Mainstream Schools Discourage Inclusion of Students with Disability
6 November 2017 at 4:12 pm
A national survey of students with disability has revealed more than 70 per cent of students have experienced instances where their enrolment and inclusive participation in mainstream schools has been discouraged.
Conducted by academics at the University of Melbourne, Macquarie University and Curtin University, the study involved 745 Australian students with disability, family members and advocates, with more than 160 school staff also contributing.
They labelled this common form of discrimination for students with disability as “gatekeeping” – the unofficial practices which mainstream schools use “to discourage initial and continued enrolment and inclusive participation of students with disability”.
These practices were found to occur across government, catholic and independent schools in both metropolitan and regional/remote settings.
Stephanie Gotlib, the CEO of Children and Young People with Disability Australia said that the mainstream education system was hampering the progress of students with disability.
“The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recently issued a general comment setting out clear definitions of what constitutes inclusive education and segregation and the need for all signatory states, including Australia, to set a clear path towards a fully inclusive education system,” Gotlib said.
“The results show that the mainstream education system continues to resist the inclusion of students with disability. There is an urgent need to reform the education system and stop these exclusionary practices. Gatekeeping and restrictive practices hamper the long-term academic and social outcomes for students with disability.”
One of the report’s authors, Dr Robert Jackson from Curtin University, told Pro Bono News that mainstream schools were discouraging inclusion because it would require them to “re-think” their entire education methods.
“To include children with disability well, you really need to re-think school,” Jackson said.
“This requires principals to actually take some effort to re-think what they’re here for and what they’re about. Rather than just carrying on the traditional way that’s been going on for years.”
Jackson said it was alarming that so many students were being discriminated against in this way, which seemed to be in direct contravention of the law.
“To have over 70 per cent of families effectively being discriminated against in ways that are possibly illegal… is just outrageous,” he said.
“The implications are that the number of students pushed into segregated education is increasing. This is directly contradictory to the requirements under the UN’s charter on this.
“We’re supposed to be moving towards inclusion but we’re actually moving in the opposite direction.”
He said an inclusive education was shown to be extremely beneficial for children with disability, with no evidence to suggest a segregated approach was advantageous.
“Going through the research back all the way to 1933, we can’t find any research comparison of segregated education and inclusive education that comes out in favour of segregation,” he said.
“In other words, the children who are included do better academically and socially, are much more likely to get a job after they finish school and are more likely to live independently.
“There’s absolutely no doubts about the benefits of full inclusion.”
Jackson added that the concern of inclusive education affecting other’s students’ education was unfounded.
“That again is not supported by evidence,” he said.
“When schools have an inclusive culture, we find that [effect on other students] is minimal. Because the kids absolutely want to be engaged and it’s only when they’re pushed out where you start to get problems.”
The report said that Australia’s strong tradition of educating children with disability in segregated settings made it difficult to meet a commitment to an inclusive education system.
It concluded by stating the problem would not be solved by minor adjustments to policy or practice.
“Major reform of education is needed to build a culture in all schools where all students belong, are valued and included in class lessons, with adjustments and support as needed, and seated with their peers,” the report said.
“In light of the reports of bullying and exclusion in the playground, it is essential that students are supported to build social connections and friendships, and provided with support to understand and embrace diversity and inclusion.
“These fundamental changes are required if the education system in Australia is to meet its commitments under national and international law and if those at every level of the education system are to realise the cultural value of a ‘fair go’ for all.”