Students with disability are struggling to receive an inclusive education as some NSW Schools aren’t playing ‘by the rules’.

Posted 6 February 2023

Family Advocacy (FA), in collaboration with Disability Advocacy NSW (DA), is releasing “Falling behind: A need for inclusive education”, an investigative paper exposing the depths of exclusion, frustrating complaints processes and the impacts of systemic disadvantage on both students and schools within the NSW education system. The paper found that students with disability were often excluded from classroom activities as a result of lack of funding, staff shortages, resource shortages and lack of capacity, while other schools lacked expertise, knowledge or skills to provide inclusive education. 

Core issues inhibiting inclusive education were found to be: 

  • Some schools are refusing to provide adjustments without providing a clear reason 
  • Lack of accountability in the complaints process where families and students experience a lack of due process and feel that the outcome is disproportionally geared in favour of the education system
  • Schools ‘babysitting’ students with disability rather than educating them 
  • Unfair suspensions and forced part-time attendance 
  • Gaps in service systems where families are left to fill in the holes 

Leanne Varga, Systemic Advocate at FA said, “Getting inclusive education right is crucial to setting up important life pathways for students with disability. It is the gateway to community and employment for people with disability in their adult life, which ultimately leads to a more secure future.”

Julie Charlton (she/they) is a 23-year-old youth and disability advocate, elite para athlete and coach who has been working in the advocacy space for over 15 years. She notes the importance of inclusive education. "In PE, all I wanted to do was play sport with my peers but was only allowed to play catch with my aide or be the water girl or collector of coats. This all changed in my new school in Year 3 when my PE teacher, Mr Butcher, had a "give it a go" attitude and included me in all the sporting activities with adjustments to make it fair for everyone.  He handed me my first shotput and that is where I got my first ever 1st place ribbon. I've never looked back, and last year was honoured to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games. The chance I have had to have inclusive education opportunities have changed my life monumentally, giving me a chance to achieve my goals. 

Inclusive education is vital for people with disabilities to have a chance at a life of their own choosing."

Dr Cherry Baylosis, DA’s Policy and Communications Lead who prepared the paper in collaboration Leanne, has said “It is encouraging to see that the Department of Education is taking some positive steps, such as investing funding toward advocacy to ensure that families and students have increased support, and that advocacy services can address some of the issues raised in the paper.”

While increased individual advocacy is a positive, systemic issues in education remain. Family Advocacy is leading the charge in systems reform with its Same Classroom, Same Opportunity – Securing Better Futures Through an Inclusive Education campaign to ensure ALL students in NSW, no matter their circumstance, are welcomed and supported in the general classroom in their local school. Join their FREE Inclusive Education Forum on February 16th or sign their petition.

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