Australia failing to provide inclusive education for children with disabilities

November 21, 2018

Campaign to highlight the rights of persons with disabilities in Australia shines a spotlight on segregation and limited inclusion in Australian schools.

According to a paper published today, Australia continues to fail children with disabilities at school at a disturbing rate with little to no improvement. In recent years, there has been an alarming number of reported incidents of abuse and violence against students with disabilities in Australian schools such as children with autism being tied to restraint chairs, caged and isolated from other students in the name of ‘safety’ and children being expelled for behaviour that arises as a result of their disability.

Susan Peukert, Co-Chair of ALHR’s Disability Rights Subcommittee said, “Respect for human dignity is a cornerstone of international human rights, yet Australia diminishes this principle through the segregation and limited inclusion of children with disabilities in educational settings. ALHR is particularly alarmed by the continued restraint and seclusion of children with disabilities in primary and secondary school settings in Australia.”

According to Ms Peukert, “The use of restrictive practices against children is in violation of their rights under both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

“Restrictive practices in classroom settings, dressed up as behavioural management techniques, must be immediately ceased and teachers and support staff must be trained in de-escalation techniques for those times when a child with disability begins to exhibit challenging behaviour in response to stimuli in the class setting.”

Ms Peukert continued, “Australia’s international legal obligations require all States and Territories to ensure that persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, that they can access inclusive education on an equal basis with others and that they receive the support required to facilitate their effective education.”

ALHR is concerned that children with disabilities in special schools are isolated from children without disabilities and may receive education of an inferior quality.

Miss Peukert said, “Young persons with disabilities who are educated in segregated special schools experience low levels of academic achievement. Without access to inclusive education, young persons with disabilities have diminished prospects of gaining employment and learning the skills required for meaningful civic participation.”

ALHR is calling on all levels of government in Australia to work together to ensure the delivery of an inclusive education system that complies with core human rights obligations, respects the dignity of every child and reflects and celebrates human diversity.

“Australian schools must immediately cease restraining and secluding students with disabilities and special education facilities should be phased out with a view to ensuring all children with disabilities can be accommodated into the mainstream education system in an inclusive manner.”

In the lead up to International Day of Disabled Persons on December 3, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) is shining a spotlight on disability rights with the launch of four policy papers over four weeks. The papers address Australia’s international legal obligations to protect the rights of persons with disabilities to independent living, inclusive education, adequate, accessible mental health services and to live a life free from alarming levels of gender-based violence. The second of the papers to be published discusses the right of children with disabilities to inclusive education.

The next position paper in ALHR’s disability rights series will relate to alarming levels of violence perpetrated against women and girls with disabilities.

Read the ALHR position paper, “Inclusive Education” here

Read the first paper in this series, “Independent Living” here

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.