A parliamentary inquiry into school disruptions announced last week has raised concerns over the effect it may have on students with disability.
The Education and Employment References Committee will conduct the inquiry into the “issue of increasing disruption in Australian school classrooms” which politicians believe is disadvantaging students and contributing to poor literacy and numeracy results.
This idea is based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) disciplinary climate index, which rates Australian classrooms “amongst the world’s most disorderly”.
The inquiry will begin next year and a report will be due by the first day of the Senate sitting in July 2023, but the inquiry’s terms of reference have already brought up issues within the disability sector.
Advocacy organisation Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) is concerned about the language used in the inquiry’s terms of reference because it doesn’t align with the best practice principles of seeking to understand child development and behaviour.
The terms instead focus on the response to the behaviour, rather than the cause of the behaviour.
CYDA Chief Executive Officer, Skye Kakoschke-Moore, says, “We want to see the inquiry address issues impacting on the inclusion of children with disability, and not lead us further into segregation.”
“Australia needs educational transformation to ensure all students are safe, included, and able to engage in the curriculum.”
Despite an estimated one in five Australian students requiring classroom adjustments for their learning and engagement, the inquiry also does not specifically mention students with disability and what can be done to support them.
The measurements of school performance which will be used to inform the inquiry – for example National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) literacy and numeracy data – could also exclude children with disability who may not have participated in the testing.
This data will also not provide any indication of safety, social connections and emotional regulation in the school setting which can be vital to a student with disability’s learning.
The reliance on this data contributes to CYDA’s concern the inquiry is “skewed toward ableism and potential segregation”.
Terms of reference set up a prejudiced inquiry
Greens spokesperson on schools, Senator Penny Allman-Payne, says the inquiry’s terms of reference are “loaded with assumptions and value judgements”.
“I’m really concerned it’s going to have a negative impact, particularly on some of our students who are in priority cohorts, so First Nations kids, kids that have a disability and kids who are neurodiverse,” says Senator Allman-Payne.
“What I’m worried about is that a target will be put on the back of some of those students, and/or teachers, and it will turn into an exercise in blame rather than looking at the structural problems that we have, which is the persistent – we’re talking about nearly a decade now – underfunding of some of our neediest students and schools.”
In particular, Senator Allman-Payne is concerned about the reference to the OECD index, which does not compare Australia with countries that have a similar schooling approach and therefore is “problematic”.
The references to ‘teachers’ views on whether or not they are sufficiently empowered and equipped to maintain order in the classroom and ‘loss of instructional teacher time because of disorder and distraction’ are also issues.
“I think that invites people to say, ‘Well there are three kids in my child’s class that are mucking up all the time and therefore they should be excluded’,” says Senator Allman-Payne.
“That’s another thing I’m really concerned about, that it will provide a forum for people to argue against inclusion and to say that we need to be separating and segregating out students who have particular needs.”
Senator Allman-Payne will be a member of the Committee conducting the inquiry and says she will attempt to ensure it is done in a “respectful way” which doesn’t “invite criticism or blaming”, with the hope it will collect additional evidence to support better resourcing of public schools.
“I’ve not long been out of the classroom and as a public school teacher, we’re all told and we all really want to teach in an inclusive way, we want to have inclusive classrooms, but if you’re not being properly resourced to do that, that means students’ need are not being met and teachers will tell you that kids act out when their needs aren’t being met,” she says.
Potential for positive outcomes from inquiry
There is the potential that the inquiry will lead to some benefits if handled in the right way, according to Ms Kakoschke-Moore.
“While we are cautious about the terms of reference, CYDA is hopeful the inquiry will shine a light on the inadequacies of the system to meet the needs of children with disability,” she says.
CYDA hopes the inquiry will highlight:
- A lack of training and support for teachers, particularly in relation to behaviour, disability and trauma
- Inadequate funding for supports in the classroom and school environment
- Inadequate support for teachers to plan and develop adjustments
- Inflexible learning systems that do not meet the needs of individual students
Senator Allman-Payne says what is needed for students with disability and other priority cohorts is adequate funding and resourcing to create truly inclusive classrooms, and with enough submissions to the inquiry from the right people this might become part of the Committee’s recommendations.
Aside from participating in the inquiry, Senator Allman-Payne is focusing on the National School Reform Agreement, which she says needs to fund schools at 100 percent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) so that students receive the right resourcing.
The Commonwealth Government currently funds public schools at about 20 percent of SRS, with State and Territory governments picking up most, but not all, of the remainder of the funding.
However, non-Government schools are funded at 80 percent of the SRS by the Commonwealth Government.