22 February 2024

Understanding inclusive practices

Inclusive education means that all learners are welcomed by their local education providers, and are supported to play, learn, contribute, and participate in all aspects of life at the school or service.

On this page:

The purpose of the guide

This Leading Inclusive Schools guide provides strategies and information to support tumuaki to review the inclusive values, policies, and practices in their kura.

The guide focuses on working in partnership with kaiako, ākonga, and whānau to create accessible, supportive, and inclusive environments through:

  • establishing collaborative, authentic relationships 
  • developing shared knowledge
  • creating shared expectations 
  • acknowledging, planning for, and supporting the diversity of all learners.

Understanding Te Tiriti o Waitangi and honouring its principles is the critical starting point for inclusive education in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Education and Training Act 2020 sets out the obligations in relation to Te Tiriti o Waitangi for school boards and schools.

Objectives of boards in governing schools – New Zealand Legislation website.

Providing a caring, safe, respectful, and inclusive school environment in which learning can flourish is a key priority for educators.

Schools are required to be inclusive under the Education and Training Act 2020. 

  • Every domestic student aged 5 to 19 years old in New Zealand is entitled to enrol at any State school and attend school during all the hours that the school is open for instruction.
  • Students with special education needs have the same rights to enrol, attend and receive education at State schools as students who do not.
  • Parents of students with particular needs can request a plan for their child to transition to full time attendance. 

Key information

New Zealand Legislation website:

Ministry of Education:

The right to an inclusive education

The right to an inclusive education is enshrined in two United Nations conventions:

  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – ratified by New Zealand in 2008.
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) – ratified by New Zealand in 2003.

These conventions enshrine the right of all children to have equal access to education in the general education system throughout their lives.

This right is echoed in Outcome 1 of the New Zealand Disability Strategy: “We get an excellent education and achieve our potential throughout our lives.”

Further information

The education and disability legislation guiding our approach to learning support – Ministry of Education

Every child has rights poster – Children’s Commissioner

Supporting wellbeing, equity and inclusion

Access and participation for every learner is an integral part of any education system.

The National Education and Learning Priorities (NELP) recognise that developing educationally powerful connections and partnerships with learners/ākonga, whānau, Māori, Pacific, and diverse ethnic communities will improve outcomes and wellbeing across the education system.

The NELP priorities will help create education environments that are learner centred, and where learners, and especially more Māori and Pacific learners, are successful. 

The NELP priorities encourage all places of learning to focus on:

  • ensuring that they are safe and inclusive and free from racism, discrimination, and bullying  
  • strengthening the quality of teaching our learners receive to give our learners the skills they need to succeed in education, work, and life 
  • collaborating more with whānau, employers, industry, and communities
  • taking account of learners’ needs, identities, languages, and cultures in their practice
  • incorporating te reo Māori and tikanga Māori into everyday activities.

Next steps

Return to the guide “Leading schools that include all learners ”