In the Media

South Australian students with disabilities not being ‘invested in’, Kelly Vincent says

By Lauren Waldhuter

Posted Wed at 1:24pmWed 31 May 2017, 1:24pm

students with bags

Picture Description: two young children are walking down the road with backpacks on holding lunch boxes.

South Australian schools should face tangible consequences for unnecessarily restraining students with disabilities and avoid using suspension or exclusion to manage challenging behaviours, a parliamentary committee has recommended.

The Upper House committee, investigating access to the school system for children with disabilities, has handed down its final report, with more than 90 recommendations.

If they are adopted by Government, schools could also be audited to find out how they are accommodating children with disabilities, and teachers would need undertake more compulsory special needs training.

Dignity Party MLC Kelly Vincent, who chaired the committee, said while some schools were supportive of special needs students, the system had failed others.

“Unfortunately I think, because of those attitudinal issues, where we don’t expect the student with disability to achieve as much as a non-disabled student, we don’t invest in them as much,” Ms Vincent said.

“And because of the lack of resourcing available, we’re not currently meeting our very serious obligations to these students.”

Through hearings and submissions, the committee heard some parents were feeling excluded from the education system, and schools were struggling to cater to the needs of students with disabilities.

Parents not aware of children’s rights

  • Schools should not use exclusion or suspension as a default behaviour management strategy
  • A code of conduct around restraint should be maintained with tangible procedures and consequences for breaches
  • Each education authority should audit their schools to assess their compliance with legislation and sector policy
  • An independent person should be appointed, possibly within the office of the Equal Opportunities Commissioner or Ombudsman, to evaluate complaints
  • At least one compulsory unit on special education should be compulsory in all accredited Australian teacher preservice degrees

In 2015 there were 15,147 students with disabilities in South Australian schools and 79 per cent were in mainstream classes.

Ms Vincent said it was clear many parents were not aware of their child’s right to attend a mainstream school with the right support, and some schools were not meeting those obligations.

“I think there’s a consensus the existing legislative framework we have to protect the rights of students with disabilities is sufficient,” she said.

“It’s just not being carried out, so there’s a need for more awareness of parents, students and school staff alike.”

Teachers need training

The Education Department provides funding to schools to help them accommodate students with disabilities.

The committee recommended that the negotiated education plans, which are drawn up for students with special needs, be more regularly reviewed, and electronically stored in case a child moves to a new school.

“We want to see big changes in negotiated educated plans where students with disabilities have their additional supports that they require assessed and laid out,” she said.

“Also we want to see the student itself having input in that plan.”

In its submission to the committee, the Australian Education Union (AEU) said about half the state’s teachers did not feel like they had the right training to support special needs students.

The recommendations include compulsory special education training for teachers during their degrees, and that all teachers working in special schools have a degree in special education.

“This report has always been about finding the best way forward for students and that will create the best way forward for teachers,” she said.

“Because the more respected and supported a student feels, the more likely it is that the environment will be easier to work in for teachers as well.”

The committee also said the lack of specialist staff in rural and regional areas should be addressed.

Education Minister Susan Close said she received the report yesterday and would consider all of the recommendations.

“We’ll make sure we go through the report and see where errors have been identified for further work,” she said.

“We need to look at the reality of what it’s like with for a child with a disability in our school system and not shirk away from criticism that people have.”

“I’ll be reading it [the report] with great interest and seeking advice from the department about how we can improve.”