The Inclusive Education and Community SIG: A space for all-comers?

Dr Michael Gaffney & Kate McAnelly, University of Otago

In July 2018, we took up the mantle of co-convenorship for NZARE’s Inclusive Education and Community Special Interest Group (SIG). This group came into being in 2014 and has been quietly chugging away since, promoting the agenda of equity in education. The 2018 NZARE conference, held at AUT’s South Campus in Manukau, Auckland, was the first opportunity we (as new convenors) had to meet with some of our membership and other interested parties to discuss the long road to inclusion in Aotearoa New Zealand, both within SIG sessions, as well as our SIG hui. In addition to students, researchers and academics, we also had a number of non-academic professionals from various backgrounds, such as teaching, occupational therapy and social work presenting and attending. We welcomed this diversity of perspectives, and we were all easily able to agree on one thing – despite the rhetoric of inclusion being widespread in New Zealand, we’re not there yet and we still have a long way to go.

What exactly is inclusion anyway?

As the group met, we discovered that a key sticking point overall was around the term ‘inclusion’ and what it’s come to mean. It’s no longer just a reference to disability, as it has been in times past. Disability is still a strong feature within the SIG, but sitting alongside it are questions of equity for all learners, underpinned by rights-based approaches to practice. This signals a challenge for us to provide an ongoing focus for the SIG, where we could otherwise struggle to be all things to all people.

We saw this breadth of interest, as mentioned above, in the diversity of paper abstracts we received for the conference, as well as the professional backgrounds of those attending SIG sessions and the SIG hui. This diversity of perspectives, though very much necessary and welcomed, also means it’s probably accurate to say we’re grappling with establishing a cohesive identity that sensitively accommodates all-comers and their research interests.

This identity work has been compounded more recently by the addition of ‘community’ to the SIG name, meaning an obligation to look outside the confines of inclusive education as it’s enacted in early childhood settings, schools and tertiary institutions. We can now consider the impact of learners’ lives outside of these spaces. That’s not to say the focus on community isn’t important. We would argue that it’s crucial, now more than ever perhaps given the recent events in Christchurch. We have regularly wondered since, how people might gain a sense of whanaungatanga within the SIG when our research interests are so diverse. We don’t have an answer to this question. All we can do is listen, recognise the diversity of our SIG as a strength, be responsive to the enthusiasm and concerns of our membership, and see where it takes us into the future.

A key area of concern – Supporting researchers who feel on the margins

One main point for discussion that arose at our SIG hui was how researchers and teachers, who are not affiliated to a university or similar tertiary institution, can continue to access to library resources, ethics committees, and networking. We see in the stated aims of NZARE that we “provide a forum for networking in the area of educational research in New Zealand and equivalent organisations internationally.” For our SIG, meeting formally within the NZARE conference as well as informally outside of it goes some way to covering off the last of these three resources.

However, the aim to support senior educational research students and emerging researchers suggests a gap: researchers, especially teachers, who are not working towards a qualification and are often not affiliated with a tertiary institution. A quick search of alumni websites at universities shows that most graduates can continue to access library resources. This is not well advertised, and is something we can share with members, who are missing access that they may have had in the past.

This leaves us with the ethics committee. The Association has a set of Ethical Guidelines (2010) available on its website. This in conjunction with the New Zealand Ethics Committee (, which is: “an ethics advisory committee serving any social researcher not eligible for ethics review from the standing ethics committees for tertiary institutions or the health and disability sector”, means that those researchers not affiliated to institutions can still get access to this important research function. We can then see that in fulfilling another aim of NZARE, to “strengthen educational research in Aotearoa”, we must use every opportunity to let researchers of all backgrounds know that these resources are available. That’s our next challenge to take up.


The year races on and we are nearly halfway to the next annual NZARE conference in Christchurch in November. We’ll continue to look for the means to create a sense of belonging within the Inclusive Education and Community SIG, while at the same time promoting the means by which community researchers can establish themselves.

A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.” – A quote of Muslim origin

If you’d like to become involved in the Inclusive Education and Community SIG or learn more about our activities, contact our executive officer on

otago648062.jpgMichael Gaffney is a member of the early childhood team at the University of Otago College of Education in Dunedin. His work in early childhood education crosses over with his interest in inclusion, disability studies, childhood studies and more recently community development. His research experiences are cross disciplinary as a result of spending 15 years at the University of Otago’s Childrenʻs Issues Centre. His emerging interests are in parental learning and support.

otago690964.jpgKate McAnelly is an early childhood teacher and PhD candidate at the University of Otago College of Education in Dunedin. Her thesis is investigating sensory environments in early childhood settings, and how these produce the active participation and learning of autistic children. Her research interests are grounded in equitable inclusive education for all children, with a particular focus on disability, families and early childhood education.

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