The NSW Department of Education has just released their Inclusive Education Statement for students with disability. We are heartened to see that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (UNCRPD) is firmly stated in the overview, with particular reference to Article 24, which defines the differences between exclusion, segregation, integration and inclusion. This is a significant step in the right direction, and one we have been advocating towards for a long time.
However, there are a number of concerning points in the statement, starting with its very purpose, which states that the Department is committed to building a “more inclusive” education system, rather than “an inclusive education system” full stop.
The statement notes that only 80% percent of students with disability currently learn in mainstream classrooms in mainstream public schools, and for the remaining students it might be necessary to attend a school for specific purposes (SSPs) or a support class. We cannot talk about inclusion and at the same time talk about the need for students to be segregated. Acknowledging the need for SSPs is to acknowledge an inherent failure in our education system.
Whilst it is encouraging that the first principle of inclusive practice quoted on the statement is “Student agency and self-determination”, the importance given to “parental choice” (“Teachers and schools will continue to seek the views of parents/carers to determine the most appropriate education program for students”) immediately raises red flags: Article 24 of the UNCRPD, which constitutes the basis for this statement centres on the student’s rights, and not the parents’, indicating that “The type of accommodations needed must always be decided with the student, and where appropriate, with their parents or caregivers”. To achieve a truly inclusive education we must be willing to go beyond parental choice – a choice which is not always well informed.
We cannot talk about leadership within schools when a lack of clarity and leadership continues within the central office of the NSW Department of Education. The important mention of the UN convention and its obligations loses its meaning when a reluctance to follow through is, sadly, still evident.
You can read the statement here: http://bit.ly/IE-statement