Opinion: NSW public schools receive an ‘F’ for disabled kids

by David Roy16 May 2016

A quarter of children with a disability denied a place in their local school; Students are being bullied by teachers because of their disability; There are negative attitudes to children with a disability by schools, principals and some staff; No allowance made in learning for children with a disability. No training for teachers; Funding and schools not accountable.
These findings reported by the NSW Audit Office on Thursday 12th May 2016 in their report on ‘Supporting Students with Disability in NSW Public Schools’ should be shocking but sadly they only repeat what has been revealed in the recent Senate Inquiries into education funding and institutional abuse.
Schools across Australia are failing families and children with a disability and yet nothing is being done to change it. In May 2015, Children and Young People with a Disability published findings from across Australia that stated exactly the same statistics. A year later and nothing has changed.
Australian Education Union (AEU) federal president, Correna Haythorpe, stated: “The fact that our school system does not have the resources to give children with disability the education they need is a national shame.”
Recent Senate Inquiries recommended ‘There was concerning evidence presented to the Committee that a number of schools, across jurisdictions and sectors, were blatantly disregarding the Disability Standards.’ Indeed the same inquiries 12 key recommendations match the Audit Office NSW same recommendations: better training, change of attitudes, recording of data, directed and accountable funding, recognising children with a disability as learners.
The Department of Education’s response to the Audit Report is astonishing. It appears they claim to be already implementing the recommendations, bar one. They seem to dismiss all the issues. If this is the case, they need to think again.
Students take assessments and tests, such as NAPLAN, to see areas of strength and areas to improve upon. It appears that The Department of Education is unwilling learn or improve. They seem more interested in funding overblown IT infrastructure and flying Mr. Piccoli around the world to visit more successful education systems; which he then he appears to ignore; than actually changing the culture of schools and teachers.
The one recommendation that the NSW Department of Education had a caveat over was on the reporting of student achievement, Peter Riordan claiming ‘Students with disability have a diverse range of types and levels of learning need and for this reason it is not practicable to report on students with a disability as a cohort at a state level.’ The suggestion is therefore that other ‘typical’ students are not diverse in learning unless the NSW Department of Education considers all students to be clones!
Students are not one homogeneous group. They have diverse learning needs, abilities, diverse experiences, ethnicity, and culture. Indeed they may even have different genders! To say otherwise is disrespectful to all students, families and teachers in the public system. Unwillingness to respond to the serious flaws in education provision may be a factor in why NSW has falling educational standards across the board, despite Mr. Piccoli being in charge for the last five years.
Until the leaders of education consider every student as each requiring equality in education provision, then the issues identified in all the recent reports and inquiries will only become exacerbated. All students have diverse learning needs. All students, including those with a disability, need support. NSW and Australian students need a 21st century learning experience – not a 19th century archaic model of schooling.
There needs to be cultural and attitudinal change across NSW and Australia towards disability, learners and education as a whole, away from the current deficit model.
Only then will Australia become the innovative, world leading nation and economic powerhouse that all our politicians claim they desire us to be.
David Roy is a lecturer and deputy program convenor at the University of Newcastle’s School of Education.


  • by Nelly Jane 14/05/2016 8:33:25 PM

    I agree ! As a former teacher and also on the spectrum I can attest to the bullying , lack of facilitities , lack of understanding or willingness to listen on the part of the dept , teachers and principals . Much of the funding available for teacher ed is taken up with career teachers who study special needs as a means to gain promotion to principals jobs . So there is constantly a drain on resources for special needs teachers . My former principal was previously a special needs teacher who claimed to understand autism .... She didn't have a clue and never ever mentioned mine or if she did she ignored it . Instead She bullied me relentlessly with absolutely no compassion then she handed me over to the deputy who was even worse . I was and remain traumatised beyond belief . I eventually lost my job in 2010 after 2 years of torment . Yet I was the go to teacher who's classroom was set up to cater for special needs students. The autistic kids came to me when their teacher knew they'd not cope with specific activities .
    Now, I cannot work . I've lost my ability to even cope with my own grandchildren . The woman I once was is gone . I have ASD, ADHD and complex PTSD . My life has been severely affected and the dept could care less. I was a healthy woman when I started out . I saw my doctor occasionly , like two yearly . When the bullying started I saw her 4-6 X a month .
    I was able to secure employment after my position was enulled but I could not turn up . I had no idea why was happening to me . It took me 3 years of wandering in a daze to be diagnosed .
    If your child is autistic you must be in the face of the school constantly to get what your kid needs and to protect them .