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Closed doors send parents to law

As Britain discusses the way forward for children with special needs, The TES examines SEN policies around the world


The integration of disabled children into mainstream schools has become one of the most divisive issues in Australian education.

Some schools are refusing to admit children with particular mental or physical disabilities, saying they have not been given enough government help.

Parents and teachers have clashed over the issue with some parents turning to the courts to force schools to accept their child. The pitting of parent against school has led to bitterness, with the child the one who usually suffers.

Parents of disabled children have fought for years to have their children educated in mainstream classrooms, rather than segregated in special settings.

This is despite the fact that all states and territories have special schools - many run by charities - for children who are blind or deaf or who have other physical and mental disabilities. Such schools are often lavishly equipped and offer small classes run by specialist teachers, with well-trained support staff.

Yet many parents believe there is a stigma associated with such schools and say they are entitled to access to mainstream classrooms.

In Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, this has long been accepted. There, government policy is for mainstream schools to admit disabled children. Schools have complied because they have been given at least some resources - especially expert teaching aides.

But elsewhere across Australia, teachers have been reluctant to enrol disabled children without any additional help.

According to the Australian Education Union, state education ministries too often leave the issue to be resolved at the local level, rather than making a commitment to integration and backing that with money. The union has called for standards to apply to the integration of disabled children.

Commenting on those cases where parents have been refused access to mainstream schools and have taken the matter to the courts, the union said: "In all circumstances, this requires that there be victims. In most cases those victims are the students themselves and the education workers that teach them.

"For these people, there is considerable and often excessive stress and trauma involved in the process. For the teachers involved, there may well be long-term personal and career consequences."

The issue of children with emotional or behavioural problems is just as, if not more, complicated. Schools can suspend pupils who attack staff or other children, but are supposed to offer problem children psychological help beforehand. In many cases this does not happen.

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