The Ministry of Education defines inclusive education as a context in which ‘all children and young people are engaged and achieve through being present, participating, learning and belonging.’ Inclusive education is also about the development and design of learning spaces and activities, so that all learners can learn and participate together and affirm their identity.
Special education needs
The Ministry of Education clarifies that children with special education needs are children who require extra support because of ‘a physical disability, a sensory impairment, a learning or communication delay, a social, emotional or behavioural difficulty, or a combination of these.’
In compliance with the 2020 Education and Training Act, repealing the 1989 Education Act, every domestic student is entitled to free enrolment and free education at state schools (Art. 33). Special education is provided to students under the age of 21 years, under an agreement with the family or direction given by the Secretary (Art. 37).
Residential special schools are still in place for students with special education needs owing to vision and/or hearing impairments or social, behavioural and/or learning difficulties. Parents or guardians of students who wish to be enrolled in a special school need to draw up a formal agreement with the Ministry of Education.
Established by the Education and Training Act 2020 (Art. 200), Māori-medium education (Kura Kaupapa Māori) consists of state schools that adhere to the philosophy, principles and practices of Te Aho Mātua, whose curriculum subjects are taught in the Māori language.
Partnership schools (Kura Hourua) are a new type of school in the education system targeting learners from areas that have traditionally experienced education challenges. Piloted in 2014 and focused on outcomes, these schools provide an innovative approach to better cater for local needs through more flexibility, including over curriculum, qualifications, funding, hours of operation and school leadership.
New Zealand does not have a single written constitution. Fundamental rights and principles are enshrined in key rights acts. Part 2 of the 1993 Human Rights Act regulates unlawful discrimination in various sectors and contexts, prohibiting discriminatory practices on grounds of sex, marital status, religious and ethical beliefs, colour, race, ethnic or national origins, disability, age, employment status, family status, political opinion or sexual orientation. In relation to education, it declares unlawful the denial of school admission, the discriminatory admission and/or the restriction of benefits and services by an education institutions or authority (Art. 57). These provisions are reiterated in the 1990 Bill of Rights Act (Art. 19).
The inclusive principle has been reaffirmed in many population-based policies and strategies. The country’s 2016–20 education plan recognizes children’s diverse needs for additional learning support throughout their education. The plan aimed to strengthen the use of data to improve individual assessment and adequately address the needs of every child and young person within a fully inclusive education system.
The 1993 Human Rights Act lays foundations for limitations of the non-discrimination provision in education (Art. 57) by admitting exceptions in relation to disability, specifically in the case that a person with disability requires special services or facilities ‘that in the circumstances cannot reasonably be made available’ (Art. 58). The 2000 New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act requires the elaboration of a National Disability Strategy, under which the minister for disability issues reports to the Parliament annually on the progress made in the sector. As part of the transformation of the disability support system, the 2006 New Zealand Sign Language Act proclaimed New Zealand Sign Language as an official language of the country.
Since 2000, New Zealand has adopted national disability strategies on a regular basis. The 2016–26 Disability Strategy, the outcome of an extended consultation process, reaffirms inclusion as the principle for the country’s education policy, practice and pedagogy and as a core competency for all education practitioners. The 2019–23 Disability Action Plan sets out among its objectives to improve education outcomes for persons with disabilities at the tertiary education level.
In education, the 2020 Education and Training Act establishes that students with special education needs have same rights to education at state schools as their peers (Art. 34). The Education Review Office (ERO) conducted an audit on inclusive practices whose assessment paved the way for the 2011 report Success for All – Every School, Every Child. With the intention to make schools more accountable for accepting and supporting students with special education needs, the review consisted in extending and making more flexible the access to special education services. Teachers’ and school personnel’s awareness about children with disabilities was strengthened and higher attention was paid to transport and transition from school to employment. The 2015 Special Education Update Action Plan introduces a programme for the redesign of the education system for students with additional learning needs. It further calls for strengthening collaboration between specialists, educators, students, parents and teachers and for increasing quality information about additional learning support. In order to remove fragmentation and make the best use of funds, a new Learning Support Delivery Model was rolled out in 2019. The cluster gives communities more flexibility to cater for the needs of local schools and kura (Māori-language schools) in terms of teacher professional development, classroom schedules and specialist support.
The 1993 Human Rights Act prohibits any discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, specifying heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, or on grounds of sex, including pregnancy and childbirth (Art. 21.1).
The principle of gender equality is imbued in education policies and strategies. In education, specific gender actions were targeted at encouraging girls’ participation in science and technologies studies, such as through the National Strategic Plan for Science in Society and through STEM scholarships, and at support for the LGBTI community through Bullying Prevention Guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education.
The 2016–26 Disability Strategy clarifies that some members of the community of people with disabilities do not identify as part of the gender binary (male or female) or have a predominant sexual orientation. It further recognizes a diversity in the way disability is perceived according to gender.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi represents a founding document for relations with all the tribes (iwi), including for education, as the treaty provides legal protection to the Māori language, which was declared an official language of the country in the 1987 Māori Language Act. As established in the 1990 Bill of Rights Act, a person belonging to an ‘ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority in New Zealand shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of that minority, to enjoy the culture, to profess and practise the religion, or to use the language, of that minority’ (Art. 20).
The Education and Training Act states that Māori community have the right to be associated with a school, whose policies, plans and local currciulum reflect the language and culture of Māori communities.
The use of the Māori language has been particularly encouraged through the Māori Language Strategy, initially promulgated in 1999. The most recent Māori Language Strategy was approved in 2014 in consultation with Māori stakeholder groups. The 2013–27 Māori Language in Education Strategy provides a comprehensive framework for the support of the Māori language in education through the cooperation with and for tribes (iwi), communities and Māori language providers, strengthening the Māori medium sector and networks, building the evidence base and increasing accountability for the Māori language in education. The 2013–17 Māori education strategy aimed to ensure that all Māori students, their parents and their teachers participate in and contribute to their unique identity, language and culture.
The 2013–17 Pasifika Education Plan set out the government’s strategic direction for improving Pasifika education. Among its priorities, the plan aimed to improve the education outcomes of Māori learners, Pasifika learners, learners with special education needs and learners from backgrounds of low socio-economic status through greater involvement and information about existing education services for Pasifika parents, families and communities. Among the implementation actions, an Early Learning Taskforce was launched in 2010 with the aim to engage community groups, local organizations and other agencies. Vocational Pathways, established in 2013, provides a road map to support students to navigate education and work towards further study and careers. Secondary tertiary programmes (including trades academies), fee-free programmes, STAR (Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource), the Youth Guarantee Achievement, Retention, Transitions (ART) initiative and Gateway are examples of other tailored actions aimed to improve education outcomes for Māori and Pasifika students.
People living in rural or remote areas
New Zealand Correspondence School provides distance education to students from early childhood to secondary level who cannot attend a school in person due to their geographical isolation. The Ministry of Education also subsidizes boarding school hostel fees for students from inaccessible areas. Rural education activities programmes (REAPs) have been established as community organizations in rural areas to assist families and students with their learning experience.
Parents and guardians unable to meet the voluntary financial contribution to school are entitled to receive financial assistance, for example through a childcare subsidy and through ad-hoc grants for school-related costs, such as school uniforms.
While refugees and asylum seekers are entitled to access education and receive specific additional support, children of migrants aged between 5 and 19 must fulfil specific criteria in order to benefit from free access to school as domestic students for a period of up to 2 years, renewable if they still meet the criteria. The Ministry of Education set out the eligibility criteria for education access of children of long-stay – over six months – migrants in a formal notice in 2010. The 2014 Migrant Settlement and Integration Strategy set education and training as the second outcome of the framework.
Coordination across sectors
The responsibility for the implementation of the Disability Strategy and the Disability Action Plan, which also affects education provision, is shared among different sectors. Depending on the focus, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and the Ministry of Health may be involved. The Office for Disability Issues acts as a governmental focal point to assist with the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Disability Strategy, while the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues has been established to provide overall decision making and accountability for the Disability Action Plan. The implementation of the plan is jointly overseen by disabled persons’ organizations and by the Chief Executives’ Group on Disability Issues, which holds leadership and coordinates the government agencies on implementing decisions by the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues.
Under the Ministry of Education, Group Special Education, previously known as Special Education Service, is an independent agency that provides advice, guidance and support for the education of students under the age of 21 with learning difficulties. It also acts as a focal point for local schools.
The Ministry of Education is part of the State Services Commission joint working group established to design gender pay principles in partnership with the union and has begun to implement these principles as part of its Diversity and Inclusion programme.
Throughout the country, the Ministry of Education’s senior advisors are focal points for refugee and migrant support.
Coordination across government levels
The Ministry of Education plays a management coordination role. Ten local ministry offices are located throughout the country and are the first contact for early learning services, schools, parents and the wider community. Each school is governed by a board of trustees made up of elected parent representatives, staff, the principal and student representatives. School boards of trustees are the largest single group of Crown entities in the country, accountable directly to the government and the local community for the quality of education in their school.
After an education management devolution in 1988, schools in New Zealand have been considered among the most autonomous schools across OECD countries. Schools can, for instance, personalize their curriculum to better respond to the needs of local learners and their communities.
The Education Infrastructure Design Guidance Documents outline the ministry’s national guidelines for school property design. Independent design review panels provides independent, high-level reviews of school development projects at various design stages.
The Ongoing Resourcing Scheme is a form of special support for students with the highest level of need for special education, through specialists, consumables and teacher aides, which enable students to join in and learn alongside other students at school. Specialised School Transport Assistance (SESTA) is a transport service that assists children and young people with safety and/or mobility needs that prevent them from travelling independently to school.
The New Zealand education system endorses the Universal Design for Learning education approach. As prescribed in the New Zealand Curriculum (for English language settings) and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (for Maori-language settings), a non-prescriptive and flexible learning approach enables professionals to recognize all students’ identities, languages, cultures, abilities and talents.
Initial teacher education (ITE) programmes were to be reviewed and monitored by the end of 2020. The New Zealand Teachers Council has been reported to be willing to include a specific focus on inclusive education in future initial teacher education programmes. In late 2015, the professional learning and development provision was recommended to be revised based on a report from an advisory group of education experts. A specific emphasis was laid on the concept of schools as communities of learning and on learning achievement.
Inclusive education is considered one aspect of ITE programmes. Such programmes focus on understanding the impact disability, behaviour disorders and difficulties in learning might have on a student’s access to and participation in learning and on related legislation. New teachers are trained to identify learners’ needs and analyse special education provisions and suitable available services. A post-graduate diploma in Specialist Teaching was introduced in 2011 with specializations in autism spectrum disorder, blind and vision impairment, deaf and hearing impairment, early intervention, gifted and talented, and learning and behaviour.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Māori-medium ITE programmes train teachers to teach effectively in early childhood and/or primary and/or secondary Māori-medium settings. Ongoing professional learning and development is considered central to providing high-quality teaching and learning. Addressing the needs of ethnic and linguistic minorities, teachers are likewise required to become familiar with Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners.
In order to foster inclusion, schools and kura are supported with special services to address students’ special needs. Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour are specialized, itinerant Māori teachers who, for example, support the classroom and subject teachers to manage the diversity of students’ learning needs in an inclusive environment, who support the school to implement class or school-wide programmes or who can work directly with small groups of students. Teachers from the Specialist Teacher Outreach Service are also itinerant teachers who support students exclusively on the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme. The specialist teacher works as part of the student’s support team, which includes their class teachers, special education staff, support staff and family or extended communities.
The Departmental Financial Statements of New Zealand provides annual monitoring reports.
In 2017, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee launched a Diversity and Inclusion framework, which includes diversity and inclusion quarterly targets. The ERO reviews and reports on the quality of education in all New Zealand schools and early childhood education services. The ERO also publishes national reports on specific education topics.
ERO’s school evaluations are conducted based on two types of indicators:
- Outcome indicators, which are drawn from the New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa and assess the impact of school policies and actions. In relation to inclusive education, outcome indicators focus on students’ confidence in their identity, language and culture, measuring the extent to which they value diversity and difference, and they measure social and emotional competence, resilience and optimism by accessing students’ feeling of inclusion, safeness and security, ability to establish and maintain positive relationships, respect for others’ needs and ability to show empathy.
- Process indicators, which describe practices and processes that contribute to school effectiveness and improvement. Within the stewardship domain, the process indicators monitor, for example, whether the school curriculum is effectively inclusive and responsive to local needs, context and environment. Process indicators evaluate leadership for equity and excellence, assessing the school community’s ability to create an inclusive environment. Teachers’ cultural competence and expertise in providing inclusive and productive learning environments for diverse students are also considered effective practices for assessing human resource management.
In relation to the Disability Policy, the government established an Independent Monitoring Mechanism in 2011 as a qualitative mechanism to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the CRPD.