The focus of the ‘Time to Act’ campaign just launched by the NSW Teachers Federation is to increase resources to Schools for Specific Purposes (SSPs) and support units in mainstream schools. Yes, teachers need more resources to support students with disability but it is disappointing to see that the Federation is focusing on special settings, as it perpetuates segregation for students with disability.
A sense of belonging starts from a young age and school years play a big part in this. The campaign sends confusing signals to families that can result in thousands of strong, resilient, and courageous young people continuing to be excluded from the joy and opportunity of full participation with their peers at their local school, and later, from full participation in society.
The ‘Time to Act’ campaign aims to address inequity for students with disability. "We agree that maintaining a fair and inclusive education system is one of the most powerful levers available to make society more equitable, accepting and valuing our differences," says Cecile Sullivan Elder, Family Advocacy's Executive Officer.
"The fact that the Federation wants equity in support for students with disability is important, and with the right focus this would be a positive campaign. However inclusive education is not possible if the focus is on resourcing special educators within SSP settings."
"It is indeed ‘time to act’ but the focus should be on inclusive education - training and resources - as a requirement for all teachers, so they are confidently equipped to teach all children, including children with disability," Cecile says.
For the right to inclusive education to be realised, governments must ultimately transfer resources from special schools and units into the regular class. Special educators will also need to play a crucial part in this process.
Children that learn together learn to live together, and this is what children with disabilities need in order to have a foundation for a good life in the community, including economic participation in open employment once they leave school. The NDIS is heavily investing on this goal, yet there seems to be a disconnection between the Scheme’s policies for employment and inclusion for people with disability and our education system’s policies.
The case for inclusive education is supported by four decades of research in Australia and internationally; many organisations of people with disabilities and their families; human rights organisations and the United Nations. Yet the current focus on special education will continue to prevent children from attending their local school in a regular classroom and steering them to a special school or support unit.
It is time to act to make NSW a place where disability doesn’t mean exclusion and segregation. We can create a NSW where each and every child and young person are educated together, as equals, in their local community, which will also reduce the risk of children with disability being exposed to violence, abuse, neglect, seclusion and restrictive practices. We need systemic reform to move from the parallel systems we have now to an education system that is inclusive of all children; a system that respects human rights, international and legal obligations, but also improves the quality of education for all students, based on sound 21st Century research and best practices.
To achieve this, we need political leadership, and we need an Inclusive Education Policy Statement, which states a clear definition of inclusion - one that recognises the differences between exclusion, segregation, integration and inclusion, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Queensland government adopted one last year and now NSW needs to keep up with other jurisdictions in Australia and the world.
For more information, contact:
Cecile Sullivan Elder
Or visit our "Same Classroom, Same Opportunity" campaign page for our position on inclusive education.