Residential specialist school enrolment: RSS-only pathway

This guidance informs schools of the process to enrol a student in a residential specialist school through the RSS-only pathway.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Learning Support Staff
  • RTLBs
  • Parents, Caregivers and Whānau
  • Teachers and Kaiako
  • Boards

How do you enrol in a residential specialist school?

Access to a residential specialist school (RSS) is through a referral from a learning support or RTLB staff member.

A parent, educator or learning support provider can request that a RSS is considered for a young person.

Who makes the application?

Applications are only able to be made by the young person’s learning support provider in their home region.

This could be a resource teacher of learning and behaviour (RTLB), a Ministry specialist, or a day specialist or fund-holder school.

What are the criteria?

There are 4 criteria for residential specialist schools.

  1. The young person is aged 8 to 15 years old (in Year 3 to 10).
  2. The young person has behaviour, social and/or learning needs that are highly complex and challenging (and may have associated intellectual difficulty) and requires support at school.
  3. Local learning support services have been considered or tried. However, RSS intervention is believed to be the best way of meeting the child/young person’s needs.
  4. The young person does not need an intervention in the home or community (the child/young person does not need intensive services such as Te Kahu Tōī – Intensive Wraparound Service, Oranga Tamariki or high and Complex Needs).

What is the process for enrolling?

The enrolment process involves families, educators and learning support providers in the home region.


  • meet to carefully consider and decide if an application for enrolment will proceed
  • understand the RSS-only pathway is not an option where high and complex needs indicate intensive specialist inter-agency support across home and community contexts is required
  • consider which school will best be suited to the young person’s needs
  • decide who will complete the application.

Once the application is submitted:

  • enrolment groups for the relevant school will review the application
  • each enrolment group will make final decisions for their school(s) only, supported by the Ministry, and will confirm if the application and a specialist education agreement (previously known as Section 9 agreement) is supported.

Things to think about before you apply

Involve your young people

Rangatahi (young people) need to be fully informed, consulted and supported to understand any decisions that impact on them.

When decisions about a possible move away from family to a residential school are being considered, listening to the voice of rangatahi is very important. This is the responsibility of the family and providers of specialist support in the home region.

Understand the difference between IWS and RSS

If you are considering making an application, ensure that all 4 admission criteria are met.

Where a young person’s needs indicate that a high level of specialist support is required across home, school and community contexts, you should apply for Te Kahu Toi: Intensive Wraparound Service (IWS), not RSS.

  • IWS is a service which includes an individually tailored and comprehensive range of supports across home, community and school settings. 
  • The RSS-only pathway provides 24-hour teaching and learning opportunities through the school day and residential provision.

Te Kahu Toi: Intensive Wraparound Service

RSS is an education intervention.

  • It does not replace accountabilities for educators and other agencies to provide quality services locally.
  • Each young person needs to have a home, RSS is not a solution for a young person without home or care arrangements in place.

A RSS application takes time. If this is a crisis situation, other solutions will be needed.

Other options

Young people may enrol at a residential school through the new RSS-only pathway. Each enrolment needs to be agreed through the specialist education agreement process.

Access criteria and the application process ensure that support is accessed by young people who are most likely to benefit from it. Some applications will result in an RSS enrolment and others will not. Local teams should establish a range of possible options for schooling and learning support.

Applications may only be completed and submitted by a current learning support provider.

How to apply

A current learning support provider should complete the following forms:

Email the forms to

  • Do not attach any other documents.
  • Please check you are emailing confidential documents to the correct address.

The terms of reference apply to all rangatahi who are considering a RSS enrolment.

Terms of reference

The risk assessment will help clarify if an RSS is the best educational option and enrolment can be supported where the young person is not:

  • exhibiting behaviours that may place other students at risk, including but not limited to overt violence
  • have a history of sexualised behaviours compromising the safety of others
  • currently or recently in specialised, severe behavioural programmes
  • under treatment for, or has been unresponsive to the treatment of any psychiatric illness, (including suicidal ideation); or
  • under, or has been unresponsive to, treatment for substance abuse.

Reviewed: August 2020 (following the updating of the Education and Training Act 2020)

Application timeframes

RSS enrolment group timeframe for applications and decisions for each school term.

Week 2

Applications must be submitted by 5pm Friday

Week 3

Applications will be collated and sent to the requested school’s RSS enrolment group

Week 4

RSS enrolment groups will meet to consider applications for their school

Week 5

Decision letters and Section 37 application (if appropriate) will be sent out to referrers

Week 6

Applications must be submitted by 5pm Friday

Week 7

Applications will be collated and sent to the requested school’s RSS enrolment group

Week 8

RSS enrolment groups will meet to consider applications for their school

Week 9

Decision letters and Section 37 application (if appropriate) will be sent out to referrers

Applications for Te Kahu Tōī – Intensive Wraparound Service will be reviewed by the regional panels as usual.

Te Kahu Toi: Intensive Wraparound Service

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