Frian Wadia is extremely passionate about inclusive education. A mother of three boys with varying abilities, and a qualified ECE and Early Intervention teacher, she uses her professional and lived experience within the education and health sectors to advocate for systemic change. While also empowering families and young people to recognise and advocate their rights for equity across the system. Frian among her many roles, is also a board member of Parent to Parent.
Frian spoke to Parent to Parent about her passion for true inclusive education and shared some helpful advice to parents and caregivers to support them on the journey to inclusive education. We have summarised these tips and tricks below.
Recognise your rights!
Inclusive education is a fundamental right for every child. As a parent/caregiver It is important to understand your child’s rights when interacting with the education system. A rights-based approach goes hand in hand with inclusive education, and leading with this, shifts the narrative from a perception that education, and full inclusion is a favour to the child, or the family. By bringing children’s rights to the forefront of conversations, it helps to advocate the importance of fair and just education, whereby ethnicity, gender, religion, socio-economic status, or disability are not obstacles to achieving true inclusive education.
- Learn the rights frameworks (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, New Zealand Disability Strategy, Enabling Good Lives).
Build a network of support!
Having a strong circle of support from friends, family, other parents and professionals, supports you to advocate for your child, and work towards positive outcomes for your family. A shared voice is always louder than a single voice, and connecting with others who share a common goal or experience can be an empowering experience.
- Connect with other parents that have similar ‘lived experiences’
- Join education advocacy groups – check out the VIPS facebook page
- Consider getting involved on the school parent council, committee, board or wider school community groups
Shift attitudes around diversity!
To establish successful inclusive practices, a cultural shift in attitude that supports and nurtures diversity, increases the opportunity for everyone to get involved in creating a positive and inclusive society for all. By highlighting your child in a positive light, and sharing the unique contribution your child makes to home life, it is easier for schools to value the diversity your child brings to the school.
- Share positive stories about your child strengths and abilities
- Share information of your child’s special events or achievements outside of school
- Celebrate your child’s big and small achievements
- Encourage the use of appropriate language when communicating with and about your child
- To promote awareness of difference, acceptance, and tolerance, request teachers plan activities and curriculum that allow students to learn about disability
- Consider offering support for classmates, a safe place to have open conversations about disability or difference
Create a collaborative relationship with the school!
Establishing a good parent teacher relationship can provide the best learning environment, both at home and at school. This is especially important when it comes to inclusive education.
Working together with your child’s teacher and school is the best way to help a child succeed and can ensure appropriate teaching methods, inclusive of the family cultural and religious values, are tailored to your child’s needs.
- Bridge the gap through active communication with teacher
- regular email/face to face meetings
- start a school to home communication book with brief notes on the child’s day-to-day activities
- ask for samples of your child’s work
- Make yourself known to the key school staff, and build a presence in the wider school community
- Read the latest newsletters, noticeboards, join school social media page and networking sites.
- Participate in as many school events and activities etc as possible
- Work together with the school to share strategies for behaviour etc that can be used across school and at home
- Lead by example by showing your child how to collaborate positively and effectively with others
Have a vision!
A clear vision for your child’s aspirations, current and future, is an important strategy. Consider what inclusive education looks like for your child and your family? What does your child want to achieve at school, and outside of school? Sharing this vision with educators and professionals that support your child is helpful for them to understand yours and your child’s goals and wishes. It also provides a clear framework and direction that educators working with your child can aspire to. When people are inspired, they are more likely to support a common goal. When the journey gets hard, having a vision to go back to is a good strategy for staying positive about the future, and staying strong on your path.
- Share your child’s vision with the school and teachers
- Make the big picture vision a consistent part of your message
- Ask teachers and professionals for strategies that can support the big picture
What steps to take when inclusion isn’t happening…
If/when issues arise, start the process of resolution using a solution focused approach. It isn’t always easy when parents and caregivers are met with an unsupportive school, and Frian shares some suggestions around this below.
- Connect with your support network around tips for managing specific situations. You may find others have been in a similar situation and have suggestions for solutions.
- Contact your local Ministry of Education office which is the first point of contact for early learning services, schools, parents, and the wider community. Responses may vary from staff members and between regions; but it is a good way to document your concerns with the ministry and to seek support and guidance where needed.
- Address your concerns to the education team, rather than the individual. Include everyone that is involved in supporting your child, including teacher, principal, learning support professionals, SENCO, and your local MOE office. This approach ensures conversations are directed towards the best possible person of each subject and to provide transparency and consistency among the team.
- Put your concerns in writing. If you cannot resolve concerns by speaking to your child’s educators directly, send them a letter/email formally outlining the issue. Putting your concerns in writing means you have a record of discussions and demonstrates you have made a reasonable attempt to resolve the problem. When drafting letters to the school remember to:
- Keep your language professional, assertive, and not confrontational
- Make sure the length and layout of the letter/email is appropriate
- Keep the focus on your child
- Make sure the purpose of your concerns is clear and based on fact
- Discuss desired outcomes and link them to your child’s rights
- Ask questions regarding how you can work with educators to find shared solutions
- Provide examples of how to better engage with your child, potentially include things that have worked well at home
- Have someone else read the letter/email before you send it to make sure the tone is right
- If you find yourself getting emotional or angry when writing the letter, you may need to come back to it when you are feeling calmer
- Make yourself available to meet for a face-to-face meeting and take a support person with you.
Inclusive education is about providing appropriate supports that allow ALL students to achieve their full potential. All students regardless of difference or disability have the right to be educated alongside their peers in mainstream classrooms. Inclusive education is vital to creating an inclusive society. As the 1994 Salamanca statement describes “regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society, and achieving education for all” (UNESCO, 1994, Article 2).
To learn more about Frian’s journey with inclusive education, you can listen to her Podcast here.
- Education and training Act 2020: Education and Training Act 2020 No 38 (as at 13 July 2021), Public Act Contents – New Zealand Legislation
- New Zealand Disability Strategy: New Zealand Disability Strategy – Office for Disability Issues (odi.govt.nz)
- Enabling Good Lives – EGL: About enabling good lives New Zealand
- Unity Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 30th Anniversary Edition » Office of the Children’s Commissioner (occ.org.nz)
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Office for Disability Issues (odi.govt.nz)
- Ministry of Education – local ministry offices: Local Ministry offices – Education in New Zealand
UNESCO. (1994). The Salamanca World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality. UNESCO and the Ministry of Education, Spain. Partis: UNESCO https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000098427