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Te Pūkenga agrees a plan to improve outcomes for all disabled learners in vocational education across Aotearoa

On 27 April, Te Pūkenga approved a national strategic disability action plan to improve outcomes for disabled ākonga (learners).

This plan provides a unified national strategy across Te Pūkenga, which includes 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) and Industry Training Organisations (ITOs). 

The plan is the first of its kind and will leverage the organisation’s size and scale. The plan was developed with ākonga (learners) and kaimahi (staff). 

The plan takes forward what disabled learners and their whānau have said needs to change in Te Rito research report part three, which uncovered barriers that disabled kaimahi and ākonga face when teaching and learning. The eight key objectives of the disability action plan respond to the each of the eight barriers specifically identified in Te Rito research report for disabled ākonga. They include kaimahi not knowing enough about disability, disabled learners not getting the right support and inaccessible physical environments for some disabled ākonga.  

Alice Mander, Co-President of the National Disabled Students’ Association, participated in developing the plan. She believes that its adoption by Te Pūkenga is a promising development for disabled learners.

"The development of a national Disability Action Plan by Te Pūkenga shows consideration of disabled tauira at both a governance and operational level. This is a position disabled tauira haven’t been in before, and shows a tangible step in the right direction towards putting learners at the center of vocational education. We’re looking forward to seeing how the plan supports and bolsters disabled learner voices at Te Pukenga subsidiaries."

Grant Cleland, Strategic Advisor, Disability at Te Pūkenga agrees, saying "Currently many subsidiaries are just starting their journey of reviewing their support for disabled ākonga. Many are having to use labour-intensive supports which are under considerable pressure, because the infrastructure is often not accessible for disabled ākonga, so we need to create an inclusive environment where teaching and support kaimahi feel ‘disability confident’. We also need to manage the increasing number and needs of disabled ākonga by building a more accessible infrastructure across Te Pūkenga, which is the key focus of this plan."

Mr. Cleland also noted that the Plan is a living document and will be subject to further consultation and development. 

The tertiary education sector in New Zealand has in the past initiated many reforms designed to ensure that compulsory education is more accessible for disabled ākonga, as well as plans to improve systems and practices within the tertiary sector. 

Te Pūkenga Chief Executive Stephen Town says “The plan signals the change that Te Pūkenga seeks – a vocational education system that works for all. From 2023, Te Pūkenga will have nearly a quarter million learners, at least ten per cent of whom are disabled – although we know this figure is likely to be much bigger due to under-reporting.  

"Our council members are committed to meaningful change. This national plan provides a comprehensive road map towards a vocational system that hears the voices of disabled learners and what they need to succeed."

  • Some immediate changes ākonga will experience from 2023 as a result of implementing the plan include: 
  • stronger partnerships with ākonga to understand and respond to the voice of disabled ākonga 
  • increasingly disability confident staff to ensure more inclusive learning environments  
  • consistent data collection on disabled learners to measure and manage performance against the plan 
  • adoption of the Accessibility Charter to ensure alternate formatting of information and more accessible infrastructure.  

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