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

Clause 32 of the Education and Training Bill explicitly includes the right of all students to attend the school in which they are enrolled whenever the school is open. Clause 33 of the Bill makes a corresponding change by clarifying that students with special education needs have the same rights to attend school whenever the school is open as those who do not.

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

The changes are being made to respond to the increasing concern among New Zealanders that the current aspects of the right to education do not go far enough to ensure an individual’s right to education.

During public consultation on this proposed 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.

With the proposed legislative changes, New Zealand is taking an important step 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).

During the Ministry of Education’s public consultation on the proposal to clarify the right to attend in our legislation, submitters indicated that they supported the proposal and also wanted the law to reference the UN conventions directly, to ensure the right to attend is enforceable by the Ministry, and that schools need to be resourced and supported to provide for students to attend fulltime.

The UN Conventions include a right to access an inclusive, quality education on an equal basis with others and where required, to receive effective, individualised support to participate in education. Some of these key concepts are already included in our education legislation. For example, the right to an inclusive education is reflected in the obligation on boards to ensure that their school is inclusive of and caters for students with differing needs.

The Bill makes it clear that those with additional needs have the right to attend school whenever the school is open (clause 33) and 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. These changes take us closer to meeting our UNCROC and UNCRPD obligations.

The Ministry of Education will make use of its current statutory intervention powers to assist schools to meet their obligations and to help parents to ensure that their children can realise the right to attend. The Ministry will work with schools to support them through the Education and Training Bill changes.

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

The right to attend school whenever the school is open is not intended to prevent students from being able to attend for reduced attendance hours where their special circumstances require this. During consultation in May and June this year, some parents were concerned that the right to attend school fulltime could disadvantage students with disabilities or additional learning needs whose families consider that their needs are best met by attending for fewer hours.

In general, students are required under section 25 of the Education Act 1989 to attend school for at least four hours every day that the school is open for instruction. 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.

Clause 41 of the Education and Training Bill 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 transition 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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