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Perspectives of whānau

"Having teachers who believed in their child’s potential was critical to successful and sustainable learning partnerships."

ERO, 2008, page 9

At the centre of the framework for an inclusive school curriculum (Figure 1), relationships between the student, the teacher, and whānau provide the core interactions for building a rich knowledge of the student’s capabilities, needs, and aspirations. A student’s close, family relationships, and those with wider whānau, can reveal information not apparent to members of the wider team.

Every parent wants to support their child’s learning at school. However the whānau of students with additional needs often have more significant concerns in relation to their children’s education. ERO (2008) asked parents of students with special education needs what they wanted from schools, and how schools could best work with them to meet the needs of all students. Some parents reported receiving confused messages about the responsibilities of home and school, especially regarding learning and wellbeing, with staff only contacting parents when there was a crisis, and often too late. Others said schools were just not open to working with them, and that they felt unwelcome.

Parents felt that it was critical that teachers trusted them as parents for the knowledge they had about their children. With trust, engagement is enhanced and schools can more easily tap into parents’ knowledge and expertise.

Further examples of parents’ responses reported by ERO are provided in the table below.

What did parents want from schools?
  • Children and whānau to be valued as part of the school community
  • To be treated with respect
  • Relationships based on empathy and mutual respect
  • Students to be welcomed for their differences
  • Staff to be approachable, accessible, and interested in them and their children
  • To work in partnership with the school and be involved in solutions to problems, sharing responsibility for learning and wellbeing
What did parents think schools expected of them?
  • To be responsible for behavior at school and home
  • "Intelligent and well-behaved" children; if their child didn’t fit this description, they should consider enrolling him or her elsewhere
What did parents identify as positive ways of working together?
  • Regular and constructive communication that keeps parents in the loop
  • Being contacted with positive messages about their child, not just when things are not going well
  • Opportunities for parents to learn and be supported in working with their child
  • Having teachers who believed in their child’s potential, critical to successful and sustainable learning partnerships
What made it difficult to work together?
  • Struggling with entrenched attitudes by some school staff about their child and his or her learning or behavioural needs
  • Labelling their child or themselves, which undermines the development of constructive relationships
  • Being expected to be at the school’s beck and call to supervise their child or take him or her home when things got difficult
  • Feeling rejected and misunderstood by other parents and children
  • Difficulty getting information about funding and support for their child

To view the full findings of this report, see the ERO report Partners in Learning: Parents’ Voices.

For further information on whānau perspectives, see the guide Partnering with Parents, Whānau, and Communities on the Inclusive Education site.


In Example 12, a teacher in a junior class shares snapshots of students’ learning electronically with whānau; parents of students with additional learning needs are affirmed to see their children succeeding at school.


As a group, think about your school community and the ways in which whānau perspectives are visible and responded to. What actions can school staff take to set up successful ways for whānau and staff to work together with a focus on student learning? Invite whānau to participate, or plan to interview whānau. If your school has used (or is planning to use) the Inclusive Education Tools, you may wish to use your data from the tools as the basis for your thinking.

Next – Working together in your setting

Published on: 19 May 2015