Tensions, issues and challenges in special education in Aotearoa New Zealand : stories of mismatch between the policies and the practice : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This study identifies issues, tensions and challenges within education in Aotearoa New Zealand through the responses of nine families who talked about their experiences when supporting their children with special learning needs in regular schools. The policies and practices of the Education Act 1989 and Special Education 2000 underpin a vision of inclusive education that gives all children access to high quality learning programmes enabling them to participate and achieve at school. My interpretations of the experiences of these nine families and their children suggests that these tensions arise from mismatches between the families’ expectations and the philosophies, policies and practices of health, government and educational professionals which created barriers leading to the exclusion of their children from regular school placements. This thesis argues that these tensions and issues have an adverse impact on the children and their families.
The study revealed perceptions by families that some schools practised a culture of exclusion by being unable or unwilling to meet the learning or personal care needs of their children. Barriers identified by the families included some schools being unwilling to accept their children’s enrolments; the inability of some teachers to provide appropriate programmes of learning; incidents of bullying of their children by students and staff; and issues involving access to therapist support. Barriers were also identified to positive communication between families and health professionals. Issues involving the Special Education case managers were also identified by the families as contributing to the families’ decisions to remove their children from their regular schools or to seek alternative education providers at times of transition to secondary school.
This study concludes with recommendations for key stakeholders outlining ways that may enhance the experiences of families and their children with special needs within inclusive education. Children with special needs and their families do have a right to the experience of inclusive education. It is the role of the key stakeholders to ensure this becomes reality for all children and their families.