Inclusion of students with special education needs

Key findings:

  • ERO found more schools were demonstrating mostly inclusive practices in 2014 than in 2010.
  • Ninety percent of schools had enrolled one or more students with high or moderate needs. Half had six or more students with high needs currently enrolled.
  • Almost all schools said they had provided professional learning and development (PLD) for staff to improve the way they supported students with special education needs.

Half the schools used other funding in addition to the Special Education Grant (SEG) grant to support these students.

Overall judgement

Over three quarters of schools in the sample (78 percent) were ‘mostly inclusive’, an increase from the 50 percent reported in 2010. Only two of the 152 schools were rated as having ‘few inclusive practices’.

The information may not be strictly comparable across the years, as the 2010 rating referred to students with high needs while the 2014 rating referred to students with special education needs.



Mostly inclusive


Somewhat inclusive


Few inclusive practices


Total number of schools


Enrolment of students with special education needs

The following figures show that many schools had enrolled students with high needs.

Ninety percent of schools reported the current enrolment of at least one student for whom the school was allocated funding. Below are the percentages of schools with each different type of funding in the sample.

  • 73 percent of the schools had Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) verified students
  • over 50 percent had students funded through either the severe behaviour initiative or the interim response fund
  • 54 percent had students funded under the communication initiative
  • 38 percent had students who were deaf or hearing impaired
  • 20 percent had students with moderate vision needs
  • 20 percent had students with moderate physical needs
  • 50 percent of the schools had six or more students with additional funding.

Seventy percent of schools in the sample said they had at least one student who was likely to work long-term within level 1 of the New Zealand Curriculum.

Although almost all schools reviewed during this evaluation were either mostly inclusive or had some inclusive practices, ERO heard from parents about other schools that had declined to accept students with special education needs. For example, one student had sought to enrol in many schools before their current enrolment.

Caution is needed in judging the extent to which schools are including students as it is difficult to determine which schools may have turned students away.

Most schools had a clear statement in their charter or policies stating their commitment to inclusion. They demonstrated their commitment by accessing related PLD and allocating resources to support the students. Half the schools had used their local funding in addition to the SEG to support students with special education needs. This was often to fund additional hours for teacher’s aides or for property modifications or information and communications technology.

Reporting findings on good practice

Considerable overlap was evident in practices between schools that were ‘mostly inclusive’ and schools that had ‘some inclusive practices’. As reported in 2010 and 2013, schools that were ‘mostly inclusive’ also had gaps in their systems and provisions, and schools that had ‘some inclusive practices’ also had strengths.

The ‘mostly inclusive’ schools were more likely to have a coordinated systematic approach, to have accessed PLD and to have reviewed their provisions for students with special education needs.

Almost all schools had some inclusive practices in their:

  • whole school culture, attitudes and approach
  • school-wide systems and actions to provide for students with special education needs
  • teaching practices and support.

Whole school culture, attitudes and approach

Key findings

Almost all schools were positive about including students with special education needs and felt confident about providing a fully inclusive school. This was demonstrated through their school values, leadership and purposeful partnerships with parents and whānau.

Almost all schools had strengths in this area. Schools recognised inclusion as consistent with school values such as being caring, friendly and valuing diversity.

Commitment, leadership and shared understanding

Boards and senior leaders fully demonstrated their commitment to including students with special education needs by:

  • developing and using appropriate policies and plans to guide practices and processes
  • thoughtful allocation of resources for students with special education needs
  • setting high expectations for staff and students
  • ensuring staff understand their responsibility to meet student needs.

Barriers to participation and learning are seen as challenges to overcome.

Leaders in most schools reported feeling very confident in providing a fully inclusive school that welcomed students with special education needs. The majority of leaders were also confident that they could provide programmes for these students to achieve.

Commitment to overcoming barriers to participation for a student with muscular dystrophy

The successful inclusion of a boy with muscular dystrophy was a result of the commitment of the school leaders to every child achieving success.

They developed a strong relationships with the boy, his family and support people. They worked to build the family’s trust in the school’s ability to ensure the child’s safety and care, and arranged to have a translator at IEP meetings.

The school applied for funding, support and resources (such as a wheelchair, fixed hoist and assistive technology) so that they could better meet the child’s needs. As he moved through the school, careful consideration was given to the selection of the best teacher and teacher’s aide for the child. PLD was provided for these staff.

The school was relentless in finding ways that the boy could be included in the life of the school. For instance, it supported him to become the school cameraman; arranged for a hoist to be built so that he could swim in the school pool and ensured he was able to participate in the school graduation ceremony.

Careful planning for his transition to intermediate followed by six months of transition visits has meant the boy is thriving at his new school.

Middle-sized contributing primary school

Partnerships with parents and whānau

Inclusive practices included developing constructive partnerships with parents and whānau by:

  • talking with parents about strengths and interests of their child and their aspirations for their child
  • working together to improve students’ wellbeing and learning
  • communicating frequently and responding effectively to any concerns raised.

Effective partnership between school and parents

The school built a strong partnership with a student and her parents. The child, her parents and the school set high expectations for her progress. One aspect contributing to her success was the collaboration between her mother and her teacher to provide strategies and ideas for her mother to use with her at home that helped her as a learner.

Very large secondary school

Examples of specific practices that supported parents and families included:

  • using the HIPPY programme 1 to engage parents and raise their expectations for their child’s success
  • inviting parents to PLD that the teachers or teacher’s aides were attending
  • a specialist teacher attending a sexuality workshop to help grandparents bringing up a teenager with special education needs deal with this issue
  • working with families to ensure that children could attend school camps
  • supporting parents when dealing with outside agencies, hospital visits and respite care arrangements
  • providing the school car and driver to take parents to out of town appointments
  • making provisions for medical treatment to occur at school so students could remain onsite and not lose any time with their peers
  • appointing a person who supported parents as well as students.

School-wide systems and practices

Key findings

Almost all schools had systems, guidelines and key practices to support students with special education needs. For instance, they had relevant strategies in place, had a Special Education Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) or head of learning support to coordinate and oversee provisions, took a team approach rather than leaving one or two people to be responsible for the student, had effective transition processes, and had built relevant staff capability.

The ‘mostly inclusive’ schools were more likely to have a coordinated, systematic approach. They worked strategically to provide for students with special education needs, and ensure they make progress and experience success.

Schools with ‘some’ or ‘few inclusive practices’ needed to develop or improve some of their systems or practices.

Leading a strategic approach

Leaders in the ‘mostly inclusive schools’ took a strategic approach to identifying priorities to improve inclusive practices. They then planned steps to build staff capability to meet these priorities. Leaders appointed and supported a SENCO or head of learning support, many of whom had leadership roles in the school. In some cases the leaders established a team to coordinate provisions for students with special education needs and to allocate staff, services and resources.

Almost all schools had a special education needs register to record needs, identify resources and teaching strategies, and to ensure appropriate planning for students as they moved from one teacher to the next. Registers were updated regularly as students progressed and their needs changed.

Role and responsibilities of SENCO

Students were well supported by SENCOs who:

  • coordinated support for students
  • allocated teacher’s aides
  • clearly documented roles and responsibilities
  • kept comprehensive records of programmes, teaching strategies, progress and achievement.

The SENCOs or class teachers developed programmes to meet specific students’ needs. They provided guidance and resources for teacher’s aides on how they could help the student, including modelling effective practices. SENCOs met regularly with teacher’s aides to ensure these programmes were meeting the needs of students.

Some SENCOs developed useful resources to assist teachers and teacher’s aides to confidently manage students’ education and care. Curriculum guides for planning and monitoring progress provided a range of steps within level 1 of the curriculum, to identify the competencies students had achieved and differentiated learning goals. Personalised workbooks, templates, or induction packs provided a high level of guidance for teacher’s aides about useful resources and strategies to use to help the student succeed.

Collaboration leading to successful inclusion of a boy with cerebral palsy:

The collaboration of school staff, the boy’s whānau, his ECE support worker and medical specialists has been key in this boy’s successful inclusion. The school also worked with an architect to ensure the physical environment suited the boy, as he uses a wheelchair or a walker.

Very soon after the boy entered the school, he was assessed and an IEP meeting was held. This identified his learning strengths and needs, goals, what he was to be taught and how his progress would be monitored. He is expected to succeed academically and socially, and the school has put in place processes to ensure this happens.

The boy is supported by his teacher and teacher’s aide and programmes have been designed to support his oral language and reading skills. Close monitoring, and appropriate assessment have enabled the school to show the boy’s progress against his goals and guide his next steps. Achievement reports note that he has moved up a level in reading, and state his next learning goal.

The school applied for funding to buy a tricycle for the boy, so he could be more active in the playground. After receiving the tricycle, other students were lent tricycles so they could ride with him. This has been a big step in helping him to engage socially and to be assertive. A teacher commented that the boy asked some students to stop pushing his tricycle and, when they did not listen, a friend came and supported the boy in his request.

Large contributing primary

Effective transition – into the school, within the school, to the next school and out of school

Processes for transition to school were effective when they were specific to an individual, started early and involved staff, parents, specialist teachers and specialists with knowledge or understanding of the student’s needs. Schools arranged opportunities for parents and children to become familiar with people and places, and gathered specific behaviour and cognitive information to provide the basis for an appropriate transition plan. SENCOs often visited the early childhood centre or previous school to talk to staff and observe the child in their familiar setting. They also developed a detailed transition plan and prepared information for the child’s next teacher to help them understand the particular special education needs and how they could best support the child’s learning and wellbeing. Students and parents were made to feel welcome.

Effective transition into school

Well planned transitions into a primary school have supported the inclusion and success of a girl with multiple, complex needs. Her transition into the school began two months before she attended full time. The planning involved the staff from her kindergarten, the new entrant teacher and teacher’s aides, the principal and SENCO at the new school, specialist teacher, specialists and her parents. The girl’s new teacher observed her in the kindergarten environment to help her understand how to adapt the classroom programme and environment to suit the child. Both internal and external PLD was provided to the girl’s teacher and teacher’s aides, as well as regular support from the special education adviser. The SENCO and school leaders decided that two teacher’s aides would work with the girl so they could use their individual strengths to best support her, and reduce the likelihood she would become dependent on any one person.

Large contributing school

Successful transition from home room to mainstream

A Year 9 student started in a home room, where she was taught core curriculum subjects by one teacher, with tasks modified to suit her abilities and current level of knowledge. After two years in this home room the teacher decided that her ability was at a comparable level to others her age. The girl was encouraged and supported to move into the main school programme, where she has achieved NCEA Levels 1 and 2. The school expects the home room to be used to support students with special education needs to accelerate their progress to a point that they can rejoin the mainstream. Positive relationships and expectations of achievement were key to this girl’s success.

Very large secondary school

Building capability and supporting staff

Professional learning

Almost all schools had completed PLD to support students with special education needs, focusing on specific student needs and outcomes or on developing inclusive practices across the school. Effective PLD was purposeful, relevant to the needs of particular students, focused on improving teachers’ knowledge of students and taught useful strategies to respond to student needs.

In the last three years, a large majority of schools used PLD to help:

  • SENCOs and heads of learning support to develop inclusive teaching practices, strategies for supporting students working within level 1 of the curriculum, use data to inform teaching, develop behaviour plans, and assess learning and progress
  • teachers to increase their knowledge about responding to strengths, interests and assessment information, differentiated teaching, inclusive teaching approaches, supporting inclusion and assessing progress
  • teacher’s aides to better understand strategies to support the student they were working with, modify activities and to help them make friends with their peers
  • principals and leaders to understand requirements for educating students with disabilities, as well as systems and processes needed to create an inclusive environment boards to better understand their responsibilities for the progress of all students, use achievement data and create an inclusive environment.

Regular meetings between school staff, specialist teachers and specialists ensured ongoing professional expertise was available and used to best meet the learning and care needs of students with special education needs. Schools allocated time for staff to meet regularly to identify needs, plan programmes collaboratively, monitor progress, share effective practices, discuss successes and challenges, and identify needs for specialist advice.

Reflection, teaching as inquiry, and links with appraisal

SENCOs and teachers in some schools found it useful to reflect on the effect their practices had on student belonging, wellbeing, motivation and successful learning. They then modified their practices to improve outcomes for students. One special education teacher used ERO’s reports about special education needs and information from the Ministry of Education to look at how well the school was including its students with special education needs and to review the school’s documentation, systems and processes.

Some schools linked their teacher appraisal to an approach based on Teaching as Inquiry to accelerate the progress of learners at risk of poor outcomes including those with special education needs. Teaching as Inquiry is a teaching approach described in The New Zealand Curriculum that aims to improve outcomes for all students. Teachers chose a student with special education needs to support their inquiry into their own practice and linked this to their appraisal goals. This involved researching a range of interventions, practices and strategies, which they trialled with the student and monitored for effectiveness.

Secondary schools

Secondary schools were almost as likely as primary schools to be mostly inclusive. Support for secondary school students included mentoring, career counselling, help preparing CVs, Gateway (a Tertiary Education Commission programme to provide senior students with opportunities to access structured workplace learning). Schools also offered support for assessment, such as NZQA’s Special Assessment Conditions and Reader/Writers to help candidates in assessments. Some students with special education needs in secondary schools were provided with programmes to develop life skills, such as budgeting, shopping and cooking, opportunities for work exploration, and targeted transition into the workplace.

Successful experience in a secondary school

One girl with multiple diagnoses moved to a secondary school in Year 10. This girl’s success was supported by the transition documents from her previous school, which described strategies and interventions that had been helpful. The school’s ‘open door’ relationship with her parents meant that everyone was on the same page with supporting her to achieve success.

One of her primary needs was to reduce her levels of anxiety and help her develop relationships with others. The school recognised that the normal Year 10 programme would not suit the student, so designed a programme to suit her. This involved carefully choosing which staff and students to place the girl with, teaching her at the appropriate academic level and taking her interests into account. This meant she was placed in Year 11 for some classes. She was able to roll over to the next year any NCEA credits she earned in these classes.

The SENCO was the girl’s key support person, and helped her to better understand social cues, which reduced her anxiety in social situations. Her programme was built up slowly so that she was not overwhelmed by too many changes at once. The school helped her develop life skills including being more organised.

To meet her long-term goal to develop positive relationships with her teachers and peers, she signed up to be an after school coach. The school was supportive and ensured the girl was prepared for this appropriately. As a result, she has since gone on to participate in a range of activities, both in and out of school.

Her self esteem and confidence have continued to grow since her enrolment. She has also enjoyed considerable academic success and established good relationships with others.

Middle-sized secondary school

Teaching practices and support

Key findings

Inclusive schools included students with special education needs in age-appropriate regular classes. The most effective schools used high quality teaching practices, developed high quality IEPs based on evidence, and responded flexibly to individual needs.

ERO identified some schools where teachers needed to improve their knowledge of how to modify the curriculum, develop specific IEP goals and use achievement data to inform their teaching for children with special education needs.

Most schools used some effective teaching and support practices to include students with special education needs in age-appropriate classes. Teachers used high quality teaching practices such as differentiating classroom activities, approaches and curriculum to meet the range of needs in their class. They built on student knowledge and interests, and provided feedback and next steps for learning. Some students were withdrawn for one-to-one or small group support on targeted programmes to develop academic or social skills, and some schools provided both mainstream and support class or withdrawal options.

Responding to strengths and interests

A Year 5 boy diagnosed with cerebral palsy was confident, articulate, a leader and good with technology. His greatest learning needs were related to motor skills. His school helped him build on his strengths, by nominating him as a ‘techno kid’ responsible for supporting his class and teachers in technology and running the technology for school assemblies. He is supported to run his own IEP meetings and report on his progress and achievements. The boy has confidently spoken to a large group of professionals about this.

Middle-sized contributing primary school

Using evidence and quality Individual Education Plans (IEPs)

SENCOs used a range of assessment and diagnostic tools to identify specific needs and develop appropriate programmes and strategies to meet these needs. Many schools had developed IEPs that met at least some of the Ministry of Education’s guidelines for quality 2. Features of good IEPs included:

  • goals that were based on data and focused on what the student could do, and their strengths and interests
  • having well-developed objectives for student learning and development in relation to learning, social, communication, physical, sensory, behaviour and life skills
  • using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals 3, to enable the school to show learning, progress and next steps
  • teaching strategies and clear responsibilities for staff
  • regular review of the goals in consultation with parents, staff, specialist teachers, specialists, and sometimes students.

Flexible response to the needs of individual students

Inclusive schools responded flexibly to individual student’s needs and provided a range of programmes to help students learn and progress. SENCOs carefully placed students with staff who understood how to meet each student’s needs and were committed to the student’s wellbeing and learning. They focused on meeting the student’s social, emotional, communication, behaviour, academic (often literacy or maths/numeracy) and physical needs.

Responding to very high needs

When she first started school, the girl was not yet talking or walking. In the junior classes it became apparent that the reading, writing and numeracy tasks she was working on were not appropriate. The school developed goals for the girl and monitored her progress through IEPs with a focus on life skills and authentic experiences.

When she began presenting challenging behaviour, the school interpreted this as a signal that she was not getting what she needed. This prompted a consultation and adaptation process, which has led to the girl functioning at a much higher level than was expected. She is now able to walk, communicate in short sentences and with gesture, and read with her class. The school has made photo books, which are very meaningful to her.

The girl is supported daily by a teacher’s aide, and twice weekly by a specialist teacher from a nearby special school. Her programme is mostly in class, but allows frequent opportunities for breaks. She is given opportunities to make shakes in the school staffroom, go swimming, visit cafes and the junior classroom, where she is most comfortable. The school plans carefully for school camps and trips, and works to minimise anxiety for all concerned.

This student’s progress and inclusion have come about in large part due to the school’s ability to reflect on their provision and the girl’s response. They noticed when things were not working and adapted the way they did things. The school made sure it involved the right people to get the help it needed and has been flexible in its approach, resulting in the girl exceeding expectations.

Her parents, teachers and specialist teacher have agreed it is best for her that she stays on at her primary school, until a suitable next school is found for her.

Middle-sized contributing primary school

Responding to behavioural needs

Practicing and preparing for unexpected situations was part of supporting a Year 4 student to achieve success. The boy was engaged in learning most of the time and making progress in maths and literacy, but he needed to develop strategies to cope with frustrations and disappointments and had to learn to take turns. The school’s approach to this was to discuss with the boy how he might feel and react when he lost a game, or it was not his turn. They decided on some ground rules around reactions, and played games where the boy would be ‘out’, so he could practise reacting in a more appropriate way. The boy was rewarded for doing well at this, although the school noted that developing the key competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum is proving a challenge.

Large contributing school

Teacher’s aide support in class

Most students with special education needs were well supported by teacher’s aides, either in the class or separately in one-to-one instruction. The teacher usually planned programmes and linked these to regular class work. Some teacher’s aides supported students to develop social skills, sometimes by helping them to interact with other students. This also helped to increase their independence and reduce their reliance on the teacher’s aides. Some teacher’s aides supported students during breaks, on trips and on overnight camps.

Teacher’s aides were often experienced, had received PLD appropriate to a particular student, and were described as capable, committed, highly valued and trusted. They knew students well, developed positive relationships with parents, and worked flexibly and effectively to meet student needs.

Peer support/buddy systems

Inclusive schools believed that it was important for all students to develop relationships with peers and that all students benefited from this. Teachers encouraged students to understand and accept diversity. They talked to students about how children’s brains work differently and encouraged older children to help particular children with special education needs. ERO spoke with parents of some students with special education needs who reported that their children were invited to play with their peers out of school.

Teachers actively supported students’ social development by providing opportunities for cooperative learning and encouraging them to participate and work alongside their peers in a range of ways – some direct and some indirect. Some schools established a buddy system to help students with special education needs inside and outside the classroom. Other schools established tuakana-teina relationships 4, peer support systems, playground angels or whole-school approaches.

ERO observed students with special education needs participating comfortably in a group or class, being engaged in the whole class programme, being settled, confidently answering questions and waiting their turn.

Examples of peer support:

Students with special education needs have a senior mentor who is usually a Year 6 student. They spend an hour a week taking part in a planned mentor programme alongside other students in their class. A senior student worked with an ORS-funded student who was not getting enough exercise to get him moving, jogging and running. This process was closely aligned with a goal in the student’s IEP.

The school has adapted the timetable to give senior students a fifth option line where they are able to work with students with special education needs either in special classes or mainstream classes in various subjects and school-based activities. At the time of the review 35 senior students were doing this and school values of commitment and respect were obvious. Some of the students with special education needs also have opportunities to support younger students in the mainstream. The idea of Ako 5 is alive and well in the school.

Large secondary school

Included outside the classroom

Inclusive schools fully involved students with special education needs in activities outside the classroom. Students participated in regular cultural and sporting activities such as kapa haka, assembly, swimming, sports and camps. Some schools provided activities especially for students with special education needs, such as Riding for the Disabled and Special Olympics.

Schools carefully planned and modified programmes or provided additional support to enable students with special education needs to participate in activities outside the classroom. Risk analyses took account of individual student’s needs, and plans and resources were put in place to help ensure the student could participate. Adult responsibilities and school expectations were made clear to all those attending the activity.

Careful planning for successful inclusion in an inter-school event

The school carefully planned a strategy to enable a Year 8 boy diagnosed with autism to attend an out-of-town inter-school event. The boy was anxious in new and unfamiliar situations and this was a big step for him and his mother. The principal and the boy’s mother discussed the trip with the boy, and agreed that he and three others would represent the school at the event. No teachers from his school would be attending, and the boy would be in a group with students from other schools. The principal and the student worked out a safety plan. They outlined key people (another student from his school, the teacher from the local area school) to go to if he became anxious, the schedule for the day and what to expect from each activity. The principal also contacted the teacher who was leading the group, and the social worker who would be attending, to let them know about the boy, and the steps taken to prepare him for the event. The outing was a success due to the well-planned scaffolding of the boy’s involvement, predicting and discussing the new experiences and being supportive and understanding of both the boy and his mother’s emotional responses.

Middle-sized full primary school

Self review for improvement

Key findings

  • Many schools reviewed the procedures and practices provided for students with special education needs
  • Many schools did not consider outcomes for students when they reviewed their procedures and practices, and reported to the board
  • Schools need to develop capability in reviewing how well their resourcing is improving outcomes for students with special needs

The majority of schools had reviewed some aspects of their provisions for students with special education needs. These included reviewing policies, procedures, practices, systems, IEPs, programmes, actions and the use of specialist teachers and specialists. Learning was usually reported in general terms, such as students being engaged, having progressed, developing social skills or feeling confident. Some schools had reviewed their provisions through their involvement in the Inclusive Education Capability Building Project 6. A third of SENCOs had undergone PLD on reviewing the effectiveness of their programmes.

Many schools had surveyed students or parents about their satisfaction with the school and whether students felt safe and comfortable there. Some of this review was based on informal conversations with parents of students with special education needs.

Other examples of review ERO identified included:

  • using the Ministry of Education’s Best Evidence Syntheses 7 as the basis for their review
  • surveying staff about their need for PLD on differentiation of teaching
  • reviewing how inclusive or caring they were
  • determining the effectiveness of PLD.

Previous ERO reports (see Appendix 1), have also highlighted that many schools’ self review relies on anecdotal evidence of students being included in class, having relationships with their peers, feeling safe or valued, or having a sense of belonging, rather than outcomes related to their learning.

Outcomes for students

Some schools provided more than anecdotal evidence of outcomes for students with special education needs. Their focus on progress and achievement resulted in useful improvement such as:

  • improving tracking of student outcomes so that progress within level 1 was more evident
  • providing PLD for staff on effective teaching strategies
  • ongoing modification of programmes
  • providing more release-time for the SENCOs to carry out their roles
  • improving IEPs and strengthening goal setting.

Following is an example of progress and successful outcomes for a student with special education needs.

School strategies resulting in improved behaviour for student with autism

The school developed a strategy to ensure a Year 3 child with autism was able to be included. The student would bite, kick or punch both children and adults, and attempt to run away.

Initially, the boy spent most of his time out of class, being managed on a one-to-one basis, to ensure the health and safety of the other students and staff. The staff considered this unsatisfactory, so the SENCO accessed external support to help develop a strategy to support his inclusion in class. This strategy involved giving the child and his whānau the responsibility for making many decisions. The boy was able to make a chart for his toileting, choose when he would work with his teacher’s aide and when he was ready to do specific learning tasks.

One year later, the boy is spending most of his time in class and displaying little inappropriate behaviour, and is seen as a contributing member of his class.

Large contributing school

ERO spoke to students with special education needs who talked about their pride in their progress, loving school, being part of a group or feeling they belonged. Some were able to describe their sense of being a learner by talking about their achievement and progress or explaining their current reading, writing or numeracy achievements.

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Reviewing school-wide effectiveness

In the best instances schools also collated information about the progress of all students with special education needs in a way that enabled them to analyse where progress had been accelerated and to identify and share the most successful practices across the school.

In one primary school the SENCO introduced a school-wide review process through reports each term on the nature and impact of each intervention for students with special education needs. By evaluating the effectiveness of interventions, the school was able to maintain, discontinue or change the support being given.

The following is another example of where school-wide self review was used to promote increased student achievement.

Self review leading to student achievement

Self review is integrated into all aspects of the programme. It includes analysing IEPs, teacher surveys (mainstream and special class), reviews of planning and student surveys. As a result changes are constantly made to programmes and timetables. The department was recently reviewed by an independent evaluator. This evaluation was rigorous and targeted mainstreamed students with special education needs and how the department was meeting their needs. The report cited some areas for further development and made recommendations that have been acted on by staff. Analysis of data for the many ORS funded and other high needs students at this school resulted in an adaptive programme where changes to the timetable and staffing are made to meet the needs of individual students. Many ORS funded students attain level 1 NCEA literacy and numeracy credits and a few have attained level 2 NCEA literacy and numeracy credits.

Large secondary school

Reporting to the board about outcomes for students with special education needs

Many boards were not well informed about the impact of their resourcing on progress and achievement of students with special education needs. This is because reports to boards mostly focused on what is provided for the students rather than outcomes for students or the effectiveness of the school’s practices.

Without this information it is difficult for boards and leaders to determine priorities, decide on specific targets, identify PLD needs and develop a detailed plan to improve provisions for students with special education needs. Schools could more usefully collate and provide information about the number of IEP goals set for their students with special education needs, how many goals were achieved and what resources are needed to help students achieve the remaining or next learning goals.

The following examples share how reporting to the board about strategic developments informs their resourcing decisions.

Assuring the board about progress towards strategic goals

The SENCO/principal regularly report to the board on progress towards annual strategic goals that include improving progress of students with special education needs. These reports always include review of interventions, programmes and initiatives, as well as next steps towards goals.

Middle-sized full primary school

Assuring the board about effectiveness of programmes and informing decisions

The SENCO provides very detailed once-a-term reports to the board that include progress and achievement of students with special education needs, the effectiveness of learning support programmes, PLD for teachers and teacher’s aides and future initiatives.

Large contributing school

Schools that evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes are better placed to decide how to provide effectively for students with special education needs when they know which programme and strategies have worked for their students. Reviewing PLD in terms of improved outcomes for students should lead to informed decisions about future PLD.

Involvement of the wider education system

Key findings

  • A large number of specialists and specialist teachers worked with schools to support their inclusion of students with special education needs.
  • Some schools reported delays in accessing specialist support, particularly in sharing information and timely modifications to property.

External specialists and agencies

Schools accessed a wide range of specialists, specialist teachers and resources to include students with special education needs. Half the schools were working with more than 10 specialist teachers or specialists. Almost all schools had received support from resource teachers of learning and behaviour, and most had received support from public health nurses, speech-language therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and resource teachers of literacy. Two thirds of schools had received support for students with challenging behaviour through the Interim Response Fund, or the Severe Behaviour Service. Most schools had used the Ministry’s published resources on developing IEPs and building inclusive schools and found them useful.

Almost half the schools were also using resources from Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu – The Correspondence School (Te Kura). One example was an eight year old who was not yet able to work independently and was working with a teacher’s aide in class on topic work from Te Kura which matched the class topics. Another school found Te Kura resources added to their toolbox of ideas and resources.

Many other specialist teachers and specialists supported schools in various ways, including:

  • advisers on deaf children, resource teachers of deaf, deaf education resource centres
  • blind and low vision education network, orientation and mobility instructors (low vision)
  • the specialist teacher outreach service, specialist itinerant teacher, specialist service provider, the intensive wraparound service, and the moderate physical service.

Challenges identified by schools

Almost all schools identified at least one challenge they had experienced when trying to include students with special education needs. Two thirds of the schools considered an issue related to funding a major challenge.

This included timely access to funding, the level of funding provided and difficulty accessing funding for students they believed needed additional support but did not qualify for any of the additional funding options currently available.

Schools said they could do more for students if they had more funding and support, and many noted they funded additional teacher’s aide hours from other funding. Although many schools talked about funding as a challenge, they usually acknowledged their responsibility to use the resources they had to meet student needs in the best possible way.

Other commonly-mentioned barriers beyond the school included:

  • lack of support and timely responses from specialist services and the Ministry of Education
  • difficulties with transition, particularly sharing information
  • availability of appropriate PLD.

Some schools had identified challenges in their own school and were working to address them. These included:

  • staff knowledge of effective strategies and how to differentiate the curriculum
  • the physical environment of the school (such as difficult access for children with mobility issues or a lack of quiet spaces for some children to work)
  • building constructive relationships with parents, particularly those who may not accept that their child has special learning needs
  • meeting the needs of students with complex needs or extreme behaviour
  • the time school staff spend on applications for funding and support, and following up specialist requests.

Most schools included a statement of commitment to students with special education needs in their charter but only half also stated a commitment to upskill teaching staff to use more inclusive teaching practices.