Survey: Students with disabilities face discrimination, bullying

As children around New Zealand begin the new school year, IHC New Zealand looks at how students with disabilities will fare in the classroom.

Media release
12 February 2020

Almost 30 percent of children with disabilities are being unlawfully denied enrolment at their local school, and those who are enrolled face bullying and a massive lack of support in the classroom.

Parents have spoken out about their child not being able to attend school full-time because of a lack of teacher aide hours and school resources, in a recent survey by IHC New Zealand.

Trish Grant, IHC Director of Advocacy, says it’s appalling to see schools still denying the rights of people with disabilities.

“It is unlawful and discriminatory to deny a child with disabilities access to an education, yet we’re still seeing almost a third of children facing this reality,” says Trish.

“It’s yet to be seen whether the Education and Training Bill before Parliament right now will be put into practice – which would give students with learning support needs and disabilities the right to attend school full time.

“We see students in classrooms around the country without the right support to learn, and they are more likely to be bullied, stood down, suspended or excluded.

“Schools must be inclusive under the Education Act 1989, and the right to an inclusive education is enshrined in the convention that New Zealand has signed on to (UNCRPD).”

More than half of the parents surveyed say teachers do not have the appropriate skills to teach children with disabilities, and 44 percent of educational professionals acknowledge they are not up to the task.

“It’s not good enough that in 2020, students with disabilities have a 50 percent chance of getting a teacher who can support them to learn alongside their non-disabled peers,” says Trish. “Parents shouldn’t be relying on luck for their child to succeed in the classroom.”

One mother, whose daughter currently attends a mainstream primary school in Wellington, says there’s a huge lack of understanding on the school’s part.

“I was made to come into school and support my daughter full-time for four weeks, even though she has ORS funding and a Teacher Aide – and I work,” she says.

“We provided the school with a clear support plan, strategies, but nothing was applied, and my daughter melted down on a regular basis and refused to go to school.

“Last year, my daughter has only attended part-time – her wellbeing and mana has suffered terribly this year, and this is just not acceptable.”

Susan Allen, whose daughter was the first person with Down syndrome to attend a mainstream school in Nelson from 1990, says it saddens her to know that bullying continues in many of our schools and little is being done about it.

“She experienced serious bullying at intermediate and college, something the schools chose to ignore, basically putting our daughter, her siblings and us under a lot of stress,” says Susan.

“Understanding, acceptance and education of teachers themselves is urgently needed to enable these students to thrive and reach their full potential.

“Our daughter loved learning, and throughout her education had maybe four teachers who got the big picture and the importance of inclusion both socially and academically – but some were outright cruel, deliberately excluding her and discouraging interaction with other students.”

Eighty-five percent of parents say, with the right support, they would choose to enrol their student in their local mainstream school – reinforcing IHC’s view that all children and young people with intellectual disabilities should have access to an inclusive education, to be able to learn alongside their siblings and peers in their own community.

“Research confirms that all children benefit when they work together,” says Trish. “Students with intellectual disabilities require specialist support to achieve and be at school, and this should be delivered locally.

“The government has never invested so heavily in special education as they do today.

“Children and young people with intellectual disabilities must be supported and welcomed to attend, participate, learn and achieve at their local school.”