Labor had plans for students with disabilities in mainstream schools

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Bill Shorten campaigning on education at a preschool in Melbourne. Picture: AAP

During the recent Federal Election campaign, the Labor Party promised to implement inclusive education in every state. But would this have meant an end to special schools?

The Labor plan was to give schools $320 million in funding over the first three years for students with disability. This funding would go towards support staff and teacher training, with an emphasis on catering to specific students’ needs. But is it enough to integrate students with disability into mainstream schools?

The Canadian province of New Brunswick has laws that prohibit segregated settings such as special schools. But for Australia, it might be a while before this is possible. Kate Anderson is a disability and inclusion lecturer at Deakin University who understands the difficulties of an inclusive education. “The concept of accessibility is really important. Students who have sensory impairments might have difficulty accessing resources because they’re not in the appropriate format,” said Anderson.

But is university accessible for people with learning disabilities?

Deakin looks at alternative pathways to get into university. Although, the Hechinger Report found that only about one in three students with disability make it through a four-year course. “I think we still got a ways to go,” said Anderson. “Having students with a disability as a part of our graduating cohort benefits everyone across the board. I also think that we need to be including teachers with disability.”

These strategies change when looking at high school and primary education. Morgan Decker is an integration aide from Baringa Special School who works with seven students with special needs. “You can’t just throw them into a normal classroom and expect them to keep up,” said Decker.

Decker uses different strategies to keep students engaged. “I have a little girl who is extremely intelligent, but she doesn’t want to do hard work. So we give her the option of three different worksheets and she gets to choose which one she does first, then next, then last,” said Decker. She says at Baringa, every student works differently and to different intelligence levels.

The stigma that special schools carry has resulted in a change in uniform, removing ‘Baringa School’ from underneath the logo.

“Before when it said Baringa underneath they weren’t as proud,” said Decker.

Lydia Zahra is a university student studying music. Despite having autism, she was still able to attend, and graduate from, a mainstream school. “Me being the little autistic girl, I didn’t really understand what they were trying to say. I couldn’t read their social cues at that point. But they would say to me ‘You can be in the game, but like you’re not an important part of the game’,” Zahra said.

Going to a mainstream school, Zahra was met with different difficulties. Learning best from reading, she requests teachers use a PowerPoint slideshow to accompany their teaching. Some teachers didn’t understand her struggles. “The teachers sometimes come around to check our notes and I didn’t have anything down because I wasn’t able to process the information. So, I didn’t have any notes and I got in trouble for it,” Zahra said.

Some people look at Zahra differently because of her disorder. “It would be so great if people would just take things as they come,” she said. She thinks that others hold different standards to people with disability, and that we would be better off if those standards didn’t exist.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison campaigning for education before the 2019 federal election. Picture: Scott Morrison MP/Facebook.

Both parties committed the extra $23.5 billion to schools as part of the 10 year ‘Gonski 2.0‘ plan. However, Scott Morrison’s Liberal government will contribute $4.6 billion in a funding plan to independent and catholic schools over a 10 year period. The Labor Party was going to contribute an extra $14 billion to public schools over a 10 year period. The Liberal party did not outline any plans for students with disability.

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