Senator Collins: “[The Leading Learning 4 All website project was] set to fail from the outset.”
Senator O’Neill: “Minister, will you give an undertaking to pause the site?”
Minister Birmingham: “I’ll take advice on that.”
All Means All – together with peak disability organisations such as Children and Young People With Disability Australia, Disabled People’s Organisations Australia, Down Syndrome Australia and others, leading academics, prominent disability advocates, educators and parents of students with disability – altogether approximately 180 organisations and individuals – are signatories to an Open Letter seeking the suspension of the Leading Learning 4 All website resource whilst it undergoes a rigorous independent review.
The Open Letter was tabled by the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee on 26 October 2017 and the Leading Learning 4 All resource was the subject of questions put by the Senate Committee to the Commonwealth Department of Education and Minister Simon Birmingham, the federal Minister for Education. While some questions were taken on notice, we consider more broadly that the answers provided by the Commonwealth Department in relation the concerns raised by the Letter and the Committee members were insufficient.
You can watch the video in full here:
In particular, we note that the federal Minister has undertaken to take advice as to whether the Leading Learning 4 All website should be suspended pending the review and correction of that resource. In that regard we offer the following.
- There is a fundamental difference between developing a substandard resource for use by schools that is to be improved over time and developing a sound resource that is to be supplemented over time. To the extent that it is suggested that deficient modelling of inclusion was presented in the resource for “discussion purposes”, the deficiencies should have been specifically identified for users rather than implicitly endorsed as a federal Government funded and sanctioned resource.
- There is a fundamental difference between presenting the requirement of developing inclusive general education classrooms as a legal obligation and professional requirement and presenting inclusion in general education as some optional, aspirational or inspirational goal for “champion” school leaders to help promote.
- There is a fundamental difference between aiming for compliance with the Disability Education Standards 2005 as minimum “access” standards and recognising that a genuinely inclusive education is a fundamental right of all students established by Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which Australia is a party, the detail of which has been internationally prescribed in 2016 by General Comment No. 4 (Right to Inclusive Education) and which guidance Australia in its submission to the Day of General Discussion on the General Comment welcomed:
“Australia considers that the adoption of a General Comment on the right to education will provide valuable guidance to States in interpreting their obligations under the Convention.” [para 4 of Australia’s Submission].
- The response to the Open Letter by ASEPA and by the Commonwealth Department in Senate Estimates, and in fact the approach that was taken to the development of such a key inclusion resource by tasking as the lead developer a body whose experience is confined to segregated “special” school settings, suggests:
- a failure of Australian education administration to model an inclusive and collaborative process for the development of a key resource aimed at the inclusion of students with disability – any such resource must be developed with relevant stakeholders and, notably, in partnership with people with disability and disabled people’s representative organisations;
- the inappropriate degree of capture that the special schooling system has and is being given on the development of broader and general policy in relation to students with disability being educated in regular schools – rather inclusive education policy must be founded on a best practice and sound evidence base; and
- the critical need for the Australian education administration, and in particular its senior ranks, to develop a sound understanding of principles and frameworks for inclusive education.
- The implementation of genuinely inclusive education in Australia depends upon strong and committed leadership to develop an inclusive and collaborative culture in our schools – everything that is done in this space that is weak, equivocal, half-willed or presented as aspirational or inspirational – for “champions” and “promoters” of inclusion – is counter-productive and is likely to entrench the inertia of the status quo and the continued academic and social segregation of our most vulnerable students in “special” settings – to the detriment of their long-term outcomes and inclusion in society.
We respectfully ask that the federal Minister consider these matters.[Cover photo © Foter]