The important role of the education community
When te tamaiti is well engaged with education (whether early education, primary, secondary or tertiary) not only do they have the opportunity to be successful in their education but they are part of a community which adds to their wider network of support. Kura and other educational settings can help meet not only the education needs of te tamaiti but also their social, relational, cultural and identity needs. Supporting tamariki to be well engaged and involved with their educational provider and to remove any barriers to full participation is critical.
Education providers are key partners, working together with te tamaiti, their family/whānau and caregivers to ensure the education and wider wellbeing needs of te tamaiti are well supported both at home and at kura.
Identifying educational goals and aspirations
Te tamaiti, their parents/guardians, wider family/whānau and caregivers will all have a shared stake in the education of te tamaiti and will want the best for them. Working to ensure the views of each party is considered is important in building a shared vision of the best education pathway for te tamaiti.
We should start by hearing the voice of te tamaiti and their hopes and dreams for their education or training journey. We need to understand what they want to achieve and plan around those goals in both formal and informal educational and training settings. The things that keep tamariki engaged in education will be different for each tamaiti and can be influenced by:
- their age and stage of development
- prior positive and negative experiences of education within the family/whānau, how education is viewed by family/whānau members and how this has been communicated to te tamaiti — this could include cultural beliefs and views about education
- the degree to which kura is seen as a place that nurtures the talents and interests of te tamaiti and provides them the opportunity to experience success
- for tamariki Māori, the extent to which the environment at kura nurtures whakapapa connections and whanaungatanga relationships and promotes a positive experience of being Māori.
Most significant decisions about the education of te tamaiti, particularly which kura te tamaiti should attend, are guardianship decisions. We must involve their parents or guardians in any decisions regarding their education, particularly as they progress through early childhood, primary and secondary schooling. If te tamaiti has more than 1 guardian and agreement cannot be reached regarding the education of te tamaiti, we should seek further advice from our supervisor and if necessary Legal Services. We have a role in resolving these disagreements so they do not negatively impact on the education of te tamaiti.
We should also seek the caregiver's views about the education arrangements that will best meet the needs of te tamaiti.
Maintaining education when tamariki enter care
Entering care will likely go hand-in-hand with significant change for te tamaiti or rangatahi. It is therefore important that they are supported to settle into their school (either existing or new) as quickly as possible, and that their education is disrupted as little as possible. Talk directly to the school so that they have the necessary information to support the wellbeing of te tamaiti and involve family/whānau and caregivers in this discussion wherever possible. The school may also need to be made aware of any safety considerations, and in particular, who can and cannot pick up te tamaiti or rangatahi from school.
Wherever possible te tamaiti should be supported to maintain continuity in their education arrangements when they enter care in order to provide stability and maintain important relationships with teachers and peers. Staying in the same school can be 1 way to maintain people and places that are familiar to te tamaiti during a period of significant change. If existing arrangements do not address the needs of te tamaiti, we need to understand why this is the case and what assistance the school may need.
There may be circumstances where the education needs of te tamaiti are best met by transitiong to a different kura. When this occurs we need to work with parents/guardians, caregivers, family/whānau and education staff to manage this transition in a way that is best for te tamaiti.
If te tamaiti entering care is not already enrolled then a key focus will be on supporting their enrolment in an education setting. Assistance may be sought from the closest regional office of the Ministry of Education.
Education support and the National Care Standards
The National Care Standards recognise the critical relationship between education and the wider wellbeing for tamariki and require us to ensure specific actions occur to meet the education needs of te tamaiti. We need to:
- support te tamaiti to attend school — this means we need to work closely with family/whānau, caregivers and the school to support attendance and address any barriers
- ensure te tamaiti has all the equipment and materials they need to fully participate in their education — this includes things like school bags, uniforms and stationery and payment of education-related costs such as school trips
- provide any additional support needed to assist te tamaiti to succeed in education, taking into particular account the needs of tamariki who have a disability or identified learning need
- monitor and support the educational progress of te tamaiti, which includes sharing information, getting regular updates (at least once a term) and meeting regularly with the school to discuss progress te tamaiti is making and any additional support they need.
Education and the All About Me plan
For tamariki and rangatahi in care or custody their education needs are captured in their All About Me plan along with the identified supports to meet them. This includes those actions in which other professionals may be leading, so we can follow up when necessary and work together to make sure the plan for te tamaiti remains on track.
It is appropriate to share parts of the All About Me plan with the school or education provider te tamaiti is attending as well as any other professionals, particularly if they have a specific role to play in the plan.
It is important that any additional learning needs are identified and plans developed to ensure they are met. The gateway assessment and youth justice education screen play a critical role in understanding educational needs for te tamaiti or rangatahi and should inform the education aspects of the All About Me plan.
Tamariki with specific educational support needs may have additional plans, particularly if support is being provided to te tamaiti through specialist education services. Any specific education plans should be referred to and linked to the All About Me plan.
Considerations for specific age groups
The educational needs for te tamaiti and what is required to support them will change depending on their age.
For tamariki who are aged 1 to 4, we need to:
- ensure that they are enrolled in a licensed early childhood service, including kohanga reo or a certificated playgroup, where that is in their best interests
- think about the length of time te tamaiti is in ECE or daycare in the context of their age and other support needs
- think about the support te tamaiti might need to help with their learning, socialisation and development at home and discuss this with their caregiver.
For primary school aged tamariki we need to:
- in the case of a 5 year old, make a decision about when to enrol te tamaiti in school (they must be enrolled at a registered school by age 6)
- recognise that starting school is a significant change and milestone in the life of te tamaiti and support the caregiver to prepare te tamaiti for this change
- maintain the enrolment of tamariki aged 6 and upwards in a registered school
- support the introduction of extra curricular activities such as sport, arts and cultural activities like kapa haka as appropriate to the age of te tamaiti.
For secondary school aged rangatahi we need to:
- support their continued enrolment at a registered school until they are at least aged 15
- work with rangatahi, their parents/guardians and caregivers to identify goals for further education when they leave school
- ensure rangatahi have the opportunity to participate in important milestones such as attending school balls and other social, sporting and cultural opportunities available to them through kura
- ensure rangatahi are supported to complete relevant NCEA credits.
For rangatahi who have left or are about to leave secondary school we need to:
- begin conversations early about their educational hopes and aspirations
- explore a wide range of vocational and learning opportunities that are available to rangatahi and ensure they are aware of the range of choices and support available to them
- remove barriers to rangatahi enrolling in tertiary education if that is their wish — this could include support to access funding streams, scholarships and other resources
- for rangatahi attending tertiary education, ensure they know the range of student services provided by the university or tertiary institution to support their wellbeing and progress
- for rangatahi aged 16 or 17 who are not enrolled in education, training or employment, access a relevant youth services provider who can help rangatahi who agree to be part of the service to get into, or stay in, education, training or work-based learning.
The Ministry of Education website provides age-specific information around enrolment and things to consider in education.
Celebrating progress, success and educational milestones
School presents a range of opportunities whereby tamariki experience new things, build significant relationships and have their unique skills, talents and abilities nurtured and developed. It is important that we enable tamariki and rangatahi to have a record of these key education milestones throughout their time in care. We do this in the life storybook for te tamaiti or rangatahi. School photos, projects completed at school and awards for sporting, cultural and academic achievements will be belongings that tamariki will likely treasure and we need to help them keep them safe.
For tamariki with specific learning needs, reaching the same educational achievements as their peers may be difficult. It is particularly important to take notice of their progress and help them to recognise, value and take note of their personal achievements and milestones.
Don’t forget to involve parents, family/whānau (including siblings), caregivers and other people important to te tamaiti in their significant achievements and milestones.
Relationships with education and other professionals
Maintaining positive relationships with the early childhood centre, kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa, school or other education provider is essential in order to meet the educational needs of te tamaiti.
Identify and engage with the key pastoral support worker in the education setting — this isn’t necessarily the teacher but could be a special education needs coordinator (SENCO), deputy principal or resource teacher for learning and behaviour (RTLB).
Knowing who to talk to about any issues, and being in regular contact with the school, helps us know about issues as they develop, rather than hearing about them when they have escalated to a level that makes them difficult to resolve. Having clear, regular lines of communication helps ensure that the assessment of education needs for te tamaiti or rangatahi is current and any issues can be responded to promptly.
Think about what kind of communication might be required between the school and their caregiver. We may need to provide direct support to ensure that these lines of communication are open and effective.
It’s important to spend some time establishing a network of support for te tamaiti or rangatahi. We should ask ourselves:
- Who does te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau identify as important to them within the education environment?
- Who holds the primary education relationship with te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau? This person will help to gather information and build relationships with te tamaiti or rangatahi.
- Who are the other education professionals with connections to te tamaiti or rangatahi?
- Are there professionals from other sectors such as health or mental health that should be involved in addressing education needs?
- Who has the skills and resources to best meet the identified needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi, including support for positive identity?
- What might be needed to further build and nurture relationships between te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau and the appropriate education providers?
- What has previous engagement with education been like for te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau and what impact does this have on their current relationships?
Maintaining an integrated approach with education involves:
- timely and respectful communication such as sharing information as it comes to hand, updating on progress, keeping relevant people informed of any changes to the situation for te tamaiti or rangatahi, or any indicators of emerging issues
- involving education and other professionals in key review and decision-making processes for te tamaiti or rangatahi, such as family group conferences
- ensuring te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau are receiving timely information such as updates on progress or any matters that may impact on the outcomes being sought, and ensuring they have a means to express their views about the information they receive
- being mindful that teaching staff are often engaged directly with tamariki and rangatahi during the day (between the times of 9am and 3pm), and that it may be optimal to contact them outside of normal school hours — school communities may identify other key staff such as RTLB, SENCO or leadership roles such as principals, deputy principals or deans as a key point of contact for us to engage with.
On occasion we may find that there is disagreement among professionals about the best way to support te tamaiti and their education needs. Our role in these situations is to ensure that the holistic view of the needs of te tamaiti is considered, that their voice is heard, and that consensus about the best way forward for te tamaiti can be reached. The decision-making process is supported to an optimal outcome for te tamaiti. Convenng a professionals or interagency meeting can assist.
Supporting behavioural needs in education settings
Tamariki who have experienced trauma or significant change can express their distress through a range of behaviours, such as boundary testing, withdrawing, challenging rules and authority, and behavioural and emotional outbursts. These behaviours may be challenging to manage in the school environment and could lead to the school or broader education system perceiving the need for disciplinary action.
Traditional understandings of discipline/punishment may not be appropriate and could be less effective for tamariki with experiences of trauma or significant change. We can support education staff and schools to understand the effects of trauma on the individual tamaiti, and to consider alternative relationship based strategies rather than punitive disciplinary measures.
Intervening early when behavioural concerns first emerge provides the best opportunity to support te tamaiti to meet their education needs. Meetings involving school staff, caregivers, other professionals and wherever possible parents and guardians can be effective in putting plans in place to address these concerns. We should record any actions in the All About Me plan.
Remember that unmet health and/or disability needs can also contribute to what might otherwise be perceived as challenging behaviour in the classroom. Get the right advice and assistance early.
Tamariki and rangatahi with high and complex needs
Tamariki may have other high and complex needs impacting on their ability to engage in education effectively and successfully. In these cases you can:
- ask what learning support te tamaiti or rangatahi is currently receiving and ensure that it follows them if they move schools
- advocate for other supports which may be available, and engage te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau in any new supports that become available to them
- provide additional support to supplement what is available through the education system.
Learning support — Ministry of Education
An interagency meeting can help to facilitate support to address the needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi, to transition to a new school, or other outcomes from decisions made about te tamaiti.
For tamariki with a neuro-disability, it is important to ensure that there is sufficient structure, support, supervision, simplicity, and building on strengths in the classroom environment which is consistent with their development rather than their chronological age.
We need to always consider how a disability may affect participation. For example, a tamaiti or rangatahi with severe physical and intellectual disability will need assistance with accessing indoor and outdoor places for recreation, or involvement with cultural activities within the school community.
Social workers can talk to regional disability advisors (RDAs) to get ideas about how best to support tamariki with disabilities in the school environment, and can access supports across government and non-government agencies.
Sometimes tamariki will have significant unmet health, education and wellbeing needs which can’t be met within available services. These tamariki may be able to access High and Complex Needs (HCN) support and a referral should be considered. If an HCN plan is developed, link it to the All About Me plan.
Peer relationships, bullying and social media
While school is generally a place where positive peer relationships can be nurtured and developed, remember that for some te tamaiti troubled peer relationships can be a serious source of distress and difficulty. This can be particularly true for tamariki in care who may be particularly sensitive to a sense of stigma about being in care and whose experiences and reactions may not be well understood by peers.
If we are aware that te tamaiti may be experiencing bullying (whether in person or online), we should take time to talk to te tamaiti about this, reassure them and talk through the steps we will take to ensure this is addressed.
Schools have clear processes in place for addressing bullying. It’s important that caregivers know what is happening to address these concerns and that they check in regularly with te tamaiti to ensure they are feeling safe and supported at school.
Attendance and truancy issues
Be aware of the patterns of attendance for te tamaiti and talk with them and their caregiver about any attendance concerns that the school may be noticing. Understanding the reasons for non-attendance is the key to responding effectively and preventing a more serious truancy issue from emerging.
If we have worked with the school, caregiver and te tamaiti to address attendance concerns and we remain concerned about non-attendance or truancy, we should access more specialised advice and support through truancy services and the Ministry of Education at the earliest opportunity.
Advocating for te tamaiti or rangatahi in the education system
Sometimes despite best efforts to intervene and support te tamaiti, behavioural concerns can escalate to a point where disciplinary proceedings are initiated. Principals and Boards of Trustees have a range of options to manage these disciplinary situations.
The Ministry of Education has more information around school disciplinary interventions, the rights of te tamaiti or rangatahi and what we and the caregivers can expect from the process.
We need to advocate on behalf of te tamaiti within the education setting in order to ensure well-informed decisions are made which recognise and are sensitive to their particular care-related needs. Remember that school leaders will have a sense of responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of all tamariki in the school and it is important that we acknowledge this while advocating for the needs of te tamaiti with whom we are directly involved.
Advocating for te tamaiti could include:
- undertaking research on the rights of te tamaiti or rangatahi in, and possible outcomes of, a disciplinary hearing
- becoming familiar with and understanding processes the kura or school has in place which contribute to pre-disciplinary strategies, for example, restorative justice processes and positive behaviour for learning
- sharing information that could be used to inform the hearing, both before and during the hearing
- ensuring the views of te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau, hapū and iwi have been considered
- ensuring all relevant background information is known and understood, including how the school or wider education system perceives the issue and potential solution
- providing guidance to ensure that any formal process such as a hearing is conducted in a supportive, mana-enhancing way for te tamaiti or rangatahi, their family/whānau, hapū and iwi, and other professionals, taking care to consider and mediate power imbalances between professionals and tamariki and rangatahi, and their family/whānau, hapū and iwi
- ensuring tamariki and rangatahi are informed of the process and know their rights
- ensuring family/whānau are kept informed regarding their rights and are able to participate so they can meet their family/whānau and whanaungatanga responsibilities
- being aware of previous relationships the family/whānau has had with the kura or school and the social worker in schools (SWiS) or pastoral care support they are able to access at the kura or school, for example, Māori engagement officers
- understanding the roles siblings or family/whānau attending the same school may have taken on in support of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
As well as advocating for te tamaiti directly, we can also support te tamaiti to access independent advocacy. VOYCE Whakarongo Mai provide specific advocacy for tamariki who are in care across a range of issues. Local YouthLaw providers can also be a good source of advice and assistance.