This evaluation found that approximately half of New Zealand schools demonstrate inclusive practice. This judgement was made, in part, considering how these schools responded to the needs of the students who were at the school at the time. These schools may be less inclusive should they enrol different students with high needs, especially students whose behaviour, or medical needs are not understood by staff.

Significant proportions of schools had some or few inclusive practices. For the 30 percent of schools that had ‘pockets of inclusive’ practice, inclusive approaches should be made the norm across the school. For those 20 percent of schools with few inclusive practices, a more ethical and professional approach to students with high needs is required. Inclusive education needs leadership from the school principal to ensure that students with high needs are welcomed in schools, that their needs are identified and met and that they are fully engaged in the academic, social and extra‑curricular life of the school.

Funding is an important challenge for all those working in special education. All types of schools found the level of funding they received for some students was a challenge. This was especially so for those students who did not have ORRS funding but for whom, their level of behaviour or their medical condition, meant that they would benefit from the assistance of a teacher aide for at least part of the day.

Despite this significant challenge, ERO found that it was not funding that differentiated the level of inclusiveness at schools. The quality of leadership, and the extent to which schools could adopt a specialised pedagogy for students with high needs, were more important than funding. Schools that had an ethical, committed, innovative, informed and coordinated approach to including students with high needs provide the examples of good practice for others to follow.

The key question therefore in response to this evaluation is how do we maintain and expand the level of good practice observed in schools? Very few schools in this evaluation took part in school-wide professional development for inclusive education. Almost all of the formal professional development undertaken by school staff was in the form of one-off courses and conferences.

As ERO has found in other evaluations, this type of professional development is not conducive to changing classroom practice or the culture of a school. Part of the answer to improving the level of inclusion across all New Zealand schools requires more school‑wide professional development targeted at making classrooms more inclusive. Such an approach will not only benefit students with high needs but is also likely to improve the way teachers respond to the diverse needs of all students.