Schools in Victoria have been given the right to assess their own progress around inclusiveness for disabled children and they have dropped the ball.
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 and there are few or no consequences for failing to accommodate disabled children.
“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,” said Eleanor Jenkin, Policy Manager at the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University.
“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.
Victorian children with disability continue to experience discrimination, exclusion and disadvantage in mainstream government schools.
“There are many obstacles facing children with disability and their families right now,” said 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.”
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,” Prof 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.”
A report detailing findings titled: Improving Educational Outcomes for Children with Disability in Victoria is now available and 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.
Although this report relates only to Victorian schools, a number of inquiries have noted similar issues in other states and territories.