Education for disabled students during COVID-19 lockdown

The below information was in a Facebook post from Paula Tesoriero, NZ Disability Rights Commissioner, regarding education for disabled students during COVID-19 lockdown. I have copied it here for those who are not Facebook users:


Paula Tesoriero – NZ Disability Rights Commissioner

April 17 at 11:06 AM ·

The Ministry of Education NZ has replied to my query about what approach they are taking for disabled students in the COVID-19 response.

I am seeking some more answers to specific questions, and I understand that there is concern about whether disabled children in years 11 and above can attend school if their caregivers need to return to work under Alert Level 3.

If you are experiencing challenges with education issues for disabled students related to the COVID-19 response please let me know. You can comment below or email

Here is the Ministry of Education’s response:

We acknowledge the current lockdown situation is having a significant impact on disabled children and those with additional learning needs and their families. Families are likely to be experiencing additional stress and challenges as a result of the loss of their children’s normal routines and usual supports. Some children and young people will be finding it hard to understand why these changes are occurring, resulting in increased anxiety, meltdowns or other forms of distressed behaviour.

The education system is aware of these challenges and all the parts of the system – including education providers, Ministry specialist services, Resource Teachers and contracted services – are working together to respond to them, so that disabled children and young people and those with additional learning needs can continue to learn from home.

Teachers remain the central point of contact for all students, regardless of their learning level or the nature of their learning needs. Teachers and school teams are pivotal in the development of tailored distance learning programmes based on the existing goals in the student’s individual education plan.

The Ministry has provided guidance to school leaders about planning for students with learning support needs, including how to adapt materials and distance learning methods. They can do this using the online, hard copy or other relevant material that has been made available.

Online Learning
The Ministry has also encouraged schools to work with families to create functional, relevant and achievable goals and support wellbeing while students are learning from home. The Learning from home website includes resources such as Advice for teachers for planning for inclusion, and similar guidance is going on the Ki te Ao Mārama website. This information will continue to be added to throughout the lockdown period.

Specialist Support

The Ministry’s learning support coordinators and specialists are available to help during the lockdown period, and can be reached through their usual contact phone number or email. Schools can also continue to call on Resource Teachers including RTLB and other existing services for help in supporting students’ learning from home.

Like teachers and other school support staff, learning support coordinators, specialists and Resource Teachers will be working differently, but their goal remains the same: to support teaching staff to connect students to the relevant curriculum by accommodating their learning needs.

Families can also contact their usual Needs Assessment Coordinator (NASC) to discuss the disability supports that available during lockdown including emergency support.

The Ministry’s learning support staff have been checking in with the needs of families and their children. This involves listening carefully and adapting support to meet families’ current needs. The aim is to create functional, relevant and achievable goals using what the families have at hand in their homes. For example:

• Professional support for whānau planning and problem solving Specialists are using Zoom as a tool to support whānau to develop bespoke plans and resolve issues for a young person’s care. The Intensive Wraparound Service brought together 10 people including a GP, whānau and friends to identify natural supports and strategies for the young person’s daily activities during the lockdown period.

• Innovative ways to carry out assessments and deliver services Speech language therapists (SLTs) are finding new ways to assess children’s needs, including carrying out assessments like the New Zealand Articulation Test (NZAT) in creative ways via skype that still enable accurate observation. This involves gaining rapport with a child and sharing pictures through a big book format up to the screen. SLTs are also able to coach parents via skype to work on speech targets and have weekly check-ins on progress.

• Checking in with whānau in culturally responsive ways Specialists have created guidance for checking in on whānau during this time, with a focus on te ao Māori principles of wellbeing. The guidance for practitioners includes tailored questions and comprehensive guiding responses based on whanaungatanga, rangatiratanga and wairuatanga. These discussions provide the basis for tailored learning support plans for tamariki and whānau.

• Moving quickly to address students’ learning and wellbeing needs Ministry specialists are remotely convening meetings with young people, their families and other specialists such as mental health counsellors and GPs to fast-track the assessment of students’ needs. This enables collaborative decisions to be made quickly about the most suitable learning environment for students and the supports that they will need to be successful.

Schools can also continue to call on Resource Teachers including RTLB and other existing services for help in supporting students’ learning from home.

During this period, education providers and all parts of the learning support workforce will be working together as a team to support teaching staff to connect students to the relevant curriculum by accommodating their learning needs.

Further to the above, I encourage you to keep an eye on the Ministry’s bulletin to schools. Thursday’s edition included the Learning Support resources available during this time. This also noted that service managers, together with RTLB, will be available to work with SENCOs or Learning Support Coordinators to review school Learning Support Registers and check in with the needs of families and students. These registers will be useful for providing a national picture, improve our understanding of learning support needs and help the government to identify where to invest and allocate the resources required.