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Union Calls For Long Term Strategy To Support Teachers And Students Boost Learning And Positive Behaviour In Schools

New Zealand’s largest education union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, says an ERO report on challenging behaviour in NZ classrooms reflects the lived experience of primary and area school teachers, principals and teacher aides.

The union welcomed the ERO report’s recommendation for more investment in learning support. President Mark Potter said the union wanted the Government to create a ten-year learning support investment strategy in consultation with the education sector to prioritise learning support for students with challenging behaviours.

“We want all tamariki and their teachers to thrive in our education system. That is going to take more than online guidance for teachers or manuals on physical restraint.”

The union says a major investment through a long-term strategy is what is needed to address the rising trend in challenging behaviour and learning needs, as children are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress, trauma, learning challenges, anxiety and physical, emotional and mental health issues that trigger negative behaviour.

The report finds that behaviour in New Zealand classrooms is worse than in other countries, is significantly damaging student learning and achievement and is a key driver of teachers leaving the profession.

Mark Potter says that the report reflects a nation of children under pressure and an education system that needs a serious overhaul.

“It's upsetting to read again that the anxiety and stress our children experience is having such negative consequences in the classroom. None of this is new to us, but it is confirmation that schools are high stress and complex workplaces. What it does signal is that a band-aid approach to learning support is not enough.

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“To really move the dial, the Government needs to make and fund child-centred policies – policies that support teachers in the classroom to support the children they teach. We have long term strategies and investment plans for potholes, but we’re not seeing these for children.”

The report states that over half of teachers and principals find it difficult to access the time they need to tackle behaviour issues.

Mark Potter says the only way to address this systematically is to improve staffing in schools.

"This means improving access to teacher aides to allow teachers to give students the one-to-one focus needed to address behavioural issues, it means more therapists, more resource teachers of learning and behaviour, across the board. It also means smaller class sizes.

“There are also big societal solutions that need joined-up thinking from Government, like ensuring better paid parental leave, more generous benefit and income supports to parents and whānau, 20 hours free for two-year-olds to access high quality early learning and care, and access to adequate housing, health care and food.

“Schools have talked about free school lunches as being one of the best behaviour management interventions they’ve seen because hungry students are disruptive students – this ERO report provides yet more evidence that we need to keep school lunches.”

Mark Potter said ECE teachers were also reporting high levels of challenging behaviour in children under 5, and further research was needed in ECE.

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