What the Disability Royal Commission means for special education

What the Disability Royal Commission means for special education

On Thursday 28 September, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability released its final report, along with 222 recommendations to promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability.

The final report called for sweeping changes across all areas of society, from education and employment to the justice system and governance, but for teachers working in special schools, one recommendation in particular stood out like a sore thumb.

In volume 7 of the report, three commissioners called for segregated educational settings to be removed by 2051, with no new enrolments by 2031, and no new placements by 2041.

“We heard that once a student is placed in a special or segregated school or class, they will rarely transition to a mainstream school or classroom,” the report said. “This can contribute to them remaining in other segregated environments throughout their lives.”

‘We can do better’

Dr David Roy, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Education said he is concerned that the 23-year timeline to phase out segregated settings will leave many vulnerable children excluded in the meantime.

“The disturbing aspect of the timeline is that if it is followed, two generations of children will still be in segregated settings,” Dr Roy told The Educator. “The cycle of discrimination, disenfranchisement and exclusion will still be there for over two decades. We can do better.”

Dr Roy said potentially the most impactful recommendation of the final report may be Recommendation 4.1 – the Establishment of a Disability Rights Act.

“This is different to the Disability Discrimination Act where treating individuals differently is a breach of law. A Rights Act means all of society [including Education] need to proactively ensure the basic rights of people with a disability are upheld and have systems in place to do so,” he said.

“The Federal Government is considering these recommendations and will report back in early 2024, but the States and Territories also need to respond. Many of the issues in education and the recommended changes, are the responsibility of State and Territory Governments.”

Dr Roy said the four-year Royal Commission “has potential to make real change for education and children with a disability.”

“The funding is there, ability to enact these recommendations is there; what we need to see though is a willingness and attitudinal change from politicians, and educators,” he said.

“Full inclusion is possible, and academically as well as safety wise the best options for all; to break the cycle of abuse. Schools and teachers can take the lead.”

Dr Roy said some of the most able teachers are currently in SSPs.

“Imagine the impact for all, if those teachers and their pupils were working inclusively with all students.”