New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 157–174 | Cite as

Success for All? Re-envisioning New Zealand Schools and Classrooms as Places Where ‘Rights’ Replace ‘Special’

  • Jude MacArthur
  • Gill Rutherford


Contemporary understandings of inclusive education increasingly emphasise processes of reform, within and between schools, and across education systems, which respond to diversity amongst all students. The goal of an equitable, high quality and welcoming system in which all students are present, participating and achieving in their local school is central to the inclusive education movement. Nonetheless, inclusion is still often seen as an approach to support children with disabilities in local, rather than segregated, school contexts. In New Zealand, for example, inclusion is subsumed under policies, funding regimes and practices within a field designated as ‘special education’, where equity is primarily associated with the redistribution of resources. In this article, we suggest that the struggle for equity in education is compromised by the continued representation of some students, their teachers and school experiences as ‘special’. We endorse the call to position education within a ‘rights’ based framework that associates equity with recognition and a positive regard for disability and diversity. We critique current policy and practice in New Zealand, prior to imagining what an equitable education for all students could be, given a shift in thinking from ‘special needs’ to rights.


Equity Inclusive education Special education Rights Success for All 


  1. Ainscow, M. (2012). Moving knowledge around: Strategies for fostering equity within educational systems. Journal of Educational Change, 13, 289–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Biklen, D. (1998). Foreword. In C. Kliewer (Ed.), Schooling children with Down syndrome: Toward an understanding of possibility (pp. ix–xi). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  3. Biklen, D. (2015). Why the pursuit of inclusive education cannot be left to science: Lessons from the work of Burton Blatt. In P. Jones & S. Danforth (Eds.), Foundations of inclusive education research (International Perspectives on Inclusive Education) (Vol. 6, pp. 187–204). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing. doi: 10.1108/S1479-363620150000006007.
  4. Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T., & Teddy, L. (2007). Te kotahitanga: Phase 3: Whanaungatanga: Establishing a culturally responsive pedagogy of relations in mainstream secondary classrooms. Wellington: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  5. Booth, T. (2005). Keeping the future alive: putting inclusive values into action. Forum, 47(2 & 3), 151–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Booth, T. (2011). Curricula for the Common School: what shall we tell our children? Forum, 53(1), 31–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Booth, T., & Ainscow, M. (2011). The index for inclusion. Developing learning and participation in schools. Bristol: The Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education.Google Scholar
  8. Bourke, R., Holden, B., & Curzon, J. (2005). Using evidence to challenge practice: A discussion paper. Wellington: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  9. Cornwall, J. (2013). What makes an inclusive teacher? Can fish climb trees? Mapping the European Agency Profile of Inclusive Teachers to the English system. Forum, 55(1), 103–114.Google Scholar
  10. Elwood, J., & Lundy, L. (2010). Revisioning assessment through a children’s rights approach: implications for policy, process and practice. Research Papers in Education, 25(3), 335–353. doi: 10.1080/02671522.2010.498150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Florian, L. (2007). Reimagining special education. In L. Florian (Ed.), The Sage handbook of special education (pp. 7–20). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  12. Florian, L., & Black-Hawkins, K. (2011). Exploring inclusive pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 37(5), 813–828.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Florian, L., & Graham, A. (2014). Can an expanded interpretation of phronesis support teacher professional development for inclusion? Cambridge Journal of Education, 44(4), 465–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fraser, N. (1997). Justice interruptus: Critical reflections on the ‘postsocialist’ condition. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Fraser, N. (2000). Rethinking recognition. New Left Review, 3, 107–120.Google Scholar
  16. Giangreco, M. F. (2013). Teacher assistant supports in inclusive schools: Research, practices and alternatives. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 37(2), 93–106. doi: 10.1017/jse.2013.1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gibson, J. (2013). Shaun Markham—a reluctant standout. New Zealand Education Gazette, 1. Retrieved January 15, 2016 from
  18. Hart, S. (1998). A sorry tail: Ability, pedagogy and educational reform. British Journal of Educational Studies, 46(2), 153–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hart, S., & Drummond, M. J. (2014). Learning Without Limits: Constructing a pedagogy free from determinist beliefs about ability. In L. Florian (Ed.), The Sage Handbook of Special Education (pp. 439–458). London: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hickey, H. (2015). Tātou tātou: Engaging with whānau hauā from within a cultural framework. In J. Bevan-Brown, M. Berryman, H. Hickey, S. Macfarlane, K. Smiler, & T. Walker (Eds.), Working with Māori children with special needs. He mahi whakahirahira (pp. 70–84). Wellington: NZCER Press.Google Scholar
  21. Higgins, N., MacArthur, J., & Kelly, B. (2009). Including disabled children at school: is it really as simple as ‘a, c, d’? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 13(5), 471–487. doi: 10.1080/13603110701791452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Higgins, N., MacArthur, J., & Reitveld, C. (2006). Higgledy-piggledy policy: Confusion about inclusion. Childrenz Issues, 10(1), 30–36.Google Scholar
  23. Human Rights Commission. (2009). Disabled children’s right to education. Retrieved from
  24. Kearney, A. (2011). Exclusion from and within school. Issues and solutions. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kearney, A., & Kane, R. (2006). Inclusive education policy in New Zealand: reality or ruse? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 10(2–3), 201–219. doi: 10.1080/13603110500256145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lemley, C. (2014). Social justice in teacher education: Naming discrimination to promote transformative action. Critical Questions in Education, 5(1), 26–51.Google Scholar
  27. Lipsky, D. K., & Gartner, A. (1987). Capable of achievement and worthy of respect: Education for handicapped students as if they were full-fledged human beings. Exceptional Children, 54(1), 69–74.Google Scholar
  28. Lundy, L., Kilkelly, U., Byrne, B., & Kang, J. (2012). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: a study of legal implementation in 12 countries. Queens University, Belfast: Centre for Children’s Rights. Retrieved from:,485596,en.pdf.
  29. MacArthur, J., Sharp, S., Kelly, B., & Gaffney, M. (2007). Disabled children negotiating school life: Agency, difference and teaching practice. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 15, 99–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Macfarlane, S. (2015). In pursuit of culturally responsive evidence-based special education pathways for Māori: Whaia ki te ara tika. In J. Bevan-Brown, M. Berryman, H. Hickey, S. Macfarlane, K. Smiler, & T. Walker (Eds.), Working with Māori children with special needs. He mahi whakahirahira (pp. 30–51). Wellington: NZCER Press.Google Scholar
  31. Mentis, M., Kearney, A., & Bevan-Brown, J. (2012). Interprofessional learning and its contribution to inclusive education. In S. Carrington & J. MacArthur (Eds.), Teaching in inclusive school communities (pp. 295–311). Milton, QLD: John.Google Scholar
  32. Ministry of Education. (2011). Tātaiako: Cultural competencies for teachers of Māori learners. Wellington: Ministry of Education. Retrieved from
  33. Ministry of Education. (2014b). Teachers and teachers’ aides working together. Retrieved from
  34. OECD. (2012). Equity and quality in education: Supporting disadvantaged students and schools. Paris: OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  35. Reay, D. (2012). What would a socially just education system look like?: Saving the minnows from the pike. Journal of Education Policy, 27(5), 587–599. doi: 10.1080/02680939.2012.710015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Riddell, S. (2009). Social justice, equality and inclusion in Scottish education. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 30(3), 283–296. doi: 10.1080/01596300903036889.Google Scholar
  37. Rix, J., Sheehy, K., Fletcher-Campbell, F., Crisp, M., & Harper, A. (2013). Exploring provision for children identified with special educational needs: An international review of policy and practice. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 28(4), 375–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rose, D. H., Gravel, J. W., & Gordon, D. T. (2014). Universal Design for Learning. In L. Florian (Ed.), The Sage handbook of special education (pp. 475–489). London: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Runswick-Cole, K., & Hodge, N. (2009). Needs or rights? A challenge to the discourse of special education. British Journal of Special Education, 36(4), 198–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rutherford, G. (2011). “Doing right by”: Teacher aides, students with disabilities, and relational social justice. Harvard Educational Review, 81(1), 95–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ryan, J., & Rottman, C. (2007). Educational leadership and policy approaches to critical social justice. EAF Journal, 18(1/2), 9–23.Google Scholar
  42. Simmons, B., & Watson, D. (2014). The PMLD ambiguity: Articulating the life worlds of children with profound and multiple learning disabilities. London: Karnac Books.Google Scholar
  43. Slee, R. (2004). Meaning in the service of power. In L. Ware (Ed.), Ideology and the politics of (in)exclusion (pp. 46–60). New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  44. Slee, R. (2009). The inclusion paradox: The cultural politics of difference. In M. W. Apple, W. Au, & L. A. Gandin (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of critical education (pp. 177–189). Hoboken, NJ: Routledge.Google Scholar
  45. Slee, R. (2011). The irregular school. Oxon, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  46. Slee, R. (2012). How do we make inclusive education happen when exclusion is a political predisposition? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17(8), 895–907. doi: 10.1080/13603116.2011.602534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Smith, A. B. (2016). Children’s rights. Towards social justice. New York: Momentum Press.Google Scholar
  48. Smith, L. A., Anderson, V., & Blanch, K. (2016). Five beginning teachers’ reflections on enacting New Zealand’s national standards. Teaching and Teacher Education, 54, 107–116. doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2015.11.014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Smyth, J. (2010). Speaking back to educational policy: why social inclusion will not work for disadvantaged Australian schools. Critical Studies in Education, 51(2), 113–128. doi: 10.1080/17508481003742320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. TalkLink. (2012). Retrieved from
  51. Thomas, G. (2013). A review of thinking and research about inclusive education policy, with suggestions for a new kind of inclusive thinking. British Educational Research Journal, 39(3), 473–490.Google Scholar
  52. UNESCO. (2012). Addressing exclusion in education: a guide to assessing education systems towards more inclusive and just societies. Programme document ED/BLS/BAS/2012/PI/1. Retrieved from
  53. United Nations. (1989). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from
  54. United Nations. (2006). United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. Retrieved from
  55. Wilkins, C. (2015). Education reform in England: quality and equity in the performative school. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19(11), 1143–1160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© New Zealand Association for Research in Education 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of EducationMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  2. 2.College of EducationOtago UniversityDunedinNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations