A 2010 Education Review Office (ERO) report, Including Students with High Needs,[1] found that half of schools demonstrated mostly inclusive practices for these students. Thirty percent of schools had some areas of good performance and 20 percent had few inclusive practices.

Subsequently, the Government developed a policy, Success for All - Every School Every Child, to promote the achievement, participation, and presence of children with special education needs in every mainstream school. The policy requires all schools to demonstrate inclusive practice by the end of 2014, with a target of 80 percent of schools doing a good job, and none doing a poor job, of including and supporting students with special education needs.

Two hundred and fifty-four schools reviewed by ERO during Terms 3 and 4, 2011, completed a questionnaire about providing for students with special education needs. It should be noted that schools rated their own performance and provided information they considered relevant. Some schools interpreted special needs very broadly and, in some cases, information supplied did not support their rating of how inclusive they are.

Eighty-eight percent of these schools rated themselves as having mostly inclusive practices, 10 percent as having some inclusive practices and one percent (three schools) said they had few inclusive practices.

Most schools expressed positive attitudes to inclusion and identified a variety of ways they provided for students with various special education needs.

  • Most schools had policies to address the inclusion of students with disabilities or special education needs.
  • Eighty percent of schools had a special education needs coordinator.
  • Almost all schools had accessed some form of professional learning and development or support to help staff include students with special needs.
  • Schools had developed various approaches and systems to support the learning and inclusion of these students.
  • Schools used a wide range of programmes to provide for students with special needs, most often for their literacy and numeracy needs.
  • Two-thirds of schools had undertaken special property projects to cater for students with physical disabilities.
  • The main challenges schools identified were funding, access to specialist advice and support, employing appropriate staff, and catering for students with challenging behaviours or high needs.

These responses are very similar to those from schools reviewed in Terms 1 and 2, 2011.

When asked about outcomes for students resulting from their systems and programmes, most schools commented in general terms that students had made progress or achieved their learning goals. Some schools reported specific information on aspects of literacy such as raised reading ages, and schools also reported improvements in speech, numeracy/mathematics, social skills and behaviour. Some schools noted that students were more confident, more independent, more engaged, and had developed a sense of belonging to the school.

Most schools said they reported self-review data to the board about the achievement and inclusion of students with special needs. However, analysis of reports provided by 51 schools found variation in terms of the nature and amount of information provided. Most reports contained very little information about the achievement of students with high needs, and did not contain sufficient information for boards of trustees to obtain a comprehensive picture of the impact of the school’s provision on student learning.

Overall, schools expressed positive attitudes towards including students with special needs, and described many ways they included these students in all aspects of school life. However, schools provided less information about how well they promoted students’ learning and academic achievement.

Schools should be gathering and using more robust achievement information to:

  • review the effectiveness of their programmes for learners with special needs
  • identify which of their strategies are the most effective and promote these among staff to support students to make better progress
  • identify needs for professional learning and development.