Inclusive Education

There is growing awareness of inclusive education both globally and within Aotearoa, but the various stakeholders involved find it hard to agree on. Here we give some background information about the movement – with our own interpretation of it at the end.

International history on inclusive education

In 2008 New Zealand signed the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 24 addressed the right of disabled people to an education.

In 2016 an internationally accepted definition of inclusive education was agreed in the United Nations. It is referred to as 'General Comment 4', and it was adopted to become part of Article 24 within the UNCRPD.

General Comment 4 states:

“The right to inclusive education encompasses a transformation in culture, policy and practice in all formal and informal educational environments to accommodate the differing requirements and identities of individual students, together with a commitment to remove the barriers that impede that possibility...

"Exclusion occurs when students are directly or indirectly prevented from or denied access to education in any form.

"Segregation occurs when the education of students with disabilities is provided in separate environments designed or used to respond to a particular impairment or to various impairments, in isolation from students without disabilities.

"Integration is the process of placing persons with disabilities in existing mainstream educational institutions with the understanding that they can adjust to the standardised requirements of such institutions.

"Inclusion involves a process of systemic reform embodying changes and modifications in content, teaching methods, approaches, structures and strategies in education to overcome barriers with a vision serving to provide all students of the relevant age range with an equitable and participatory learning experience and the environment that best corresponds to their requirements and preferences. Placing students with disabilities within mainstream classes without accompanying structural changes to, for example, organisation, curriculum and teaching and learning strategies, does not constitute inclusion. Furthermore, integration does not automatically guarantee the transition from segregation to inclusion.”

Inclusion in Aotearoa

As at July 2023, the Ministry of Education’s portal Te Kete Ipurangi website states:

“Inclusive education is where all children and young people are engaged and achieve through being present, participating, learning and belonging…

"Inclusive education means that all learners are welcomed by their local early learning service and school, and are supported to play, learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of life at the school or service.

"It is underpinned by the belief that every learner has the potential to make a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of their family, whānau, community and to Aotearoa New Zealand as a whole. It asserts that our diversity is a strength.

"Inclusive education is also about how we develop and design our learning spaces and activities so that all learners are affirmed in their identity and can learn and participate together. It means deliberately identifying and removing barriers to learning and wellbeing.”

Legal requirements in Aotearoa

Schools in Aotearoa New Zealand are legally required to be inclusive under the Education and Training Act 2020.  The right to an inclusive education is also reinforced by the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

The New Zealand Disability Action Plan 2019-2023 sets out priorities to advance the implementation of the UNCRPD and the New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016-2026.  Outcome One of the Plan relates to education – click here to read it. 

At the 2022 review of the New Zealand government’s compliance with its responsibilities under the UNCRPD, the Committee recommended (in clauses 40, 48 and 54 of their report):

  • expedition of the roll out of the Enabling Good Lives (EGL) approach for people with disabilities, and that all people with disabilities, including those with FASD be eligible for the programme. Click here to find out more about EGL for FASD.

  • development of a “comprehensive deinstitutionalisation strategy” to close all residential institutions including group homes and residential specialist schools.

  • stopping the continued public investment in residential specialist schools for people with disabilities.

  • development of an inclusive education strategy.

  • withdrawal of the New Zealand government’s proposal to change entry requirements for enrolment in residential specialist schools, and to redirect this funding and resources to inclusive education.

  • ensuring that people with FASD and other rare and chronic conditions “have access to the disability support system and are included in disabilities policies and programs”.

Further details of the recommendations can be found here.

Differing angles within NZ 

As New Zealand is a signatory to various international conventions that address inclusive education we are bound to the international definition of inclusive education reached in 2016. However, it is clear from reviewing information around the world, there are different interpretations of this definition that meet each country’s individual situations and contexts.

The inclusive education movement in Aotearoa New Zealand has been fighting long and hard for change in the education system, and true inclusion of disabled people in mainstream education. They want to see all residential special schools and special schools closed as soon as possible. They do not accept that these schools should remain an option available to disabled people and their families.

The movement argues these services and supports should be available in the local community. It also advocates for the prompt roll out of the EGL approach in education and argues strongly that inclusion in school is a human right and that New Zealand is currently breaching its international obligations.

FASD-CAN supports the inclusive education movement and the roll out of EGL to our neurodiverse ākonga. However many of our members, particularly caregiver members, want to retain specialist schools (both day and residential) as an education option available to them until the mainstream education system is appropriately set-up and funded to meet the complex needs of our FASD learners. 

This is likely to take many years to achieve as it will require not only fundamental transformation and change to long-standing education systems, but also a deep shift in mindsets and belief systems in our communities about disabilities – neurodisabilities in particular. 

FASD-CAN’s interpretation

FASD-CAN believes the definition of inclusive education in Aotearoa New Zealand must also be interpreted within the context of the EGL principles which the government has committed to implementing across its systems and processes. 

FASD-CAN’s interpretation of inclusive education has an emphasis on self-determination (choice) and being person-centred as set in the EGL principles, but also recognising the role of whānau in decision-making, as is fundamental in the whānau ora principles.

 “Inclusive education is where every ākonga / student is actively supported to reach their potential in partnership with family, whānau and kura / schools, where they have real choice and access to an equitable and mana-enhancing learning experience, in a learning environment that best meets their unique strengths, interests, social, emotional and learning needs.”