A shortfall in help for a growing number of children with behaviour problems is behind a sudden drop in satisfaction with the Education Ministry's special education service, school principals say.
Only 64 percent of 1206 parents and educators who responded to a ministry survey last year agreed they were satisfied with the overall quality of the service.
It was the first time the satisfaction rating had dropped below 70 percent since the survey was first run in 2011, and in the previous three surveys overall satisfaction had been steady at 71 percent.
The percentage of respondents happy with their children's progress after receiving special education help also reached its lowest level at just 63 percent, down from 69 percent in 2015.
The time it took for children to get help had the lowest level of satisfaction of any aspect of the special education service at 56 percent of respondents.
The president of the Principals' Federation, Whetu Cormick, said special education staff did a great job, but schools wanted more help for a growing number of children with special needs.
"Schools say that they are at breaking point with the increase in severe behaviour issues that are arriving at school, children with mental health issues and even the effects of methamphetamine addiction," Mr Cormick said.
He said principals hoped the ministry's current reform of its special education service would help.
The director of advocacy for IHC, Trish Grant, said she was not surprised by the fall in overall satisfaction.
"This drop matches what IHC is hearing from families and schools, about the disconnect in what's provided and what's needed," she said.
Ms Grant said dissatisfaction levels might well be higher than stated by the survey.
Ministry of Education Ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey said parents told the ministry in 2015 that it took too long to access special education help and it had been working since then to improve the service.
She said the ministry was piloting a new way of delivering special education services in 30 groups of schools during 2017/18.
"This new approach is child-centred and better integrated with other health and social services so children and young people with learning support needs get the right support when they need it," she said.
"While there is room for improvement, it's important to remember that there's a lot of great work being done to support students with additional learning needs."
Ms Casey said the government spent $630 million a year on learning support, with two-thirds of the money going directly to schools, and more students than ever were receiving additional help.