This evaluation examines how well students with special education needs are included in New Zealand schools. It focuses on their enrolment, participation, engagement and achievement and includes students with both high and moderate needs.

These students may have a range of educational needs, some short-term and some long-term. They include learning needs as a result of communication, behavioural, social, sensory, physical, neurological, psychiatric or intellectual impairments.

The evaluation focused on the following groups of students: 1 

  • Those who need teaching adaptations and/or individual support to access The New Zealand Curriculum or Te Marautanga (the national curriculum for Māori-medium) and achieve at or above the curriculum level for their age. These students are likely to have access to a range of special education services and resources, and may use Braille, New Zealand Sign Language, specialised equipment, and need classroom adaptations.
  • Students who are likely to learn within level one of The New Zealand Curriculum throughout their time at school and are likely to have access to the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) or a resource teacher of learning and behaviour.

The Ministry of Education (the Ministry) spends approximately $500 million on special education services, and provides specialist support to about 35,000 children and young people with special education needs. This includes:

  • ORS funding to 8,000 students
  • communications services to 6,500 students
  • behaviour services to 3,500 students
  • School High Health Needs to 700 students
  • Early Intervention services to 13,500 children
  • other services to 3,300 students.

All schools have access to approximately 900 Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour and receive additional funding through a Special Education Grant which is allocated to all schools based on decile and roll number.


In June 2010 ERO reported that approximately half of the schools in a 2009 study demonstrated ‘mostly inclusive’ practice, while 30 percent had ‘pockets of inclusive practice’ and 20 percent had ‘few inclusive practices’. Including students with high needs (2010) has provided a benchmark for special education policy and practice.

In response to this report, the Government set a target that, by the end of 2014, 80 percent of New Zealand schools will be doing a good job and none should be doing a poor job of including and supporting students with disabilities.

Since then, ERO has published three reports on inclusion (see Appendix 1).

Ministry of Education developments

The Success for All policy was launched in October 2010 in response to the Ministry-led review of special education. The policy extended provision for students with special education needs in several ways, including support for additional students through the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme and the Communications Service and additional support for students with sensory needs.

Success for All has three main areas of work:

The Success for All work programme, focused on accountability, system transformation and supporting schools.

  • The Inclusive Education Taskforce, focused on strengthening schools’ inclusive practices.
  • Positive Behaviour for Learning initiatives, which help schools, teachers, parents, and students to address problem behaviour.

The Ministry has produced a range of tools and resources for schools and boards to support inclusion. One example is a tool developed by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research to measure inclusive practice using information from ERO’s previous evaluations. Another example is a resource on transition from school to post-school life for students with special education needs.

The Ministry has also provided resources to help boards and principals support students with special education needs and to include these students in strategic and annual planning: Charters and Analysis of Variance: Guidance for supporting students with special education needs (October 2013) and Charters: Guidance for strategic and annual planning in secondary schools (February 2013). A resource has also been developed to support secondary schools to build inclusive practices.

The Ministry has introduced the Intensive Wraparound Service to support children and young people with highly complex and challenging behaviour, social or education needs in their local school.

Appendix 2 provides additional information about developments to support special education and inclusion in schools.


The 2014 evaluation used a similar framework to that used in 2010 to enable schools’ inclusive practices in 2014 to be compared with those identified in 2010. There were some adjustments to reflect changes in policy and understanding and a shift in focus to student outcomes and self review.

What does being inclusive mean?

Inclusive education is about the full participation and achievement of all learners. In fully inclusive schools, children and young people with special education needs have a sense of belonging as they participate as much as possible in all the same activities as their peers.

Identifying students with high needs and students with special education needs

Since 2010, the Ministry has had a priority on developing initiatives to support schools to strengthen their inclusive practices.

The current evaluation has focused on the inclusion of ‘students with special education needs’, a broader group of students who may need some form of additional support or assistance, including those with moderate (rather than high) need.

The evaluation also gathered examples of successful inclusion of students identified by schools as having high needs. Many of these students have been designated high needs through their funding and support, while others exhibit special educational needs but have not qualified for additional resource from Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, or Accident Compensation Corporation.

Evaluation approach

The main evaluation question was: How inclusive is the school?

Reviewers based their judgements on the Inclusive Schools Matrix developed for the 2013 evaluation to describe characteristics of schools in each of the three rating categories: ‘mostly inclusive practice’, ‘some inclusive practices’, or ‘few inclusive practices’. In both the 2010 and 2014 evaluations, ERO asked schools to determine which of their students they considered to have high or special education needs.

As in the 2013 evaluation, two additional evaluation questions informed this evaluation:

  • How effectively does the school support the presence, participation and engagement of students with special education needs?
  • How effectively does the school promote achievement and outcomes of students with special education needs?

Judgements for these questions were based on the evaluation indicators which were developed for the earlier evaluations (see Appendix 3).

The evaluation included 152 schools that were reviewed during Term 2, 2014. Further details about the methodology are included in Appendix 4.

Success stories about students with high needs

The evaluation asked reviewers to select an example of successful inclusion of a student with high needs and describe how the school met the child’s needs and the learning and other outcomes. Some of these examples have been included throughout this report to illustrate particular findings.

The children that were described in the examples of successful inclusion covered a wide range of needs and diagnoses. Around a quarter had multiple diagnoses. The most common were autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and learning disorders. Other diagnoses included global delay, perceptual impairment, physical disability, inappropriate behaviour, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Methodological challenges in this evaluation

Students with special education needs are not a homogenous group, making it difficult to judge a school’s overall inclusiveness. It is possible that schools may provide well for children with some types of special education needs and not for others.

Structure of the report

The first section reports the overall findings about inclusion. The next three sections focus on good practice found in three areas:

  • Whole school culture and approach (positive attitude to including students with special education needs).
  • School-wide systems and actions to provide for students with special education needs.
  • teaching practices and support.

The rest of the report presents information about areas where ERO identified concerns about schools’ focus on improving outcomes for students.