Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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SpLD - Silent Learning Difficulties? Factors influencing literacy learning of Māori students, as identified by teachers, SENCo, and parents

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Version 2 2023-09-22, 02:14
Version 1 2021-12-07, 14:44
posted on 2021-12-07, 14:44 authored by Smallbone, Catherine

This qualitative research study, conducted in primary English-medium schools in a mid-sized, central New Zealand city, uses mixed-methods to investigate the factors that teachers, special education needs coordinators (SENCo), and parents identify as influencing Māori student literacy learning. It looks at the prevalence of discourse around specific learning difficulties (SpLD), and whether the different parties consider SpLD as a potential reason behind low literacy achievement among Māori students. The motive for the study is to begin a conversation around the possibility of SpLD being overlooked in favour of socio-cultural understandings of literacy learning. It uses a critical theory lens and touches on the potential influence of unconscious bias amongst participant teachers. Data collection methods included an online survey, sent to all of the schools in the area for teaching staff to complete, interviews conducted with teachers and SENCo, both online and in person, and focus groups with groups of parents, in neutral and welcoming environments. There are three significant findings, and the study concludes that teachers, SENCo, and parents tend to look for social and cultural causes where there is low literacy achievement amongst Māori students. The three main findings are that teachers look ‘outwards’, to influences on literacy learning such as socioeconomic status, transiency, home background, and oral language development. Secondly, both teacher and parent participants generally do not consider specific learning difficulties as one of the main influences on literacy learning. There seems to be a lack of confidence amongst teachers in supporting students who have been identified as having a SpLD. The final major finding was that teachers, SENCo, and parents all agreed on and promoted the importance and value of relationships between teacher and child, and whānau as underpinning the student’s learning.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Education

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education


Major, Jae