17 April 2024

About inclusive education

Inclusive education is where all children and young people are engaged and achieve through being present, participating, learning and belonging.

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What is inclusive education?

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

It is underpinned by the belief that every learner has the potential to make a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of their family, whānau, community and to Aotearoa New Zealand as a whole. It asserts that our diversity is a strength.

Inclusive education is also about how we develop and design our learning spaces and activities so that all learners are affirmed in their identity and can learn and participate together. It means deliberately identifying and removing barriers to learning and wellbeing.

Video hosted on Youtube

Dr Ann Milne talks about culturally sustaining pedagogy for learning success or excellence.

Benefits of inclusive education – educating for diversity

Diversity is a defining feature of our society and therefore of our communities, workplaces, schools, and early learning services.

Inclusive education provides learners with opportunities to:

  • foster a learning culture of respect and belonging
  • positively affect understandings and expectations about inclusion in their community and in wider society
  • learn about and accept individual differences, lessening the impact of harassment and bullying
  • be both teacher and learner, tuakana teina model
  • experience diversity as a source of strength and a catalyst for innovation
  • develop wide-ranging friendships
  • develop strengths and gifts, with high expectations for each child beyond formalised assessments
  • work on individual goals and pathways while participating in the life of the learning community alongside their peers
  • involve family, whānau, and community in their education and in the activities of their local school or early learning service.

The right to an inclusive education

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. (Education and Training Act 2020).

For more information see:

Education and Training Act 2020: All students have the right to attend school fulltime – Ministry of Education 

Every child has rights poster – Children’s Commissioner

What guides inclusive education?

Te Whāriki supports a community culture where all children can be actively involved in meaningful play and learning with and alongside their peers. 

The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa require that all students’ identities, languages, cultures, abilities, and talents are recognised.

Systems, processes, and practices need to be flexible and responsive to this predictable diversity, rather than expecting learners to fit around a fixed system of teaching and learning.

Our curriculum documents are non-prescriptive and allow for this flexible learning approach. Schools and early learning services have a mandate to develop their curriculum in a personalised way as they notice, recognise, and respond to the needs of all their learners and their communities.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership

Developing an understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and honouring the principles is a critical starting point in inclusive education in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Video hosted on Vimeo

Wayne Robinson talks about how his Ōtorohanga classroom reflects the school community.

Source: Ministry of Education

No captions or transcript

The values from the Teaching Council's Code define, inspire and guide school teachers. 

  • Whakamana: empowering all learners to reach their highest potential by providing high-quality teaching and leadership.
  • Manaakitanga: creating a welcoming, caring and creative learning environment that treats everyone with respect and dignity.
  • Pono: showing integrity by acting in ways that are fair, honest, ethical and just.
  • Whanaungatanga: engaging in positive and collaborative relationships with our learners, their families and whānau, our colleagues and the wider community.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can be used by schools to support the design of more flexible inclusive learning environments. It can help schools realise the vision of the New Zealand Curriculum where everyone is learning and achieving and diversity is seen as a source of strength.


Within the guides the following terminology has been adopted.

  • Whānau is inclusive of parents, families, and caregivers.
  • Students or ākonga is inclusive of all school-age learners.
  • Learner refers to someone learning at any age.
  • Kaiako is inclusive of teachers in all learning settings.
  • Kura is inclusive of all kura and schools.
  • Tumuaki – kaiako in a principal role.
  • Kaiārahi – kaiako with leadership responsibilities.
Video hosted on Vimeo

Karori Normal School leadership team describe how a UDL approach supports inclusive teaching and learning and school-wide systems and processes.

Source: Ministry of Education

Closed Captions

UDL is a research-based framework. It helps school leaders and teachers:

  • take a more systematic approach to designing useful flexible learning environments
  • identify barriers to learning and participation hidden in teaching practices or the organisation of systems and processes
  • provides a shared language for talking about inclusive practices and processes
  • can be shared with students and whānau so that they can provide more specific feedback to teachers
UDL and differentiation

A differentiated approach is also part of the UDL framework. However the emphasis in UDL is on designing the least restrictive environment for all students. Taking this approach reduces the need for such extensive differentiation as students are able to independently customise the learning environment to meet many of their own needs.

Useful resources


Inclusive Practices Tools for self-review

The Inclusive Practices Tools provide schools with ways to engage staff, students, and their communities in the review of their inclusive practices.