IHC's Education Complaint

IHC has lobbied for the right of children with an intellectual disability to attend their local school for more than 65 years.

What is the complaint about?

In 2008, IHC lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, arguing that children with a range of disabilities experience discrimination at their local school. Families had told us about the ongoing difficulties they experienced in having their child’s right to education recognised. Children with disabilities are treated differently to non-disabled children in matters to do with enrolment, access to the curriculum and participation in school life.

IHC believed that these practices contravened New Zealand’s commitments to important international human rights conventions. IHC decided to have these practices examined within a human rights context using the mechanisms available within Part 1 A of the Human Rights Act.

In April 2014 IHC’s legal counsel, Frances Joychild QC, filed an amended claim with the Human Rights Review Tribunal. The claim was further amended in August 2014 in response to an application from the Crown requiring further details of the nature and extent of the treatment of disabled students which IHC claims is discriminatory.

In early 2015, the Human Rights Review Tribunal held a preliminary hearing into the complaint after the Attorney General applied to strike out several of IHC’s claims. Two and a half years later we are still awaiting a decision from that preliminary hearing. Confidential discussions about the complaint between IHC, the Ministry of Education, the Education Review Office, and the Education Council over four days in 2016 failed to reach a settlement.

The legal case is effectively stalled until the preliminary decision is released by the Human Rights Review Tribunal, then IHC will be in a queue for a hearing that may be years away. The delay is because the Tribunal is very thinly resourced and has experienced a huge rise in cases in recent years. Despite IHC raising this backlog with the Minister of Justice, no action has been taken to address it. The impact of the delay is huge, as IHC will have to go through another round of obtaining up-to-date evidence for its hearing.

Despite years of special education announcements and changes the overall situation on the ground for children with disabilities at school has not improved. New Zealand’s widely celebrated commitment to human rights on the national and international stage must be matched with appropriate resourcing of the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Information you might find helpful

Things you might be interested in

IHC Library

Our Library is free to use for anyone living in NZ. We have information on all aspects of intellectual disability, autism and other developmental disabilities.


IHC provides advocacy support wherever there is a need to stand up for the rights of one or all people with intellectual disabilities in New Zealand.


Play a big part in the life of a person with an intellectual disability and the work IHC does by joining our One-to-One Friendship or Skills-based Volunteer Programmes.