Children with disabilities are being bullied and abused in Australia’s 'broken' education system

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A new survey reveals the horrifying levels of bullying, abuse and exclusion that young people with disabilities face in Australian schools.

Young Australians with disabilities are experiencing “unacceptably high levels of abuse and violence at school”, according to a new report which found that students with disabilities are being physically restrained, isolated and bullied by both students and staff in educational settings.

The annual National Education Survey, conducted by Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), documents the experiences of young people with disabilities in Australian schools.

More than 500 young people with disabilities and their families responded to the 2019 survey, which revealed that they are being “failed by a broken education system that is denying them their basic human right to an inclusive education.”

Close to half of students surveyed said they were bullied at school in the past year, and 40 per cent were excluded from activities like lessons, excursions and interaction with other students.

One in three were restrained or secluded at school, which included physical restraint, chemical restraint and solitary confinement.

In several cases, students reported being bullied by school staff as well as other students. Families reported that children as young as 11 became suicidal and others were pushed down stairs, threatened with rape and even forced to hide inside a garbage bin to escape bullies.

Families also reported serious gaps in the education system’s supports for students with disabilities.

More than half of families (57.2 per cent) were out of pocket for supports or equipment their child required to participate in education, and a similar number (52.1 per cent) disagreed that teachers and support staff were adequately trained to provide a supportive learning environment for students with disability.

One family said that their child, aged 7-9 years old, had been suspended six times in six months for “behaviour” issues.

They push and push until he is completely overwhelmed and then they wonder why he won’t comply, then they suspend him, once for three days -- he was six years old.

In another case, a child aged 10-12 was suspended after being kept in isolation.

“In the disability unit he was left in a room on his own and when he became agitated and broke a window they rang me and suspended him on two occasions,” a parent wrote. “He only ever had behavioural issues in that environment.”

In 2018, child-education specialists told The Feed that many non-verbal children and teenagers have been misdiagnosed with intellectual disabilities due to the Department of Education’s reliance on IQ tests requiring speech.

Tim Chan, a non-verbal university student who uses facilitated communication to communicate via typing, said that when he was denied access to facilitated communication at school he became very angry, and felt trapped.

“He was suicidal,” his mother told The Feed. “He punched windows, he ran away from home.”

“He tried to manage at school, but he became so depressed. He actually typed with his aid, ‘I’m going to run in front of a bus.’”

In the wake of today’s survey findings, CYDA is calling on the government to develop a National Action Plan for Inclusive Education which phases out special schools and improves inadequate teacher education.

“The evidence shows that all children -- those with and without disability -- achieve best in inclusive schools,” said Mary Sayers, CEO of CYDA.

“Not in special schools, separate classrooms, not schooling part-time, and not doing a separate -- or worse -- curriculum.”

The National Education Survey results come as the Disability Royal Commission is due to hold its first public hearing on education next Monday November 4.

“The Disability Royal Commission presents an opportunity for Australia to right its wrongs and start providing children with disability the inclusive education they are entitled to – it is their human right,” said Sayers.

“Australian society – and, in fact law - emphatically says no to discrimination when it comes to gender, race and religion. So why does it remain acceptable to discriminate when it comes to disability?”

“It’s more than time to stamp out ableism in Australia.”

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