“Everyone has the right to education”
– Article 26; Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

All children in NZ regardless of their impairments have a right to education. The Ministry of Education is responsible for overseeing this. Their website under Special Education states their vision and mission as:

“Special Education’s vision is a fully inclusive education system. This means confident schools, confident parents and confident children, where every day every child learns and succeeds.”

“To help achieve this, we support, guide and lead the education sector to improve the system for children with special education needs. We want to see all schools demonstrating inclusive practice by 2014.”

The Special Education system can be very complex for families new to the sector and difficulties may arise with ensuring that the right support is available. Advocating for your child will be very important and all parents should ensure they have up to date information and knowledge about the school system and the rights of their child. Other parents/families are a great source of information and support. We recommend that you always take a support person (other family member, friend or trusted professional) with you when you attend any meetings.


Early Childhood Education

This is available for all children in New Zealand from birth until they start school. The Ministry of Education’s, Group Special Education (GSE) will be able to inform you of what services are available in your area.

Your GP, Plunket nurse, paediatrician or early childhood centre can make a referral to GSE or you can make the referral yourself.


Primary and secondary school

Every child has the legal right to attend their local school. In some areas there may be special schools or units within a mainstream school which you believe may better meet your child’s needs. It is important to start visiting schools and talking with the principals in plenty of time before your child is due to start. If your child has been receiving support for early childhood education through GSE they may be able to help you determine which school may best meet their needs. Speak to other parents of disabled children in your area to gain more information about the various options.


Accessing extra support 

All children requiring extra support due to their disability will be assessed by the school and relevant agencies. This assessment then forms the basis for an Individual Education Programme and a meeting is held with the family, disabled child (where appropriate), and relevant health and education professionals. From this meeting an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and goals are developed. If your child/young person requires a lot of support to meet their needs they will be referred to the On-going Resource Scheme.


The On-going Resource Scheme

The On-going Resource Scheme (ORS) provides resources for a very small group of students throughout New Zealand with severe disabilities in the areas of learning, vision, hearing, mobility or language use and social communication. Most of these students have this level of need throughout their school years and are identified early in their development. Many receive a comprehensive early intervention service before they begin school.

ORS provides funding on behalf of individual students for additional teacher time, specialist programmes and therapies, and paraprofessional (teacher’s aide) support (where necessary). The funding is managed by each district office of the Ministry of Education, Special Education or an approved Accredited Special Education Service Provider (a school with accreditation to manage ORS funds).

Each student receives a set amount of additional teacher time. The other resource levels are not pre-determined. Each student receives an allocation of specialist, therapist and paraprofessional time according to their needs. The allocation is determined by the fund managers who respond to each student’s needs as identified in their IEP. A system, known as ‘overs and unders’, lets fund managers allocate the appropriate amount of resource to each student while working within an overall budget. This means that students may receive different levels of support over time.


The individual education plan (IEP)

Individual Education Plan meetings should occur at least annually or more often if required to ensure the needs of your child are being met and the goals of the IEP are current. They should be a partnership between all parties. You should be given sufficient notice of a pending meeting and any relevant reports or documents so you can be prepared. You have the right to choose the venue and time of the meeting. Do take a support person with you who is prepared to advocate on your behalf if that what you wish and who can take notes from the meeting and debrief with you afterwards. You must feel heard in this meeting. This is about your child. Do not feel pressured into agreeing to anything you are not completely comfortable with and if necessary ask for time to talk things over with others before committing to any decisions. If you are unhappy with how the meeting has been conducted or with the content or outcomes of the meeting, you can discuss this with the Principal, Board of Trustees or with the Ministry of Education office.


Speech-language support

Speech-language therapists work with students with severe communication needs who have speech (articulation) difficulties, fluency disorders, voice resonance disorders, language difficulties or significant language delay.

The speech-language therapist may provide support to the student and advise families and teachers about communication programmes. The focus is on students in their first three years of school, although some older students may receive a service.

Read further information on speech-language support.


Child Development services

These services are provided to help your disabled pre-schooler. They include a non-medical, multidisciplinary team of health and community based services who will work with you to encourage your child’s development. They can provide a specialist developmental assessment for your child and organise appropriate services to ensure that your child has the opportunity to enjoy life as best they can.

Talk to your GP, Well Child Nurse or specialist if you would like further information about services in your area and the possibility of a referral.


Behaviour Support Teams

Behaviour specialists work with children and young people displaying severe and challenging behaviour that may endanger themselves or others, damage property, or affect their social interactions and learning. Specialists include educational psychologists, special education advisors, teachers with significant experience in working with students with behaviour difficulties, and behaviour support workers. Team members provide support for teachers, families and whānau.


High Health Needs

Special education support for students with high health needs is provided through two initiatives, the School High Health Needs Fund (SHNNF) and Regional Health Schools. School High Health Needs Fund (SHHNF): This fund provides paraprofessional (teacher’s aide) time for students with high health needs so that they can safely participate at school. The fund is for students who require significant care and supervision in the medium or long term (i.e. for more than six weeks). The student’s parent/caregiver, health care workers, educators and fund holders agree on the level and type of care required in an Individual Care Plan.

School High Health Needs Fund guidelines and application form – Includes criteria for eligibility, examples of high health needs, and a downloadable application form.


Regional Health Schools

Regional Health Schools are for students with significant health difficulties who cannot attend their local school because they are in hospital, recovering at home, or gradually returning back to school. Teachers work with students both in hospital and at home. New Zealand’s three Regional Health Schools jointly cover the whole country and are based out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.


Assistive technology

Assistive technology services provide a wide range of equipment for students with high sensory, physical and learning difficulties. The service is provided through the Ministry of Education, Special Education national and local offices. In most cases, a speech-language therapist or occupational therapist or special education advisor assists schools to identify students who are eligible for assistive technology. These specialists also provide training for students and their teachers in the best ways to use the technology.

In the education context assistive technologies may include “low-tech” or “light-tech” devices such as a communication board and “high-tech” devices such as complex modified computer-based system.

The use of assistive technology supports students with the Essential Learning Areas and Essential Skills of The New Zealand Curriculum Framework. The equipment provided is neither an end in itself, nor an alternative to other teaching and learning strategies. It is simply a tool.


Transport assistance

Transport Assistance is a subsidy or allowance for travel between home and school (by public transport, private conveyance, or taxi or bus) may be paid for students with high special needs who need this for mobility or safety reasons. In many cases, transport assistance applications result from a student’s assessment by special education professionals.


Property modifications

Capital works such as alterations or additions to school property enable access for children and young people with high special education needs: these works include ramps, rails, and specialised bathrooms (amongst others). A school works with the Ministry of Education’s property division to make the appropriate changes. Parents and caregivers should talk to their local school principal to discuss their child’s needs.

Find your local Ministry of Education Special Education office.
Phone +64 4 463 8000 | Fax +64 4 463 8254