Victorian schools fail on disabilities score

STUDENTS with disabilities at Victorian schools are being bullied, refused enrolment, prevented from sitting NAPLAN tests and denied access to excursions and school camps.

The first comprehensive report by an Australian human rights commission to examine the extent of disability discrimination in schools has found there are systemic barriers to Victorian students with a disability accessing education.

Parents spoke of their children only being able to attend school for two hours a day (one of which was over lunchtime) and of their child being regularly suspended or even being physically restrained or kept in isolation while at school.

In a report to be released today, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission says it is ”deeply concerned” that some students with disabilities are only attending school part time and parents are having to pay for support in schools.

”Under the law and [Education Department] policy, neither situation should be allowed to happen,” the report says.

The commission, which interviewed more than 1800 parents, students and teachers, found that the problems were system-wide, with ”inflexible and arbitrary policies”.

Almost two-thirds of the students and parents reported bullying at school.

”I was punched and repeatedly smashed into a brick wall whilst being called a ‘deaf faggot’ because I wear a hearing aid,” said a student from a Catholic school.

”Kids tease me by calling me seizure boy … I get obsessed with things and people don’t understand about that. They get sick of me talking about it,” a student from a state school said.

Autism Victoria (now known as Amaze) said in its submission that bullying could also be covert, such as classmates refusing to attend the party of a child with autism.

Half the students and parents surveyed reported discrimination at school. However, many said they did not complain because they were fearful of repercussions or did not think complaining would make a difference.

Forty per cent of educators were not aware of their legal obligations to students with disabilities. ”As a consequence, too many Victorian schools, both mainstream and specialist, are failing to provide the services and support that students with disabilities need for a decent education.”

The report, Held Back: the experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools, said there were more than 100,000 students in Victorian schools with a disability that might affect their learning.

It said 20,883 students – about 3.9 per cent of students at state schools – received disability funding last year but there were large numbers who did not meet the criteria for funding despite requiring additional support.

The report also said there was no way of reliably measuring whether the funding, when provided, was delivering the best outcomes for students.

The report, which will be launched by paralympian Ahmed Kelly today, makes a series of recommendations. These include a simpler process for making adjustments for students with disabilities in VCE exams, programs in schools to prevent bullying of students with disabilities, a review of eligibility criteria for disability funding, a requirement that schools provide a clear report to parents on how disability funding is being used and a core subject dedicated to disability in all undergraduate teacher courses.

Acting commissioner Karen Toohey said that given school funding reforms were being negotiated – with the Gonski review recommending that all students with a disability receive additional loadings – she was hopeful the report would build a better understanding of the barriers facing the 100,000 students in Victoria with a disability.

Victorian schools fail on disabilities score.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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