20 November 2017
Queensland Election: Inclusive education means investing in regular schools – not more investment in segregated special education
All Means All – The Australian Alliance for Inclusive Education welcomes the bi-partisan public commitment to inclusive education for Queensland’s students with disability, made on Friday 10th November, Day 13 of the election campaign, by Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones and Shadow Education Spokesperson Tracy Davis speaking to ABC Radio. We are pleased to note that this commitment also included implementing the 17 recommendations of the Deloitte Review into Education for Students with Disability.
We also commend the important work and reform that the Queensland Government has been undertaking to support implementation of an inclusive education system, including establishing the Disability and Inclusion Branch and the Autism Hub and Reading Centre, employing inclusion coaches, a program of inclusive education Masters scholarships for school Principals and investing in training and resource development across the board.
The State of Queensland can also be proud of schools such as Thuringowa SHS that show how schools can plan for and move from segregated to fully inclusive models and achieve better outcomes for all their students.
It is reassuring that the major political parties appear to be committed to ensuring the right to quality inclusive education for students with disability, recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (as clarified by UN General Comment No. 4 on the Right to Inclusive Education) and Sustainable Development Goal 4, and reflected in the the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 established under it). This right also aligns with 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” and the NDIS goal of full social and economic participation.
In this context, All Means All is disappointed that, on the same day as the bi-partisan pledge was made in the media, Queensland Labor Leader and Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, promised funding for a new $32 million Special School in the Caboolture area. This comes in addition to government investment in the new Cairns Special School that reportedly cost $26 million and is anticipated to enroll 60 students for the commencement of 2018. This is very significant resource expenditure that could have been utilised to support teachers to better support students with disability in regular classrooms.
As UN General Comment No. 4 states, Governments should be transferring resources from the segregated special education system to implement inclusive education in the general schooling system (paragraph 68).
There is an overwhelming body of more than 40 years of research supporting superior academic, social, economic participation and independence outcomes for students with disability in regular schooling and that has never demonstrated better outcomes from segregated education. That objective evidence underlies a moral and human rights mandate and duty for Australia to progress towards a universally accessible and genuinely inclusive general education system.
The maintenance of a segregated special system alongside the general system diverts critical funds that should be used in the general school system to support better inclusive practice, undermines the will to include and support students with disability and facilitates “gatekeeping” – usually informal and insidious practices intended to discourage enrollment of students with disability within the general system.
It is concerning that Australia, against international trends and its own domestic policy commitments, has steadily increased the proportion of students with disability in segregated “special” education over the last 12 years (Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2013, view here showing 17% disproportionate increase in segregated special schools between 1999-2013; see also Disability in Australia: changes over time in inclusion and participation factsheets: community living, education and employment).
This regression was queried in May of this year by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should be seen in light of international trends away from segregation. For example, Italy which has an education system recently ranked by UNICEF well above Australia, abolished segregated special education in the 1970s and has educated all students with disability in regular classrooms for the last 40 years.
While many politicians, policy makers and school administrators say that there is demand from parents for segregated special settings and that they are only responding to that demand, it is important to note that:
- Many parents of students with disability do not have access to adequate information, research evidence and advice regarding inclusive education versus segregated special settings. Accordingly, many parents, no doubt hoping to do the best for their children, are not making reasonably informed decisions.
- UN General Comment No. 4 on Article 24 is unequivocal that the right to an inclusive education is a fundamental right of the child, a right that transcends the parental “right to choose” (paragraph 10(a)). It is the role of government to protect children from harm, including by taking an active role in educating parents about the longer-term consequences of particular choices.
- Segregation is not usually the ‘first choice” of parents of students with disability, but a response to discriminatory and poor inclusive practices in general schools. In fact, recent Australian research (2017) confirms alarming levels of “gatekeeping”, with 70% of participants reporting discrimination, including denial or discouragement of enrolment or restrictive practices. Many families that have experienced discrimination and harm flee the general education system, not because of inclusive education but because of the lack of it.
The challenges faced in the general education system to educate the diverse body of learners representing Australian school children are real and require strong leadership and commitment to the implementation of inclusive school reform, such as upskilling teachers, education assistants and school leaders. The denial of education rights to students with disability, even when dressed up as “parent choice”, can never be the appropriate response.
While we understand that during an election campaign there is a strong incentive to make commitments in order to bring support from particular groups, we call on all parties in the Queensland State election to continue the great bipartisan work on inclusive education that is occurring and commit to ensuring a single, universally accessible, quality inclusive education system for all students in Queensland, consistent with the best evidence and respect for the fundamental human right of every child to an inclusive education alongside their same-age peers, as the foundation of life-long inclusion and full membership of our communities. We also call on all parties to reconsider any campaign promises to invest in segregated education for students with disability and invest instead in making Queensland a more inclusive State.
All Means All is the The Australian Alliance for Inclusive Education. We are a multi-stakeholder alliance of people and organisations working together for the implementation of an inclusive education system and the removal of the legal, structural and attitudinal barriers that limit the rights of some students to access an inclusive education in regular Australian classrooms.
You can visit our website for more information at www.allmeansall.org.au
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