Hon Ruth Dyson

Address to the Dyslexia Foundation Launch

29 November 2006
Cashmere Primary School, Christchurch

Good morning everybody and thank you for the invitation to speak at the launch of this new foundation.

I’d like to acknowledge Foundation Trustees Guy and Suzanne Pope-Mayell, Lorna Timms and Cashmere Primary School Principal, Jacqui Duncan.

Our government is committed to delivering the New Zealand Disability Strategy – launched just five years ago. The development of the Strategy meant that, for the first time ever, government departments and agencies had a framework within which to address disability issues.

The strategy represents a fundamental shift in thinking – from a medical model of disability to the social model. That model says that our problems lie with a society that creates barriers which are disabling and that it is society’s responsibility to remove those barriers. As an agent of change, the Strategy seeks to shift New Zealand from a disabling society to an enabling one.

We are committed to implementing the New Zealand Disability Strategy so that everyone can say that they live in a society where they are valued and their participation is encouraged.

To achieve this fully inclusive society, we need to incorporate the Strategy throughout all strands of government, including the education system.

The Ministry of Education has developed the plan "Better Outcomes for All Students" which links with the Strategy so that children and young people with special education needs can achieve their full potential.

Personalised learning puts each child and their abilities and achievements at the heart of their education. The flexible and tailored approach in "Tomorrow’s Schools" is driven by a focus on effective teaching that meets the needs of a diverse range of students.

The Ministry of Education’s present position is based on the belief that a good school system should provide for the individual teaching necessary for assisting all children. Their preference is that special education needs are defined by the support they require, rather than any diagnostic label.

The Ministry’s view is that through quality assessment practices, classroom teachers can identify and analyse the specific learning needs of students and the appropriate instructional strategies required to meet these needs.

In some situations, a classroom teacher will need additional support from specialists, like Resource Teachers: Literacy, Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour, Reading Recovery tutors or speech-language therapists, or it may be necessary to refer to other specialist like optometrists, occupational therapists or audiologists.

The Ministry is investigating how these children might be better identified, to make sure that appropriate and early intervention takes place.

Since 2000, we have seen the development of a framework that brings a more collaborative approach to education. We have moved towards a focus on national qualifications, effective teaching and higher standards for each student and assessment. The real benefits of this new framework occur when the learning system is tailored to fit individual students, not the other way round, and all New Zealanders are able to identify their learning requirements and to know how to meet them successfully.

The new draft curriculum sets out what all New Zealand students have to be taught, but it also provides flexibility for schools to respond to students’ needs. We all have a stake in the curriculum and you should have been sent information from your school on making a submission on this draft document.

An underlining focus of the new curriculum is that all students can reach their full potential and strive for excellence, but not necessarily in the same way.

This is your opportunity to contribute to the New Zealand curriculum.

School can be a difficult place for those who learn differently to the majority. SPELD identifies as many as ten per cent of the population as having learning problems, even though they are intelligent and may achieve very well outside the classroom.

Effective teachers can identify all students’ strengths and needs so they can provide the best learning opportunities for every child.

This means teachers need to have a working knowledge of what every child in their classroom can do.

It is clear that there can be long-term negative consequences in not meeting these learning needs.

Not achieving the engagement or support required at school can affect future employment opportunities and earning capabilities. Figures provided by the Dyslexia Foundation estimate that 50 per cent of the prison population has identifiable learning difficulties.

We all need to work together, across the wider education sector, to meet the needs of all our learners. Central government certainly has a part to play, but we are not the only ones with a role in this. Collaboration between organisations and groups is vital, and best results will require a coordinated provision of services.

I wish the foundation every success to support all New Zealanders and once again thank you for your invitation to speak to you today.

Thank you.