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This section draws together research, digital resources, and examples to support schools as they consider the inclusion principle.

About the inclusion principle

Inclusion is one of eight principles in The New Zealand Curriculum that provide a foundation for schools' decision making. The principle of inclusion can be used to guide formal curriculum policy and planning, classroom programmes, and teaching practice.

culture counts 2.

The curriculum is non-sexist, non-racist, and non-discriminatory; it ensures that students’ identities, languages, abilities, and talents are recognised and affirmed and that their learning needs are addressed.
The New Zealand Curriculum, p. 9.

The principle of inclusion applies to all students in all New Zealand schools. Knowing your students is key to creating a more flexible environment that supports all learners, where barriers to learning are minimised.

"Inclusive education practices are about ensuring all students are made to feel welcome at school and are able to take part in all aspects of school life. Diversity is respected and school-wide practices and classroom programmes respond to students’ different needs, skills, interests, cultures, and backgrounds."

An inclusive school is one where all students feel they belong because they are welcomed and can participate in all aspects of school life. Inclusive schools:

  • value every individual
  • respect diversity
  • provide equitable opportunities for all students
  • recognise and meet the learning needs of all students.

Inclusion involves working together to know and value every student, and to meet their learning needs. A holistic approach involves collaboration between – students, teachers, teachers’ aides, families/whānau, and specialists to develop a complete picture of the student. Building a collaborative team requires commitment to the principle of inclusion and a clear understanding of what it means for the school, the student, and their family/whānau.

Leading an inclusive school

Leading an inclusive school

Foundations for building an inclusive school are based on understanding:

  • the vision and principles laid down in The New Zealand Curriculum
  • the legal and regulatory requirements on inclusion that apply to all schools
  • the attitudes and actions that lead to any student – and their whānau – knowing that they belong.

Inclusive schools operate under three key principles:

  • having ethical standards and leadership that build the culture of an inclusive school
  • having well-organised systems, effective teamwork, and constructive relationships that identify and support the inclusion of all students
  • using innovative and flexible practices to meet the diverse needs of all students.

Planning for, and leading change

Explore what inclusion means and start to develop a shared vision for the future. Develop a shared understanding of the values and beliefs that underpin inclusive practices in your school. Effective leadership demonstrates a commitment to inclusive practice in the everyday leadership of the school.

The principal and other school leaders need to actively lead or show support for the self-review process. In a self-review process, members of the school community need to feel their voices will be heard. A foundation of trust is important. Consider:

  • Do we have a shared view of what inclusion means at our school?
  • Do staff and students feel comfortable sharing their views?
  • Are there mechanisms in place for staff, students, parents, caregivers, and whānau to make suggestions for improving school practices?
  • Are the concerns of staff, students, parents, and whānau taken seriously and acted upon?

Wellbeing@School: Inclusive toolkit

Identify what systems, initiatives, and programmes in your school support the achievement of all students.

What does inclusion look like in the classroom?

What does inclusion look like in the classroom?

Teachers must know their students so that they can plan for all students to participate fully in learning. As each student brings unique and diverse experiences, needs, and strengths to their learning; classroom planning and systems need to be flexible and responsive to this predictable diversity. Systems and processes need to fit around a student, rather than requiring a student to "fit in".

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based approach that can be used by teachers to support the design of more flexible, inclusive learning environments optimised for personalisation.

The UDL framework provides guidance on multiple ways to:

  • present information to support understanding
  • provide options for students to create, learn, and collaborate
  • stimulate sustained interest and motivation in learning.

By implementing a UDL approach in your classroom, students are able to personalise their learning in an environment where diversity and variability are expected and valued. At the outset, barriers to students’ learning will have been identified and minimised in partnership with the students and those that know them well. Supports for learning will be embedded into the environment and made available to all students, rather than reserved for individuals or small groups of students.

Inclusive Education

Pedagogical practices enable classes and other learning groupings to work as caring, inclusive, and cohesive learning communities

This involves teachers:

  • nurturing student dispositions that support their learning (for example, identity as learners)
  • teaching students how to support one another’s learning
  • being seen by their students as caring about their learning (this is more specific than caring about them or simply liking them)
  • demonstrating a caring pedagogy that values and honours diversity (for example, awhina, whanaungatanga)
  • supporting student participation while engaging critically with students’ views/ideas/ understandings
  • organising the environment (for example, determining groups and designing tasks) to develop inclusive learning communities
  • using language that is inclusive of all learners and their experiences
  • selecting resources that make diversity visible and avoid biased and stereotypical representations
  • putting in place inclusive practices that acknowledge multiple abilities and contributions.

This does not involve teachers:

  • assigning tasks to groups without modelling skills that promote peer learning and inclusion
  • tolerating even low levels of verbal or physical bullying/abuse (as it inhibits the learning of both bully and victim)
  • promoting a “culture of niceness” in which all students’ answers are accepted uncritically, inhibiting intellectual engagement and the development of academic norms
  • using language that inadvertently excludes some students (for example, by talking about “we” when referring to Europeans in a lesson on pioneers);
  • interpreting inclusion as incorporating "others" into mainstream.

Content from: Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES), 2003 and Effective Pedagogy in Social Sciences: Tikanga ā Iwi: BES, 2008

Including all students

Creating an inclusive environment
An inclusive culture means accepting students for who they are. Teachers talk about the importance of spending time getting to know students and building a strong relationship and developing an environment that meets the needs of all students.

Ka Hikitia: Accelerating success
In this interview, Wharehoka Wano discusses the importance of recognising identity and culture in all learners, connecting with community and including Māori learners in learning conversations around achievement.

The New Zealand Curriculum Principles: Foundations for Curriculum Decision-Making July 2012

There is a close link between the principle of cultural diversity and inclusion. Schools need to consider whether their inclusive practices demonstrate a commitment to valuing the richness and diversity that students of different cultures bring. In inclusive schools, the curriculum is focused on meeting the diverse needs and interests of all learners in the school. All learners are treated with respect regardless of their level of achievement, ethnicity or gender. Diversity is encouraged and celebrated.

The New Zealand Curriculum Principles: Foundations for Curriculum Decision-Making, 2012

Have you seen?

NZC Update 18
This Update focuses on inclusion. It highlights presence, participation, and achievement as key aspects for success for all students, in particular those with special educational needs.

Success for all: Every school, every child
Success for all: Every school, every child, is the Government’s vision and work programme to achieve a fully inclusive education system. The Government has set a target of 100% of schools demonstrating inclusive practices and improving special education systems and support.

To help achieve this, ERO will now measure and report on schools’ performance in achieving a fully inclusive school. Helpful resources for this process are:

Inclusive education logo.

Inclusive education: Guides for schools
This site contains a series of guides, which provide New Zealand educators with practical strategies, suggestions, and resources to support learners with diverse needs. 

Updated on: 23 Jun 2015