Education

Ensuring inclusive education for children and young people with disability

    Overview

    Supporting inclusive education is a central part of CYDA's work. We undertake ongoing systemic advocacy to ensure Australia realises inclusive education for all children and young people with disability. Our work is informed by the experiences, challenges and needs of students with disability.

    Image description: Boy sitting in a classroom on the mat with his peers. Another boy holding up his hand.

    Education and students with disability – the current state of play

    In our 2020 report Not even remotely fair: Experiences of students with disability during COVID-19, we explore the experiences of students with disability in relation to the educational changes made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. Research evidence from before the pandemic suggests that despite a number of policy commitments and initiatives at local and national levels, we have seen only limited progress in moving towards inclusive education and that children and young people with disability often fare poorly in the education system. This is despite the fact that all of the evidence suggests that inclusive education is not just better for children and young people with disability, but can have significant positive impacts for the whole classroom. 

    Although the shift to remote learning and the associated impacts of the pandemic have raised some new issues, several respondents indicated that the issues faced are more longstanding. Over the longer term the only way to prevent these issues arising in future waves of the pandemic or during other emergencies is to genuinely implement inclusive education practices. 

     

    Previous CYDA National Education Surveys 

    The key findings from our 2019 National Education Survey were consistent with the previous three surveys, showing that students with disability are routinely excluded in their education. Many students experience 'gatekeeping' and are segregated from ‘mainstream’ schools and classrooms, not attending school full-time, refused enrolment and excluded from school activities. Suspensions and expulsions are also familiar practices, showing the lack of understanding and support for students with disability. While most students receive some specific support at school because of their disability or learning difference, there are many families who are out-of-pocket for supports and equipment to enable their child to participate. Many students do not have a personalised individual education plan in place.

    Research evidence overwhelmingly supports inclusive education. As well as positive outcomes for social justice and a sense of community and belonging, there are benefits for learning outcomes and for the social, behavioural and physical development of children and young people who do and do not experience disability.

    The findings from our 2019 National Education Survey show it is time for transformational change in our education system to ensure the inclusion of students with disability. Sadly, the prevalence of educational segregation and exclusion, lack of support for students, non-inclusive school cultures and alarming rates of abuse and violence highlight that education systems are failing children and young people with disability. The Disability Royal Commission presents an opportunity for Australia to right its wrongs and start providing children with disability the inclusive education they are entitled to – it is their human right.

    Evidence for inclusive education

    The key findings of the Towards inclusive education: A necessary process of transformation report were:

    • There is no evidence base to support segregated education in any form, including in special schools, units or classrooms. Segregated education is a breach of Australia’s international human rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD).
    • There is no child or young person too complex or ‘disabled’ to be included in general ‘mainstream’ education settings.
    • The research shows the benefits of inclusion in ‘mainstream’ education for students with disability, including: 
      • better academic and vocational outcomes than their peers in non-inclusive settings
      • greater social interaction, resulting in more opportunities to establish and maintain friendships
      • increased independent communication and speech and language development, in turn supporting greater inclusion and active participation
      • a sense of belonging and a self-concept of not just being a receiver of help but also a giver of help
      • access to a broader range of play and learning activities, which can stimulate physical development and enhance children’s experiences
    • Inclusive education also benefits students without disability, teachers and educators, and the wider community.

    Inclusion and the law

    The right of children with disability to attend their local government schools is a right protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 established under the Act). This reflects Australia’s international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (see Article 24) and the priorities of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, which states, “The shared vision is for an inclusive Australian society that enables people with disability to fulfil their potential as equal citizens”.

    Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, a school or other education authority is not permitted to discriminate on the grounds of disability:

    • in deciding an application for admission
    • in the terms or conditions on which it is prepared to admit a student (e.g. by requiring higher fees or accepting payment of the cost of an education assistant or aide)
    • by denying or limiting a student’s access to any benefit provided by the school (e.g. excursions, sports or extra curricular activities and areas of the school)
    • by expelling a student
    • by developing curriculum content that will exclude a student from participation
    • by subjecting a student to any other detriment.

    Although the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes an exception where the adjustment will cause “unjustifiable hardship”, it is up to the school or other relevant educational authority to prove this. As a matter of law, it can be difficult for schools to prove “unjustifiable hardship” even when accommodating a student with disability involves substantial costs.

    The Disability Standards for Education clarify the obligations of education and training providers and the rights of people with disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. You can read more information here and view fact sheets about the Standards, including about making complaints.

    When complaints of discrimination in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 are not able to be resolved at a more local level, the Australian Human Rights Commission is responsible for investigating and resolving them.

    Equal opportunity/anti-discrimination legislation in each state also applies in the area of education, and complaints may be made to the relevant boards or commissions.

    Policy, standards and regulations

    The Australian Curriculum sets the goal for what all students should learn as they progress through their school life – wherever they live in Australia and whichever school they attend.

    Adjustments for students with disability are measures or actions taken to help a student participate in education and training on the same basis as their peers without disability.

    The Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD) is an annual collection of information about Australian school students with disability. The NCCD enables schools, education authorities and governments to better understand the needs of students with disability and how they can be best supported at school.

    Resources

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    Recording: Young, Powerful & Engaged: CYDA's Federal Election Forum

    News

    May 2022

    Recording: Young, Powerful & Engaged: CYDA's Federal Election Forum

    Video

    Recording: Webinar 1 May 2022 - Inclusion in early childhood:  when and where do we start?

    News

    May 2022

    Recording: Webinar 1 May 2022 - Inclusion in early childhood: when and where do we start?

    Video

    Submissions

    April 2022

    CYDA Federal Election Platform 2022

    Article

    Submissions

    February 2022

    Submission to the consultation of the New Disability Employment Support Model

    Article

    Submissions

    July 2021

    Quality Initial Teacher Education Review

    Article

    Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Mary Sayers speech

    News

    June 2021

    Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Mary Sayers speech

    Article

    Submissions

    March 2021

    #End Segregation Campaign and Position Paper on Segregation

    Article

    Submissions

    February 2021

    Drive inclusion and equity for children and young people with disability: 2021-22 Pre-Budget submission

    Article

    Media Statement: Education jurisdictions let off the hook by the Disability Royal Commission during COVID-19 after neglect of students with a disability

    Media Releases

    February 2021

    Media Statement: Education jurisdictions let off the hook by the Disability Royal Commission during COVID-19 after neglect of students with a disability

    Article

    Video: UN COSP13 side event

    News & media

    January 2021

    Video: UN COSP13 side event

    Video

    Video: UN COSP13 side event

    News & media

    January 2021

    Video: UN COSP13 side event

    Video

    Media: Disability groups fight to end segregation of people with disability in Australia

    News

    December 2020

    Media: Disability groups fight to end segregation of people with disability in Australia

    Article

    UN event: It all begins with education

    News

    December 2020

    UN event: It all begins with education

    Media Statement: Victoria pulls the first lever on delivering inclusive education

    Media Releases

    November 2020

    Media Statement: Victoria pulls the first lever on delivering inclusive education

    Article

    National Youth Disability Summit - What young people with disability said - Education Position Paper

    Research & reports

    November 2020

    National Youth Disability Summit - What young people with disability said - Education Position Paper

    Article