The Education and Training Act 2020: Information for the disability sector

The Education and Training Act aims to give all learners a high-quality, culturally responsive, seamless and inclusive education, from early learning, through schooling, and into tertiary education, vocational training and employment.

What is the Education and Training Act?

The Act is the biggest rewrite of education legislation in decades. Much of its content gives effect to the Government’s plans to transform the education system, following the Kōrero Mātauranga | Education Conversation and the Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce report.

The Act incorporates and replaces the Education Acts of 1964 and 1989, and also incorporates the Education (Pastoral Care) Amendment Act 2019 and the Education (Vocational Education and Training Reform) Amendment Act 2020.

What does the Act mean for the disability sector?

All enrolled students have a right to attend school fulltime

The Act gives all enrolled students, including those with learning support needs and disabilities, the right to attend school and kura for all the hours they are open for instruction. Some parents and whānau find that some schools only allow students with learning support needs or disabilities to attend part time, or else encourage them to attend another school.

What this change means

If you feel your child or a child in your care has been, or is being, denied the right to attend school fulltime, contact the school board. If this approach is unsuccessful, contact your local Ministry of Education regional office.

Transitional wellbeing plan

A parent or full-time caregiver can request and agree with the principal and the Secretary for Education to vary a student’s hours of attendance as part of a transitional plan, where the needs of the student require this.

The plan must be in the student’s best interest, and help meet the student’s wellbeing needs as identified by a medical practitioner or psychologist. It may be renewed once, at the request of the parent with the agreement of the principal and Secretary.

The Ministry will provide guidance for parents on applying for a transitional plan, and will work with schools and kura to help them meet their obligations. Contact your local Ministry regional office if you need any assistance to develop a plan.

Physical restraint framework

The physical restraint framework is updated in the Act to make it clear that teachers and authorised staff members must not physically restrain unless it is necessary to prevent imminent harm to the health, safety or wellbeing of your child or young person, or to another person, and the teacher or staff member reasonably believes there is no other option available in the circumstances. Physical contact for guiding, comforting or communicating with a student, is not restraint and is not restricted if the student does not resist.

The Act includes a range of other safeguards, including that any restraint used on any child or young person must be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances, and that staff members who are authorised to use physical restraint must be trained. The Act also maintains the ban on seclusion.

What’s next

The Ministry will update the rules and guidelines on the use of physical restraint, and the training provided to school staff.  These will give clear guidance on preventing and managing situations where restraint may be necessary to prevent imminent harm to students or school staff.

When developing the new guidelines and rules, the Ministry must consult with children and young people, particularly Māori and those with learning support needs, parents, whānau, caregivers, and organisations representing the interests of teachers, principals, governing bodies of schools, parents, and the disability community.

New draft rules and guidelines will be developed with an Advisory Group. These will then be consulted on more broadly. This process will take place over the next few months. The current Rules will apply until new Rules are finalised.

New complaint and disputes resolution panels

The Act supports the setting up of local complaint and dispute panels to hear serious disputes you might have about your child’s education with your school or kura.

Students, parents, families, whānau and carers will be able to refer serious matters to these panels for review. The panels will have mediation, recommendation and decision-making functions. They will hear disputes relating to decisions made by school boards concerning:

  • rights to education (including enrolment and attendance)
  • stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions
  • learning support, racism and other types of discrimination
  • physical and emotional safety and
  • physical restraint of a student by a teacher or other authorised employee.

What this change means for you

We have some work to do on how the panels will operate, and what they will do, before they can get going. The Ministry will consult on the regulations that are required to support the establishment of these new panels.

When these panels are established, they will allow you to refer serious disputes to an independent panel for review.  For example, if you feel your child or young person has been suspended from school unfairly, or is being subject to racist abuse and the school is not doing enough to stop this, you can refer the matter to your local dispute panel.

Board objectives

During the Kōrero Mātauranga |Education Conversation, many parents told us that the wellbeing of their children and young people in education was as important to them as their achievement. Many Māori parents and whānau also told us, as all the evidence also tells us,  that Māori succeed in education when their language, culture, and identity is recognised.

Accordingly, the Act revises the objectives for school boards from one primary objective to four primary objectives that ensure school governance is underpinned by Te Tiriti o Waitangi and relevant student rights. The new objectives relate to student educational achievement, ensuring the physical and emotional safety of students and staff, being inclusive and catering for students with differing needs, and giving effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The primary objective to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi requires boards to work to ensure their plans, policies and local curriculum reflect local tikanga Māori, mātauranga Māori and te ao Māori, to take all reasonable steps to make instruction available in tikanga Māori and te reo Māori, and to achieve equitable outcomes for Māori students.

The new objectives take effect from August 2020, except for the new objective for school boards to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This clause commences on 1 January 2021, so that boards have time to understand and prepare for the changes they need to make to their school to give effect to the new objective.

What this means for you

Māori parents and whanau should see their ākonga experience a greater sense of belonging and acceptance in the education system from the recognition given to local tikanga Māori, mātauranga Māori and te ao Māori. School boards will work with their communities to ensure their plans, policies and local curriculum reflect local tikanga, mātauranga and te ao Māori. 

School rules consultation

Boards must now consult their students (where appropriate), staff and school community when making school rules (bylaws).

The Ministry of Education is currently developing guidance to help boards determine what will require consultation and what consultation should look like.

Special schools name change

The Act has changed the name of “special schools” to “specialist schools”.

“Special” schools in our education system have evolved to have a wider role in supporting inclusive education within the entire schooling system. This has led to a shift in focus from the schools themselves, to the specialist nature of the services provided to support students with disabilities and additional learning support needs.

The name change recognises these changes in role and focus, and more accurately reflects the important role of “specialist” schools in our system. Individual schools will not be required to rebrand their schools.

Further information

More information on all the changes in the Act

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback