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Children with disability face bullying and exclusion in Aussie schools


30 October 2019 at 4:15 pm
Luke Michael
Advocates say the segregation of children with disability in education is a fundamental denial of human rights


Luke Michael | 30 October 2019 at 4:15 pm


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Children with disability face bullying and exclusion in Aussie schools
30 October 2019 at 4:15 pm

Advocates say the segregation of children with disability in education is a fundamental denial of human rights

Disability groups are calling for segregated education settings to be completely phased out across Australia, after new research found more than 40 per cent of students with disability have been excluded from school events or activities.

A national survey of 505 students and their families from Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) revealed that exclusion, bullying, and physical restraint was pervasive in Australian schools.

Half of the students surveyed said they experienced bullying, one in four were restrained or excluded, and one in 10 children were refused school enrolment.

Students with disability as young as 11 years old said they felt suicidal, while one student under 12 reported hiding from schoolyard bullies in a rubbish bin.

Almost 15 per cent of students also reported being suspended over the past year. The family of a young student in a mainstream school told the survey their child was suspended six times in six months.

“[It was] for ‘behaviour’ issues and ‘re-direction’ issues, only once for aggressive issues,” they said.

“They push and push until he is completely overwhelmed and then they wonder why he won’t comply, then they suspend him, once for three days – he was six years old.”

CYDA CEO Mary Sayers told Pro Bono News it was clear there was severe abuse and neglect of students with disability in Australia.

“The results aren’t great, but sadly we’re not surprised because every day we have families contacting us about the challenges that they’re having at school,” Sayers said.

“The really sad thing is these systemic issues are not being addressed. And that’s why we’re really happy the disability royal commission is looking into education as its first point of inquiry.”

Sayers said segregation was one of the key systemic issues affecting students with disability.

She noted the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability said inclusive education only happened when kids were included in general classrooms and were full and valued members of the school.

“Families are told there isn’t the right support at this school or they’d be better off going to a special school up the road,” she said.

“CYDA wholeheartedly agreed with the UN when it recently said that Australia needs to lift its game and stop the segregation of children with disability in education – which is a fundamental denial of their human rights.”

Sayers is calling on the Australian government to work together with the state and territory governments to develop a national inclusive education plan – with the first step being to phase out all segregated education settings.

“We also need to invest in training to ensure new teachers are trained in inclusive education and there is professional development for existing educators,” she said. 

“The other thing we need is a national framework for eliminating restrictive practices because they do constitute abuse and neglect.”


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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One comment

  • Avatar Matthew Snow. BPsych (Hons), PhD. says:

    As a disability advocate I strongly agree that the Australian school system needs to be completely redesigned for students with a disability to have the same rights to an education as their typically developing counterparts. The statement that inclusive education only happens when kids are included in general classrooms however, poses a real issue for many profoundly autistic children including my son. He struggles to be in his own home when 2 or more guests are present. A classroom with 20+ children would send him into sensory overload and trigger his self harming behaviour (Biting himself through to the bone or banging his head into a brick wall). Personally, I am immensely thankful for the “special school up the road” as they have classes limited to 7 students to cater for the needs of my son and his class mates. The issue with education for children with a disability lies in the lack of school funding which imposes a “one size fits all” approach being adopted. Until an Australian Government stands up and mandates that the “individual needs” of students with a disability are met by the Department of Education many will continue to be denied the right to an education.

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