BY CAMERON DRUMMOND
WHILE the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been high on the political agenda in recent years, sufficient education reform for students with disability has, in comparison, been overlooked.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 7.7 per cent of children and young people aged 0-24 years in Australia in 2016 had an identified disability.
In terms of education, just 41 per cent of people with disability had completed Year 12, compared to 63 per cent of people without.
The final report of a 2015 Federal Senate Inquiry into Current levels of access and attainment for students with disability in the school system, and the impact on students and families associated with inadequate levels of support, stated that:
“Throughout the course of this inquiry, the committee received overwhelming evidence regarding the many barriers faced by students with disability and their families. Access to education is a basic human right, but for many students with disability in Australia, it is a right which they are prevented from accessing.”
COAG Education Council data released in May showed that about 270,000 students with a disability are in schools without the necessary additional funding needed for their education.
Its 2016 Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) on School Students with Disability showed that about 469,000 (12.4 per cent) of students received some form of support for a disability that required additional funding than that already provided within schools.
The NCCD is a nationwide survey of all educational settings – including special schools.
With a 99.9 per cent participation rate, it is the most comprehensive data collection of students with disabilities in our education system.
The NCCD identified 685,911 – or 18.1 per cent – of students received an educational adjustment due to disability.
Of that number, only about 216,000 students received adequate government support.
CYDA chief executive Stephanie Gotlib.
Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) is the national, not-for-profit peak body which represents children and young people (aged 0-25) with disability. We spoke with Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) chief executive Stephanie Gotlib about what can be done to improve support for the education of children with disability.
Q: The COAG Council’s NCCD data on School Students with a Disability shows a shortfall in government support for students with a disability. What needs to be addressed?
Unfortunately from the information released to date it appears that the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on Students with Disability (NCCD) shows approximately a 100 per cent increase in the number of students identified as experiencing disability, yet Commonwealth funding for the next year (2018) only reflects about a 3 per cent increase in funding.
I am greatly concerned that this will then mean that available funding will be spread even thinner for students with disability.
It is typical for students with disability to contend with discrimination, inadequate resourcing, exclusion, limited expertise and a systemic culture of low expectations throughout their school years. Reports of restraint and seclusion are also becoming alarmingly more frequent. This reflects a system in crisis which in my view is failing to adequately meet the needs of students with disability.
Q: How can the government best implement the necessary reforms?
Adequate funding is critical to enable the breadth of reform needed to ensure students with disability are afforded their right to access an inclusive education.
It is believed that the Australian Government needs to show leadership in this reform. CYDA would like to see the establishment of a national strategy for the education of students with disability. This needs to reflect the United Nations General Comment on Article 24 on Inclusive Education for Students with Disability.
The Australian Government has articulated very clearly its commitment to people with disability and this needs to be articulated where school education is concerned.
Previously, Minister Birmingham articulated concerns regarding the robustness of the NCCD for students with disability.
CYDA agrees that there is work needed to refine and improve this data collection process. It needs to be clearly articulated and publically available. The direct experience of students with disability and their families needs to inform this process.
Q: What is CYDA’s role in helping push through reforms?
Accessing school education has consistently been a primary concern articulated by our national membership. A key purpose of CYDA is to ensure that the direct experience of children and young people with disability informs policy and practice.
CYDA has been an extremely strong voice in articulating and raising awareness of the poor educational experiences and outcomes of students with disability.
The organisation works with a range of education stakeholders at all stages of the policy reform process. Stakeholders include students, families, educators, peak bodies, government departments, statutory departments and governments.
Q: In NSW, at least, parents that home school children with disabilities currently do not receive support provided to other students. Why is this, and is this issue being properly addressed?
It is commonly reported to CYDA that home schooling is undertaken as the education system has not been able to adequately meet the needs of the child concerned.
It is often not a choice by families but the only alternative. It is common for it to be reported to CYDA that students have experienced physical and/or psychological harm at school which is a major influencing factor regarding the decision to home school.
It is important to acknowledge that there are some families of children with disability that decide independently that home schooling is their preferred mode of education delivery, independent of the issues raised above, but they are the minority of instances reported to CYDA.
There is an obligation to ensure that students with disability are afforded access to education on the same basis as their peers without disability. Students with disability should be afforded the assistance required in any education setting. I think it is important that the Governments concerned provide reasons for any funding discrepancies which may exist.
Q: What is CYDA’s position on Pauline Hanson’s call for students with autism and disabilities to be removed from mainstream classrooms?
CYDA views Senator Hanson’s comments as offensive and ill-informed. It is well articulated in available research that inclusive education provides best outcomes for students with and without disability.
Many classrooms at the moment are struggling to meet the needs of students with disability due to inadequate funding, resources and expertise.
The culture of some schools also reflects an uninformed understanding of disability as an inability, rather than a different ability. These factors combined, result in some classrooms being unhappy places. The answer however is not to exclude and segregate students with disability. The answer is to implement the reform needed in our education system.
I would love to see Australia as a world leader in providing an inclusive education system. The evidence and expertise is readily available to make this happen. We just need the will to make this a reality.