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(Australia) School system failing "neurodiverse kids"; excluding disabled kids

Aug 16, 2023, Guardian: ‘A form of discrimination’: Australia’s school system accused of failing neurodiverse kids

A new report has highlighted the exclusion students with additional learning needs experience – and the lack of resources that is often the cause…

On Thursday, Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) released three national surveys that found school systems at each level were failing to adequately support students with additional learning needs.

Its report said discrimination and exclusion were embedded into education from an early age, significantly affecting the education and wellbeing of students.

Just because we have a diagnosis, doesn’t mean we can’t achieve things. We can, we just need to do it differently…

At the same time, students with disabilities reported they did not feel supported to learn and engage in activities.

One in five parents said their child had been refused enrolment in early childhood and care, and nearly a quarter said they had been limited in the number of hours they could attend. Once reaching primary school, 70% of students reported being excluded from activities or events at school, from excursions to PE classes and riding on buses. Only 27% reported feeling supported to learn.

The report’s author, Dr Catherine Smith from the University of Melbourne’s graduate school of education, says negative patterns start in early childhood. A child’s brain grows to 90% of adult size by about five, affecting future emotional patterns, learning and development.

“It’s really troubling,” she says. “There’s not just work to do around teaching – there’s work to be done on how to not create those stigmatised settings.

“If we constantly isolate particular kids, we teach a generation [that] those kids are different. But if it isn’t the way a school is set up, it’s a big step and kids end up not being able to access the same things.”

That means, Smith says, expanding access to aids such as transcripts for hearing-impaired children, or technology for neurodiverse children, to make inclusivity the norm – as well as centring disabled voices in the education system.

Smith says in many cases it comes down to funding – that big “systemic issue” sitting over equity in education….

The CYDA chief executive, Skye Kakoschke-Moore, agrees. She says the report serves as a “wake-up call” for governments to interrogate the education they are providing students with disabilities.

“It breaks my heart [that] over half of participants feel they don’t belong and they’re not included,” Kakoschke-Moore says. “This … can have lifelong impacts if not addressed early. “This needs to serve as a line in the sand.”

CYDA is calling for additional funding and programs for students with disabilities as a priority in the next national school reform agreement, to be handed down in 2024.

It has urged the panel to hold states and territories accountable to deliver the full inclusion of all students in mainstream schools, currently thwarted by a lack of resourcing.

The last review was hampered the fact that, despite students with disabilities being deemed a priority cohort, there is no outcomes data on their performance on tests such as Naplan.

But it did find students with disabilities pointed to a “lack of adequate and consistent resourcing”, including teachers not being equipped to provide for students’ needs.

“Teachers are overwhelmed and without sufficient support, resource or training,” Kakoschke-Moore says.

Just 35% of respondents felt their teachers and support staff had adequate training and knowledge to support students.

The education minister, Jason Clare, says funding is important, but “so is what that funding is invested in”.

“The panel is looking at what is going to improve student outcomes, what is going to improve student health and wellbeing, and what is going to help to attract and retain our teachers,” he says.

“These reforms will help students most at risk of falling behind to catch up, including students with disability.”…


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