The NSW Education Department has revealed allegations of abuse towards disabled students, including a teacher throwing a chair at an autistic student and a principal who chased fleeing disabled students in her car.
However, out of the 64 cases of alleged abuse, only 13 involved a teacher being disciplined, and only one was sacked.
The latest allegations are part of the Parliamentary inquiry into students with a disability or special needs in NSW schools, which was launched in February.
In a statement made to the inquiry last week, NSW Education department secretary, Mark Scott, said that like any large organisation, schools also have “moments of human and systematic failure”.
He acknowledged that some teachers had “failed to act responsibly and professionally, resulting in learning environments that have not been constructive and productive, or even worse, putting children in harm's way.”
The Department provides more than $1bn a year in funding to support 105,000 students with a disability across 2,200 public schools in NSW.
However, Children and Young people with Disability Australia (CYDA) chief executive, Stephanie Gotlib, told The Daily Telegraph that the Department's examination of abuse were “the tip of the iceberg” for a “system in crisis”.
“We're getting alarming rates of reporting of restraints, seclusion and harm being experienced by students with disability,” she said.
Senator Pauline Hanson recently caused controversy by saying autistic students should be separated from mainstream classes as they were putting too much pressure on teachers.
Berwick Lodge Primary School principal, Henry Grossek, told The Educator that Hanson’s remarks were the symptoms of an under-resourced public school system that provided fertile ground for such sentiment to grow.
“Hanson has a point in that we don’t resource schools well enough to support children with disabilities in the first place. Out of that flows discontent, frustration and failure that she can tap into and extrapolate to such crude simplifications,” he said.
Grossek pointed to the “politics of populism” that he said is responsible for politicians taking an “election cycle” view of education’s more serious issues that would otherwise be addressed with more urgency.
“At the end of the day, I think our school system is in the type of turmoil, uncertainty and ordinariness it is because of the egos of our political parties – and it’s simply a disgrace.”
Studies by CYDA, the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) and others has shown that the bringing together of mainstream and special education students has profound benefits to both.
One organisation, Family Advocacy, works with families to promote and defend the rights and interests of people with developmental disability.
The organisation’s senior systemic advocate, Meg Clement-Couzner, told The Educator that the most compelling argument for inclusive education is that separating whole classes of people based on their characteristics – such as race, religion or disability – is not only “wrong”, but leads to “tragic outcomes”.
“Australian and international evidence overwhelmingly shows that students with disabilities have poorer academic and vocational outcomes in disability-specific settings, compared to those who are included into regular educational settings,” she said.
“Children without disabilities also benefit both academically and socially from inclusive education, with equal or better academic outcomes. Both morally and logically, inclusion is the right thing to do”.
Clement-Couzner added that when the educational system is not inclusive, what it reflects are assumptions that children with disability cannot learn or do not deserve the same standards of education as others – something she said “is just not true”.
“People with disability, including intellectual disability and very profound disability, can have education, jobs, friends, partners and meaningful lives – if society lets them,” she said.