Hear our voices - 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
It is the view of Children with Disability Australia (CDA) that the current education system in Australia is failing to adequately meet the needs of students with disability. It is recognised that some students with disability have positive education experiences with good academic and social outcomes but this is by far the exception.
The breadth of disadvantage students with disability must contend with in the current education system is profound. At CDA we are inundated with reports of poor and shameful education experiences. A typical school experience for students with disability involves discrimination, limited or no funding for support and resources, inadequately trained staff, a systemic culture of low expectations, exclusion and bullying. There are increasing incidents of restraint and seclusion reported to CDA, which are seen as a clear consequence of a system in crisis. Failings have become entrenched in the education system and the urgency of delivering system wide solutions is now acute.
Despite the high value and strong evidence base linking educational attainment and improved life outcomes, students with disability are frequently denied educational opportunities. Even though there have been significant advances in recognising and affording people with disability rights and equal opportunities, ableist attitudes are still entrenched in the Australian community and very much shape the typical school education experiences of students with disability.
It is common for students with disability to not be afforded the status of a learner. CDA believes there is in an inherit assumption held by many, often subconsciously, that children with disability have limited or no capacity to learn. Education programs and experiences are then developed on a fundamental basis of low expectations for early education, school and assumed life outcomes for the child concerned. It is currently the sad reality that more often than not, families must fiercely advocate or ‘fight’ to enable basic education opportunities to be afforded to their child. It is the experience of CDA that it is rare for students to be provided with a truly inclusive education experience. Attitudinal change is therefore imperative.
It needs to be recognised that the difficulty of obtaining adequate funding to support students with disability plays a major role in the prolific incidence of poor education experiences. Funding inadequacies are a major barrier to the provision of essential resources and equipment, individual support, training and access to other professional expertise. These are all essential components in the provision of an adequate and quality education to students with disability.
There have been significant reviews of education in recent years in relation to school funding, early childhood, curriculum, parent engagement and teacher education. These have contributed to a greater recognition of the diversity and complexity of students, including students with disability. However, although this broad review and reform is occurring, the direct experience of students with disability today is still characterised by the same barriers and overwhelmingly poor experiences and outcomes as those who began their education journey 20 years ago.
While there have been modest investments in reform through initiatives such as the More Support for Students with Disabilities National Partnerships, the ambition has been limited and these programs remain ‘bolt-on’ programs outside the core funding and policy model for education. They do not fundamentally change the way education is delivered for students with disability.
Every classroom in Australia is likely to have a student with disability. Australia must ensure students with disability are afforded their rights to an education. Teachers also want and need to be well equipped to teach all students. To this end, it is crucial that they are appropriately resourced, trained and supported. It is time that schools and school communities welcomed students with disability, rather than view students as a burden or place them in the ‘too hard basket’. For this to happen we need cultural change that is mandated by government with clear goals, positive policy commitments and adequate resourcing.
While around 90 per cent of students with disability attend mainstream schools across all systems in Australia, the poor outcomes being achieved demonstrate that simply being counted inside the school gate does not deliver a quality education for these students. Furthermore, the impact on life outcomes for these young people is profound. There is an urgent and critical need for education reform for students with disability. Young people with disability will have few options beyond welfare and will be denied meaningful participation as adults unless this much needed reform of our education system occurs.
CDA welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to this important Inquiry. It is noted that the areas of this Inquiry have been reviewed in previous education inquiries, often on numerous occasions. Copies of various CDA submissions pertaining to education and students with disability are provided in appendix A for consideration by the Committee.
It is hugely concerning that no meaningful reform regarding education provision for students with disability has occurred to date. The common education experience of students with disability is poor, at times harmful and definitely not providing these children and young people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be able to contribute meaningfully to our community post school. The education system is unacceptable for students with disability. It is sincerely hoped that clear and coordinated action finally occurs following this Inquiry. CDA would welcome the opportunity to provide further evidence to the Inquiry.
Children with Disability Australia
CDA is the national representative organisation for children and young people with disability, aged 0-25 years. The organisation is primarily funded through the Department of Social Services (DSS) and is a not for profit organisation. CDA has a national membership of more than 5000 with the majority being families.
CDA provides a link between the direct experiences of children and young people with disability to federal government and other key stakeholders. This link is essential for the creation of a true appreciation of the experiences and challenges of children and young people with disability.
CDA’s vision is that children and young people with disability living in Australia are afforded every opportunity to thrive, achieve their potential and that their rights and interests as individuals, members of a family and their community are met.
CDA’s purpose is to advocate systemically at the national level for the rights and interests of all children and young people with disability living in Australia and it undertakes the following to achieve its purpose:
- Listen and respond to the voices and experiences of children and young people with disability;
- Advocate for children and young people with disability for equal opportunities, participation and inclusion in the Australian community;
- Educate national public policy-makers and the broader community about the experiences of children and young people with disability;
- Inform children and young people with disability, their families and care givers about their citizenship rights and entitlements; and
- Celebrate the successes and achievements of children and young people with disability.
Since CDA’s establishment in 2009 the organisation has been inundated with concerns regarding education. Consequently, CDA has undertaken extensive advocacy to progress greater understanding and awareness of the direct experiences of students with disability and the critical need for reform in education. This has included contribution to a broad range of inquiries, consultations and membership of related advisory bodies. These include:
Participation in advisory committees and national forums:
Attorney-General Roundtable on the United Nations response to Australia’s performance under the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
Connections: Mental health and wellbeing resource for the Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Project – National Reference Group;
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) - Early Childhood Quality and Workforce Group;
e-Learning Resource on Disability Standards for Education 2005 Working Group;
Global Partnership on Education;
National Children and Family Roundtable – Ministerial Advisory Committee;
National Definition for Students with Disability Expert Advisory Group – DEEWR;
National Disability Insurance Scheme Expert Advisory Group – Quality Standards and Safeguards;
National Disability Strategy Implementation Reference Group;
National Safe Schools Project;
National Seminar on Schools and Parents Working Together to Address Bullying;
Ministerial roundtables on teacher education and issues affecting students with dyslexia;
Schools Disability Advisory Council – Ministerial Advisory Committee;
Schools and Youth and Early Childhood Education and Care Biannual Stakeholder Forum; and
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Committee ‘Held back: The experiences of students with disability’ expert advisory group.
Australian Education Bill 2012;
Australian Education Bill 2013 (two submissions provided);
Draft Indigenous Education Action Plan 2010-2014;
Draft Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs Action Plan 2009-2012;
Productivity Commission Childcare and Early Childhood Learning (two submissions provided);
Productivity Commission Schools Workforce draft report;
National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care;
Regulation Impact Statement for Early Childhood Education and Care Quality Reforms;
Removal of the command and control features of the Australian Education Act 2013;
Review of Disability Standards for Education 2005 (two submissions provided);
Review of Funding for Schooling (two submissions provided);
Review of the National Curriculum;
Senate Inquiry and report on the development and implementation of national school funding arrangements and school reform;
Senate Inquiry into Teaching and Learning;
Senate Inquiry into Violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings;
Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group;
United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child general comment on the rights of adolescents; and
United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities day of general discussion on the right to education for persons with disabilities.
Belonging and connection of school students with disability (appendix B); and
Inclusion in education: Towards equality for students with disability (appendix C).
CDA national survey on educational support for students with disability;
The emerging picture: Education and the National Disability Insurance Scheme interface – prepared for the Australian Government Department of Education and Training;
CDA National Education Summit report;
Parent-school engagement paper – prepared for the Australian Government Department of Education and Training;
Positive education experiences - prepared for the Australian Government Department of Education and Training;
Post school transition of students with disability; and
Special schools and the Australian Government Education reform - prepared for the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.
Disability Action Day - Parliament House, Canberra – co-hosted with the Australian Education Union;
Pre-budget forum on the education of students with disability - Parliament House, Canberra;
National Education Summit – Sydney;
Education Reform Leaders Summit – Sydney; and
Numerous family roundtable and discussion forums.
Human Rights Framework
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability 2006 (CRPD) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC) clearly establish the right of children with disability to receive a quality, free and inclusive education. Australia has signed and ratified both of these international human rights treaties, thereby demonstrating its commitment to protect and respect the rights, standards and obligations contained in both international treaties.
Accordingly, Australia must ensure that its domestic laws, policies and programs are compatible with the rights contained in these treaties. Under the CRC, article two states that:
State Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.
Specific reference is made in Article 23 of to the rights of children with disability to “enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions, which ensure dignity, promote self reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.”
Articles 28 and 29 stipulate a child’s rights in relation to education. These include:
Compulsory and free primary school education;
Encouragement of the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, making them available and accessible to every child, and taking of appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in the case of need;
Accessible higher education to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;
Accessible and available educational and vocational information and guidance to all children; and
Development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.
The CRPD refers in article seven to the obligation of “State Parties to take all necessary measures to ensure the full enjoyment of children with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children.”
Article 24 specifically relates to education:
State Parties recognize the rights of person with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, State Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and life long learning directed to:
The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental rights and human diversity;
The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential; and
Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.
Australia has also implemented domestic legislation and policy aimed at upholding the human rights of children and young people with disability. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) is the primary legislative mechanism for eliminating discrimination on the basis of disability. It covers a range of areas, including education, employment and access to premises. Further state and territory legislation exists with similar objectives.
The DDA is the overarching legislation for the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (DSE or the Standards). The Standards aim to ensure students with disability are able to access and participate in education on an equal basis to students without disability. The DDA makes it unlawful to contravene the Standards, and compliance with the Standards is taken to be compliance with the DDA.
A key policy framework regarding the education of students with disability is the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2011. The Strategy sets a 10 year reform plan for 2010-2020 for all Australian governments to address the barriers faced by Australians with disability. It aims to ensure that mainstream services and programs including healthcare, housing, transport and education are accessible and address the needs of people with disability. The Strategy has an important role to play in ensuring that the principles of the CRPD are integral to the policies and programs which affect people with disability in Australia. ‘Learning and skills’ is one outcome area of the Strategy that focuses on improving educational programs and outcomes for people with disability.
The ‘Learning and skills’ section recognises the present gaps in education access and attainment for students with disability. The four policy directions identified are:
Strengthen the capability of all education providers to deliver inclusive high quality educational programs for people with all abilities from early childhood through adulthood;
Focus on reducing the disparity in educational outcomes for people with a disability and others;
Ensure that government reforms and initiatives for early childhood, education, training and skill development are responsive to the needs of people with disability; and
Improve pathways for students with disability from school to further education, employment and lifelong learning. 
There is a breadth of legislation and policy that relates to the provision of education to students with disability. These include early childhood education frameworks and programs, anti-bullying policy, practice guidelines, funding arrangements, higher education legislation and policy et cetera. However, the education of students with disability is frequently positioned as a peripheral consideration, with many programs and initiatives being bolt-on, rather than embedded in all legislation and policy.
Responses to the inquiry’s terms of reference
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
Available statistics and research demonstrate stark gaps in educational access, attainment, performance and outcomes for children and young people with disability in Australia:
7.3% of all children and young people aged 0-24 years in Australia have an identified disability;
- 2% of students with disability attend mainstream schools; 
24.3% of students with disability attend disability specific classes within mainstream schools;
65.9% of students with disability attend regular classes in mainstream schools;
9.9% of students with disability attend special schools;
76% of students with disability attend government schools;
24% of students with disability attend non-government schools;
30% of people with a disability do not go beyond Year 10, compared to 20% of people without a disability;
36% of people aged 15-64 years with reported disability had completed year 12 compared to 60% of people without a disability;
15% of people aged 15-64 with disability had completed a bachelor degree or higher compared to 26% of people without disability;
38% of young people aged 15–24 years with disability either work, study, or do a combination of both on a full time basis compared to 56% of young people without disability;
42% of young people with disability neither work nor study (there is no comparative data available for young people without disability);
20% of young people with disability either work or study on a part time basis (there is no comparative data available for young people without disability); 
People with disability in Australia are only half (50%) as likely to be employed as people without disability; and
45% of people with disability in Australia live in or near poverty.
It is also critical to note that current available data about students with disability is inadequate with their being no national statistics on:
Rates of enrolment in distance education and home schooling;
Part time attendance;
Rates of suspension and expulsion;
Rates and circumstances of restraint and seclusion in schools;
Proportion of students with disability with an established individual education plan;
Academic outcomes of students who have a modified curriculum and do not follow the standard curriculum;
Bullying prevalence; and
Post school outcomes for students with disability – immediately and in the first three years following school.
Recommendation 1: Collection of national data regarding rates of enrolment in distance education and home schooling of students with disability, including the reasons for enrolling in these options.
Recommendation 2: Collection of national data regarding rates of part time attendance in schooling of students with disability.
Recommendation 3: Collection of national data regarding rates of suspension and expulsion of students with disability.
The significant inadequacies of the education system for students with disability and the need for reform have been documented over a number of years. Various reports and inquiries commissioned by the Australian Government highlight the issue. These include:
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Making Progress;
Monash University, Investigating the Feasibility of Portable Funding for Students with Disabilities;
National People with Disabilities and Carers Council, Shut Out: The Experiences of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia;
PricewaterhouseCoopers, Disability Expectations: Investing in a Better Life, a Stronger Australia;
PricewaterhouseCoopers evaluation report, Trial of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability;
Productivity Commission, Childcare and Early Childhood Learning;
Productivity Commission, Schools Workforce;
Review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005;
Review of Funding for Schooling;
Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee, Teaching and Learning;
Senate Inquiry into the Education of Students with Disabilities;
Senate Select Committee on School Funding, Equity and Excellence in Australian schools;
Victorian Auditor-General Inquiry into Education Transitions; and
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Held Back: The Experiences of Students with Disabilities in Victorian schools.
Presently there are a number of inquiries into education and students with disability at the state and territory level. These include:
Access to the Education system for Students with Disabilities (South Australia);
Consultation on the Transition: A Positive Start to School program (Victoria);
Expert Panel: Students with Complex Needs and Challenging Behaviour (Australian Capital Territory);
Review of the Program for Students with Disabilities (Victoria);
Review of the Tasmanian Education Act (Tasmania);
Schools Funding Review (Victoria); and
VET Funding Review (Victoria).
The direct experience
The depth and breadth of poor educational experiences reported to CDA is immense. It is the view of CDA that students with disability are not automatically afforded their rights to equal participation in education on the same basis as their peers without disability.
Current education provision for students with disability is patchy. Education reform has been slow over the years. There has undoubtedly been progress when we examine the education experiences of children with disability historically. The gradual development of ‘special education’ in the early 20th century arose from a recognition that children with disability are entitled to some form of education, which had previously been largely denied. From the 1960s and 70s, the focus of education policy for students with disability in Australia was increasingly oriented to ‘integration.’ Integration involves “making adaptations or accommodations to enable participation within a mainstream” setting, for example through incorporating disability specific classes within mainstream schools.
Recent times have seen increased focus in research and in practice on inclusive education. Inclusion education is defined as “recognising the right of every child (without exception) to be included and adapting the environment and teaching approaches in order to ensure the valued participation of all children.”  This too, despite being a right, is far from being an available educational option to most students with disability in Australia.
A quality education experience for a student with disability is still likened to winning the lottery. Positive education experiences are also usually riddled with areas of compromise. CDA has been informed of thousands of poor education experiences since its establishment. Students typically experience similar challenges and barriers. These experiences are the most powerful informant of Australia’s current failings and are compelling evidence for the critical and urgent need for education reform.
Systemic culture of low expectations
Australia is a very ableist community. Ableism involves discriminatory attitudes and practices arising from the perception that a person who experiences disability is in some sense inferior to a person who does not experience disability. Ableism is to disability what racism or sexism is to ethnicity and gender.
Ableism is evident in the Australian education system, which has a deeply entrenched culture of low expectations regarding students with disability. The value of education, which is so highly thought of and applied to children without disability, is often seen as inapplicable or irrelevant for students with disability. As a consequence, the unacceptable becomes acceptable and is legitimised. Further, poor educational attainment is often attributed to the impact of disability.
The following comments from students and families illustrate this experience:
At the special school I attend, I’m treated like an idiot, like I can’t do what other kids can do. Their expectations of me are very low. They don’t treat me like an individual – Student aged 15 years.
(At school) they would get us to watch DVD’s for sport and other lessons, which were for little kids not a 16 year old. At lunch and recess every day I was in the library on computers. I want to be treated like other students – Student aged 16 years.
I am just like you. I have dreams, wants desires, hopes and a life just like you. I want to be treated like everyone else, I just need some help, guidance and heaps of encouragement. See me FIRST, not my disability – Student aged 15 years.
Kids who have a disability are just like other kids. We just happen to have a disability. We have feelings and want the same things as other children. See us as kids who want to be happy and have ideas like everyone else – Student aged 13 years.
All (my son’s school) could see was a disability, they could not see the child first – Parent.
When (my child was) due to start school (I) was told the school couldn't take him due to not (having) enough funding and (to protect the occupational health and safety) of the staff. They had never met my child – Parent.
Many (schools) were discriminatory…and only saw what (my daughter) couldn't do and not what she could do! – Parent.
(My child’s) local school counsellor was another matter we had to deal with in the early years. She had different expectations for (my son) than we did as parents. She was of the view that (his) ability to work as an adult would be suited to delivering pamphlets in letterboxes. WHAT? This was said to us when (our son) was just seven years old – Parent.
We have had to fight to get our son into the subject choices that suit him. The school each year try to put him into what they consider ‘easy’ subjects…They prevented him doing sciences and physics last year but this year we fought again and he is doing physics and got an A…They think he will require too much support and I think they don't see what he is capable of – Parent.
(My son) has been excluded from some class activities and given menial tasks to do to keep him busy whilst the rest of the class learn – Parent.
(In grade two my son) went backwards as his teacher didn't adjust the curriculum... She gave up on him and he gave up on her. (His) last four weeks of school were spent watching Minecraft DVDs – Parent.
(My child’s) funding was used to babysit not educate – Parent.
My son's school have stopped subjects such as science, history and geography. In senior school, they no longer have literacy and numeracy. They are setting children up for failure – Parent.
Special schools appear to have no pedagogy at all. Their curriculum is thrown together out of things they imagine to be important for children to know. There is no wisdom, no thinking things through. My son was singing nursery rhymes until he was 10. Very inappropriate, but they had nothing else to offer – Parent.
How many actually want kids with disabilities at their school? I know my daughter's Principal didn't want her there – Parent.
The Principal and school culture have not been supportive of (my son’s) needs and there is great reluctance to provide any type of resources (even ones without cost to the school). Any attempt to approach the school regarding his specific needs…have been met with open hostility and intimidating behaviour towards myself and the advocate – Parent.
The Principal and teacher are unwilling to implement strategies to assist my children. They are basically treating my family as a burden and an imposition – Parent.
I have in the past been asked to keep my child home on an open day. They didn't want him to embarrass the school – Parent.
The Principal is instrumental in generating a climate that is not inclusive, referring to my son unfavourably as 'children like him' and saying that he will never have his needs met by her school – Parent.
There is a culture in (my child’s) school where some believe children (with disability) should not be included. There are old fashioned views which are inflexible and do not value difference in people – Parent.
My son is in a mainstream school and it appears that they spend most of the time trying to convince us that he isn't suited for the school – Parent.
The attitude we have experienced is we are meant to feel lucky for any help (my son) gets even if it means only attending part time – Parent.
While often unintentional, attitudes the equate disability with inability and incapacity are frequently expressed across the Australian community. It’s often implied that having a disability is a negative. For example, the Minister for Education and Training made the following comments at a roundtable regarding students with dyslexia:
To me, dyslexia is not a disability, it’s a learning difficulty which can be addressed and assisted, and I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel and say it’s a disability, because to me that is putting students and young people in a bracket which many of them are not ready to be in, and attaching a nomenclature to children with dyslexia which I think is not necessary, because I think it’s a learning difficulty that can be addressed, and I want to be part of addressing that.
Inadequate resources and funding
Inadequate funding is currently one of the most significant barriers to educational achievement for students with disability. Despite the existence of the Disability Standards for Education, it is commonly incorrectly assumed by schools and families that there is no requirement for the provision of adjustments and modifications by schools unless the child concerned qualifies for the specific funding available through the relevant education authority for students with disability.
There are undoubtedly other critical areas of education reform required but it cannot be denied that adequate funding is vital to the success of any reform program implemented for students with disability.
Related experiences include:
My daughter's school is ducking and weaving to avoid giving her (the resources) that she needs apparently due to funding difficulties – Parent.
My son gets no help at school any more - they claim the criteria changed... So I spend all night doing the work he should have done all day (at school). The education system is letting down too many kids – Parent.
(My child was) only offered speech therapy once a month last year. This year he receives nothing as there are other children with higher support needs that get the help. The speech therapist does not have enough hours at school to see all children in need of support. – Parent.
My child has high functioning autism and there is no funding and no support – Parent.
One school we looked at were narrow, rude and unable to see any of (my daughter’s) strengths. They claimed that they did not get any government support for children with additional needs so they did not feel they should make the effort (to provide accommodations)…We took our daughter elsewhere as we didn't want to subject her to their bigoted attitudes – Parents.
Distance education is the only solution we had for my son who did not tick every box and qualify for assistance in mainstream – Parent.
While my child is supported now, it took four years of school and a move from (the city) to a rural area for this to happen! I think the process to receive funding or assistance is pathetic as well as heartbreaking. Our son could have been so much further ahead in his learning if the educational department had policies in place that supported special needs kids regardless of their diagnosis! It was not until my son was FINALLY diagnosed with autism at age eight that we received funding and support. However the array of other needs he has DIDN’T count toward helping him at school. It had been a long horrid journey – Parent.
Whilst (my child has) additional support and it is currently adequate, what this does not capture is the feeling of constant threat that this may not continue…We feel like we are a 'burden on the system' when the amount it costs to support our daughter is mentioned (by school staff) at every meeting – Parent.
The funds the school receives should be used for that child so they can access the same education as others. Instead the funds are looked upon as compensation for having (students with disability) there – Parent.
My son goes to state primary school and my issue with teachers is they don’t have information or resources they need. They all want to help they just don’t know what to do – Parent.
My child is not progressing academically as he could be. He improves significantly when I can tutor him, but slips back when I cannot. His teacher simply doesn't have the time to give him the one-on-one tutorage he needs – Parent.
Students and families must contend with a broad range of discrimination relating to school attendance and access. While the ability of all children to attend their local school is an embedded value within the Australian community, it is routinely denied to students with disability. School choice for students with disability is typically extremely limited due to a number of factors. The following experiences encapsulate the multifaceted discrimination faced by students with disability when looking to attend school:
My son was expelled from our only zoned school in Grade One. The next two closest schools refused to accept him. I then began ringing around and more than 40 government primary schools refused to take him or said they would only if…compelled to. In the end the education department said I could choose any school and they would compel the school to take him. I chose the least resistant school, which is a 30-45 minute drive from home – Parent.
The teacher straight out said (my daughter) would be too hard to teach – Parent.
When deciding on an appropriate mainstream school in Prep, six out of the seven schools I interviewed for my son told me that they wouldn’t be able to ‘provide’ my son with the necessary resources to benefit from enrolment at their school. This was straight from the principals – Parent.
A smaller independent school told us they would not be able to accommodate our son before they met him or saw any reports. We stated that he was incredibly bright but needed support with social skills. They told us not to waste our time – Parent.
The school appeared keen to accept my son's enrolment until I informed them that my son was vision impaired. The school then advised me that their school was not suitable due to stairs to access the classrooms. I informed the school that I was aware that all classrooms were at ground level, with the exception of senior year level classrooms to which the school had an elevator for access...(They) continued to state that their school was not suitable – Parent.
We wanted (our son) to go to our local Catholic school as I went there as a child. They weren't interested in having him there, said they wouldn't have the funding needed to support him and that we should put him in the public system – Parent.
My daughter has been declined placements over 10 times in all school settings, including a special school and both government and non-government. They just refuse to support her – Parent.
I tried enrolling (my son) into several local primary schools, which they were happy to do until I mentioned he had a disability. Then they told me they didn't have the resources. We didn't fit in anywhere and this had a huge impact on all of our family. We were desperate for a place and (the only school that would accept our son) was an hour travel each way – Parent.
When transitioning from a special school to mainstream school I phoned about 15-20 schools in our area. Most of these either made poor excuses as to why they couldn't accommodate our son or flat out said that due to his needs they couldn't accommodate him. Most of these were government schools – Parent.
(An independent religious school) refused to enrol our daughter as they felt she did not hold scissors properly and they did not have someone available to help her every time scissors were used in a prep classroom – Parent.
“We can’t help,” “(this is) not an appropriate setting” and “(we) can’t give you what he needs” were some of the discriminatory comments handed out by principals of local government schools in my area when seeking information on selection of a primary school to cater for my son. The entire experience was very upsetting and unlawful – Parent.
If every school you approach says the burden is too great - where do you take your child for education? – Parent.
(My child attended a) small government rural school (and) did well for a couple of years with aide support…Eventually the teacher said “we have done we can for your son” – Parent.
After six months there and doing well they said he was “too autistic”…Despite the $10,000 a year fee and that we were happy with his progress, we were told not to come back! – Parent.
(My child was) refused entry to a (religious) school as they felt they had their 'quota' of students (with disability) – Parent.
(My child’s) school requested that we terminate the enrolment on the basis of having “too many special needs children” – Parent.
A private school we were interested in had no places in that year intake for special needs as they were at capacity with a very high proportion of extra needs in that year level – Parent.
A local school suggested he not enrol with them as he did not come with funding and they already had three other special needs children to be concerned about and didn't need another – Parent.
I approached (a) primary school for a preschool place in 2011 and was advised by the Principal that she had her “fair share of children of disabilities and they needed to be evenly distributed” – Parent.
My mainstream local school said it wasn’t their role to take (my daughter) and that I should go to my public special school – Parent.
I was urged to put my son into a special school because I was told he would not get a unit in high school that would be suitable for him. They said if I didn’t take the special school placement he would have no high school placement – Parent.
(I was told it was) “better for (my child) in a support unit setting as he is mixing with his own” – Parent.
Not one school would take (my son) as they said “he’s 16 and legally doesn’t have to be at school.” This was despite my son wanting an education – Parent.
Nine schools denied access to (my son). I did not expect this as I wanted to return to work. (Reasons cited included) “lack of resources,” “we don’t take ‘them’ here” (regarding students with disability), “not enough fencing” or they would take an application and then send a letter saying there were no places – Parent.
Some schools offer only conditional enrolment to students with disability. For example, it has been reported to CDA that enrolment has been contingent on families paying extra fees or students being excluded from certain activities. These conditions of enrolment would be completely unacceptable if the child involved did not have a disability:
Conditions are placed on (my son’s) enrolment…If we question how resources are used then that enrolment is threatened – Parent.
(My son) was refused access to a private school unless I attended with him and acted as his education assistant – Parent.
The school said (my son) was welcome to attend but he would be left inside during lunch breaks – Parent.
I have been told that if I was not willing to accept the very limited support they wanted to offer then I would be “asked to leave” – Parent.
A private school was quite happy to take our money and then insist we pay an additional $25 per hour for an aide to shadow our child 35 hours per week “in case he ran away or got lost coming back from the toilet.” We are no longer at that school – Parent.
When approaching the local private school, we were told that the total amount of support they would be able to offer our son would be a supervisor at recess and lunch. We were allowed to enrol him, under the proviso that we would supply (an individual support worker) at our own cost. This was economically un-affordable for us, even when we have a moderate to high combined income – Parent.
Principal stated (my daughter) is only allowed to attend school if she is medicated. We do not medicate her at home – Parent.
Frequently, students with disability are not explicitly denied enrolment, however families are made to feel so unwelcome or that their child would be such an ‘inordinate burden’ that they are deterred from pursuing enrolment. This represents a less overt but equally harmful form of discrimination that has the effect of denying educational access:
Several schools, while not formally refusing enrolment, said things like “the music room and library are on the second floor, it would be a shame for your child to miss out on those things” with no offer or refusal to consider reasonable adjustments – Parent.
(My child was) not officially refused but when we inquired it was made fairly obvious we were not welcome – Parent.
We approached our local Catholic secondary school and were told that due to funding constraints and the fact that they've spent the last 10 years building and upgrading their buildings, they don't have the resources or support available to help our son in the classroom. We were told they wouldn't modify work as this mucks things up for group work activities for the other students and that their school probably wasn't the right one for our son. Our conversation with this Principal finished with him acknowledging that this is a big decision for us and that if we choose not to apply to send our child there, he wouldn't be offended. While he never actually refused our enrolment it was implied throughout the entire conversation that they had nothing to offer us – Parent.
My daughter was not refused as such, but it was made clear that as she was getting older and her behaviour and additional needs were beyond the schools capabilities and experience – Parent.
We experienced three different schools that were careful to be politically correct, but made it very clear that my son wouldn't be welcome there. One principal folded her arms and legs and leaned in the doorway of her office (we weren't even invited in), and blatantly looked us up and down with disdain – Parent.
One school that we approached did not explicitly refuse enrolment but it was clear from their attitude to the prospect of our child going there…that this was for all intents and purposes a refusal. To make a family feel anxious about whether their child would be welcomed can be a form of refusal – Parent.
Other schools within our area were quite openly discriminatory and extremely discouraging of the possibility of my son enrolling – Parent
In other cases, students have such a poor experience at a particular school that families elect to change schools. In these cases, there is little choice, despite students not being formally denied enrolment:
After many years of ongoing abuse, neglect and mishandling within government mainstream schools, causing extreme trauma and suicidal thoughts, I refused to send my son back – Parent.
I removed my child for these reasons: he was unsafe, he was roomed in a small windowless room for six months and then into demountable room with no outdoor area; (there was) inadequate fencing, he would run on the road; (and was) getting anxiety – Parent.
The Catholic system were unwilling to accommodate my son and this led to immense trauma with him and (my other children). In the end (the school) was completely ignoring him and my family and telling us we were the problem. He missed so many days of school due to their ignorance and treatment of him. In the end he became suicidal and we realised the school was never going to help him only make him worse. We were ostracised as a family – Parent.
We were not refused but both my children were treated severely until my child got so anxious they lost control of bladder and bowel movements on a regular basis – Parent.
It is frequently reported to CDA that students with disability are unable to attend school full time. Schools often cite having limited resources or ‘capacity’ to educate students full time.
My son…has only attended school 2.5 days per week this year, as that is all his school says they can do to meet his needs. The flow on effects to families (earning ability, stress etc.) are horrible – Parent.
I had a terrible experience with my son’s high school last year they would only allow him at school for two hours per day – Parent.
The school won't let (my daughter) attend past 12 noon when aide time 'runs out' – Parent.
At the schools request (my son) is currently doing shorter days. It is extremely difficult for me to manage – Parent.
(My son) is enrolled as full time but does mainly half days because they ring me to get him – Parent.
A Catholic primary school said he could no longer attend full time because half his funding was being given to another child. The second primary school said he couldn't attend full time because he would run around or sit at the front of assemblies and also could not attend when the school had visitors (because he was a) disruption. The third NSW primary school was one hour’s travel and wouldn't allow him to retreat to the classroom when he became overwhelmed during breaks – Parent.
CDA is increasingly being informed of students being home schooled or enrolling in distance education due to the sustained failure of the education system to meet their needs. However, the lack of national data on both these issues prevents an accurate picture of this issue. While some families report a positive experience in providing home schooling or distance education, for many it places a significant strain on finances and caring duties. Again, this trend demonstrates that the school system is failing to meet the needs of students with disability. Experiences reported to CDA include:
(My son) is home schooled full time due to support class places not being available among other reasons – Parent.
My son...needs a one to one scribe 80 per cent of the time to help with decoding information and especially for maths. I was told this is impossible and we tried four schools. I now home school, which was not my choice! – Parent.
I was actually pressured by the school system to home school my son with disability. Something I didn’t and don’t want to do and that I am not equipped to do. Yet the school system was keen for me to do that - mostly I think so that they could wash their hands of the responsibility of educating him – Parent.
(My son) been 'removed' from all schools within a 30 km radius. He now attends part time home schooling due to parental work commitments – Parent.
I now home school my son because schools kept giving up on him and I was not going to send him to yet another school and have it happen again – Parent.
(My child) needed to be moved to distance education…due to abuse by teaching staff – Parent.
My son has recently been enrolled in distance education as the classroom has become inaccessible to him. His sensory processing issues are unable to be catered for due to the size of the class – Parent.
A state child protection authority has progressed action against a parent for not meeting the legal requirements for school attendance for her children. The parent was home schooling her children as schools had not been meeting their needs.
Families have reported experiencing discrimination as a result of having to home school children, including being unable to access to educational programs and activities, Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses.
Physical accessibility of a school premises is also a clear area where discrimination in enrolment and/or participation is experienced.
At (my daughter’s) school the computer room is upstairs. It is not accessible. Instead, she stays in her class with a teacher or aide and uses the classroom computer – Parent.
A primary school told me they would not have enough room for my son's equipment, (including a) standing frame, toilet chair, wheelchair – Parent.
A primary school with multiple sets of steps was unwilling to add ramps and a wheel chair accessible bathroom for changing unless funding pre-approved prior to enrolment – Parent.
Our local Catholic primary school is not accessible and the Principal advised that catering to my daughters needs would require a lift to be installed in the school which they were not able to provide – Parent.
When we were looking at high schools, the one we were zoned to didn't have any wheelchair access so the department strongly suggested we look at two other schools in the region that did because it would cost too much money to fix up the one we wanted to go to – Parent.
A parent contacted CDA because her son’s school placed him in the furthest away classroom that is hard to get to in his wheelchair and are refusing to swap the rooms.
Recommendation 4: Further education and information must be provided to all staff within education systems on the Disability Standards for Education 2005.
Recommendation 5: Further education and information be provided to all families, and students where relevant, on the Disability Standards for Education 2005. This includes placing them on every school and education authority website. In addition, the family of every student identified in the NCCD should be given a hard copy of the Standards.
Recommendation 6: Development of a system for recording reported breaches of the Disability Standards for Education 2005 regarding: denial of and full time attendance; conditional enrolment; and discrimination regarding physical accessibility. There needs to be capacity within this notification system to monitor if multiple reports pertaining to particular schools or education authorities occurs.
Recommendation 7: Establishment of a new independent complaints mechanism which would allow more expedient review and resolution of alleged breaches and appropriate sanctions for proven instances of discrimination for both the school and education authority involved. The number and type of breaches, at the school, state/territory and national level should be clearly available to the public on school and educational authority websites and/or the MySchool website or the like. In some jurisdictions, there are concerns that many cases are settled in confidential mediation to avoid precedent being set or public knowledge of circumstance.
Workforce capacity is of critical importance in ensuring access to a quality education for all students. Educational staff, particularly teachers and leadership positions within schools such as principals and year level coordinators, are key gatekeepers in terms of access to education. However, a lack of expertise regarding inclusive education and meeting the needs of students with disability among educational staff is frequently reported to CDA. It is CDA’s experience that a lack of understanding about inclusive education, including valuing difference as a positive, is common. This informs negative attitudes that position disability as inability.
Further, CDA is frequently informed of educational staff lacking the required expertise to meet the specific educational needs of each student. In many cases, this involves inadequate knowledge of the individual student and developing supports and adjustments to ensure opportunities for learning. This represents a key barrier to students with disability accessing education.
CDA recognises that there are pockets of good practice, with specific teachers and schools providing quality education programs and inclusive experiences. However, these opportunities are limited and are typically the result of leadership from specific individuals or schools rather than a system wide approach.
Direct experiences highlight these issues:
(At high school) I was denied the opportunity to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication. This meant my communication was restricted to people talking to me, without giving me a chance to respond. The clear message was that what I had to say was not worth listening to – Student aged 18 years.
I have to go to extreme length to keep my daughter in inclusive education. Someone needs to educate the experts about teamwork, real choices and human rights – Parent.
We have worked closely with the school to support them and enable them to appropriately support our son. They lack the training and capability to support him. The issues that are experienced often result from them failing to see the warning signs. So it escalates and then he goes into meltdown and the way they handle that makes it worse. They have secluded him, locked him out of the classroom and have restrained him – Parent.
The main barriers have been around the school's and teachers' ignorance around (my son’s) disability and distinct lack of will to plan for and modify activities and curriculum to enable him access, participation and success. The school has also refused to consider alternative supervised activities at play or lunch after serious safety considerations arose – Parent.
Teaching staff were not very knowledgeable about children with disabilities. I had to seek private consultations for staff from private organisations to provide training…at my family’s expense – Parent.
(My son’s) teacher said (to me) at a horrendous meeting - “a dyslexic child doesn’t fit into our curriculum we will have to give him all Ds” – Parent.
(My son’s) school told us he would be fine with no support, until the week before the end of Prep they suggested (he) repeat Prep. This was suggested without any other indicators. I was advised there was no funding, no individual support – Parent.
(My child’s school) would not provide one to one assistance at drop off and pickup times causing meltdowns so the school tried to exclude my child from morning and afternoon routines of drop off and pickup and cutting an hour of school time from him. He's was walked out of the classroom in front of other students half an hour before pickup time because the teacher was not willing to hold his hand while I walked into the room to keep him from running into others. It caused severe social regression – Parent.
(My child’s) teacher was rigid about her teaching practice and made it clear that she would not make adjustments for my son. The school Principal and disability coordinator supported the teacher completely and were extremely difficult to approach, even with an advocate – Parent.
My daughter's state high school was incapable of understanding what a sensory overload involved. They leave students with autism "sitting quietly" in an open noisy foyer. (The students flinch) whenever anyone talks or walks past – Parent.
My child is excluded from any activities that involve reading as she has dyslexia and access to the printed word is NOT provided on any basis that could be described as even approaching an equal opportunity to those who can read – Parent.
Regarding the level of support, the number of hours provided is adequate. However, adequate support isn't just measured in hours - it has a lot to do whether there is also sufficient adjustment and adaptation to create real inclusion. This is a work in progress, which has required a great deal of energy and investment on our part as parents – Parent.
(I am) continuously having to advocate for (my son’s) rights. His teachers don't know how to modify the curriculum and aides are not trained – Parent.
We have had an ongoing battle for the past four years…We have worked closely with the school to support them and enable them to appropriately support our son. They lack the training and capability to support him – Parent.
An incident happened which led to a meltdown so horrible that the rest of (my son’s) class had to be evacuated to the next room and I was called to come up to the school urgently. The triggers could have easily been avoided and the situation could have been handled better, but by the time I got there my son was so distressed he was frothing at the mouth and being restrained by the teacher – Parent.
A parent told CDA that a primary school Principal had informed her that disability was caused by “bad parenting.”
A parent contacted CDA because her son’s school would not allow him to chew gum, despite the fact that chewing gum helps the student sit, focus and concentrate. The school maintained that chewing gum was against the relevant education department guidelines, however the parent contacted the regional manager who informed her it was not.
A lack of expertise can also mean that interventions or supports provided to students with disability are often not evidence based. A common example of this is the use of individual support workers or aides. This is frequently the default position of schools, regardless of whether this support is best suited to the specific student, with it being assumed that one-on-one support is always beneficial to students with disability. However, research suggests that individual support workers can contribute to the isolation of students within the classroom, for example sitting apart from the class with an aide to do separate work can inhibit opportunities for social interaction with classmates and inclusion in classwork. Experiences reported to CDA include:
On paper my child receives a lot of support. In reality the quality and appropriateness of that support is often poor. There is a focus on solving short-term classroom disruptions rather than the long term needs of my child. The end result is dependency on teacher aide rather than teaching skills that would allow them to be self-sufficient learner – Parent.
(My six year old son) had five different relief aides in the last two weeks and the school told me that he’s been a bit unsettled! Of course he has with that many changes in aides! – Parent.
A further issue is when external expertise is ignored or not effectively utilised. This is known to occur presently in relation to obtain