improvements, some of which have already been used by the Ministry. The need for further work to support role clarity and define accountability for the implementation of the role as intended has been identified. More needs to be understood about enabling the role to work well in rural schools and the adaptations required for Māori medium settings. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the LSC role and its impact on the demand for learning support services will help track progress and evidence the impact of this role.
- Ministry of Education. (2020). Learning Support Coordinator: A guide to the role.
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