Getting the best educational outcomes for all our kids

By Claire Absolum, 28 June 2017 , Comments

Last week Senator Pauline Hanson found herself at the centre of a media storm when she stated in Parliament that it would be better if children with disabilities were removed from mainstream classrooms so they could be taught in “special classrooms”.

These comments received widespread condemnation from all sides of politics as well as numerous parent and disability advocacy groups. They also prompted widespread discussion on social and traditional media from people with disability about their educational experiences.

People With Disabilities ACT campaign manager Craig Wallace said; “I attended three special schools until Year 9. No Maths, English, Science, History or Geography – we made clay pots”.

Mr Wallace said the school he attended was like a warehouse where children with disabilities were “shunted away” and given a cheap, second rate education.

In contrast, Northcott customer Alex Dennis went to Balmain High School in the late 1990s. Alex lives with Spina Bifida and his school had a support unit where students with physical disability were either integrated into mainstream classes or put into separate classes depending on their level of ability.

Alex was enrolled in a mainstream class which he found to be a positive experience. “I found the assistance I received from either support unit teachers or the aides [really] valuable” he says although he also recalls these resources to be constantly “underfunded or going through cuts”. Alex thinks the key issue that needs to be addressed is funding. As he says; “we need to properly fund and grow support units in schools so teachers, principals and students with disabilities can get the tools they need… There are plenty of kids with disabilities who are absolutely fantastic and eager to learn but the system is failing them”. 

Jason, who is also a Northcott customer, is 34 and has cerebral palsy. He was the first child with a physical disability to attend his mainstream school and he had a similar experience to Alex. Jason found that being at that school opened him up to a range of different experiences he would be otherwise not have been exposed to and he felt it was helpful for all students.  As he says; “I think it’s mutually beneficial for everyone as it teaches kids how the real world works. My class mates got to experience being with kids who have disabilities and we got to experience being with kids who didn’t have disabilities.  Of course allowances need to be made and they should be allowed for but I think separating people would be a backward step.” 

Northcott’s CEO Kerry Stubbs wants to see kids with disability have the same access to a first class education as every other child in Australia. As she says; “this is what they are entitled to and this is what they deserve. How kids with disability are best served to receive this education is a question for educators and the children’s parents to decide. While children with disability are all individuals with individual needs, we strongly believe that inclusion of kids, and adults with disability into all aspects of community life enriches the lives and experiences not only of people with disability and their families but the entire population. In order to enable full inclusion of kids with disability, all schools need to have access to the level of funding, resourcing and teacher training required to make it happen.”

To find out how Northcott can support your child at school click here.

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