A report has shown Victorian children with disability face significant challenges in mainstream schools, including discrimination, exclusion and disadvantage.
According to the report by the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University, titled Improving Educational Outcomes for Children with Disability in Victoria, the State Government and its schools are letting these children and their families down.
The report, which is based on almost 100 interviews with parents, former students and school staff, details more than 30 recommendations designed to improve the educational experience of children with disability.
Director of the Castan Centre, Sarah Joseph acknowledges the positive steps taken by the Victorian Government to provide fair and equal education to all, but says issues still exist, including breaching of children’s rights and anti-discrimination laws.
“Children with disability have the right to access a quality education on the same basis of their peers without disability,” Professor Joseph says.
Report co-author Dr Claire Spivakovsky of Monash University’s Faculty of Arts says, “children are being turned away or discouraged from enrolling, they’re not receiving the support they need to participate fully in their education and they’re being socially isolated.”
“These outcomes are linked to the flaws in the way that funding is provided for students with disability and the support and training provided to teachers and support staff is also inadequate.”
Policy Manager of the Castan Centre, Eleanor Jenkin says that while some schools are doing a great job, others are manifestly failing their students with disability.
“The legal obligation to protect and realise the rights of these children rests not only with schools, but also the Department of Education and Training (DET) and the entire Government of Victoria,” Ms Jenkin says.
“They must properly monitor the actions of schools and hold to account those who are failing their most vulnerable students.”
Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) Chief Executive Officer
Stephanie Gotlib says there is a critical need for education reform for students with disability.
“CYDA is overwhelmed with reports of students with disability experiencing discrimination, bullying, low expectations, inadequate resourcing, lack of expertise and gate keeping.”
“Students experiencing restraint and seclusion in schools is coming alarmingly more common.”
“For a very long time CYDA has clearly communicated to Governments, state and federal, that our education system is failing to adequately meet the needs of students with disability.”
Ms Gotlib says all Australian states and territories are yet to develop a transition plan detailing how they will ensure the right to an inclusive education is afforded to all students with disability.
“Furthermore, all reform needs to clearly recognise that students with disability have a right to inclusive education.”
A recent survey by CYDA revealed 56 per cent of children with disability reported bullying at school in the last year, with 38 percent having been excluded from school activities or events.
A DET spokesperson says that while the ‘considerable progress’ outlined in the report by the department shouldn't be lost, there is more to be done to support students with disability.
“We are already acting in-line with many of the recommendations in this report but, as with any significant report, we will look carefully to see what lessons can be learned,” the spokesperson says.
“We recognise there is more for the Department to do and we’re continuing to work to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.
“The Department takes seriously its legal obligations to treat all students without discrimination, including in relation to enrolment and participation.”
The Department has at least 19 active and ongoing programs and initiatives in place to support students with disability and their educators.
The Victorian Government is also delivering a $61 million suite of initiatives to improve and strengthen inclusive education practices.
“As part of our response to the Review of the Program for Students with Disabilities we are developing a new school funding model for students with disabilities which is based on supporting their strengths rather than responding to specific diagnosis,” the DET spokesperson says.
A pilot of a new needs assessment will be used to inform the development of this new funding model running throughout 2018.
DET is encouraging anyone who feels they were treated unfairly by their local school, to contact them directly through the school complaint system.
For more information on disability support and services, please visit DisabilitySupportGuide.com.au