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Meet the presenter

Hi, I’m Simon. I have two daughters, Aleisha and Jacinta. My younger daughter, Jacinta gets teacher aide support at school.
M3 Narrator Simon Hall

M3 Supporting students with complex needs

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Supporting students who have complex needs

Why this module?

Some people require extra support to complete day-to-day activities. Teacher aides are a valuable resource in supporting students who have physical, personal care and communication support needs. Providing this support ensures that these students enjoy the same access to a quality education as their peers.

Being a role model

While respectful and supportive relationships with teachers and teacher aides are critical to student learning and well-being, so too are students’ relationships with peers. The ways teachers and teacher aides interact and include students with complex needs may influence the way other students view and treat their peers.

Respecting privacy and dignity

Some students need help with eating, lifting, positioning, toileting, dispensing medicine and moving around the school. This kind of support needs to be provided in unobtrusive ways that empower the student and respect their privacy and dignity. Talk with your students about their preferences or talk to those who know the student well. Ask their families/whānau for their insights.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How would I like to be treated?
  • Have I allowed the student the time and opportunity to tell me what they want?
  • Have I asked the student what they prefer with physical transitions?
  • Do I speak to the student the same way as I do to other students?
  • Do I know what class the student doesn’t want to miss so I can work around this?

Supporting students who require a high level of physical care

If a student requires a high level of physical care, a specialist may help develop a moving and handling plan and/or a health-care plan. The specialist may also show you strategies and techniques for implementing the plan. For example, the specialist may demonstrate how to support a student who needs help with eating. For more information, see Health Conditions in Education Settings (Ministry of Education, 2006).

School documents on a student’s health and safety at school should be available to all staff working with the student. The documents may include information about dispensing medication, physically transferring the student or what to do in an emergency. While this information should be accessible, it must also be handled in ways that respect the student’s privacy.

Supporting students with high communication needs

Specialists may be involved in supporting a student with high communication needs to use assistive technology and other methods to help them communicate and be understood. Teachers and teacher aides can help others to learn and use the communication method the student is using, for example, signing or pictures.

Teachers and teacher aides also remove barriers to communication by modelling respectful ways of communication and helping  other students understand the way the student communicates. For example, they can model pausing and allowing time for the student to communicate their responses.

Supporting students with an Individual Education Plan 

Some students with additional learning needs have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). IEPs are collaboratively developed documents that help inform these students’ pathways to learning. They ensure all students have access to the same curriculum. For more information, see Module 6 in this series and Collaboration for Success (Ministry of Education, 2011).

Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork

Effective teamwork and collaborative decision-making is essential when supporting students with complex needs – when everyone in the team participates, everyone benefits. Team members bring different skills and knowledge:

  • student – their own goals and vision for themselves, including what they want to learn and how they want to learn
  • families and whānau – intimate knowledge of their children
  • peers – knowledge (which may have been developed over some time) of a student’s likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, capabilities and personal traits
  • teacher – knowledge about learning, teaching, curriculum, assessment and knowledge of the student as a learner
  • teacher aide – often has knowledge about the student’s preferences, friendships, strengths and likes
  • specialists – knowledge about communication, mobility and care.

Keeping yourself safe

Teachers and teacher aides need to be safe when supporting students with complex needs. You need to have access to appropriate training and be aware of relevant school policies and procedures.


Education Review Office. (2015). Inclusive practices for students with special needs in schools. Wellington: Education Review Office.

Ministry of Education. (2006). Health conditions in education settings: Supporting children and young people. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Ministry of Education. (2011). Collaboration for success: Individual education plans. Wellington: Learning Media.