By Marius Smith
Today we are launching our findings from an exhaustive investigation into the education of children with disability in Victoria’s mainstream government schools.
How we are failing children with disability
Based on almost 100 interviews with parents, former students, school staff and others, as well as a detailed review of relevant laws and policies, many of our findings are disturbing: children are being turned away or discouraged from enrolling, they’re not receiving the support they need to participate fully in their education, and they’re being socially isolated. At the same time, the guidance and training provided to teachers and support staff is also inadequate. You can read a summary of many of these problems in today’s Age.
The obstacle to effective reform
In addition to these findings, we also identified one factor that’s hampering reform. The Victorian Government has taken positive steps in recent years to improve educational outcomes for students with disability. However, successive governments’ policies of devolving responsibility to schools is preventing proper implementation of those steps. Schools are entrusted to assess their own progress, and face few consequences for failing to meet their legal and policy obligations.
The Department of Education and Training does not have comprehensive systems in place to make sure that all schools are doing the right thing by children with disability. It’s even unclear which Department policies schools must follow, and which are optional.
The result of this approach is thatparents of kids with disability can feel like getting a good education is a lottery: while some schools are doing a great job, others are manifestly failing their students with disability, without sufficient guidance, oversight or consequences.
This is a human rights issue
The current failings in our education system potentially breach children’s rights under Victorian and Commonwealth human rights and anti-discrimination laws. The legal obligation to protect and realise the rights of these children rests not only with schools, but also with the Department of Education and Training and the entire Government of Victoria. They must properly monitor the actions of schools, and hold to account those who are failing their most vulnerable students. That’s why we’ve made 36 recommendations in this report. The Government is currently considering them.
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