5 February 2018
SUMMARY: The new Victorian Education Department’s “Students With A Disability” policy is a welcome development along the road to an inclusive education system but falls short of meeting Australia’s international human rights obligations and the interests and expectations of students with disability and their families.
While purporting to support inclusive education in Victoria, funding is increased for segregated education initiatives and there is limited apparent awareness of the distinction between inclusive education as internationally defined, and common educational practices that exclude, isolate and segregate students on the basis of disability. Segregation is contrary to decades of research, the interests of students with disability, the wishes of many parents and Australia’s human rights law obligations.
The Victorian Government’s new policy falls far short of addressing these issue although it is an encouraging start.
Victoria’s New “Students With A Disability” Policy – A Mixed Review
All Means All – The Australian Alliance for Inclusive Education welcomes the Victorian Government’s initiative to publish a new “Students With A Disability” education policy.
We are encouraged by the Victorian Government taking steps in support of inclusive education in its new policy, which begins with the following statement.
“The Department is committed to embedding inclusive education in all school environments for students with disabilities and additional needs.”
We also congratulate the Victorian Government’s acknowledgement of the need for a human rights focus, the importance of legal obligations and the need for approaches to be evidence-based.
We are pleased to see Victoria’s “Students With A Disability” education policy alongside a range of recent initiatives in other States that seek to move towards the implementation of an inclusive education system.
However, we are concerned that the policy is too nebulous to effectively support its intent, and that it should be strengthened by providing clarity about what is “inclusive education” and supplemented with guidance about implementing the change it seeks to drive.
In this regard, for over a decade now, Australia has receded as segregation of students with disability has in fact increased across our education system, despite the apparent commitment by our governments at international law, domestic law and policy levels (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).
A range of factors are consistently identified, including the self-preserving impact of vested interests within our segregated ‘special’ education system and the general ‘mainstream’ education system resisting the necessary change to include students with disability – in effect a systemic reluctance to fully transform our education system so that it respects, offers and implements inclusive education rather than minimalist and largely ineffective “adjustments” to our system.
Minor adjustments ostensibly justified on the basis that parents, disillusioned by the limited ‘inclusion’ on offer, prefer segregated ‘special’ education options. 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” (resistant ‘informal’ practices to mainstream enrolment), with 70% of participants reporting discrimination, including denial or discouragement of enrolment or restrictive practices.
The principal function of policy is to give government officers and relevant stakeholders a clear direction on which to base everything, from day-to-day operations to major planning initiatives. For this to occur, a policy document needs to be very clear and comprehensive enough that, on the one hand it can’t be misunderstood, and on the other hand it is flexible enough to allow initiatives within the appropriate framework.
We believe that the current expression of Victoria’s policy should be amended to insert a definition of inclusive education consistent with Article 24 and General Comment No. 4.
Relevantly, Article 24 states that in respect of the right to inclusive education that:
“[i]n realizing this right, State Parties shall ensure that:
a) Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, …;
b) Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live;
c) Reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements is provided;
d) Persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education;
e) Effective individualised support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion.”
We are also concerned that the announcement of “$61 million for a suite of inclusive education initiatives including new equipment and programs” would seem to earmark substantial funds for segregated ‘special’ education schools and initiatives that cannot be properly characterised as inclusive education. In this regard, two of the three schools named to receive $7.5 million to run after school hours care and school holiday programs are segregated “special” schools (i.e. Yarrabah School and Kalianna School Bendigo. While this funding is intended to support students with disability and their families, it is not appropriate to characterise this as an inclusive education initiative and it calls into question how much of the proposed $61 million will support genuine inclusive education for students with disability.
We also note that this funding seeks to support scholarships for postgraduate studies in “special education” and in a Master of Education (Applied Behaviour Analysis) at a Victorian University. While studies in inclusive education at tertiary level are sometimes loosely categorised as “special education”, in many cases this refers to the delivery of educations services to students with disability in segregated settings and we would hope that the scholarships initiative is used exclusively to support the upskilling of educators in the delivery of education to students with disability in general education settings using best inclusive practices.
In addition, the delivery of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which highly contentious among many Autistic self advocates, is also not recognised as inclusive practice.
The term “inclusive” is not a euphemism for “disability” and an education initiative relating to students with disability should not simply be characterised as “inclusive” unless it in fact legitimately supports the inclusive delivery of education services to students with disability.
Initiatives that support the delivery of education services in education environments separate or segregated from the disabled students same-age ‘typical’ peers cannot be characterised as “inclusive”.
All Means All believes that the Victorian Government should provide greater information and transparency about how and the extent to which its $61 million package supports the inclusive delivery of services for students with disability.
The Victorian Government’s new policy should also be strengthened by providing:
- Clarity about the meaning of ‘inclusive education’ and the human rights imperative that underpins it.
- Explicit guidance about the legal framework that applies in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth).
- A clear goal to achieve de-segregation, by ceasing to build more segregated school, units and programs and set a goal for the shutting down of current segregated settings.
- Acknowledgement of the barriers to inclusion and direction about how they can be overcome or circumvented.
- A commitment to invest in upskilling teachers and education staff about inclusive education. This should include pre-service and in-service training, including cultural training.
- A commitment to develop pathways to involve families in the inclusive education process at a systemic, school and class level.
- Clear goals for monitoring achievement, including a commitment to transparent processes of evaluation.
We commend Premier Daniel Andrews’ statement that:
“This is about giving every child every chance to succeed. It’s what’s right, it’s what’s fair – and we’re getting it done.”
However, we also call on the Premier to recognise that 40 years of research has shown that students with disability are disadvantaged by segregated education and that they have a fundamental human right to receive a quality and genuinely inclusive education – and urge the Premier to lead the implementation of a genuinely inclusive education system in Victoria, consistent with the principles applicable under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (as clarified by General Comment No. 4 ) , reflected in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 established under it) and in alignment with the priorities of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 for an inclusive Australian society.
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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