Children with disability face discrimination in Victorian schools
Parents told the researchers of their children being isolated from their fellow students. (Flickr: Sharon Mollerus)
Victorian children with disability continue to experience discrimination, exclusion and disadvantage in mainstream government schools, according to a report by the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University.
Sarah Joseph, Director of the Castan Centre, said that while the Victorian Government has taken positive steps in recent years to improve educational outcomes for students with disability, shortcomings persist, potentially breaching children’s rights under Victorian and Commonwealth human rights and anti-discrimination laws.
“Children with disability have the right to access a quality education on the same basis as their peers without disability,” Professor Joseph said.
“The Victorian government - and government schools - are legally responsible for realising these rights, but our research shows that too often the system is letting children and their families down.”
The report is based on almost 100 interviews with parents, former students, school staff and others, as well as a detailed review of relevant laws and policies.
It also includes more than 30 recommendations designed to improve the educational experience for children with disability, which the Castan Centre hopes the government will agree to implement.
Findings reveal that students face significant challenges in mainstream schools. “There are many obstacles facing children with disability and their families right now,” said report co-author Dr Claire Spivakovsky of Monash University’s Faculty of Arts.
“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,” she said.
“These outcomes are linked to flaws in the way that funding is provided for students with disability, and the support and training provided to teachers and support staff is also inadequate.”
A key finding of the report is that successive governments’ policy of devolving responsibility to schools is hampering inclusive education in mainstream schools. Schools are entrusted to assess their own progress, and face few consequences for failing to meet their legal and policy obligations.
“We think many parents would be shocked to learn that 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,” said Eleanor Jenkin, Policy Manager at the Castan Centre.
“It’s even unclear which Department policies schools must follow, and which are optional. While some schools are doing a great job, others are manifestly failing their students with disability.”
“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,” Ms Jenkin said.
Although this report relates only to Victorian schools, a number of inquiries have noted similar issues in other states and territories.
The Castan Centre is currently seeking a formal response from the Victorian Government.
Why school autonomy is hurting children with disability (The Age, Opinion) by Eleanor Jenkin