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Education: Access and learning support for disabled and Deaf students

Common problems at school: Information for parents and whānau

This section is addressed to parents, whānau and adult caregivers, who may need to write letters or ask for reviews of decisions, on behalf of a disabled child or young person.


My child’s needs aren’t being met at school – what can I do?

If you’re concerned about your child’s learning, talk to your child’s teacher or the school principal. It is important that your child’s needs are assessed, so support can be provided, and the most suitable programme can be developed.

An Individual Education Programme (IEP) is a programme for students with learning support needs, which can be developed by you, your child, your child’s teacher and specialists as appropriate. If you have an IEP, it should be reviewed at least twice a year, in a meeting with all those who developed it.

Schools are obliged to meet the needs of all students, and a range of support is available to them. All schools receive Support for Inclusion Funding (previously known as a Special Education Grant (SEG)) to help students with moderate behavioural and learning needs, and they can also get funding for Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCOs, sometimes called Learning Support Coordinators or LSCs) to help the school staff meet all students’ needs.

Schools can also call on specially trained teachers, school-based resource teachers of learning and behaviour (RTLBs), who support and work within schools to assist staff and parents to meet the needs of students with moderate learning and/or behavioural difficulties. If your child has high social, behavioural or educational needs, you should talk to someone from learning support services at the Ministry of Education. You can find your regional office on the Ministry of Education website, here (or go to education.govt.nz, navigate to “contact us” and select the link under “learning support”).

If problems come up, you should consider taking your issue to the principal and then the board of trustees.

My child’s teacher aide hours are too low for them to be at school all day safely

Some children have teacher aide funding to keep them safe. Examples include young children with life-threatening allergies, or children whose learning disabilities or physical impairments mean they need to be supervised at all times. (This funding is through the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) or the School High Health Needs Fund (SHHNF) scheme: find out more at parents.education.govt.nz.

If these children don’t receive enough teacher aide funding to cover all the school hours, parents may feel that they have to choose between their child not attending school for all the regular hours, or personally paying for more teacher aide hours. Schools sometimes even suggest these options as a plan for a disabled student.

Parents and students shouldn’t have to accept either of these options. All children have the right to be safe at school, for all the hours they are there. So what can you do?

Talk to the school:

  • start with asking for a face-to-face meeting with the principal or the appropriate senior member of staff. Lay out your concerns, and ask how the school plans to meet your child’s needs
  • if you’re not happy with their response, write to the school’s board of trustees, explaining the problem and asking how they propose to solve it. Be sure to mention that your child has the legal right to participate fully in school life, under section 34 of the Education and Training Act 2020).

Go to the Ministry of Education

  • if your child receives ORS or SHHNF funding for a teacher aide, you can ask for an informal or formal review of the case. You can start with an informal review (just asking over the phone or in person) then go to a formal one (by asking in writing), or you can skip straight to a formal one. The process is laid out on the Ministry of Education website.
  • if your child was denied ORS funding, or if they’re part of the ORS scheme but something has changed since they started, you can go through the review and appeal process described above
  • if you still don’t have enough funding for your child to participate fully, there are two other places you can go – the Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman.

Go to the Human Rights Commission:

  • if your child isn’t getting full and free access to education, you can complain to the Human Rights Commission
  • start by contacting them directly by phone, or by filling out the complaint form on their website. One of their staff will then contact you to talk about the situation, and most likely arrange mediation between you and the school, or between you and the Ministry of Education, to solve the problem
  • see the HRC website for more information: tikatangata.org.nz

Go to the Ombudsman:

  • the Ombudsman have a specific role in making sure the UN Disability Convention is being followed in New Zealand. If you complain to them about your child’s access to education, they have the power to investigate the problem and make recommendations to government departments.
  • you can make a complaint to the Ombudsman through their website or in writing (see: “The Ombudsman: Watchdogs over government).

My local school doesn’t want to enrol my child

These are your main options:

Talk to the school

  • Ask for a meeting with the principal. Remind them of the laws that apply:
  • the Education and Training Act 2020 (in section 34) says your child should have the same access to education as any other local child
  • the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (in section 19) says that public institutions, like state schools, can’t discriminate against children on the grounds of disability
  • the Ministry of Education provides funding for students with learning support needs.
  • Ask the school to arrange a meeting between you, the school, and someone from the Ministry of Education to solve the problem. If this doesn’t help, write a letter to the school board of trustees, saying the same things. They will have to respond to you. Keep copies of all the letters.

Go to the Ministry of Education:

  • there’s a Learning Support section of the Ministry of Education that should be able to help you. (They used to be called the “Special Education” section.)
  • for information or to ask for support, contact your local Ministry of Education office – phone 0800 622 222 or email learning.supportmailbox@education.govt.nz
  • if you think the staff member you’re dealing with at the Ministry isn’t doing enough to give your child full access to education, ask to speak to their manager. Keep doing that until you get an acceptable result.

Go to the Human Rights Commission or the Ombudsman:

  • if the school and the Ministry of Education don’t solve the problem, your next step is to go to the Human Rights Commission or the Ombudsman or both.

My child has been disciplined for behaviour that’s a symptom of their disability

Education and Training Act 2020, s 80 Education (Stand-Down, Suspension, Exclusion, and Expulsion) Rules 1999, rule 14 case: [2014] NZHC 253

The most serious disciplinary steps a school can take against a student are to stand them down (for a maximum five days at a time, and for no more than 10 days in a year), or suspend them (this can be for longer) or exclude or expel them (which is permanent). But the school can only do this because of either:

  • “gross misconduct or continual disobedience” that is “a harmful or dangerous example to other students at the school”, or
  • behaviour that’s likely to cause “serious harm” to the student or to other students.

These are meant to be last resort options, after the school has tried everything else to improve the situation.

“Continual disobedience” is when a student regularly and deliberately disobeys the school rules. Behavioural problems caused by recognised medical conditions shouldn’t usually be considered deliberate, and so shouldn’t be categorised as “continual disobedience”. There has to be deliberate non-cooperation or defiance.

Before standing down a student for being continually disobedient, the school should be able to show it has made every reasonable effort to find ways to address the student’s behaviour. The school also has to properly investigate all of the facts before making any decision. If the school does decide to suspend or exclude, there are rules about the process. For example, the principal has to write a report with all relevant information about the decision.

If your child has been stood down, suspended or excluded, see: “Rights at School and Kura“.

You can also call one of these numbers for legal advice and help:

  • Student Rights Service: 0800 499 488
  • Youth Law: 0800 884 529
  • Children’s Commissioner: 0800 224 453

For more information on the legal process the school has to follow, see the Ministry of Education’s website, here (or go to parents.education.govt.nz, navigate to “Secondary Schools” and select “Stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions, expulsions”).

The school doesn’t want my child to sit NCEA

Students with disabilities have the same rights as other students to all parts of education, including sitting national qualifications, like NCEA.

Students doing NCEA can apply for a range of “Special Assessment Conditions”, like exam papers in Braille, or large print, extra time for rest breaks, a reader or writer, and so on.

Read more at the NZQA website, here (or go to nzqa.govt.nz and search for “Special assesment conditions”).

The school says my child can’t go on the school camp because of their learning disability

The school can’t do this – the camp is generally seen as part of the school curriculum.

Schools can access extra staff and extra funding for children with high or very high needs. Parents should argue that this extra funding could assist a child to go on camp.

Think about these questions:

  • what extra assistance or resources does your child need to go on camp?
  • how could that extra support be provided?
  • who could help you to get extra support? (IHC, for example, provides services to people with learning disabilities and their families.)

My child uses a wheelchair – does the school have to be physically accessible for them?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 36, 37

Yes. The school is responsible for making sure all students, including disabled students, can get around safely. They can get help from the Property and Learning Support teams at the Ministry of Education.

It’s a good idea to tell the school about your child’s needs before they start, to give the school time to make any changes.

Did this answer your question?

Disability rights

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Auckland Disability Law (ADL) provides free legal services to disabled people associated with their disability related legal issues. ADL is the only specialist disability law community law centre in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Website: www.aucklanddisabilitylaw.org.nz/
Email: info@adl.org.nz
Phone:  09 257 5140
Text only: 027 457 5140

Disabled Persons Assembly

DPA is a pan-disability organisation run by and for disabled people. DPA and its members work with the wider disability community, other disabled persons’ organisations, government agencies, service providers, international disability organisations and the public.

Website: www.dpa.org.nz
Email: info@adl.org.nz
Phone:  04 801 9100
Facebook: www.facebook.com/dpa.nz.7

Nationwide Health & Disability Advocacy Service

The Nationwide Health & Disability Advocacy Service offers free, independent, and confidential advice to support you in resolving issues with health and disability services.

Website: www.advocacy.org.nz
Email: advocacy@advocacy.org.nz
Phone:  0800 555 050

Le Va

Le Va is working with Manatū Hauora/Ministry of Health to support Pasifika people with disabilities and their families.

Website: www.leva.co.nz/our-work/disability-support
Email: admin@leva.co.nz
Phone:  09 261 4390
Instagram: www.instagram.com/Levapasifika
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/LeVaPasifika

Te Rōpū Taurima

Te Rōpū Taurima is a kaupapa Māori service that supports people of all ethnicities with intellectual impairments around New Zealand.

Website: www.terooputaurima.org.nz
Email: info@terooputaurima.org.nz

People First New Zealand

People First New Zealand is a self-advocacy organisation that is led and directed by people with learning disabilities.

Website: www.peoplefirst.org.nz
Email: ask@peoplefirst.org.nz
Phone:  0800 20 60 70

Deaf Aotearoa

Deaf Aotearoa is a national organisation representing the voice of Deaf people, and the national service provider for Deaf people in New Zealand.

Website: www.deaf.org.nz
Email: hello@deaf.org.nz
Phone:  0800 33 23 22
Freetext:  8223
Instagram: www.instagram.com/DeafAotearoa
Facebook: www.facebook.com/deafaotearoanz

Blind Low Vision NZ (previously called Blind Foundation)

Blind Low Vision NZ is New Zealand’s main provider of support to New Zealanders who are blind or have low vision.

Website: www.blindlowvision.org.nz
Email: generalenquiries@blindlowvision.org.nz
Phone:  0800 24 33 33
Instagram: www.instagram.com/BlindLowVisionNZ
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/BlindLowVisionNZ

Sign Language video about the courts and justice



Achieve is a national network established to ensure equal opportunity and access to post-secondary education and training for people with impairments.

Website: www.achieve.org.nz
Email: info@achieve.org.nz
Phone:  03 479 8235

Inclusive Education

Inclusive Education provides New Zealand educators with practical strategies, suggestions and resources to support the diverse needs of all learners.

Website: www.inclusive.tki.org.nz
Email: inclusive@tki.org.nz

Government Agencies

Whaikaha/Ministry for Disabled

Whaikaha is the Ministry for Disabled People. On the website, it contains information about how to access support and funding and has a directory of advisory services.

Website: www.whaikaha.govt.nz
Email: contact@whaikaha.govt.nz
Phone:  0800 566 601
Text: 4206
Communication can also be made through NZ Relay Calls

Health and Disability Commissioner

The Health and Disability Commissioner website sets out your rights under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights and how you can make a complaint to the Commissioner.

Website: www.hdc.org.nz
Email: hdc@hdc.org.nz
Phone:  0800 11 22 33

To make a complaint online: www.hdc.org.nz/making-a-complaint/make-a-complaint-to-hdc

Office for Disabled

The Office for Disabled is administered by a small team from Whaikaha, and works closely with government agencies and the disability sector to make the best decisions for disabled people.

Website: www.odi.govt.nz
Email: office_for_disability_issues@whaikaha.govt.nz
Phone:  0800 566 601

Ministry of Health Services and Support

Website: www.health.govt.nz/your-health/services-and-support

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata/Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission website provides information about human rights in Aotearoa and outlines how you can make a complaint to the Commission about individual or systemic disability discrimination.

Website: www.tikatangata.org.nz/ or www.hrc.co.nz
Email: infoline@hrc.co.nz
Phone:  0800 496 877 (0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS)

To make a complaint online, download a complaint form or find out more about the complaints process: www.tikatangata.org.nz/resources-and-support/make-a-complaint

Privacy Commissioner

The Privacy Commissioner website provides information about your rights and responsibilities under the Privacy Act 2020 and the Privacy Principles. It also outlines the role of the Privacy Commissioner and how to make a privacy complaint.

Website: www.privacy.org.nz
Email: enquiries@privacy.org.nz
Phone:  0800 803 909

To make a complaint: www.privacy.org.nz/your-rights/making-a-complaint

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