Enrolment, attendance, and the school system
The New Zealand education system aims to be inclusive. However, some students are unfairly denied access to some or all of the curriculum because they have learning needs.
You are entitled to an education, no matter what learning needs you have.
The Education and Training Act affirms that people who have special educational needs (whether because of disability or something else) have the same rights to enrol and receive education at state schools as people who do not.
Acts and policies about your rights if you have a disability
As well as the Education and Training Act, there are other acts and policies that set out the rights to education for learners with complex learning needs or disabilities.
The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 states that everyone has the right to be free from discrimination, including on the grounds of disability.
The Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994 sets out health services consumer rights in a special code (the Code of Health & Disability Services Consumers’ Rights). The act covers any organisation which provides a health service to the public, whether that service is paid for or not. Services provided in schools, such as a school nurse or physiotherapist, are covered by this act and must be provided at an appropriate standard.
The Human Rights Act 1993 – state and integrated schools are governed by Part IA of the Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including disability. Disability (as defined in section 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993) can mean:
- physical illness
- psychiatric illness
- physical disability or impairment
- intellectual or psychological disability or impairment
- any other loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological, or anatomical structure or function
- reliance on a wheelchair or guide dog
- organisms in the body capable of causing illness, for example, HIV.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires the government to recognise the special needs of mentally and physically disabled children, and to ensure that disabled children have effective access to education (Article 23).
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises that disabled people have the right to an education, without discrimination and with equal opportunities (Article 24).
What is learning support?
Learning support is extra support that you can get (if you qualify) to engage and achieve in your education.
Learning support can be provided for lots of reasons, including for:
- neurodiverse learners, and learners with disabilities, learning difficulties, communication or behaviour difficulties, and/or sensory or physical impairments
- English language learners (where their first language is not English)
- learners who are not achieving.
There’s a range of support available. Schools can call on specially trained teachers, school-based resource teachers of learning and behaviour (RTLBs), who support and work within schools to help students with moderate learning and/or behavioural difficulties.
Schools can also arrange for you to sit exams under “special assessment conditions” if you need it. For example, by using a reader-writer, computer, Braille or taking rest breaks.
For more information, go to www.education.govt.nz and search “learning support”
How much does a school have to accommodate me if I have a disability?
Schools have a responsibility to make reasonable attempts to accommodate you.
What’s reasonable depends on the situation, like how much funding the school can get. Schools don’t have to provide special services or facilities when it’s very difficult to do so. It’s reasonable for the school to apply for extra funding, and work with your parents or guardians to understand how they can support you.
For example, for a school camp, the school wouldn’t be expected to provide accessible toilet facilities for ākonga who use wheelchairs (if the campsite didn’t have one). However, while the school wouldn’t be expected to alter the toilet facilities, they could employ someone to help ākonga with toileting.
The school needs to make sure you are included in all learning activities if it’s safe for you and other learners. You can be excluded if it would be a risk to you or your classmates. There could be a risk if for example, the only available facilities would not be safe for you to use.
Encourage discussion with your teacher and the principal about how they can support you. If you feel you’re facing discrimination because of your disability, you can discuss the situation with someone at the Human Rights Commission who can help you make a complaint if necessary.
Schools can’t refuse to enrol because you have a disability or provide you with less favourable conditions of enrolment, or benefits, than other students.
Does the school need to be physically accessible for wheelchairs?
Yes. They can get help from the property and specialist education teams at the Ministry of Education.
Tell the school about your needs before you start, to give the school time to make any changes.
The school is responsible for making sure all students, including disabled students, can get around safely.
Information for parents and whānau
What should the school do if my child has learning support needs?
Schools should have plans in place to make sure your child can access extra support. You should be able to see these plans in the school charter or strategic plan (it should be available on the school’s website, or you can ask them for a copy).
Schools receive a range of funding and grants to ensure they can provide learning support. It is usually the school that is responsible for applying for funding. For example, all schools get the Special Education Grant (SEG) to help students with moderate behavioural and learning needs.
My child’s needs aren’t being met at school – what can I do?
If you’re worried your child’s learning needs aren’t being met, it’s best to talk to your child’s classroom teacher. If you’re still worried, approach the principal as well as the special education needs coordinator (SENCO). You can take whānau support with you when you meet with the school.
If you are having problems accessing learning support, talk to someone from the Ministry of Education’s regional office Learning Support staff on 0800 622 222.
What is an Individual Education Plan?
In IEP is a written plan that set out goals for your child. You, your child and everyone else working with your child are involved in developing these plans. They might include:
- who will be working with your child
- how you and your whānau can support your child’s learning at home
- teaching strategies that will support your child to learn
- resources or special equipment your child might need
- what success for the team working with your child will look like.
IEPs should be reviewed regularly, in a meeting with all those that developed it – including you and your child.
Not all children who need learning support will require an IEP. For most children, their learning support needs can be met by the school or kura through class-wide and school-wide strategies.
Dedicated funding for learning support and who can get it
Students with learning support needs (also called special needs) – who may have a variety of physical, sensory, learning or behavioural difficulties – are eligible for services and support through the Ministry of Education’s schemes. Here is a summary of some of the services and funding:
Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS)
This is available for a very small group of students (about one per cent of the school population) with severe difficulties and high or very high education needs. The funding can be used for a wide range of specialist services and support, including:
- speech language therapists
- educational psychologists
- sign language interpreters
- additional teacher time
- teacher’s aides
- visual or communication aids.
Applications are usually made by school staff with the help of parents or guardians and can be made at any time. Applications are assessed by ORS verifiers (specialists from the Ministry of Education), who usually make their decision within three weeks.
If an application for ORS funding is declined, you can appeal the decision. First, you can request that a different team of verifiers reviews the decision. Requests for review have to be made in writing within 6 months of the date you first applied, and you must provide additional information about your child.
If your application has been reviewed and you’re still unhappy, you can appeal to the Secretary of Education to reconsider the application. This must be done in writing within one month of the refusal.
If you are unsatisfied with the reconsideration, you can request in writing for the Secretary to send the result to an arbitrator (an independent referee). The Secretary of Education must comply with the arbitrator’s decision.
School High Health Needs Fund
This fund provides a teacher aide for students with significant health issues lasting more than six weeks. For example:
- students with seizures who need constant supervision
- students using oxygen bottles that need adult help to carry their equipment around school
- students with cancer who suffer severe tiredness, nausea and vomiting.
The fund doesn’t cover students who have high health needs resulting from an accident, as these are covered by the ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation).
Te Kahu Tōī, Intensive Wraparound Service (IWS)
Te Kahu Tōī, Intensive Wraparound Services (IWS) is a support programme for young people aged 5-14 years who:
- have behaviour, social and/or learning needs that are highly complex and challenging (and may have associated intellectual difficulty), and
- require support at school, at home and in the community.
Te Kahu Tōī provides a comprehensive, holistic, youth and whānau driven way of responding when children or youth experience significant challenges in their lives.
During the Wraparound process, a team of people who are relevant to the life of the child or young person collaboratively develop an individualised plan of care.
Referrals usually must be made by a Resource Teacher Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) or someone from the Ministry of Education’s Learning Support team. If the student already has ORS funding (see above), their school can also make a referral.
Interim Response Fund (IRF)
This funding is available for urgent situations that require a short-term response while a more long-term plan is being implemented. It’s usually used when a school has tried all its resources and is unable to manage – for example, where a student’s behaviour is likely to cause harm to others if it is not immediately addressed.
Schools request the funding from their local Ministry of Education office. Applications are made over the phone and are processed quickly once approved.
Other specialists available through regional Ministry Learning Support teams include:
- speech language therapists
- learning support advisers
- advisers on Deaf children
- occupational therapists
- registered psychologists
- early intervention teachers
- behaviour, communication and other education support workers.
I’ve been told my child can only go to school for a few hours because there isn’t enough funding. Is this right?
No, this is not acceptable. Students who have special educational needs (because of a disability or another reason) have the same rights as other students.
You should seek help from the Ministry of Education’s Learning Support services to make sure your child is appropriately provided for. You can also contact the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, which can help with information and advocacy.
It’s against the law to limit the amount of time your child can go to school, unless you and the school agree on a well-being transitional plan. See “Exemptions from having to go to school”
Should I be expected to top up teacher aide salaries?
No. You are not required to help pay staff salaries. A range of funding is available to cover their pay. The school board and the principal should follow Ministry of Education policy and guidelines.
Can my child be prevented from going on school camp due to their disability or health needs?
No. Schools can’t deny a student with disabilities the same benefits provided to other students, without a proper reason.
Schools can access extra staff and funding for children with high or very high needs. You can remind the school that this extra funding could assist a child to go on camp.
Start by considering these questions:
- What does my child need to go on camp? (in terms of extra assistance or resources)
- How can that be provided?
- Is it reasonable to expect the school to provide this extra assistance?
- Can I help to get this extra assistance? (for example, can I offer to parent-help for some of the time?)
- Who can help me to get extra assistance? (IHC, for example, provides services to people with intellectual disabilities and their families).