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Aussies ‘uncomfortable’ with students with intellectual disability in their child’s school


10 February 2020 at 4:24 pm
Luke Michael
But disability advocates say the segregation of kids with disability in education is a fundamental breach of human rights 


Luke Michael | 10 February 2020 at 4:24 pm


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Aussies ‘uncomfortable’ with students with intellectual disability in their child’s school
10 February 2020 at 4:24 pm

But disability advocates say the segregation of kids with disability in education is a fundamental breach of human rights 

Almost one in five Australians are uncomfortable with their children sharing a classroom with people who have a significant intellectual disability, new research shows.

An Endeavour Foundation survey of 1,000 people found opinions were divided on whether special education or mainstream schooling was better for students with intellectual disability.

Just over half (55 per cent) said they preferred special education schools, while 45 per cent said they favoured mainstream schools.

But disability advocates say the segregation of children with disability in education is a fundamental denial of human rights, noting that students with disability face exclusion, bullying, and physical restraint in Australian schools.

Endeavour Foundation CEO Andrew Donne said it was shocking that so many people were uncomfortable having their children share a class with a student with an intellectual disability.

“We need to make sure educational options are available to everyone, whatever their ability, so they can make the choice that best meets their needs,” Donne said.

He noted the proportion of people favouring segregated education had actually increased eight per cent during the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Donne said this could suggest that Australians believed young people with intellectual disability should be sheltered or protected.

“Or it may mean that people don’t believe mainstream schools are equipped to meet the needs of all students,” he said.

“Ultimately, there must be a place for both options in our society based on individual need and choice.

“Families must be supported to make the choice that best meets their needs and schools must also have the funding and capability to support their decision.”

Down Syndrome Australia responded to the research on Twitter, noting that: “Everyone has the right to inclusive education. This is a fundamental right for all Australian children, with or without disabilities.”

DSA also shared its position paper on the issue, which said access to inclusive education was a right outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), of which Australia is a signatory.

The first hearing of the disability royal commission focused on education, and considered the significance of the UNCRPD.

The Australian Coalition for Inclusive Education – a new national coalition advocating for an evidence-based approach to education for children with disability – recently called for an end to segregated education.

Children and Young People with Disability Australia CEO Mary Sayers told Pro Bono News in October that segregation was one of the key systemic issues affecting students with disability.

“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.”


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

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

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7 comments

  • Avatar Michael Barwick says:

    Stories like this based on a 1000 person survey do lots of harm to inclusiveness in our society.
    Questionnaires are fraught with incorrect findings based on framing of questions
    We’re the population sampled provided with quality research showing undeniable benefits to all students of inclusive education
    I agree the fundamentals of suitable resources teacher training and positive approach all need to be satisfied
    If we closed all special schools we would have plenty of funding to do this

  • Avatar Louise says:

    It is not just the parents that object to our children being in the mainstream classrooms………… SADLY sometimes it is the teachers and principals too!! Another more disturbing breach of human rights!

  • Avatar Helen Payne says:

    How do we dispel the stereotypes so people believe that every human being is irreplaceable. Teach children that the only disability that is unacceptable is that of ignorance.

  • Avatar Emma says:

    Two of my oldest friends are both Primary School teachers in Queensland. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the ethical standing of the UN Convention and believe in inclusive education and equal opportunity for all abilities, their stories have raised serious concerns for me. Some have legitimate reasons for supporting specialized classrooms or schools for those with disabilities; from my friends experiences those mainly come from traumatic and violent episodes from students of theirs with severe learning and behavioral issues.

    Teachers often have 30 or more kids in their class and they therefore cannot even provide equal opportunity to aver age level learners, let alone those with special needs. Several students with several severe mental learning disabilities (eg. on the autism spectrum, ADHD, cognitive impairment) attending normal schools also have severe behavioral issues that disrupt class, frighten the other children and can cause safety issues. Please note I am only referencing those rare few who have violent outbursts when asked tho focus on work or have not been taught appropriate behavioral management strategies from my friends experiences. They have told me teachers and children have gone to them saying they feel unsafe and they don’t want to talk or be around a child with disability because they can turn violent. Once a child grabbed scissors and tried to stab two students, and my friend had to run to restrain him, and lock him away from the other children less she be injured. She was traumatized and felt so sorry for the children and also the child during his outburst because no one knew how to calm him down, including his own parents. My friend was also criticized by her principal for triggering the child by touching him ie. removing a weapon from him and for not calming him down. No support whatsoever from colleagues or the parents was offered.

    I don’t see specialized schools or education departments for severely disabled students as segregation, I see its benefits for the child in terms of giving consistent specialized education to a child who needs that attention and support than is not possible to be taught in a regular school room as the education system stands now in Australia. Many children receive brilliant education in a classroom if their learning disability is not as severe as others, but not all can be helped along at the same speed.

    Unless every classroom in the country provides a specialist disability teacher aid or teacher for each primary school teacher, children on both sides will be disadvantaged in receiving a quality education. We separate year levels because of their learning ability, this seems logical to apply to those with disabilities that require significant support, behavioral management and specialized educators. This issue is far more complex and circumstantial then a blanketed stance.

  • Avatar Bhakti Manning says:

    Schools and curriculums are designed for the majority of children – mostly for those with IQ/s between 90 and 110 – with the capablility to also cater for the needs of those around 5 IQ points above or below that. For inclusiveness and success in education to be available for all, and for children outside these IQ ranges to receive appropriate targeted instruction that engages and benefits them, the system has to change. Children need to feel included and catered for. And those within the target range will see those who don’t meet targets and those who breeze through work that others finding challenging as different – which is no good for any of them. The purpose of intergration is so that we develop an accepting society, and that children learn to treat others with differences as sentient human beings to whom they can relate. That is not going to happen in a school system that is focussed so strongly around educational outcomes, but fails to provide and reward students of all capabilities for their efforts and achievments. As a person who has worked as an aide with students with intellectual and behavioural issues and as a mother of two sons of exceptional intelligence, I have seen how schools fail those who fall outside the “normal” range – and the social impacts too on both these groups.

  • Juanita says:

    I agree with Emma and Bhakti. Firstly, assuming that the parents did not want kids with disability in the class of their children because of discrimination maybe inaccurate because there are several other reasons that could underlie this attitude. It’s difficult enough for children of average intelligence and ability to get sufficient time from teachers without other students in the class who require extra attention, so worrying about their own children’s education is not unexpected. Sufficient teacher aide help or extra teachers in the classroom is not currently available, and integration will only work to provide the best social and academic learning environment if sufficient help for teachers is available, so that every student is given the attention needed to reach their full potential.

    Prior to integration, schools have failed many students outside the norm. In my experience schools have given much better care for students who have learning difficulties and failed those who seem to be able to do it themselves. They fail to realise that students who are academically gifted also require to be stimulated to be the best they can be, not just achieve the norm, that they can do without effort.

    My younger son was disengaged with school within three years of primary school because he was totally bored. What he was required to learn too easy. He was a child that could run rings around his four years older brother with mental arithmetic. He could come up with accurate answers much quicker than his brother, but regularly received zero on mathematics in school. He was getting zero because he COULD not write down the workings for his problem. He would have the correct answers but have them marked wrong because he instinctively knew the answer without knowing how he got to that answer. Despite effort I was unable to get the school to recognise this was an issue and when he realised that nothing was going to change, he became totally disengaged.

    This has been a long-term problem in Queensland schools. I myself encountered problems with this system that favours lower achieving students. My final year of primary school I was put in a class with slightly below to average students to encourage them to work harder and get better grades. No consideration was given to what I happened to need. The only good side of this was my classroom teacher. I’m not only academically gifted but very creative, and she brought in a friend who was a potter to teach the class, who I bonded with. In addition she realised the mathematics being taught was far too easy for me and talked to a colleague who was a high school teacher to get high school level mathematics cards with questions on one side and just the answer on the other which I worked through myself. In this way I taught myself first year high school mathematics without assistance or any explanation how I had to do the problems, and completed this within four months instead of the full year. Considering I had in first year primary school worked out how to do one of these problems that were taught in high school, I had no problems doing this, but it only deferred the problem to high school. The long-term result of this was I graduated high school as dux of the school and was admitted into an MBBS program without ever needing to know how to study, so I totally bombed out.

    This is not taking away from the needs of students with disability and their human rights abuses. But this system tends to turn giftedness into a disability and fails gifted students regularly which is also a human rights abuse. All students – “normal” students, those with learning, behavioural or physical disabilities, and those who are gifted, as a human right deserve to have the opportunity to achieve their full potential through the regular school system.

  • Avatar Jonathon says:

    TOTALLY AGREE with Bhakti and Juanita. My life trajectory has been destroyed by a cesspit of a system. I found out I have well above average IQ at 30 years old and was not able to apply myself at one of the most prestigious schools on offer in Australia. The whole system is made to kill people like me. It’s totally doing the whole society a disservice. The morons that are labelling it a disability are in fact the learning disabled.

    The education minister just sent us further down the wrong path by making arts and humanities impossible to reach by genius minded people, now that is seeeriously disturbing. Dire times ahead with money influencing leadership. Neo-Fascism here we come 2030.

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