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(Australia) 20% of Queenland students are SPED; TOTAL INCLUSION is called for

Nov 10, (Australia) Australian: A classroom challenge: special schools or inclusion for children with disabilities Ingham State High School, flanked by sugar cane country in north Queensland, is typical of its era…. The school, which has been held up as an exemplar of Queensland’s push for inclusive education, has an open-door policy for all students. No ifs, no buts. Its approach to inclusion, which became state policy last year following an independent review into the education of students with disabilities across Queensland state schools, means no child, regardless of the severity or complexity of any physical, intellectual or social-emotional disability, cannot be accommodated. “We don’t have a special school in our district,” Jewelann Kaup¬pila, Ingham’s head of inclusive practices, said when she appeared before the disability royal commission last week in Townsville…. However, not everyone is convinced inclusion is a one-size-fits-all policy. The Queensland Teachers Union, which has offered broad support for the state’s move towards greater inclusion of students with disabilities, has advocated for more special schools to be built in areas of need…. The right to education is well established in international human rights law, with the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Australia is a signatory, recently clarifying the obligation for states to ensure an inclusive education system at all levels…. In defining “inclusive education” it distinguishes it from “integration”, where students with disabilities are placed in existing mainstream education institutions, and “segregation”, where students are taught separately, away from similar-aged peers…. Of 530,000 students attending state schools across Queensland, about 103,000 [19%] have been identified under the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data as requiring additional assistance due to disability, the most common due to cognitive impairment (56 per cent), followed by social and emotional impairment (31 per cent). As of August there were 5133 students enrolled at 43 state special schools across the state. Inclusion advocates are calling for such schools to be phased out over 15 years, with funds redeployed to ensure all schools are inclusive. … In his written statement tendered before the commission hearing, QTU president Kevin Bates endorsed special schools as “a critical part of the offering in education in the state system”. “Such schools provide a crucial context where specialist facilities and services, including teachers specifically qualified in special education, can generate the greatest positive impact on the students with the 10 most complex disability and health issues,” he wrote. … “By concentrating our resources in a particular location we can deliver the greatest benefit in a cost-effective way, given that our system struggles all of the time with issues of a finite budget,” he said. “So our position is that if you make, for example, a blanket decision to take away special schools as an option, it denies the system and parents and those students one of the suite of options for providing effective education.” … Amanda (not her real name), a mother of four from Melbourne’s west, recalls worrying about how her youngest son, Jackson (not his real name), was going to settle into school. Concerned by his behaviour, particularly his frequent, uncontrollable, violent outbursts, she took him to see several specialists only to be told he was fine. Yet within months of starting, he was threatened with suspension. “He’d lash out physically and run away. The police would have to be called and then he’d get physical with them,” Amanda says. “No one could control him besides myself. It got to the point where I would have to park and sit outside the school just in case.” An eventual diagnosis of high-functioning autism, ADHD, ODD (oppositional defiance disorder) was made but because of Jackson’s intellect, he didn’t qualify for special schools. Amanda sent Jackson to a different school, attempted home schooling and was eventually referred to MacKillop School in Maidstone. Supported by Catholic Education Melbourne, the primary school was established to support students who have learning needs and social or emotional behaviours that cannot be adequately supported in a mainstream setting. Many of the 32 students have a cluster of diagnoses, and many have at some stage been disengaged from education…. Providing such an education comes at a cost: about $60,000 per student compared with the $11,343 base government funding provided for each primary student under the national resourcing standard. Principal Anne Henderson is supportive of the push for greater inclusivity but says she struggles to envision a public education system that could accommodate absolutely everybody. “I would have to say that it certainly doesn’t reflect the position of the schools that are referring to us or the parents and guardians who take up the option of a specialist education setting,” Henderson says. “There would need to be some significant changes in terms of providing learning environments, in the level of funding and expertise.” Amanda agrees. On his first day at MacKillop School, Jackson had to be carried in the front gate and would only stay in class an hour a day…. “The rest of the education system is ill-equipped. Teacher training doesn’t even touch the sides of what a person needs to know to deal with a child with autism.”… “There are some teachers who believe that for students with a disability there are special places for them, who refuse to have them in their classroom,” she says. “And they are supported by the union.”… About 23 per cent of Ingham’s 423 students are classified as having a disability for funding purposes and according to its 2018 annual report, 100 per cent of Year 12 students achieved the Queensland Certificate of Education or equivalent that year, with 31 out of 75 graduates receiving an Overall Place. Every student who applied for university received an offer. However, a survey of the school community suggests a bumpy ride. Since 2016, there has been a decline in the number of parents who agree that their child is getting a “good education”, their child’s “learning needs are being met” and that they are “making good progress”. It also revealed a substantial decline in the number of parents, students and teachers who agree student behaviour is “well managed at their school”. Just 64 per cent of students felt that behaviour was well managed last year, down from 84 per cent in 2016, while for teachers it fell from 78 per cent to 59 per cent…. “We have known better for an awfully long time. We must act with urgency and do better.”

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