Almost one in three New Zealand children with a disability are being unlawfully denied enrolment at their local school, a new survey has found.

It also revealed many of those who were enrolled faced bullying and a massive lack of support in the classroom.

Intellectually Handicapped Children (IHC) conducted the research during December surveying 282 family members of disabled children and 141 educational professionals randomly selected from across the country.

One mum who took part in the survey also revealed that she was made to stop working and come into school to support her daughter fulltime for four weeks, even though she already had a teacher aide.

IHC director of advocacy Trish Grant said slammed this behaviour by schools saying it was “appalling” to see children wrongfully denied their rights.

“It is unlawful and discriminatory to deny a child with disabilities access to an education, yet we’re still seeing almost a third of children facing this reality,” Grant said.

Compared to a similar survey conducted in 2014, the percentage of parents who said their children had been denied or discouraged from enrolling had dropped from 39 to 27.

However, the per cent of education professionals who responded saying children had been denied from enrolling remained at 30 per cent.

“It’s yet to be seen whether the Education and Training Bill before Parliament right now will be put into practice – which would give students with learning support needs and disabilities the right to attend school full time.

“We see students in classrooms around the country without the right support to learn, and they are more likely to be bullied, stood down, suspended or excluded.”

She said schools must be inclusive under the Education Act 1989, and the right to an inclusive education is enshrined in the convention that New Zealand has signed on to (UNCRPD).

More than half of the parents surveyed said teachers do not have the appropriate skills to teach children with disabilities, and 44 per cent of educational professionals acknowledge they are not up to the task.

“It’s not good enough that in 2020, students with disabilities have a 50 per cent chance of getting a teacher who can support them to learn alongside their non-disabled peers.

“Parents shouldn’t be relying on luck for their child to succeed in the classroom.”

One mother, whose daughter attends a mainstream primary school in Wellington, said there was a huge lack of understanding on the school’s part.

“I was made to come into school and support my daughter fulltime for four weeks, even though she has ORS funding and a teacher aide – and I work,” she said.

“We provided the school with a clear support plan, strategies, but nothing was applied, and my daughter melted down on a regular basis and refused to go to school.

“Last year, my daughter has only attended part-time – her wellbeing and mana has suffered terribly this year, and this is just not acceptable.”

Another mum Susan Allen, whose daughter was the first person with Down syndrome to attend a mainstream school in Nelson from 1990, said it saddened her to know that bullying still continued in many of our schools and little was being done about it.

“[My daughter] experienced serious bullying at intermediate and college, something the schools chose to ignore, basically putting our daughter, her siblings and us under a lot of stress,” Allen said.

“Understanding, acceptance and education of teachers themselves is urgently needed to enable these students to thrive and reach their full potential.”

She said her daughter loved learning, and throughout her education had maybe four teachers who got the big picture and the importance of inclusion both socially and academically.

“But some were outright cruel, deliberately excluding her and discouraging interaction with other students.”

Eighty-five per cent of parents said, with the right support, they would choose to enrol their student in their local mainstream school.

The Herald is seeking comment from the Ministry of Education.

Key figures from survey:

• 85 per cent of parents said with the right support, they’d choose to enrol their child in a mainstream school.

• 27 per cent of children with disabilities have been refused enrolment in the past five years.

• 52 per cent of children with disabilities haven’t been invited to a fellow student’s birthday party in the past five years.

• 58 per cent of children with disabilities have experienced bullying in the past five years.

• 62 per cent of parents say their child doesn’t have the right support from the school to transition into further education or employment.

• 44 per cent of teachers say they don’t have all the skills or knowledge to teach students with disabilities.

• 39 per cent parents have had to pay out of their pocket for support for their child to access the curriculum or participate in all school activities.

• 87 per cent of parents are not aware of the Government’s new Learning Support Delivery Model, which is already being rolled out.

NZ Herald


  1. Although I have every sympathy for this and find it appalling, schools are usually in a cleft stick position. Having to cover for instance the Health and Safety aspects for other children and staff with some of the very high needs behavioural children…. totally appalling parents not wanting their darlings learning supposedly hampered because the teacher may spend a little more time with an ORS child than their darling others etc…. totally inadequate financial assistance from Ministry, Otanga Tamariki….; ORS funding decreasing (the pot stays same basically but more kids need the pot..) etc. Offers of 1 hour a day to cover the genuine needs of a child that genuinely needs 6 hours…. the continually battle to get the help and then the continual battle to at least hold the meagre rate given……

  2. I work in a school where there has been a huge increase in out of zone students (with disabilities, mental health problems, learning problems) coming on board this year. Is putting a huge increase on learning support resources and mainstream staff. Classes are pushing 35-40 students per class. If we are going to take on what other schools won’t, then we need more funding to cover this.

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