Education and Training Act 2020: All students have the right to attend school fulltime

Section 33 of the Education and Training Act explicitly includes the right of all enrolled students to attend school during all the hours the school is open for instruction. Section 34 of the Act clarifies that students with special education needs have the same rights to attend school during all the hours the school is open as those who do not.

These sections make it clear that all students, including those with learning support needs, have the right to attend school whenever the school is open.

During public consultation on this change (from 14 May 2019 to 14 June 2019), many parents and organisations representing those with disabilities and learning support needs told the Ministry that they supported the proposal to expand the current right to education to more explicitly include the right to attendance.

The change is an important step for New Zealand towards meeting its international obligations in the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCROC and UNCRPD).

The Act locates the rights to education and related obligations together so that it is clear that schools are required to provide inclusive education to their students. 

Allowing a wellbeing transitional plan to vary attendance hours when this is in a student’s best interests

The right to attend school whenever the school is open for instruction is not intended to prevent students from being able to attend for reduced attendance hours where their special circumstances require this.

In general it is preferable to support schools, students and their families to enable all students to attend fulltime. However, there are circumstances where it is appropriate for a student to attend for reduced hours on a temporary basis as part of a plan that will support the student to transition to fulltime attendance.

Section 42 of the Education and Training Act enables a student’s parent (or full-time caregiver where appropriate), their principal and the Secretary for Education to agree to vary hours as part of a transitional attendance plan when the particular needs of the student require this. The plan must be requested by the parents only. It must be considered by all parties involved to be in the child’s best interests, and evidence will be required from a medical professional. The plan can be for no more than six months duration but can be renewed once only for a further period of up to six months.

The renewal must be initiated by the parent, and must be agreed by them, the principal and the Secretary to be in the best interests of the student. However, the evidence from a medical professional is not required for the renewal.

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