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Supporting teaching practice for students with learning disability and Down syndrome (STPDS) programme is designed to build capability for educators, parents, and students with Down syndrome and learning disability where an increased understanding is an asset.

Practicing holding a pencil

What is STPDS?

STPDS is a wellbeing and capability programme specifically designed to link the theory and practical application of developmental and educational approaches within the New Zealand school curriculum. Practises that support the wellbeing of children and young people with a disability promote opportunities to learn within the curriculum, present the specific learning profile of students and promote social inclusion and participation.


The aim of the STPDS programme is to build capability across the three settings of childhood at home, school and in the community. A human rights lens emphasises the human needs (health, education, and social participation) of children and young people with disabilities, and the capabilities approach draws attention to the way opportunities to learn and expectations, skills, and competencies are met for children with a disability to achieve. The three principles of wellbeing are the ways capability can be recognised, assessed, and provided for children and young people with a disability and generalised for inclusive practice.


The programme focuses on the research, advocacy and evaluative knowledge and skills that provide an evidence base to promote the learning achievement and wellbeing for the student group. The programme encourages interactive collaborative evidence-based practices for educators, parents, whānau, learning support personnel and allied professionals (Kirk 2019).

The STPDS programme facilitates each regional programme network to draw on local skills, cultural strengths, local business community and community groups to engage in the process of social inclusion, participation and inclusive education through the New Zealand Curriculum, sport and extra curriculum events through the year long programme.


To promote the full participation of people with Down syndrome and learning disability in their community.

To support parents, whānau, and professionals in the development and education of children and young people with Down syndrome and learning disability to ensure that they reach their full potential.


STPDS identifies with the vision of the New Zealand Curriculum through the practical application and implementation of the curriculum alongside the lived experience of children with a disability and diverse population groups. This is in order to ensure this group of young people have access to the opportunities to learn at each step in the curriculum, and to live full and satisfying lives.


To provide parents, whānau and those working with children and young people with learning disability and / or Down syndrome access to research-based evidence, information and resources in an accessible format for daily practice.

To provide examples of evidence of best practice in teaching strategies, approaches to health practice, social service delivery, and resources available nationally and internationally.


Dr Maree Kirk completed her doctoral thesis "Acceptance, Recognition and Supported Independence: Wellbeing for Children and Young People with a Disability in New Zealand" at the University of Waikato.

Wellbeing is a complex phenomenon and although there has been increasing interest in this field, particularly for children, there is a dearth of research about wellbeing for children and young people with a disability.

Wellbeing for children and young people with a disability is best understood through considering the influence of all settings of childhood, (an ecological systems framework), the home, school and their local community (Kirk, 2019). 

The three principles of acceptance, recognition and supported independence situate the theory of wellbeing for children and young people with a disability (Kirk, 2019).

These three key principles form the basis of three models.  The first model is an ecological perspective. It illustrates how the level at which policy is introduced and implemented intersects and works to benefit or hinder the service provision for the children and their families in social services and in particular in the school environment (Kirk, 2019).

The second model — Dimensions of Wellbeing for Children and Young People with a Disability in New Zealand — emerged from the data and illustrates the factors that influence wellbeing in keys settings of home, school and the community for children and young people with a disability. The Dimensions of Wellbeing were used in conjunction with the ecological perspective to develop the third model.


The third model is, therefore, a capability model for schools - Supporting teaching practice for students with learning disability and Down syndrome - STPDS.

With a considerable career background in health and education she has also worked as a contract Teaching Fellow in the Department of Societies and Cultures at the University of Waikato. Her research interests include: children, wellbeing, disability, social inclusion, demography and social policy. With extensive expertise, Dr Maree Kirk has led research presentations both nationally and internationally and was the recipient of a New Zealand Building Research Capability in Social Sciences Award. Her experience as a research consultant is varied and includes work with CCS Disability Action and National Waka Ama.

Dr Maree Kirk is the Regional Coordinator of the Bay of Plenty Down Syndrome Association Inc. and has held key advocacy roles with national organisations for example New Zealand Down Syndrome Association, IHC, IEAG. She is a foundation member of the New Zealand Teachers Council Inclusive Education Advisory Committee.


Positions Dr Maree Kirk has held both regional and national positions in research, health, education, and advocacy roles - some of these include:

  • Ministry of Education Learning Support Register Process

  • Ministry of Education Disputes Resolution Process

  • Ministry of Health Local Working Group for the New Model for Supporting Disabled People

  • Review of the Hosting Role – High and Complex Needs (IF)

  • The Ministry of Education Inclusive Education Capability Building Project National Sector Advisory Group

  • The New Zealand Down Syndrome Education Advisory Committee

  • Ministry of Education Peer Review Team Down Syndrome Resource Booklet and Online Inclusive Education Knowledge Centre

  • Deputy Chair Aquinas College Board of Trustees & Chair Policy and Ethos Committee

  • International contributor to the International Guidelines for the Education of Learners with Down Syndrome (2020)

  • Health & Disability Ethics Committee

  • New Zealand Teachers Council Inclusive Education Advisor Committee - Minister of Health Statutory Appointment. 2020 - 2026 

What is STPDS
Philosophy & Vision
Dr Maree Kirk
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