We just inched a step closer

March 9, 2021

New Zealand just inched a step closer to fully inclusive education for disabled children.

In December the Human Rights Review Tribunal issued a decision – five and a half years late – that it would hear a complaint from IHC that our education system discriminates against disabled students.

The complaint has languished in a queue waiting for a ruling from the overloaded Human Rights Review Tribunal.

The decision was about the challenges to IHC’s claim brought by Crown Law on behalf of the Attorney-General and the Ministry of Education on the grounds of jurisdiction and ‘justiciability’– in other words whether IHC’s 2014 amended claim was different from the original claim lodged in 2008 and whether the IHC legal action was aimed at increasing education funding. 

IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant says the Tribunal’s decision to dismiss the Crown’s challenges is great news. “We can now let the human rights experts decide whether disabled students can exercise their right to education free from discrimination,” she says.

“This is a disabled children’s citizenship issue. They shouldn’t have to beg for what they deserve.”

IHC does not point the finger at schools or principals, saying instead that discrimination in the system means schools are not adequately resourced to respond to individual learning and social support needs. Now the hard work starts again. Trish will be updating the facts and gathering new evidence to refresh the claim in time for the hearing, which she hopes will be held this year.

IHC’s initial claim was supported by evidence from parents, teachers, principals and others in the education sector; evidence that is now more than five years old. Trish is planning a new survey to gather quantitative and qualitative evidence from students, families, principals, boards of trustees and learning support specialists.

“We will get some updated evidence about the discrimination that is being experienced. What we are saying is that the schools don’t have the capacity or resources to teach disabled students or to respond to disability-related behaviours.”

Trish says IHC’s education complaint may not have yet made it to a hearing, but it has already had an impact in terms of changes in education policy.

A new learning support delivery model has been developed in place of the one we have complained about. The Ministry of Education has required schools to set up learning support registers, so it has a better idea of how many students need support. There is a planned review of Ongoing Resourcing Scheme funding, a new Education Support Agency is being developed to better support schools, and the teaching profession has a new Code, new graduating standards and a new focus on developing and supporting school leaders. School boards of trustees are now required by law to report on inclusion.

“The learning register is a positive step and could be an important lever. We will have a clear picture of how many students need support in the classroom. Whether the Ministry will use that data to review and adjust the resourcing framework is another thing,” she says.

“During the 12 years of IHC’s human rights legal action there has been undoubted progress in disabled students’ access to education.”