report of Held Back- The Experiences of Students with Disability in Schools

report of Held Back- The Experiences of Students with Disability in Schools
Held back
> The experiences of students with disabilities in
Victorian schools
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Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools.
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Held Back
> The experiences of students with disabilities in
Victorian schools
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
September 2012
1
Foreword
In Victoria today more than 100,000 students in
Victorian schools have a disability that may affect
their learning ability. These students have a wide
range of disabilities – they may be blind or deaf,
have a physical disability that requires them to use
a wheelchair or other aides, a learning disability
that affects their ability to process verbal or
written information, or a disability that affects their
behaviour and the way they learn. The complexity
of the modern school classroom, and the demands
on today’s educators, is reflected in the diversity
of needs of these students.
Parents and teachers told us of the commitment
they bring to ensuring students gain access to
the best possible educational opportunities. But
they also told us of the attitudes that held children
back. These include, inflexible policies which they
feel deny students the opportunity to achieve,
persistent experiences of bullying, the difference
a committed school principal can make, and the
lack of appropriate training for teachers, both at
university and after qualifying, to make sure they
could provide the best possible support
to students.
Each of these students has the right to the best
possible education we as a society can provide.
We have committed to providing all children with
an education because we understand that it is
an essential foundation to economic and social
wellbeing later in life. We all expect that when we
send our children to school they will be given the
best opportunity to learn.
Parents told us of the personal strain and distress
and of constant negotiation to make sure their child
was not left behind. Some gave up jobs, moved
suburbs, or spent many hours a day travelling
to make sure their child was at a school they felt
could offer the best learning environment.
The Commission undertook this research project
in response to concerns expressed to us by
parents, advocates and community members that
for students with disabilities accessing a good
education and achieving good learning outcomes
was a lottery rather than a certainty.
To better understand what was happening for
these children, we sought feedback through
surveys, ‘have a say days’, case studies and
submissions so we could give voice to those
experiences – good and bad. More than 1,800
people participated in the project – small when
you compare it with the number of students
enrolled in Victorian schools – but a big enough
number to demonstrate the interest and passion
this topic can generate.
2
Some parents used the project to voice concerns
they felt too afraid to raise with their school.
Many told us they were reluctant to make formal
complaints because for the few that did it was
often a difficult path leading to legal arguments
that didn’t reflect their lived experience – there was
no understanding and acknowledgement that their
child did not have the educational outcomes they
were capable of achieving.
The Commission worked with government
and non-government education providers in
preparing this report. We particularly acknowledge
and thank the Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development (DEECD) for its assistance
with the preparation of this report. We thank Mark
Tainsh, Director, Disabilities and Additional Needs
who has spent many hours on meetings, emails
and interviews providing information to ensure the
accuracy and completeness of the report.
The Commission wants to thank the many parents,
educators, students and advocates who took time
to complete surveys, provide us with submissions
and attend meetings to inform this research. We
appreciate the report itself does not resolve the
many issues they have raised with us but we hope
they appreciate our genuine effort to provide a
vehicle for their voices to be recognised and heard.
As a community we need to make sure that the
need for investment in education for students with
a disability is understood and realised. Not just
because they are entitled to the best possible
education but also because we all benefit – at an
individual, community and national level. If these
young people are held back, we all are.
Thanks also to the Commission staff, led by
Michelle Burrell, Manager Strategic Projects and
Policy Unit, who have worked on the report for
many months.
The Commission welcomes the initiatives
announced by DEECD to enhance the learning
experience of students with disabilities in Victorian
government schools and its commitment to
providing high quality learning and wellbeing
outcomes for their students.
A recent report found that almost half of people
with a disability in Australia live in or near poverty,
with Australia ranking last in 27 developed
countries for economic outcomes for people with
a disability. Australians with a disability are half as
likely to be employed as people without a disability.
While many factors contribute to this terrible report
card we know that education is absolutely essential
to addressing this gap.
Karen Toohey
Acting Commissioner
Victorian Equal Opportunity
and Human Rights Commission
With funding models for students and schools
under scrutiny and up for negotiation, the
Commission hopes this report can contribute
specifically to a better understanding of the issues
and barriers facing students with disability.
3
Contents
Foreword
2
Executive Summary
8
Standards for participation
36
Main findings
37
Chapter 4: Participation
36
Challenges at the system level –
government schools
8
Experiences of participation
37
Challenges at the school level
9
Making reasonable adjustments
38
Building more inclusive schools
11
Effectiveness of adjustments
41
Recommendations
12
Barriers to participation
42
Part 1: Background
17
17
Consequences of not
making adjustments
47
Opportunities for improvement
48
Chapter 1: About the research
Aim of the project
17
The Commission’s interest in the issue
17
How the project came about
18
Context for the research
19
Recommendations
Chapter 5: Curriculum development,
accreditation and delivery
49
50
Policy context
19
Standards for curriculum development,
accreditation and delivery
50
Legal context
21
Main findings
51
23
52
Chapter 2: Methodology
Project components
23
Building on existing curriculum
resources to have more impact
Limitations of the research
25
Adjustments for assessments and exams 54
Terminology26
Are adjustments made when requested? 56
Part 2: Experiences
27
28
Chapter 3: Enrolment
Standards for enrolment
28
Main findings
29
Experiences of enrolment
29
Opportunities for improvement
34
Recommendations35
4
Impacts of not making proper
adjustments to curriculum or assessment 57
Opportunities for improvement
57
Recommendations58
Chapter 6: Student support services
59
Standards for student support services
59
Main findings
60
93
Experiences of parents, students and
educators60
Patterns of attendance
93
Current provision of student support
services in government schools
64
Dual enrolment
94
Unmet need for assistive technologies
65
Part-time attendance
94
Better utilisation of available resources
67
Suspension of students with disabilities
97
Opportunities for improvement
67
Home-schooling and distance education 93
Expulsion100
Chapter 7: Elimination of harassment and
victimisation
Impacts of suspension and expulsion
103
Opportunities for improvement
103
Recommendations104
69
Chapter 10: Use of restraint and seclusion 105
Standards for the elimination
of harassment and victimisation
69
Main findings
105
Main findings
70
Definitions
106
Experiences of discrimination
70
Experiences of parents and students
107
Experiences of bullying
72
Human rights considerations regarding
the use of restraint and seclusion
107
Frequency of physical restraint and
seclusion in Victorian schools
109
Educators’ descriptions
111
Parents’ reports of seclusion
112
How are allegations of restraint and
seclusion managed?
113
Training of educators
113
Current regulation of restrictive
practices in Victorian schools
116
Opportunities for improvement
118
Current efforts to eliminate harassment
and victimisation, including bullying
78
Opportunities for improvement
79
Recommendations80
Part 3: Specific issues of concern
93
Main findings
Recommendations68
Chapter 9: School attendance patterns of
students with disabilities
Chapter 8: Student support groups and
individual learning plans
81
82
Main findings
82
General experiences of consultation
82
Student support groups
83
Quality of consultation
85
Individual learning plans
87
Opportunities for improvement
91
Recommendations124
Recommendations92
5
Chapter 11: Transport
Main findings
125
125
Part 4: Removing barriers in the
system – building capacity
152
152
Chapter 14: Funding and resources
Transport policy and provision
for students with disabilities
125
Main findings
152
Student experiences
of accessing transport
127
Funding for students with disabilities
in Victorian government schools
152
Parent perspectives
127
The Program for Students with
Disabilities (PSD)
155
Eligibility for specialist
school buses – zoning rules
128
Parent experiences of the PSD
158
Opportunities for improvement
132
Problems identified by parents
and educators
159
Necessary adjustments are less
likely to be made if the student
does not attract PSD funding
163
Even if eligible, funding may still
be inadequate
164
Accountability for PSD funds
166
Opportunities for improvement
169
Recommendations134
Chapter 12: Transition points in education 135
Main findings
135
Continuity in meeting students needs
135
Opportunities for improvement
138
Recommendations139
Chapter 13: Complaints
140
Main findings
140
The DEECD complaints policy
141
Complaints handling in Catholic
and Independent schools
142
Recommendations170
Chapter 15: Building workforce capacity
171
Main findings
171
171
Workforce gaps in educating
students with disabilities
Complaints handling in
government schools
142
Educator experiences
172
Experiences of the complaints system
143
Reasons for not making a complaint
146
Training and support for
integration aides
173
Equipping educators before they
enter the classroom
175
Ongoing professional development
for educators
176
Recent initiatives in professional development and support
180
Opportunities for improvement
Relationships with the school
after making a complaint
147
Opportunities for improvement
148
Recommendations151
Recommendations
6
182
182
Chapter 16: Leadership and accountability 183
Main findings
183
Leadership in schools
183
Getting it right – it does happen,
it just needs to happen more often
186
Leadership by the department
187
Opportunities for improvement
190
Recommendations
191
Part 5: Response from the
Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development
192
Part 6: The Victorian Education System
194
Schools in Victoria
194
Laws regulating Victorian schools
195
Structure of the education system
196
State education policy and students
with disabilities
198
Federal education policy
200
Legal obligations
202
Appendices
208
208
Appendix 1: Participant profile
Educators208
Parents and carers
Students
209
213
Appendix 2: ‘Have a Say’ day locations
214
Appendix 3: Key informant interviews
215
Appendix 4: Submissions
216
Glossary
217
List of figures used in report
221
7
Executive Summary
A good education matters. Through their
experiences at school, children and young people
learn about themselves and the world in which
they live, as well as developing the skills and
competencies to prepare for further study and
work. A good education provides the foundation
that supports children and young people to be
active participants in their communities, find
fulfilling work and live a decent life.
When students with disabilities are unable to
enjoy a good education, their future is seriously
compromised. A poor education is one of the key
reasons why the economic and social participation
rate of Australians with disabilities is so low.
People with disabilities are less likely to have
completed Year 12 and are less likely to hold a
post-school qualification.1 They are also more
likely to be unemployed and have significantly less
income than others in the community.2 Indeed,
45 per cent of Australians with disabilities live in,
or near, poverty.
The Commission’s research has sought to
understand and report on the experiences of
students with disabilities in Victorian schools, across
government, Catholic and Independent schools and
in both mainstream and specialist settings.
We collected quantitative and qualitative data
through a detailed survey, ‘have a say’ day
consultations and a statewide phone-in, involving
1,827 educators, students with disabilities and their
parents. We also received 11 submissions from
organisations supporting people with disabilities.
From our research, it was clear that many individual
schools and many individual teachers are working
successfully to build inclusive school communities,
improving access to education for students with
disabilities and supporting them to achieve positive
educational outcomes. However, this good work is
not consistent across Victoria.
The quality of education that a student with
disability receives should not be determined by
the particular school that he or she attends or
the principal. Nor should it rely on the individual
teacher in the classroom. The Victorian school
system should be structured and funded to
support access to education for students of all
abilities, including students with a disability that
affects their ability to participate and learn. If we
do not cater for needs of these students, we are
denying them a place in society.
Challenges at the system level –
government schools
One of the key issues raised by parents and
educators in the Commission’s study is that the
criteria for targeted funding from the Department
of Education and Early Childhood Development
(DEECD) under the Program for Students with
Disabilities (PSD) means that not all students with
disabilities protected under anti-discrimination
legislation are eligible for this additional support.
In 2011, 20,883 students received PSD funding,
which equates to around 3.9 per cent of the
Victorian government school population.
However, our research indicates that there is a
large number of students with disabilities who
do not meet the criteria for PSD funding but who
still require additional support and individualised
teaching to maximise their educational outcomes.
1
2
Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Education’ Disability,
Australia, 2009 cat. no. 4446.0 <http://www.abs.gov.au/
ausstats/[email protected]/mf/4446.0>.
Ibid ‘Labour force’.
8 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
While DEECD states that the needs of these
students are to be addressed through the general
school budget, and a range of other supports
including the Language Support Program, student
support services and the Abilities Based Learning
and Education Support (ABLES) resource, this
approach requires individual schools to accept
these obligations and follow this policy. It also
requires planning and funding based on a clear
understanding of the total number of students
with disabilities, the schools they attend and the
supports they require.
The reality is that DEECD does not have the
systems in place to collect this information. This in
turn means that the appropriate planning cannot
be undertaken to strengthen the system as a whole
and to provide schools, teachers and students with
the support they need. Similar challenges around
data collection and service planning are also
evident in the Catholic system and Independent
schools sector.
DEECD has developed valuable guidance for
schools, which under the scheme, are required
to establish a student support group and prepare
an individual learning plan for each PSD-funded
student. However, our research has found that
implementation of PSD requirements can vary from
school to school and there is no system in place to
ensure that these requirements are always met or
that students with disabilities are making progress
towards their educational goals.
The Commission welcomes the additional funding
and activities that will be delivered in Victorian
schools under the Australian Government’s More
Support for Students with Disabilities initiative.
However, we recognise that this is a two-year
program and that questions remain regarding the
program’s long-term sustainability.
Challenges at the school level
• it does not know if these work, as there appears
to be no means to assess the results of these
interventions/approaches or to measure
the educational progress of students with
disabilities
Under state and federal anti-discrimination
laws, Victorian schools have a legal requirement
to ensure that students with disabilities can
participate in education on the same basis as other
students. The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010
not only makes it unlawful to discriminate against
a student based on their disability, it also creates a
positive duty for schools to take reasonable steps
to eliminate discrimination as much as possible.
This means that all Victorian schools and staff must
be proactive to prevent discrimination.
• it does not know if these interventions/
approaches are being implemented in all
schools, as this data is not collected
Victorian government schools also have specific
obligations under the Charter of Human Rights
and Responsibilities Act 2006.
• it does not know how schools are performing
in relation to inclusion and non-discrimination,
as there is no feedback mechanism to engage
schools or parents at a system level.
In addition, the Disability Standards for Education
2005 (the Standards) clarify the obligations under
the federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992
and provide guidance on five areas: enrolment;
participation; curriculum development, accreditation
and delivery; Student Support Services; and the
elimination of harassment and victimisation. All
schools are bound by the Standards.
Further, while DEECD has policies, guidelines and
support in place for the government school system
to meet the needs of students with disabilities, our
study indicates that:
Further, there is no means to reliably measure
whether PSD funding when provided is delivering
the best possible outcomes for students receiving
the program’s support.
Executive Summary 9
Our study found that 40 per cent of educators
were unaware of the Standards and how these
translate into school and classroom practice. As
a consequence, too many Victorian schools, both
mainstream and specialist, are failing to provide
the services and support that students with
disabilities need for a decent education.
For example, more than half the parents we
surveyed said that that their child had not been
able to fully participate at school because the
necessary support, such as integration aides or
a specialist service, was not available or because
teachers lacked the time or capacity to adjust their
classroom practice to accommodate the student.
The Commission is deeply concerned that, as a
result, some students with disabilities may only
attend school on a part-time basis and that some
parents are using their financial resources to provide
specialist supports in schools to address gaps
in the system. Under the law and DEECD policy,
neither situation should be allowed to happen.
During the course of our research, a number of
parents and students also spoke about:
• being explicitly refused enrolment in a school
or, more often, being subtly informed that the
school would not be able to accommodate the
student’s needs
• being denied participation in external
assessments, such as NAPLAN (National
Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy),
or not receiving the necessary adjustments to
participate fully in exams and assessments,
especially the VCE (Victorian Certificate of
Education)
• being denied equal access to attend excursions,
school camps or other extracurricular activities
• student support group meetings taking place
infrequently or haphazardly and individual
learning plans not being developed in a timely
fashion or to an acceptable standard
• poor planning and inadequate sharing of
information when students with disabilities go
through transition points in their education
• struggling to find regular, convenient and
accessible transport to attend school
• discriminatory attitudes expressed by a small
number of teachers.
Students with disabilities living in rural and regional
Victoria experienced particular disadvantage in
accessing the necessary support to participate fully
at school, such as integration aides, occupational
therapists, speech therapists and other specialists,
given the limited availability of these professional
services outside metropolitan Melbourne.
We also heard numerous examples of
sustained bullying and harassment of students
with disabilities. The problem appears to be
widespread, with almost two-thirds of students and
parents who responded to the survey reporting
that they or their child had been bullied at school.
These experiences can profoundly shape a
student’s sense of self-worth and inclusion in
their school community, as well as undermine
their participation at school and their educational
outcomes.
The risk of being bullied is even greater for
students with disabilities from Indigenous or
culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)
backgrounds. These students and their families
also face additional barriers when it comes to
communicating with schools and navigating the
education system to identify and advocate for
necessary supports and adjustments.
In addition, the Commission received reports from
some parents about restrictive interventions being
used in schools, including the use of restraint and
seclusion in locked rooms or other spaces, as a
behaviour management tool.
It is important to note that although DEECD policy
requires restraint to be reported, although DEECE
policy require resistant to be reported, there is no
legal requirement for a teacher or school in Victoria
to report the use of restraint or seclusion of a
student. This means that there is no reliable data
on how frequently these practices occur, why they
are used or the impact they have.
Nor is there any independent oversight of such
practices. Adults using disability services enjoy the
independent oversight of the Office of the Senior
Practitioner when restrictive interventions are
contemplated or used, yet children in our schools
do not.
A number of parents said they had complained to
the school about issues involving their child. Some
expressed dissatisfaction about the complaints
process, which is primarily resolved at the school
level without an impartial third party. Many did not
think it made any difference, and that legitimate
concerns were often ignored. Other parents said
they were fearful of repercussions for themselves
or their child if they complained.
Further, complaints data is not recorded at a
regional or statewide level, which means that
emerging or systemic issues involving students
with disabilities in either government, Catholic
or Independent schools cannot be identified or
addressed.
10 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Building more inclusive schools
The Commission’s report includes a series of
practical and focused recommendations that
seek to respond to the key issues highlighted
by students with disabilities, their parents and
educators.
Victorian teachers want to get things right for
students with disabilities, and many of them are,
but there is more to be done. There are numerous
examples of good work taking place in schools
across Victoria to include students with disabilities
and maximise their educational outcomes. In nearly
all cases, strong leadership from the top down,
combined with a whole-of-school commitment
to disability issues, were the primary drivers
in developing an inclusive culture. Where this
happened, students with disabilities were likely to
enjoy a positive learning environment and achieve
good educational outcomes.
Parents were acutely aware that many teachers
just did not have the time, training and funding
to deliver the best education to all students.
However, many parents also shared a concern
that accountability for meeting agreed educational
outcomes for students with disabilities rests at the
school level.
While local management of schools makes
sense, a balance needs to be struck to ensure
appropriate levels of accountability. Accordingly,
this report includes recommendations to bolster
existing external monitoring mechanisms to audit
the performance of schools in this area using
identified benchmarks.
In addition, attention must be given to ensuring
sufficient professional support is available in
regional Victoria and that the workforce reflects
and responds to the cultural diversity of the
students and families accessing those services.
It is also clear that a significant proportion of
educators require information on their legal
obligation to accommodate students with
disabilities in their classrooms, along with practical
training on how to translate these requirements into
their teaching practice and to make individualised
adjustments. Professional support for educators
is therefore critical to ensure that students with
disabilities are not unfairly disadvantaged.
Discrimination against students with disabilities
takes different forms. However, in many cases,
discrimination is grounded in negative attitudes
towards disability and the failure to set high
expectations for these students. This can
significantly limit the potential of these young
people, both now and in the future.
All children and young people, no matter what their
ability, have a right to education. They have right
to a school system that meets their educational
needs. They have a right to achieve and not be
held back. This report seeks to provide a pathway
towards that.
Inclusive schools require a teacher workforce that
is properly equipped to meet the learning needs
of all students in their classrooms. Over half of
the educators surveyed said they did not have the
support, training and resources they needed to
teach students with disabilities well.
To achieve this, pre-service training at university
and ongoing professional development programs
require a stronger focus on understanding and
teaching students with disabilities, across the full
range of disabilities.
Additional support and resources are also needed
in our schools. For example, there is a clear
lack of specialist support staff and they are in
high demand across all schools. This requires
significant workforce planning, which needs to be
undertaken in partnership with allied health sectors
and based on robust data on the prevalence of
students with disabilities across Victoria’s school
system.
Executive Summary 11
Recommendations
That noting the findings of this research, that:
Chapter 3: Enrolment
1. All Victorian schools collect and report data
on the number and proportion of students for
whom disability will affect education outcomes,
refused enrolment, and that the relevant
education authority publish annual aggregate
data using this information.
2. Consistent with the recommendations of the
Report of the Review of Disability Standards
for Education 2005, that education authorities
provide a plain language guide for parents and
schools setting out enrolment rights of students
with disability. This should clearly state that
students with disabilities must not be refused
enrolment solely because they are ineligible
for targeted funding under state or federal
schemes.
Chapter 4: Participation
3. Mindful of the recommendations of the Report
of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005, that, as a matter of urgency,
the Victorian Student Number is enhanced
to enable the measurement of educational
outcomes of students with disabilities in
government schools.
4. Education authorities hold an annual round of
parent and student feedback forums across
Victoria to gather feedback on participation of
students with disabilities in schools, and that
this feedback is publicly reported along with
actions to respond to it.
Chapter 5: Curriculum development and
assessment
Noting the findings of the Report of the Review
of Disability Standards for Education 2005 and
Victorian Auditor-General’s audit of programs for
students with special learning needs, that:
5. Building on existing efforts, that the breadth
and depth of curriculum and practice materials
available to teachers to educate students with
a range of disabilities be enhanced. Further,
that monitoring be undertaken by education
authorities to make sure these are reflected in
teaching practice.
6. All Victorian schools conduct regular audits
of venues used for school camps and other
educational activities to ensure they are
accessible to students with a wide range of
disabilities, including intellectual, sensory and
other disabilities.
7. The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment
Authority establish a working group with the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
to formulate a simpler process for seeking
and making adjustments for students with
disability in Victorian Certificate of Education
examinations. That this working party address
inconsistencies in adjustments between inschool and Victorian Certificate of Education
examinations; and remove any existing
anomalies that may give rise to discrimination.
This working group should include experts
from various fields of disability, including
augmented communication and use of
technological advances to facilitate access.
8. Mindful of the recommendations of the Report
of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005, that data collected by the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development on the number and proportion of
students with disabilities eligible for NAPLAN
testing who are absented from testing be
published in the department’s annual report.
12 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 6: Support services
Noting the findings of the Victorian AuditorGeneral’s audit of programs for students with
special learning needs, that:
9. The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development annually publish
data on the demand and supply of student
support officers in each region, and that this
baseline data inform workforce planning and
improved provision of support to students with
disabilities in schools.
10.The Department of Health and the Department
of Education and Early Childhood Development
work together to consolidate and promote
allied health workforce development and
planning in regional Victoria, so that current
unmet need for specialist support officers in
Victorian schools is addressed. This workforce
planning should also address the underrepresentation of Indigenous allied health
professionals among student support officers
in Victorian schools.
Chapter 7: Harassment and victimisation
Noting the findings and recommendations of the
Report of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005, that:
11.Education authorities develop and implement
specialised programs in schools to target and
address bullying on the basis of disability.
12.The annual government school Attitude to
School Survey include a specific question
measuring the incidence or witnessing of
disability-based bullying. That this baseline
data then be used to track improvements in
the prevention of, and response to, targeted
bullying. Catholic education authorities and
Independent schools should undertake
the same data collection and performance
measurement using relevant student surveys.
13.Professional development courses for educators
include specific training on identifying,
preventing and responding to bullying based on
disability (or other personal characteristic).
14.Departmental guidelines for student support
groups and individual learning plans be
amended to include consideration of proactive
anti-bullying strategies for students with
disability at risk of bullying.
Chapter 8: Student support groups and
individual learning plans
Noting the findings of the Report of the Review of
Disability Standards for Education 2005 and the
Victorian Auditor-General’s audit of programs for
students with special learning needs, that:
15.Individual learning plans be mandatory
for students whose disability affects their
education regardless of whether they are
eligible for targeted funding.
16.Educational authorities, at a regional or
diocese level undertake a review of a random
sample of individual learning plans (and
student support group records) to ensure
these are of a satisfactory standard and
are achieving educational outcomes for the
student. Further, that the Victorian Registration
and Qualifications Authority inspect a similar
random sample as part of the cyclical review
of Independent schools and require the same
in government and Catholic school reviews.
Chapter 9: Part time attendance
17.Education authorities collect and annually
publish aggregate data on the number of
suspensions and expulsions of students with
disabilities from schools.
18.All Victorian schools report on the number of
suspensions and expulsions of students with
disability as part of their cyclical review to
maintain registration as a school.
19.Noting that some Victorian schools already
have a ‘no suspension or expulsion of students
with disability’ policy, that this approach be
examined by relevant education authorities with
a view to mandating this in all schools.
20.Noting the findings of the Report of the
Review of Disability Standards for Education
2005, and the Victorian Auditor-General’s
audit of programs for students with special
learning needs, that any reduced attendance
arrangements for a student with disability be
consistent with Victorian laws, be time limited;
accompanied by a return to school plan and:
a. approved by the student support group;
b.recorded in the student’s individual learning
plan;
c.in government schools, that this individual
learning plan be submitted to the regional
disability coordinator so they may monitor
the student’s return to school.
Recommendations 13
21.Government schools submit data to the Student
Wellbeing Division, Department of Education
and Early Childhood Development on the
number, type, frequency, length and reason
for reduced attendance patterns of students
with disabilities as part of the mid-year school
census and that this information be published
in aggregate form in the department’s annual
report. In the first instance, this could relate to
students eligible for Program for Students with
Disabilities funding, and thereafter all students
with disabilities.
22.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development and the Department of
Human Services develop a protocol for sharing
information regarding students with disabilities
on reduced attendance arrangements, and
those excluded or frequently suspended
from school. This should be developed in
consultation with the Privacy Commissioner
and the Child Safety Commissioner.
23.The Department of Human Services and the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development work together to improve
consistency in behaviour supports for students
with disabilities.
Chapter 10: Restrictive interventions
Noting the findings of the Report of the Review of
Disability Standards for Education 2005, and the
Victorian Auditor-General’s audit of programs for
students with special learning needs, that:
24.The use of restrictive interventions in Victorian
schools be regulated in the following manner:
a) That the Education and Training Reform
Act 2006 and the Disability Act 2006 be
amended to provide that regulation of
restrictive interventions in Victorian schools
(including Catholic and Independent
schools) be transferred to the jurisdiction
of the Office of the Senior Practitioner,
Department of Human Services. This is
the Commission’s preferred option.
b) That, in the interim, the DEECD Restraint
of Student Policy be amended to expressly
state that:
• The use of seclusion in government
schools is prohibited
• Whenever a restrictive intervention is
used by a school that the parent must be
notified
• Whenever a restrictive intervention is
used the student support group be
convened to review the incident and put
in place a plan to minimise the risk of
such an intervention being used again.
• Parents have the right to bring an
independent third person or expert to the
student support group to consider the
incident.
• If restrictive interventions are
contemplated that these are included in
the student’s individual learning plan,
and that this must be submitted to the
regional disability coordinator.
• Whenever a restrictive intervention used,
it must be reported as a critical incident
to the Emergency Management Unit,
Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, and that this
critical incident report must be passed to
the Student Wellbeing Division so that they
may monitor the frequency of restrictive
interventions in government schools.
and, that the Catholic Education Office
develop and implement a policy on restrictive
interventions, consistent with the DEECD
Restraint of Student Policy (as amended above).
25.The WorkSafe Guide to challenging behaviour
risk prevention in specialist schools be revised
in consultation with the Office of the Senior
Practitioner to ensure consistency with rights
protected by the Charter of Human Rights
and Responsibilities Act 2006 and antidiscrimination laws.
26.The Education and Training Reform Act 2006
be amended to provide that any student
subject to a restrictive intervention must have
a positive behaviour plan put into place and its
implementation monitored.
27.That, building on the Principals’ Association
of Specialist Schools project on effectively
responding to challenging and extreme
behaviour, the Office of the Senior Practitioner
on-line behaviour plan tool be adapted for use
in all Victorian schools.
28.Noting that positive behaviour support is more
effective, that schools report to the relevant
education authority, the name and details of
organisations providing training to school staff
on behaviour management, including where
such training includes use of restraint and
seclusion. This information should include
details on the training courses or modules
proposed and delivered.
14 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 11: Transport
29.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development allow students who
reside outside the designated transport area
for a specialist school to be eligible for bus
transport where the student is enrolled at that
school in order to maximise participation in
education consistent with anti-discrimination
laws or in other circumstances relating to the
best interests of the child.
30.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development remove the
requirement that a student must attend a
specialist school six days per fortnight in order
to be eligible for transport assistance as this
discriminates against students with disabilities
attending less than three days per week.
31.Consistent with the dignity and rights of
students with disabilities, that the Department
of Education and Early Childhood Development
reduce the maximum travel period on specialist
school buses to one hour each way.
32.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development mandate that all
schools must provide disability awareness,
equal opportunity law and Charter training
for all specialist school bus drivers and
chaperones, as part of their induction and
ongoing professional development.
Chapter 12: Transition points in education
Noting the findings and recommendations of the
Report of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005, that:
33.Building upon existing guidance, the capacity
of individual learning plans to improve
transitions is enhanced through dedicated
professional development opportunities and
through the auditing of individual learning
plans as identified at recommendation 16.
34.The Early Childhood Intervention Service
provide an enhanced navigation and advocacy
role for students with disability seeking to enrol
at their first school, and that in order to ensure
effective transition the ECIS support children
with disability for the first year of schooling.
36.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development investigate if any
systemic patterns of reductions in funding
under Program for Students with Disabilities
are occurring for students transitioning from
primary to secondary school, publicly report
on these findings and take action to prevent
unreasonable reductions in funding.
Chapter 13: Complaints
Noting the findings and recommendations of the
Report of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005 and the Victorian Auditor-General’s
audit of programs for students with special
learning needs, that:
37.In all Victorian schools, parent and student
information materials regarding complaints be
updated to include a clear statement of rights
and obligations under anti-discrimination laws.
38.The Department of Education and Childhood
Development include training in alternative
dispute resolution for school principals
and regional staff who have responsibility
for handling complaints, and that Catholic
Education Offices and Independent Schools
Victoria develop similar training for school
principals.
39.All complaints regarding government schools
escalated to a regional or head office level be
considered by a panel of persons that includes
an independent person, and in the case of a
student with disability, an independent person
with expertise in disability issues.
40. All government school complaints regarding
students from vulnerable groups, including
Indigenous students with disabilities be
referred for expert input and monitoring, for
example from the Koori Education Unit in the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development.
41.All government schools be required to submit
data on the nature and type of complaints
received each year, and that this aggregate
data be published on a regional and
state-wide basis.
35.Existing programs to support effective
transition from primary to secondary school,
and post-school options be enhanced,
including allowance for longer periods for
transition support for students with disabilities.
Recommendations 15
Chapter 14: Funding and resources
42.Noting the findings and recommendations
of the Report of the Review of Disability
Standards for Education 2005 and the Victorian
Auditor-General’s audit of programs for
students with special learning needs, that the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development introduce key performance
indicators for the Program for Students
with Disabilities that are tied to educational
outcomes. That these outcomes are measured
in the first instance through a random audit of
individual learning plans, and thereafter using
an enhanced Victorian Student Number.
43.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development undertake a review of
eligibility criteria and the Educational Needs
Questionnaire for the Program for Students with
Disabilities to identify and remove any inherent
bias against specific types and manifestations
of disability.
44.The Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines require schools to provide a clear
report to parents on how funding allocated to
the school is being used to make reasonable
adjustments for the student, and that this
information be included in plain language in
the student’s individual learning plan agreed
with the parent.
Chapter 15: Workforce capacity
Noting the findings and recommendations of the
Report of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005 and the Victorian Auditor-General’s
audit of programs for students with special
learning needs, that:
45.All undergraduate teacher courses provide a
core subject dedicated to disability awareness,
curriculum and pedagogy modifications
to maximise participation by students with
disability and legal obligations of teachers
under anti-discrimination laws.
47.The current roll-out of training to Victorian
government schools regarding legal obligations
under anti-discrimination laws extend beyond
the existing two-year funding commitment, and
that this training specifically include making
adjustments across the entire curriculum,
including participation in camps, excursions
and other extra education activities. That similar
training also be provided to staff in Catholic and
Independent schools by the appropriate body.
Chapter 16: Leadership and accountability
48.The Victorian Registration and Qualifications
Authority examine the following in school
registration reviews and inspections:
a)sample of individual learning plans and
student support group minutes
b)data on educational outcomes for students
with disabilities enrolled at the school
c)evidence of whole-of-school professional
development on compliance with the antidiscrimination laws, including the positive
duty to eliminate discrimination as far as
possible and, in the case of government
schools, the Charter of Human Rights and
Responsibilities Act 2006
d)incident records regarding use of seclusion
and restraint
e) complaint data.
49.The inclusion of key performance indicators on
participation and outcomes for students with
disabilities in all school principals’ performance
development plans.
50.The School Review Guidelines be amended
to provide that where a government school
has students with disabilities enrolled that the
critical friends appointed to conduct a school
review must include a person with expertise in
relevant disabilities.
46.Building on existing leading practice, that all
government schools be required to develop
and implement a whole-of-school professional
development program on disability awareness,
inclusive education and use of individual
learning plans as part of the Accountability
and Improvement Framework for Victorian
Government Schools. That all Catholic and
Independent schools develop similar whole-ofschool professional development programs.
16 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Pageheader - head
Part 1: Background
Chapter 1: About the research
Aim of the project
Through this project, the Victorian Equal Opportunity
and Human Rights Commission (the Commission)
has sought to comprehend the broad range of
experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian
schools. Our aim is to use this research to shape
future work aimed at eliminating discrimination and
promoting human rights in schools.
This project focused on hearing directly from the
people who are involved in schools. This meant
listening to students, parents and educators from
government, Independent and Catholic schools,
including both mainstream and specialist schools.
We wanted to hear about all aspects of students’
experiences of school, such as enrolling at school,
getting to and from school, their experiences
in the classroom, assessments and support to
participate in school life.
Ultimately, we wanted to understand what is
working for students with disabilities so that we
can support schools to promote best practice.
We also wanted to understand what is not working
so that we can understand how discrimination in
education occurs and how it can be prevented.
The Commission’s interest in the issue
Education is both a human right in itself and
an indispensable means of realizing other
human rights.3
Education is recognised as a human right at
international law. It is a means of overcoming social
and economic marginalisation and is a foundation
for achieving other human rights. As the major
provider of education in our state, schools have the
potential to be the champions of human rights for
children and young people in Victoria.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities makes it clear that people
with disabilities have the right to education.4 Other
international laws, including the Convention on the
Rights of the Child and the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also
protect the rights of children with disabilities.5
Australia has obligations under each of these
treaties.
3
4
5
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
General Comment no. 13: The right to education, 21st
sess., E/C.12/1999/10 (8 December 1999) 1.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
opened for signature 30 March 2007, A/RES/61/106,
art. 24 (entered into force 3 May 2008).
Convention on the Rights of the Child opened for
signature 20 November 1989 (entered into force 2
September 1990) arts 28–29; International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, opened for
signature on 19 December 1966, 999 UNTS 3, art. 13
(entered into force 3 January 1976).
Part 1: Background 17
In addition, the federal Disability Discrimination
Act 1992 and the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act
2010 make disability discrimination in education
unlawful. However, evidence suggests that these
rights are not always fully realised in Australia.
For example, according to 2009 data, people
with disabilities are less likely to have completed
Year 12 and are less likely to hold a post-school
qualification.6 Twenty-six per cent of people with a
disability do not go beyond Year 10, compared to
18 per cent of people without a disability.7
The 2009 data indicates that people with
disabilities are also more likely to be unemployed
and have significantly less income than people
who did not report disability.8 Indeed, 45 per
cent of people with disabilities live in or near
poverty, more than 2.5 times the rate of poverty
experienced by the general population and more
than double the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average.9
Common sense tells us that improving levels of
educational attainment is central to improving the
lives of people with disabilities, as well benefiting
the whole community. All Australian governments
have acknowledged this through the current
National Disability Strategy.10 This link has also
been acknowledged in the Victorian Draft State
Disability Plan 2013–2016, which notes that:11
The wellbeing and progress of society as
a whole is diminished when people with
a disability do not have opportunities
to fully develop their gifts and abilities
through education.11
How the project came about
Each year the Commission receives a significant
number of complaints about disability
discrimination in education. In 2010–11 the
Commission received 64 such complaints, this rose
to 86 complaints in 2011–12.12 During this period,
several parents, advocacy groups and members
of the Commission’s Disability Reference Group
approached the Commission to raise concerns
about the experiences of students with disabilities
in schools. This included concerns about students
being pushed into part-time attendance or homeschooling; concerns about the Program for
Students with Disabilities (PSD); a perceived failure
to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate
students with disabilities; the use of restraint in
schools; and grievance processes within the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development (DEECD).
The Commission’s functions include activities
to eliminate discrimination and promote human
rights. This includes supporting schools to
understand and deliver on their obligations under
equal opportunity legislation and for government
schools to meet their obligations under the Charter
of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
In order to do this, the Commission needs to
understand what schools are doing well and where
they can struggle to meet their equal opportunity
and human rights obligations.
The Commission wrote to the department
seeking information about the experiences of
students with disabilities. We received some
information but felt that there were gaps in our
knowledge of the experience of students with
disabilities in Victorian schools.
As a result, the Commission had a keen interest
in hearing directly from students with disabilities,
their parents and educators about their
experiences in schools in order to supplement
the information DEECD was able to provide.
6
7
Australian Bureau of Statistics, above n 1,‘Education’.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010, Survey of
education training and experience 2009: state and
territory Australian tables, ‘Table 8: Persons aged
15–64 years, selected characteristics – by level of
highest educational attainment, Victoria’, cat. no.
6278.0.55, ABS, Canberra, cited in State of Victoria,
Draft Disability Plan 2013–2016 (2012) 13.
8 Australian Bureau of Statistics, above n 1, ‘Labour
force’.
9PricewaterhouseCoopers, Disability expectations:
Investing in a better life, a stronger Australia (2011) 9.
10 Commonwealth of Australia, National Disability Strategy
2010–2020: an initiative of the Council of Australian
Governments (2011) 53.
11 State of Victoria, Draft State Disability Plan 2013–2016
(2012) 13.
12 Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights
Commission, Statistics 2011/12. Not all of these
complaints related to schools.
18 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Context for the research
Student population with disabilities
There are nearly 542,000 students in Victorian
government schools.13 DEECD estimates that
20 per cent of these students have difficulties
learning.14 Disability can be one of the factors
contributing to this. In common with other
Australian jurisdictions within this group of
students, there is a subset who are eligible for
individual targeted funding. In Victoria the funding
is called the Program for Students with Disabilities
(PSD). In 2011, 20,883 students received PSD
funding. That is around 3.9 per cent of the
government school population.15
Indigenous students are over-represented in the
PSD population, with 3.6 per cent of PSD eligible
students being Indigenous, compared to 1.6 per
cent of the Victorian school population being
Indigenous.16
Catholic schools have experienced significant
growth in enrolment of students with disabilities in
the past decade. The number of students receiving
targeted funding based on disability in the Catholic
system in Victoria has increased from 3,273
students in 2001 to around 8,200 students in 2012.
That is around 4.2 per cent of the total Catholic
school student population. The Catholic Education
Commission Victoria estimates that another 10 per
cent of students require adjustments under antidiscrimination law.17
13 At March 2012 there were 194,108 students in
Catholic schools in Victoria and 123,120 students in
Independent schools. State of Victoria, Department of
Education and Early Childhood Development, Summary
Statistics for Victorian Schools (March 2012). <http://
www.education.vic.gov.au/about/publications/newsinfo/
factsandfigures.htm> at 28 June 2012.
14<http://www.audit.vic.gov.au/audits_in_progress/audits_
details.aspx#learning> at 5 July 2012.
15 Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Summary Statistics for Victorian Schools
(March 2012)’, above n 13.
16 That is 3.6 per cent of the 3.9 per cent of all
government school students who are eligible for this
funding. Information provided to the Commission by
Student Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD
13 August 2012.
17 Catholic Education Commission Victoria and
Commonwealth, Catholic Education Commission
Victoria Ltd (CECV), Implementation Plan for the More
Support for Students with Disabilities Initiative: National
Partnership Agreement for More Support for Students
with Disabilities (2012) 10.
In 2011, 171 Victorian Independent schools
received targeted funding from the Australian
Government to support over 2,079 students with
disabilities.18 This represents 1.7 per cent of the
total Independent school population in Victoria.19
However, as noted by Independent Schools
Victoria, ‘[t]he number of Victorian Independent
school students who would meet the definition of
disability under the Disability Discrimination Act
would be substantially greater’.20
Policy context
Both the Victorian Government and the Australian
Government have implemented policies and
programs that address the education of students
with disabilities. These policies and programs
often change, as governments seek to respond
to students’ current and future needs. Mindful
that policies can change, the following is a brief
description of the policy context for this project.
More detailed discussion of the policy environment
is provided in Part 6.
Inclusive education policy in Victorian schools
Victorian government schools operate under
the principle of inclusive education. This
acknowledges that vulnerable students and
students with disabilities require support to
participate at school. In many cases, teachers
can provide this support through adjusting their
teaching methods and focusing on an individual
approach to learning. However, some students
need significant adjustments or intensive support
to access education.
DEECD’s efforts to ensure government schools are
inclusive are made up of several components. One
component is in general learning and teaching;
that is, resourced through the school’s general
budget, including the student resource package
and teacher professional development.
18 Independent Schools Victoria and Commonwealth,
Victorian Independent Implementation Plan for the
More Support for Students with Disabilities Initiative:
National Partnership Agreement for More Support for
Students with Disabilities (2012) 3.
19 In 2011 there were 123,120 students enrolled in
215 Independent schools in Victoria. Department
of Education and Early Childhood Development,
‘Summary Statistics for Victorian Schools (March
2012)’, above n 13.
20 Independent Schools Victoria and Commonwealth,
above n 18, 3.
Part 1: Background 19
The inclusive education policy also supports
services and programs targeted at students with
disabilities. These include:
The most recent data for Victorian government
schools shows the following profile of disability
among those students in receipt of PSD funding.
• a specialist workforce, such as student support
officers, allied health staff, visiting teachers,
Primary Welfare Officers and autism coaches
The PSD and other funding issues are discussed in
more detail in Chapter 14.22
• services, such as intellectual disability and
severe language disorder assessment testing
services, Statewide Vision Resource Centre,
Education Vision Assessment clinic and
transport provision to specialist schools
Additional Commonwealth funding for
students with disabilities
• programs, including the Language Support
Program funding given directly to schools
and targeted funding through the PSD. Other
program responses include specialist schools
and specialist units in mainstream schools.21
The PSD is the vehicle for providing additional
funding for students that DEECD considers face
additional difficulties accessing education and
whose needs cannot be met through the range
of universal supports resourced by the school’s
general budget and educational resources
and materials targeted at supporting schools.
Eligibility for the PSD is based on seven categories
of disability and is targeted to students with
moderate-to-high needs for educational support.
In May 2011 the Commonwealth Government
announced a short-term initiative to provide
additional funding in 2012 and 2013 to support
students with disabilities in government and nongovernment schools. The Victorian Government
committed to specific strategies, with several
targeted at providing teacher professional
development and support in educating students with
disabilities.23 The Catholic Education Commission
of Victoria and Independent Schools Victoria also
submitted implementation plans under this initiative.24
Figure 1: Number of students eligible for PSD funding by disability type 2008–1222
Disability category
2008
2009
2010
2011
Proportion of government
school enrolments (2011)
Autism spectrum disorder
3,028
3,604
4,103
4,396
0.8%
Hearing impairment
600
603
601
608
0.1%
Intellectual disability
12,003
12,583
13,066
13,392
2.5%
Physical disability
1,081
1,072
1,049
976
0.2%
Severe behaviour disorder
824
891
1,070
1,141
0.2%
Severe language disorder
(with critical educational needs)
234
262
284
263
0.05%
Vision impairment
101
101
97
107
0.02%
17,871
19,115
20,269
20,883
3.9%
Total students with PSD
21 Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD 21
November 2011.
22 Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD
19 June 2012.
23 Victoria and Commonwealth, Victoria’s Implementation
Plan for the More Support for Students with Disabilities
Initiative: National Partnership Agreement for More
Support for Students with Disabilities (2012) 6–7.
<http://www.federalfinancialrelations.gov.au/content/
national_partnership_agreements/education.aspx>
at 8 July 2012.
24 More detail about each of these three agreements is
provided in Part 6.
20 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Through the More Support for Students with
Disabilities initiative, the Australian Government
will provide an additional $47.8 million in funding
to Victoria over the next two years. Of this,
$37.2 million will go to the government school
systems, $8.1 million will go to the Catholic system
and $2.5 million will go to Independent schools.25
The Australian Government also provides funding
to Catholic and Independent schools generally, as
well as through specific funding allocations under
the federal Program for Students with Disabilities.
However, this funding is much lower than the state
system’s PSD.26
Commonwealth review of school funding
In April 2010, the Commonwealth Government
initiated a comprehensive review of funding
arrangements for Australian schools (the Gonski
Review). The Review Panel delivered its final report
in December 2011.27 The government’s response
was announced on 3 September 2012.
The panel recommended that, in the future, the
costs of supporting students with disabilities
should be included as an additional ‘loading’
within the Schooling Resource Standard in both
government and non-government schools.28
This loading would be calculated based on data
on the prevalence of disability and the level of
adjustments needed by students with disabilities.
However, to achieve this, a common definition
of disability needs to be agreed and modelling
undertaken on the value of such a loading.
The Council of Australian Governments is currently
developing a nationally consistent reporting tool
on adjustments made for students with disabilities,
bringing the definition of disability into line with the
Disability Discrimination Act.29
This work recognises that states and territories
have inconsistent definitions of disability and are
not keeping consistent data.
25 See <http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/Programs/
Documents/VIC_MSSD_Factsheet.pdf> at 12 July 2012.
26 More detail about funding is provided in Chapter 14.
27 Australian Government, Final Report of the Review of
School Funding (2012). See <http://www.schoolfunding.
gov.au/node/7> at 28 June 2012.
28 The School Resource Standard is the amount of
global funding provided to schools by the Australian
Government. This differs from the Student Resource
Package which is the term used to describe a
government school’s budget in Victorian schools.
29 See <http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/Programs/
Pages/swdtrial.aspx> at 11 July 2011.
From May to July 2011, the new reporting tool
was trialled in 150 schools across Australia.
The trial required schools to report on the number
of students with a diagnosed or verified disability
(using the definition provided by the Disability
Discrimination Act), the level adjustments provided
for these students (from no adjustments made
to extensive adjustments) and supplementary
information about each child’s disability under four
categories (physical, cognitive, sensory, social/
emotional). The trial found that the model was
valid, easy to use and suitable for collecting
consistent data.30
While this new model does not affect funding,
it might provide nationally consistent data that
could inform changes to funding, such as those
recommended in the Gonski Review.
Draft State Disability Plan 2013–2016
Consultation on the draft State Disability Plan
2013–2016 is currently underway and the plan will
be finalised by the end of 2012. The draft plan
identifies education as one of the foundations for a
good life, and has a clear commitment to improving
the participation and educational outcomes of
students with disabilities.
The draft plan has prioritised education as one of
its four leading areas for action over the next few
years. It includes a specific objective to ‘strengthen
the capacity of universal education and learning
services to respond to the needs and aspirations
of people with a disability’ and sets out a series of
high-level principles and outcomes.31 These will be
built on through a series of biennial implementation
plans that will contain more specific actions and
measures for work in this area.
Legal context
Victorian legislation
The Equal Opportunity Act and the Charter form
the legal context to this research. Under the Equal
Opportunity Act, schools must not discriminate
against students with disabilities.32 They must
make reasonable adjustments to allow students
with disabilities to participate in educational
programs.33 Schools also have a positive duty to
eliminate discrimination as far as possible.34
30PricewaterhouseCoopers, Trial of a model for collecting
nationally consistent data on school students with
disability (2011) 1–2.
31 State of Victoria, ‘Draft State Disability Plan’,
above n 11, 24.
32 Equal Opportunity Act 2010 s 38.
33 Equal Opportunity Act 2010 s 40.
34 Equal Opportunity Act 2010 s 15.
Part 1: Background 21
Under the Charter, government schools have an
obligation to consider, promote and protect human
rights when they deliver services.35 All Victorians
have rights under the Charter, including the right to
protection from discrimination. In addition, children
have a right to protection in their best interests.
Commonwealth legislation
The Disability Discrimination Act also makes it
unlawful to discriminate against a student with
disability in education.
The Disability Standards for Education 2005 (the
Standards) clarify the obligations of education
and training providers to ensure that students with
disabilities are able to access and participate
in education and training on the same basis as
those without disabilities. They are organised into
five areas: enrolment; participation; curriculum
development, accreditation and delivery;
Student Support Services; and harassment and
victimisation.
The Standards provide practical guidance
about the upholding the rights of students with
disabilities under the Disability Discrimination Act
and place responsibilities on education providers
to make reasonable changes to accommodate
the needs of students with disabilities. They also
require education providers to establish strategies
to prevent and respond to harassment directed at
students with disabilities.
Review of the Disability Standards for
Education 2005
The Review of Disability Standards for Education
2005 ( the review) was undertaken to determine
whether the Standards remain an efficient
mechanism for Government to achieve the
objectives of the Disability Discrimination Act in the
education sector.
As part of the review, written submissions were
received from organisations and individuals across
the country, and national roundtable discussions
were held with key stakeholders and representative
bodies.36
The review considered whether, within a
contemporary education context, the Standards
were clarifying obligations for education providers,
students and families, assisting students to access
and participate in education, and contributing
35 Independent and Catholic schools are not bound
by the Charter. Charter of Human Rights and
Responsibilities Act 2006 s 4(c).
36 See <http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/Programs/
Pages/disabilitystandardsforeducation.aspx> at 15
August 2012.
to ending discrimination against students with
disability.
A report was prepared on the findings and
recommendations of the review and released
in August 2012. 37 Many of the issues raised in
that report are considered in the Commission’s
research.
The review found:
In spite of the intent of the Standards,
some reported that ongoing discrimination
and a lack of awareness across all areas
on education continues to be an extremely
significant area of concern for students
with disability and their families. Many
families reported that, through their
education experiences, their children
are subjected to: limited opportunities;
low expectations; exclusion; bullying;
discrimination; assault and violation of
human rights.38
The review found that the Standards provided a
good framework for promoting student’s rights
to access and participate in education, but
made a number of recommendations relating to
implementation. These included recommendations
about promoting the Standards, providing practical
supporting information, clarifying key terms,
improving accountability and providing appropriate
resources to enable compliance.38
The Australian Government is also considering
consolidating all federal anti-discrimination
legislation, including the Disability Discrimination
Act, into a single Act. In its response to the
review the Australian Government supported the
recommendations, but indicated that they would
defer any changes to the Standards until they had
clarified the project to consolidate Commonwealth
anti-discrimination laws.39
However, whatever the outcomes of these reviews,
schools will continue to have legal and policy
obligations to provide education to students with
disabilities that is of a high quality and avoids
discrimination.
37 Australian Government, Department of Education,
Employment and Workplace Relations, Report on the
review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005
(2012).
38 Ibid 21.
39 Australian Government, Government response to the
Review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005
(2012) 3.
22 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 2: Methodology
The Commission’s research examined government,
Catholic and Independent schools, including
mainstream schools and specialist schools.
We collected data on the experiences of students
with disabilities, parents and educators.
Ethics approval for the research was granted by
the Department of Justice Human Research Ethics
Committee.40
A total of 1,827 people and organisations took part
in this research.
The project used a qualitative approach that
entailed:
Project Components
Survey of educators, parents and students
The survey was open from 21 November to
31 March 2012.
• Separate survey instruments were offered to
educators, parents and students. Educators
included principals, classroom teachers,
integration aides and specialist support staff
working in schools.
The survey asked about experiences of disability
discrimination in Victorian schools. It included
free text options for participants. This provided
qualitative information about how individuals
interpret and make sense of their experiences of
discrimination. The survey was available on opt-in
basis and promoted through community networks.
It was not conducted through schools.
Phone-in
The Commission held a statewide phone-in on
3 December 2012. While this was originally
intended to be in operation for one day only, the
Commission extended phone-in access for the
remainder of the survey period. This provided an
opportunity for educators, parents and students
to contact the Commission and tell their stories in
their own words.
Fifty-two participants used this method. Of these,
45 callers (84.9 per cent) were parents or carers,
including two grandparents.
Participation in the survey was primarily online.
However, participants had the option of printing the
form, completing it and sending it by post to the
Commission.
More than 1,500 people completed the survey.
Of these:
• 883 were educators
• 617 were parents or carers
• 60 were students.
40 Ethics approval number CF/11/22681.
Part 1: Background 23
‘Have a say’ days
Of the nine educators who submitted case studies:
The Commission facilitated 15 ‘have a say’
days across Victoria, involving 169 participants.
These two-hour meetings provided an important
opportunity for the Commission to hear first-hand
about experiences in the school system.
• five were specialist support providers working
in schools
Sessions were available for educators, parents and
students.
• Six sessions with parents were held in Bendigo,
Traralgon, Ballarat, and Geelong, as well as two
sessions in Shepparton, and one at Rumbalara
Family Services.
• two were school principals
• one was a classroom teacher
• one was a school council member.
Critical friends groups
• One session with families of children with
intellectual disabilities was held in Melbourne.
Mindful of the experiences of students with
disabilities from culturally and linguistically diverse
(CALD) and refugee backgrounds, and working
in partnership with the Ethnic Communities’
Council of Victoria, the Commission met with
representatives of CALD organisations to test
the Commission’s initial findings and explore the
commonalities and differences for CALD and
refugee school students. A similar critical friends
group from the Victorian Aboriginal Disability
Network provided input on the specific experiences
of Indigenous students with disabilities.
• One session with parents and students with
hearing disability was held in Ballarat.
Key informant interviews
• Three sessions with educators were held in
Ballarat, Bendigo and Traralgon.
• Two sessions with community service
organisations were held in Shepparton and
Geelong.
• One session for deaf secondary students was
held at Deaf Children Australia, Melbourne.
• One session was held with the school council of
a specialist school in Melbourne, which included
parents and educators.
Submissions
The Commission received 11 submissions from
various community and professional organisations
that have contact with students with disabilities.
Case studies
The Commission received 38 case studies, with
35 received by email. Case studies were also
provided through interviews conducted following
regional ‘have a say’ sessions and by the critical
friends groups.
Of 38 case studies received:
• 24 were from parents or carers, including one
grandparent
• nine were from educators
• two were from community service organisations
• one preschool field officer, one dyslexia expert
and one communications specialist also
responded.
Key stakeholders were interviewed using a semistructured format. Interviews were conducted
with the Department of Education and Early
Childhood Education (DEECD), Catholic Education
Office Melbourne, Independent Schools Victoria,
Office of the Senior Practitioner, Department of
Human Services, and the Disability Services
Commissioner.
Other key steps in the project included:
• examination of aggregate de-identified
DEECD data to measure enrolment rates for
students with disabilities in Victorian schools
across the government and Independent
sectors and between mainstream and specialist
schools, as well as expressed demand for
Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD)
funding in government schools
• legislative and policy review to describe policy
and practice efforts to date, as well as any
planned initiatives
• collation of policy documents and research
material to provide context for the research,
including a comparative analysis with other
jurisdictions to identify possible policy options
that can be localised to the Victorian context
• publication of a final report.
24 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Limitations of the research
Student participation
As qualitative research based on self-selecting
survey participation, this project has a number of
limitations, which are outlined below.
The Commission had hoped to gather the views
and experiences of students with disabilities, while
recognising that students’ capacity to give consent
would be informed by the maturity of the young
person and the particular vulnerability that may
arise from their disability.
The sample
While other data was used to support findings,
relying primarily on self-reported experiences
necessarily contains some limitations when
extrapolating results to the wider community.
Nevertheless, there is significant consistency in
messages from parents and students describing
barriers to participation for students with
disabilities, and the corresponding messages from
educators about the need for additional support for
schools to fulfil their legal obligations.
The case studies and ‘have a say’ data provide the
perspectives of individual participants and should
be read with this in mind.
Identifying research participants
Survey and case study participants became aware
of the research through networks and promotion,
including through websites, newsletters and
e-alerts from parent, carer, teacher and youth
organisations.41
This approach may have led to either overreporting or under-reporting of discrimination
compared to a random sample; however, given
the nature of the topic being researched, it was
considered the most appropriate means of
recruiting participants.
Notably, there was an under-representation of
Catholic and Independent school students and
parents among survey respondents. For example,
while 22.5 per cent of students in Victoria attend
Catholic schools, only ten per cent of parents in
our survey were from that system.
Further, there was a very low participation in the
survey by educators from the Independent and
Catholic school sectors (less than 4 per cent).
The prevalence of government school educators
was likely caused by promotion of the survey by
the Australian Education Union, which emailed
its members to inform them of the research. The
Independent Education Union placed information
about the research on its website.
For this reason, survey participation was limited
to secondary students over 13 years of age. In
addition, a prompt was included in the survey to
inform students that they may wish to discuss the
survey with their parents before completing it.
To encourage participation, the Commission
promoted the survey via support networks such as
the Youth Disability Advocacy Service. In addition,
the Commission worked with Deaf Children
Australia to hold a ‘have a say’ day for deaf
students.
However, only a small number of students
participated in the survey (60 students). Ten
students participated at the Commission’s ‘have a
say’ days and one took part in the phone-in.
Indigenous people
The sample included very few participants who
identified as Indigenous. This means that we were
unable to gather views directly from large numbers
of Indigenous families. However, our ‘have a
say’ day at Rumbalara Family Services gave the
Commission an opportunity to speak directly to
parents, support staff and organisations.
The Commission also values the input of the
Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network members,
who generously gave their time in a critical
friends group to discuss the issues. A number of
members have direct recent experience of children
facing discrimination in schools, within family or
community networks. The insights gained from this
discussion were valuable to the research.
Students from CALD backgrounds
The sample also included very few participants
who identified as coming from a CALD or refugee
background. Again, the Commission relied on a
critical friends group to supplement this data and
provide community perspectives on the issues.
41 Of the 603 parents who responded to this survey
question, 40.1 per cent reported being members of a
parent or carer network or support group.
Part 1: Background 25
Terminology
Disability
The term ‘disability’ is used in this report.
The Equal Opportunity Act and the Disability
Discrimination Act contain broad definitions of
disability. These definitions include physical,
intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological
and learning disabilities, short-term conditions
and illnesses.
The DEECD acknowledges these broad definitions
of disability. However, when it refers to students
with students with disabilities in data and other
reports it limits the term to refer only to students
in receipt of PSD funding. As one part of the
inclusive education policy, PSD funding is targeted
at students who fit into one of seven disability
types and demonstrated moderate-to-high need
for support.
Participation on the same basis as other
students
A key concept in equal opportunity law, and
expressly provided for in the Standards, is that
students with disabilities have a right to participate
in education on the same basis as other students.
This means they have a right to have the same
or equivalent opportunities and choices as other
students in the courses, programs and services
that a school offers.
A glossary of terms can be found at the end
on page 217.
This research looks into the experiences of
students with all types of disabilities and levels of
need. It is not restricted to PSD-funded students.
The Commission recognises that some members
of the Victorian Aboriginal community do not
recognise or use the term ‘disability’ and prefer
the term ‘special needs’, reflecting the different
strengths and abilities of people.
The Commission also acknowledges that some
culturally and linguistically diverse communities
may not view certain conditions as ‘disability’.
In some cases, this reflects resistance to
categorisation; and in other cases it might
reflect a fear of stigma.
Inclusive education
Inclusive education is the term used in Victoria
to mean that students with disabilities and other
vulnerable students are able to participate in
education on the same basis as other students. In
Victoria, the policy of inclusive education includes
several components, including universal learning
and teaching; specialist workforce and programs
and targeted funding programs and intensive
intervention.
26 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Pageheader - head
Part 2: Experiences
The Disability Standards for Education
2005 (the Standards) clarify and
elaborate the rights of people with
disabilities and the corresponding
obligations of education providers under
the federal Disability Discrimination Act
1992.
The Standards operate concurrently with the Equal
Opportunity Act 2010. They cover the following
areas:
• enrolment
• participation
• curriculum development, accreditation and
delivery
• student support services
• elimination of harassment and victimisation.
Each part of the Standards sets out:
• the rights of students with disabilities in relation
to education
• the legal obligations or responsibilities of
education providers
• the measures that may be implemented to
comply with the requirements of the Standards.
This part of the report discusses the findings
of the Commission’s research in each of these
five areas.
Part 2: Experiences 27
Chapter 3: Enrolment
Standards for enrolment
The right
Students with disabilities have the right to seek
admission and enrol in schools on the same basis
as prospective students without disability. This
includes the right to reasonable adjustments that
are necessary to ensure that they are able to enrol
on the same basis as students without disabilities.
‘On the same basis’ means that a student with
disability must have opportunities and choices
that are comparable with those offered to students
without disability in admission or enrolment.
Under the Standards,schools have a positive
obligation to make reasonable adjustments.42
When a student with disability applies for
admission to a school, that school must consider
the application on the basis that the reasonable
adjustment will be made.43
Adjustments are measures or actions taken by the
school to assist the student with disability to apply
for enrolment or admission.44
An adjustment is ‘reasonable’ if it achieves this
purpose while taking into account the student’s
learning needs and balancing the interests of all
parties affected, including those of the student
with disability, the education provider, staff and
other students.45
• consider students with disabilities in the same
way as students without disabilities when
deciding to offer a place at the school
• consult with the prospective students or their
associates about the effect of the disability
on their ability to seek enrolment; and any
reasonable adjustments necessary (‘associates’
includes relatives and carers)
• consider and make any reasonable adjustments
that are necessary, unless making such an
adjustment would impose an ‘unjustifiable
hardship’.46
Measures to comply
Section 4.3 of the Standards set out measures the
school may implement. These include:
• ensuring information about the enrolment
process addresses the needs of students with
disabilities and is accessible to the student
and parents
• providing information in a range of formats
(depending on the resources and purposes of
the provider) and within a reasonable time frame
• ensuring that students with disabilities have
access to course or enrolment information and
are able to ask questions about enrolling
If an adjustment is unreasonable, the school is not
obliged to make it.
• providing information that will assist students to
select a course or subjects and make informed
choices about enrolling
Requirements to meet the standard
• designing enrolment procedures so that they
can be completed by the student or their
parents or carers without undue difficulty,
including providing information about
the enrolment process that can be easily
understood.47
Section 4.2 of the Standards sets out how this right
is given effect. It requires schools to:
• take reasonable steps to ensure that the
enrolment process is accessible – so that the
prospective student with disability can apply
on the same basis as other students, without
experiencing discrimination
42 The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 also requires
education providers to make reasonable adjustments
to accommodate the disability of a student. A range
of factors must be considered to determine if an
adjustment is reasonable, including the effect on the
person’s ability to achieve learning outcomes and to
participate in courses or programs, the financial impact
of making the adjustment, and the consequence of
not making the adjustment. Equal Opportunity Act
2010 (Vic) s 40(3). There is no unjustifiable hardship
provision in the Equal Opportunity Act.
43 Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 2.2.
44 Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 3.3(a)(i).
45 Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 3.4.
Consultation is an essential part of ensuring
compliance with the Standards.
46 Even for those adjustments that are reasonable under
the Standard, changes still do not have to be made
if this would impose ‘unjustifiable hardship’ on the
education provider. All relevant circumstances are to
be taken into account when assessing unjustifiable
hardship including the benefit or detriment to any people
concerned, the disability of the prospective student and
the financial circumstances of the education provider.
Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 10.2.
The unjustifiable hardship terminology is not used in
the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). Instead, there
is guidance on what to take into account to work out
whether a measure is reasonable.
47 See also Australian Government, Department of
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Review
of Disability Standards 2005 Discussion Paper (2010) 13.
28 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Main findings
• Most students with disabilities are accepted
for enrolment at the first school to which they
apply. However, for those who are unsuccessful,
it is likely that they need to make enrolment
applications at many schools before being
accepted.
• In some cases, the refusal to enrol a student
because of his or her disability is explicitly
stated; however, it appears more common that
parents are subtly informed that the school will
not be able to accommodate the child’s needs.
In either case, this can amount to unlawful
discrimination.
• While some parents are steered towards
specialist schools when they seek entry to a
mainstream school, other parents who actively
choose a specialist school are refused access
because their child does not meet eligibility
criteria. Most typically this is because the child’s
IQ is deemed to be too high.
• Enrolment at school can sometimes be the
trigger for the identification of a child’s disability;
however, our research found that some children
with disabilities may remain undiagnosed for
many years and be regarded as badly behaved
students. This can pose particular issues for
students and families from Indigenous and
culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds,
where the under-diagnosis or over-diagnosis
of disability may occur due to the trauma
some children in these communities have
experienced.48
Experiences of enrolment
In the survey, parents were asked about their
experiences with enrolment, both at their child’s
last enrolment and any previous enrolments.49
Parents were also asked, generally, what would
have made enrolment processes better for
them and their child. In addition, a number of
parents raised enrolment issues through the
Commission’s phone-in, ‘have a say’ days and in
case studies provided.
Educator surveys did not include direct questions
about enrolment procedures. However, one group
of educators put forward their perspective on
enrolment issues at a ‘have a say’ day (HASD).50
Students were not asked specifically about
enrolment.
Positive experiences of enrolment for the
majority
The vast majority of parents surveyed (85.4 per
cent) reported that, for their most recent enrolment,
their child was accepted at the first school to which
they applied.51
Looking at the results by school stage, 91 per
cent of parents who sought to enrol their child in
secondary school (Years 7 to 12) had their child’s
application accepted.52
Seventy-nine per cent of respondents had never
had problems enrolling their child at school. These
are positive results. As Vision Australia observed:
Most schools are very accommodating and
accepting of enrolling a student with a vision
impairment. There are well defined protocols and
guidelines.53
One parent recalled that her approach to a school
resulted in a positive discussion about reasonable
adjustments, even if not all the necessary
adjustments could be made:
[The school is] very transparent ... they say ‘we
can’t provide ramps etc because we can’t get the
funding ... however we can try and provide this,
this and this ...’54
For this particular parent, the openness of the
school and their willingness to offer alternatives
appears to have been a marker of a positive
enrolment experience. Another parent of a child
with an intellectual and a physical disability
related that:
[My son] was three and in mainstream childcare
with early intervention support. The principal [at
the local primary school] came to me before [my
son] enrolled and asked about infrastructure.
This was amazing.55
This school’s proactive approach set up a
positive relationship with this family early on in the
enrolment process.
48 Where trauma leads to mental health problems, the
mental illness will be regarded as a disability under law.
49 Most parents (66 per cent) described enrolment
experiences at primary school, rather than secondary
school (34 per cent). This reflects the proportion of
parents answering the survey whose children were
attending primary school, compared to secondary
school.
50
51
52
53
54
55
HASD 3.
508 out of 595 parents.
182 out of 200 parents.
Submission 9, Vision Australia, 4.
HASD 6.
HASD 1.
Part 2: Experiences 29
Problems with enrolment
Most recent enrolment experience
Enrolment is refused
Survey participants were asked about their most
recent enrolment experiences.
While the majority of parents reported positive
experiences, one in five said they had experienced
problems in enrolment over the course of their
child’s schooling:56
I wanted my child to attend an Independent school
but there were none who could meet his complex
needs. I tried to get him into a local mainstream
school, but again there were none which could
meet his needs. I tried to do a split enrolment
between the specialist school and the local
mainstream primary school but several of the local
schools did not want to enrol him. In the end we
found a local school that would allow him to attend
as a visitor one day a week. He is not enrolled and
as such, there is no support for him in the school. I
am his full time carer while he is at school.57
There could potentially also be under-reporting of
enrolment difficulties, as some parents reported not
attempting to enrol their child at certain schools.
Some relied on advice or personal research and
did not approach schools where they expected a
negative reception:
We only applied where we knew he would be
accepted and did not apply where empirical
evidence suggests disabilities are not welcome.58
The Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development (DEECD) advised the Commission
that:
Children of school age have the right to be
admitted to their designated neighbourhood
government school. Schools cannot refuse an
enrolment based on disability and any instances
where this is alleged to have occurred should be
brought to the attention of the Regional Director.59
56 122 out of 580 parents.
57 Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
58 Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
59 Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD, 9 August
2012. Information about enrolment can be found
at <http://www.education.vic.gov.au/management/
governance/spag/participation/intake/enrolment.htm> at
15 August 2012. Also see <http://www.education.vic.gov.
au/management/governance/spag/participation/intake/
admission.htm> at 15 August 2012.
Around 15 per cent of parents who sought enrolment
reported that their child was not accepted to the first
school to which they applied.60 This was slightly more
common among parents reporting an attempt to enrol
their child in primary school (other than Prep).61
The responses appear to be roughly similar across
children with all disability types, although parents of
children with behaviour-related disability, including
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were
slightly more likely to report having attempted
multiple enrolments.62
It was also slightly more common among parents of
children who had applied for, but not received, Program
for Students with Disabilities (PSD) funding.63
Most parents whose first application was
refused went on to enrol their child at another
government mainstream school (72 per cent).64
A smaller number enrolled in a specialist school
(23 per cent)65 or distance education.66
Some parents reported that their child’s application
was explicitly refused. For example, parents said:
[The] principal told me, ‘It wouldn’t be appropriate
for him to attend. We don’t have children like that
here.67
I spoke to the vice principal ... and explained my
son’s disorders and without even meeting my son,
he simply told me the school does not have the
time to support a child like that!68
When I asked [the] principals of four local schools
for an appointment to discuss enrolment, they
refused to meet me. [They were] unwilling to
discuss enrolment for a child with learning needs.
One school advised me that even if we were
located in their school zone, they would not
accept us.69
60 Eighty-seven of 595 parents.
61 Of 164 enrolment applications, 37 were not accepted
(23 per cent). For prep enrolments, 31 out of 226 were
not accepted (13.7 per cent).
62 Twenty three per cent, or 14 out of 60 parents.
63 Twenty-one per cent, or 20 out of 94 respondents.
64 Sixty-three out of 87 parents.
65 Twenty out of 87 parents.
66 Four parents out of 87.
67 Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
68 Parent experience of attempting enrolment at a
government mainstream primary school. Parent survey
participant.
69 Parent of student now attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
30 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Parents also reported that schools made
generalised comments about experiences with
other students with disabilities. For example,
one parent described a classroom teacher’s
comments:
... she told us that she had had a bad experience
with an Asperger child previously and was
unlikely to see one fitting in with the group.
We chose not to proceed with our application
at that point.70
Some parents tried to enrol in schools outside their
zone, and were told that the school was full. While
this is a legitimate reason for turning down an
enrolment, several parents expressed scepticism
that this was the true reason for the refusal. As one
parent told the Commission:
I was told after providing information about my
son’s behaviour issues that enrolments were full
... when I rang to enrol an imaginary child [I] was
offered a place immediately.71
For some parents, excessive questions or
comments during the enrolment process
conveyed a message to them that their child was
unwelcome.72
Several parents also said that schools referred
to a lack of resources when refusing their child’s
application.73 In some cases, the refusal was
linked explicitly to lack of funding. For example,
a participant at the Victorian Aboriginal Disability
Network critical friends group said that the first
question a school asks before accepting a child is
what funding they are receiving for their disability.
Other parents reported similar experiences:
[The school’s] main concern was whether or
not my son had funding – this was explicitly
asked, repeatedly, at a number of schools
I enquired to ...74
Some parents of children who were eligible for
funding felt that their children were more attractive
to schools:
While few educators commented on enrolment
processes, one made an observation that reflected
the experience of some parents:
Schools try to say that their site is not suitable
for initial enrolment (and some other school
would be better)…or they discourage and delay
enrolment.76
Another educator said:
All schools should be forced to enrol all students
in their areas – not point them in the direction of
‘more sympathetic’ schools. The whole school/
community benefits from getting to know people
who have disabilities.77
Vision Australia related that there had been many
instances ‘where families have been subtly and
blatantly discouraged from pursuing an enrolment
in a school for their child’78. It also noted:
While families find comments like these very
awkward and unsettling, it is often the case that
the self-advocacy and minimal support from
organisations like Vision Australia for the rights of
students do actually achieve a positive outcome
in the end. It is of course the case that it should
not be the job of parents to educate schools on
their obligations and responsibilities.79
Vision Australia suggested that the ‘more difficult
situation arises when there is some understanding
of equal opportunity law on the part of a school,
but where qualifications are expressed by the
school in light of the requests for support’.80 They
gave examples of schools making participation
dependent on ‘the right teacher, a suitable peer
group, appropriate resources’, safety, funding and
teacher time.81
These experiences reflect the national findings of
the Report on the Review of Disability Standards
for Education 2005 which found that ‘Even though
it is clearly contrary to the requirement of the
Standards, some schools refuse enrolment of
students with disability’.82
All the schools wanted him. I wonder ... did they
just see him as ‘funding’?75
70 Parent experience of attempting enrolment at a
government mainstream school. Parent survey
participant.
71 Parent of student now attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
72 Discouragement of applications and being made to
feel ‘unwelcome’ was a common theme among parents
who had faced difficulties enrolling their child. See e.g.
HASD 1.
73 See also State of Victoria, Victorian Auditor-General’s
Office, Programs for Students with Special Learning
Needs (2012) 18.
74 Parent survey participant Q 10.
75 HASD 1.
76 Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
77 Integration aide, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
78 Submission 9, Vision Australia 4.
79 Submission 9, Vision Australia 5.
80 Submission 9, Vision Australia 5.
81 Submission 9, Vision Australia 5.
82 ‘In some cases, schools argue that there is a cap on
the number of students with learning disability who can
be supported’. Australian Government, ‘Report on the
review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005’,
above n 37, 15.
Part 2: Experiences 31
Timing of enrolment processes
Ineligibility for specialist schools
One educator stated that late enrolments were
a challenge for schools, ‘... especially as you
need time to plan and respond to what the child
needs’.83
A number of parents who wanted to enrol their
children at specialist schools reported that they
were unable to do so because of their child’s IQ
test results:
Conversely, one parent stated that their child’s
primary school had refused to lodge an application
for funding prior to her child beginning Prep,
despite being informed of the child’s disability by
the parent, preschool teacher and an inclusion
support service. As a result, the child had one full
year at school without ‘the assistance she needed
to achieve educational gains’.84
Being steered towards specialist schools
Several participants described being pushed to
enrol their children in specialist schools. As one
parent said:
... I think the assumption that kids with a disability
should go ‘somewhere else’ leads to a lot of
isolation and schools not taking responsibility for
the kids in their area.85
One ‘have a say’ day participant felt this issue was
particularly affecting Indigenous children:
[There are] a lot of children within schools [that
are] classified as ADHD or Asperger’s and
autism, without an understanding of culture [or]
families. [There is] a lot of misdiagnosis. Schools
are fobbing [these children] off to [the] special
school, taking them out of the [mainstream]
system, when they shouldn’t be.86
Similarly, a parent advocate submitted:
Many parents report being discouraged by
principals who point out all the issues that make
their school unsuitable for a child with disabilities,
and suggest that their child would be happier
elsewhere, typically in segregated settings.87
This advocate stated that some parents who
persist with the reluctant school find the school
unwilling to make adjustments.88
83 HASD 3.
84 Parent survey participant.
85 Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
86 HASD 11.
87 Submission 4, Emmy Elbaum, Parent Advocate 1.
88 Submission 4, Emmy Elbaum, Parent Advocate 2.
My son has an IQ of 72, cut off for his special
school is 70. At this stage, he will not be eligible to
attend this school next year. He will not survive in
a mainstream school. [I] am frantically searching
for an alternative to no avail thus far. [I’m] looking
at further assessments – ASD and behavioural,
and need to have these completed before the cut
off. This continues to be very stressful ... There
has to be an easier way surely?89
One parent expressed significant concern at her
daughter who is in Year 4 and functioning at a Year
1 level but who cannot attend a specialist school
because she has an IQ of 78.90
One educator also raised this as an issue, noting it
was particularly hard for students on the border of
eligibility for specialist school.91
At the Commission’s ‘have a say’ session for
students with intellectual disability and their
parents, the issue was raised of older students
wanting to complete the Victorian Certificate of
Applied Learning (VCAL) but who would not be
accepted into programs because of their age.92
Perceived lack of choice
Some parents spoke about being left with limited
choices:
My child needs integration aide support and the
level of disability funding at the Independent
school was nowhere near enough. I would have
had to fund it myself. The scores she received
on her IQ test meant she was just ineligible for
special school and the Special Developmental
School environment would not have suited her.
So she has been enrolled in the local mainstream
school.93
There is a problem with lack of choice – I drive
past four schools to get to the school my kids can
go to.94
89 Parent of student attending a government specialist
school transitioning to high school. Parent survey
participant.
90 Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
91 HASD 3.
92 HASD 1.
93 Parent survey participant.
94 HASD 9.
32 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
For some, this lack of choice stemmed from lack of
funding:
... the government funds up to $35,000 for a
deaf child who uses Auslan. This will not cover a
teacher of the deaf and/or an Auslan interpreter
full time. My child wants to attend the same school
as her brother, a local primary school. [The] funds
will not allow her to do that ... What other schools
can I send my daughter to? A specialist deaf
school? This involves travel, and limited choice.95
Vision Australia noted that schools now differentiate
themselves according to academic, arts or sport
focus, or on particular teaching philosophies or
methodologies. Vision Australia said:
It should be these freedoms of choice that a
student and their parents ought to be occupied
with, not a narrow depiction of freedom of choice
trying to find a school of those available that will
accept a student who is blind or has low vision.96
Some parents had moved house in order to enrol
their child in a school that they felt met their child’s
needs. The Commission received one case study
from a family that had moved overseas:
I was unable to find a suitable secondary school
for my daughter with Asperger’s syndrome and
ADHD in 2011. As a result, I (very reluctantly)
moved to the United Kingdom where she is at an
ASD specific school.97
However, this move came at a financial and
emotional cost to this family. Another parent survey
participant said:
I am seriously looking at moving to the United
States in the next few months to find a school that
will actually help him.98
Deficit-based approach
Two educators acknowledged that the enrolment
and funding application processes could be
distressing for parents of children with disabilities,
particularly as these processes often focus on
what children cannot do, rather than their strengths
and abilities. One educator said:
Schools like to nurture and develop a relationship
with families when it comes to enrolment because
it’s really harrowing – they are often ‘gutted’ by
having to talk negatively about their child.99
95
96
97
98
99
Parent survey.
Submission 9, Vision Australia 5.
Case study 20.
Parent survey participant.
HASD 3.
This was reflected in the response by one parent:
In order to secure funding at level 6, my child
was described as an animal. It was degrading,
humiliating and has seriously affected my
relationship with my child. When I said the
process was unfair, I was told that it had to be so
in order to secure funding ... it is a very third-world
process that my child needs to be so degraded to
secure a full-time aide.100
Concerns regarding a deficit-based process for
determining eligibility for funding were a significant
theme in this research and are discussed in more
detail in Chapter 14.
Identification of disability
Enrolment at school is sometimes the trigger for
the identification of a child’s disability. Problems
with the identification of disability were raised in
meetings of both the culturally and linguistically
diverse (CALD) and Victorian Aboriginal Disability
Network critical friends groups, and at the
Rumbalara Family Services ‘have a say’ day.
Indigenous students
Rumbalara Family Services ‘have a say’ day
participants raised the issue of diagnosis of
Indigenous children with disabilities. They
described a problem both of under- and overdiagnosis of disability in Indigenous children. As
an example of under-diagnosis, participants said
that many students were reaching secondary
school before their disability was recognised:
I know a family with a child with intellectual
disability ... They got an assessment done (for
his brother) – he also had intellectual disability.
He had just started high school. Then they found
out he needed glasses too ... he is now doing
well, but the primary school did not assess him
properly. He had significant sight problems but
they did not pick it up.101
Conversely, some participants were concerned
that Indigenous children who had experienced
trauma were wrongly diagnosed as having autism
spectrum disorder or ADHD:
You need to consider family background when
looking at behaviour. [I know of] a nine-year-old
who has had exposure to family violence ... he is
in a shell, not responding ... they are saying he
has Asperger’s, trying to label him, but it is
about trauma.102
100Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
101HASD 11.
102HASD 11.
Part 2: Experiences 33
Some participants also described experiences of
being labelled as bad parents simply because they
were Indigenous:
They blamed me for [my son’s] developmental
delay and claimed that he was that way because
I took drugs during the pregnancy. I said, ‘You
are messing with the wrong Koori woman here. I
did not take drugs. Would you have said that to a
white woman?’103
This kind of labelling is a powerful barrier to
accessing support from schools.
Students from CALD backgrounds
The CALD critical friends group also pointed to
issues with identification of disability. For example,
they said that some communities may not regard
mild intellectual disability as ‘disability’. They also
noted that this could reflect fear of stigma, as
well as resistance to categorisation.104 This may
mean that families are reluctant to seek or accept
assistance for their child at school.
The group also pointed out that, among students
with a refugee experience, interrupted education
could be wrongly identified as intellectual disability
or developmental delay.105
Barriers in the enrolment processes
A number of parents mentioned that attitudes
of staff and the lack of funding and resources
were barriers in the enrolment process.106
One parent of a child attending a government
mainstream primary school said that ‘less red tape
for funding purposes’ would have improved the
enrolment process.107 Another voiced concerns
about government specialist schools’ enrolment
processes, saying:
I was not permitted to observe the class (and
not because of privacy issues) so I could make
an informed decision about the best educational
setting for my child.108
One parent mentioned needing the assistance of
an interpreter in order to enrol their child, but that
this was not provided.109
103HASD 11.
104CALD critical friends group.
105CALD critical friends group.
106Parent survey participant.
107Parent survey participant.
108Parent survey participant.
109Parent survey participant.
Opportunities for improvement
When asked generally what schools could do to
improve their enrolment procedures, the most
frequent responses were to improve consultation
with parents (244 parents identified this) and to
develop greater understanding of disability (236
parents). This is significant as both are precursors
to a school’s capacity to meet its legal obligations
to make reasonable adjustments.
For example, parents wanted:
Staff that really do understand disability and
listen to the child’s needs and accept parental
and specialist advice, rather than reacting
defensively ...110
Schools and teaching staff need to be better
informed about learning needs. It seems the
current school has no resources to call upon in
this area ... it is very hit and miss.111
One parent suggested preparing a list of
‘disability-friendly’ schools.112
The difficulty of finding information about schools
also emerged as a theme at a number of have a
say days. For example, parents said:
There is no one support or place to go to for help.
It is amazing how you can find out about things
by chance, from someone who knows someone.
This could be about funding, schools, Centrelink,
the health system – it is amazing how you are
completely in the dark. If you find someone who
knows, you strike gold.113
Fifty-six parents in our survey highlighted the
importance of schools providing clear information.
Simple and accessible information is expressly
required by the Disability Standards for Education.
Educators also highlighted the importance of
information about the enrolment process:
Families must have unbiased information on both
mainstream and specialist settings when deciding
about the best placement for their child.114
110Parent of student attending a primary school. Parent
survey participant.
111Parent of student attending a government mainstream
primary school. Parent survey participant.
112Parent survey participant.
113HASD 1.
114Classroom teacher, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
34 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
At one ‘have a say’ day, parents discussed the
need for clarification of zoning rules for primary
schools. This was also mentioned by educators:
Schools will refuse to admit students with
disabilities because they say that the student lives
outside the zone. But the reality is that they do
accept other students from outside the zone.115
One parent expressed the view that the DEECD
could do better at publicising the support that is
available at enrolment. Another suggested that
each school should have a published policy on
disability in the school and that this should be a
mandatory component of enrolment information
provided to all parents.116
Similarly, one educator suggested that enrolment
processes could be improved by support for
parents:
Parents need to have access to someone who
knows the system and can guide them through
... some of their early intervention people do a
great job – sometimes they will talk to the ‘wrong
person’ who doesn’t have the knowledge.117
Recommendations
That noting the findings of this research, that:
1. All Victorian schools collect and report data
on the number and proportion of students for
whom disability will affect education outcomes,
refused enrolment and, that the relevant
education authority publish annual aggregate
data using this information.
2. Consistent with the recommendations of the
Report of the Review of Disability Standards
for Education 2005, that education authorities
provide a plain language guide for parents and
schools setting out enrolment rights of students
with disability. This should clearly state that
students with disabilities must not be refused
enrolment solely because they are ineligible
for targeted funding under state or federal
schemes.
Another educator added that families from low
socioeconomic backgrounds needed particular
support to navigate the system.118 One parent
suggested that schools could employ a disability
social worker.119
Several parents and educators mentioned that
enrolment would be improved with better transition
processes into school, from primary to secondary
school and again at the post-school stage. This
was an important theme in our research and is
discussed further in Chapter 12.
115HASD 13.
116Parent survey participant.
117HASD 3.
118HASD 3.
119Parent survey participant.
Part 2: Experiences 35
Chapter 4: Participation
Standards for participation
The right
Participation is the way in which a student engages
with the learning activities offered by the school.
Students with disabilities have the right to
participate in a school’s courses or programs, and
to use services and facilities provided by a school,
on the same basis as students without disabilities.
This includes the right to reasonable adjustments
that are necessary to ensure that they are able
to participate in education on the same basis as
students without disabilities.120
Requirements to meet the standard
Under the law, education providers are required to:
• take reasonable steps to ensure that the
student is able to participate in courses and
programs, and to use the facilities and services
provided by the school, without experiencing
discrimination
• consult with the student or their parents or
carers about the effect of the disability on the
student’s ability to participate
• in light of that consultation, consider and make
any reasonable adjustments that are necessary,
unless making such an adjustment would
impose an unjustifiable hardship.121
Measures to comply
Measures a school may implement include:
• making sure course or program activities are
flexible enough for the student to participate
• ensuring that the appropriate programs are
necessary to enable participation by the student
are negotiated, agreed and implemented
• making sure that additional support is provided
to the student where necessary to assist him or
her to achieve intended learning outcomes
• if a course or program necessarily includes an
activity in which the student cannot participate,
then a reasonable substitute must be offered
• ensuring that non-classroom and extracurricular
activities are designed to include the student;
for example, by using school camp venues
that are accessible to students with physical
disabilities or ensuring support staff for students
with disabilities are available to attend school
excursions.122
The Standards do not mandate the nature of the
adjustments, as these must be determined for
each child. Adjustments might include providing
equipment and/or resources at the school, such
as handrails, ramps, lifts, raised toilet seats,
tactile guides or other physical access to services
that allow students to attend classes and other
necessary educational activities. They also
include the provision of education material and
experiences in a format that is accessible to
the student; for example, by using communication
devices and the language of the child
(e.g. Auslan or Braille).
Fundamentally, however, the Standards require
schools to adjust teaching methods so that the
student is taught in a way that meets his or
her needs.
• reviewing course or program requirements
in light of the information provided by the
student or their parents or carers so as to
include activities in which the student is able to
participate, and repeating this process over time
as necessary
120Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 5.1
notes.
121Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 5.2. See
above n 42 for an explanation of unjustifiable hardship.
122Measures to comply are contained in section 5.3 of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth). See also
Australian Government, ‘Review of Disability Standards
2005 Discussion Paper’, above n 47, 14.
36 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Main findings
• The majority of parents reported that their child
was not able to fully participate in education;
however, educators and students with
disabilities took a more positive view.
• The most common supports requested
for students with disabilities are specialist
therapists, followed by integration aides. There
is significant unmet need for both of these
supports in Victorian schools.
• Despite 30 years of equal opportunity
legislation in Victoria, significant barriers to
participation in education still exist for students
with disabilities. These include inadequate
knowledge and training in disability among
teachers, the lack of time available for teachers
to provide an individualised approach for
students with disabilities, funding limitations and
discriminatory attitudes.
Experiences of participation
In the survey, parents were asked whether their
child was able to participate on the same basis as
students who do not have a disability. Of the 584
parents who responded to this question, 46.9 per
cent (274 respondents) said yes and 53.1 per cent
(310 respondents) said no.
• 54 per cent of parents from government
mainstream schools reported that their child
was not able to fully participate.123
• 52 per cent of parents from government
specialist schools reported that their child was
not able to fully participate.124
The educator survey also asked respondents
whether they thought students with disabilities
participate on the same basis as others at their
school. Of the 848 educators who responded to
this question, 72.5 per cent (615 respondents)
said students were able to participate.126 Principals
took an even more positive view, with 86.7 per cent
reporting that students with disabilities were able
to participate on the same basis as other students.
This suggests a significant gap in perception
between parents and educators about the
participation of students with disabilities.127
When students were asked whether they
participate on the same basis as other students,
68.3 per cent (41 respondents) said yes and
31.7 per cent (19 respondents) said no. When
asked if they felt supported and looked after
by their teachers, just over half of the students
participating in the survey said yes.
Students were invited to comment on why they
did or did not feel supported. Most mentioned
teacher attitudes, teaching methods or a lack of
understanding about their disability as reasons
for not feeling supported or being unable to fully
participate:
[Some] believe it’s ‘too risky’ to take me places
even at times when there is a low risk.128
I don’t think they believe that I have an acquired
brain injury and they think I’m lazy. Other teachers
are good because they come around and see if
I’m struggling. They try and explain it in a simple
way. They give me less work or different work to
the other kids so that I can learn.129
• 43 per cent of parents in the Catholic system
who responded to this question, answered
no when asked if their child was able to
participate.125
123190 of 355 parents.
124Forty-eight out of 93 parents.
125Twenty-six out of 60 parents.The number of parents
answering this question from the Independent school
sector was negligible.
126Twenty-eight per cent (233 respondents) said no.
The participation rate reported by educators was
somewhat higher for government specialist schools,
with 82.4 per cent of educator respondents answering
yes when asked if students with disabilities were able
to participate in the same basis of students who do
not have a disability.
127It is acknowledged that the parents, educators and
students participating in the survey may not have been
from the same schools and so results are not directly
comparable.
128Student, Catholic mainstream school. Student survey
participant.
129Student, government mainstream school. Student
survey participant.
Part 2: Experiences 37
Making reasonable adjustments
Types of adjustments requested
Parent requests
As part of the Commission’s survey, parents were
asked what sort of adjustments and supports
they had requested. They were able to indicate
more than one adjustment. The range of supports
reported was broadly similar; however, some items
were ranked differently in Catholic, Independent
and government schools.
The most commonly requested adjustments in all
schools were specialist staff such as occupational
or speech therapists (255 respondents), closely
followed by education support staff, such as
integration aides (249 respondents).130
Professional development for teachers was
frequently mentioned as an adjustment that had
been requested (188 respondents). Specialist
equipment or material was mentioned by 169
respondents, while behaviour support was
requested by 159 parents.
Specialist therapist and education support staff
were the most frequently requested adjustments
or supports across all school sectors, apart
from government specialist schools where the
second most frequently requested was behaviour
support. Behaviour support was the equal highest
requested support in Independent specialist
schools.131
Figure 2: Adjustments requested by parents, ranked from most frequently requested to least
1
Government
mainstream
school
Government
specialist
school
Catholic
mainstream
school
Independent
mainstream
school
Independent
specialist
school
education
support staff
therapists
education
support staff
education
support staff
education
support staff
therapists
behaviour support
(equal)
2
therapists
behaviour support
therapists
therapists
3
professional
development for
teachers
specialist
equipment or
materials
specialist
equipment or
materials
professional
development for
teachers
4
specialist
equipment or
materials
education
support staff
professional
development for
teachers
behaviour support
special needs
coordinator
(equal)
5
behaviour support
language support
special needs
coordinator
6
special needs
coordinator
professional
development for
teachers
behaviour
support
specialist
equipment or
materials
7
language support
special needs
coordinator
other
language support
8
other
other
language
support
other
130Student support services, including specialist
therapists and integration aides are discussed in
Chapter 6.
professional
development for
teachers
language support
(equal)
special needs
coordinator
other (equal)
131However, the sample size in Independent schools is
very small.
38 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Parents participating in the Commission’s phone-in
also spoke about adjustments they had requested,
which were largely consistent with the findings
above. For example, one parent from a government
specialist school indicated they had great difficulty
accessing the speech therapist for their school,
who they said struggles to meet the needs of all
students due to lack of funding and the school
relying on only one speech therapist.132
Another parent of a primary school student
highlighted that children often do not get the oneon-one aide support they need, as integration
aides are usually shared by more than one student
due to funding constraints.133 This was a common
concern among many parents in our study.
Other requests for adjustments reported in our
survey by parents included:
• an edu-link ear-set learning aid/microphone
• adjustments to VCE examinations
• reading recovery.
Parents who provided case studies to the
Commission and those participating in ‘have a
say’ days largely mirrored the kind of requests
identified above. However, other more specific
examples of adjustments requested included:
• microphones for teachers in the classroom134
• using video captioning135
• a laptop computer to assist a student who had
trouble writing by hand136
• specific teacher training on the use of visual
aides and learning styles137
• a request for poles in the school grounds to
be painted to avoid injury to a child with visual
impairment (the request was not followed and
resulted in injury to the child).138
132Phone-in 6.
133Phone-in 15.
134HASD 4.
135HASD 15.
136HASD 2.
137HASD 2.
138HASD 6.
Were requested adjustments made?
Parent and teacher perspectives
In the survey, parents were asked whether
adjustments were made when they were
requested. Of those who responded to this
question:
• 32 per cent of parents reported that the
requested adjustment was made in full
• 58 per cent said the adjustment was partially
made
• 10 per cent reported that no adjustment was
made.139
This was broadly similar across government,
Catholic and Independent schools; however,
adjustments were more likely to be made at
government specialist schools.140
This contrasts with the findings from the educator
survey, where 66.9 per cent of educators reported
that adjustments were fully made.141
While two out of three educators reported
that requested adjustments were fully
made, only one out of three parents
reported this.141
This variance may be due to different cohorts
of educators and parents participating in the
research. It may also reflect inconsistencies in
how and when adjustments are made across the
education system.
139412 parents answered this question. Thirty reported a
full adjustment, 240 reported a partial adjustment and
42 reported no adjustment being made following a
request.
140Forty-six per cent of parent respondents from
government specialist schools reported that requested
adjustments were fully made and a further 46 per cent
were partially made.
141Twenty per cent of educators said adjustments were
not made and 13 per cent did not know.
Part 2: Experiences 39
Student experiences
Students identified a range of existing adjustments
and supports to help them participate, with most
reporting more than one support in place. These
adjustments included:
• integration aide (31 students)
• extra time with teachers (28 students)
• learning programs suiting their needs (26
students)
While these are positive results, six out of 10
students said they needed more help and support
from their school.147 Adjusting teaching styles in
the classroom and beyond were identified by these
students as a priority, along with understanding
their disability.
Students also identified other adjustments that
would help them to participate on the same basis
as other students, including:
• more opportunities to type or use a laptop
• extra time for exams (24 students).142
• speech therapy and occupational therapy
Some resources are shared. In other cases,
the school had sought funding to support the
adjustment:
• sign language assistance/AUSLAN interpreters
School got funding for a lifting machine.143
The literacy teacher takes me but only because
she is my friend and she has some spare time.
I have worked with her for 3 years. I go with her for
a period a day. I get to catch up on my work and
have a break from the other kids. I finish work and
get to hand it in. It gives me the chance to chill
out, relax and have a break from everybody else
and be with the people I want to be with –
my teacher and another boy. They listen to me
and I appreciate that. I want this to continue
because I need it.144
Deaf students also identified a range of measures
provided at their mainstream government school,
including:
• flashlights to accompany the bell
• interpreters
• visual announcement systems
• using captions, or providing a transcript.145
• physiotherapy
• ergonomic chairs
• being able to leave early on some days when
not well enough to be at school
• extra time for exams, assessments and
homework.
Some students just wanted to be noticed and taken
seriously:
I never got aiding time in secondary school due to
my IQ score but they never seemed to worry that
I socially couldn’t be included and no one cares.
I needed assistance in the way the school work is
presented. I can’t cope – then I sensory seek.148
I would have liked my requests for
accommodations to be taken seriously by all
staff, simply for needs to be accommodated
without having to fight to justify oneself ... no
different to someone who needs to use an asthma
pump during class, or a diabetic who may need
to nibble in long classes to keep blood sugar
levels up.149
I have a hearing loss, so in order to support me
in the best way possible, my teachers organise a
note taker for the classes I want/need them for. At
my school, it is school policy that if a deaf/hard
of hearing student is in the classroom, they must
only show films, video clips etc with captions, or if
captions aren’t available a detailed transcript must
be provided. If neither of these are provided, the
video clip must not be shown.146
142Students could identify more than one adjustment
made when answering this question.
143Student, government mainstream school. Student
survey participant.
144Student, government school. Student survey
participant.
145Student survey participants.
146Student, Independent school. Student survey
participant.
147Thirty-five out of 58 respondents (60.3 per cent).
148Student survey participant.
149Student survey participant.
40 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Effectiveness of adjustments150
The real key is that the individual child
and family gets the attention and support
to make things work, not through global
programs but focused on the lived reality.
Nurtured individuals do best – with a
team around them that works, such as
therapists, teachers, aides, other supports
– this will minimise problems and fix
problems as they arise.150
Genuine participation means more than just
getting by
While parents stressed the need for more flexible
teaching methods and creative departures from
meeting strict curriculum-based goals, they also
stressed the importance of genuine participation
and learning and highlighted that being able to
participate at school means more than just getting
by or being tolerated:
My child had no learning goals and no direction
and frequently spent his time wandering the
corridors of the school unattended with the
comment ‘we lost him for a while today’ being
said to me on a regular basis.151
[my] child was left alone to daydream and do
whatever he felt like.152
They don’t see a future for people with disability.
When my daughter went on school camp the
teachers organised a ‘career pathways’ session
with everyone except her. The told her to ride the
city tram instead.153
These students need to be allowed to be the best
they can possibly be. The stigmas are better but
are still there. I am amazed sometimes at what
my daughter has achieved ... there are things I
never thought she would do and she has done
them with ease. The students need goals and
opportunities – they do not need to be shoved
away in a corner.154
150HASD 8.
151Parent survey participant.
152Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
153Case study 36.
154Parent of student with dual enrolment. Parent survey
participant.
Some educators also expressed concern:
Sometimes all parents hear is ‘Johnny is doing
well’ ... that is the extent of the dialogue ... there is
no vision for the child.155
I have seen kids left in corridors. A girl in a
wheelchair walked/wheeled around the school
once a day to do something with her.156
Consistency of adjustments over time
Participants also spoke about the need to ensure
there is consistency and good planning in order
for any adjustments to be effective. While a
number of parents indicated that even the smallest
adjustments can make a difference for their child,
one parent suggested that if adjustments are
not planned, understood, and implemented with
consistency, then the outcomes can be worse than
if adjustments had not been made.157
A number of participants in the research said that
inconsistent arrangements can further aggravate
some students who generally respond well to
consistent rules and expectations, including those
with autism spectrum disorder. Where there is
no consistency, students can become confused
and anxious. It can also impact on their learning
outcomes:
The principal changes the aide every year and
this is not consistent with Autistic traits. My son
progressed the most in the school year when he
had an aide for two years straight.158
The Commission also heard an example of a
student with autism spectrum disorder having
access to a quiet room to help cope with sensory
overload. However, access to this room was
later withdrawn due to the principal’s desire to
encourage socialisation and the belief that the
arrangement was ‘not sustainable’.159
155HASD 8.
156Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
157Parent survey participant.
158Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
159Parent survey participant.
Part 2: Experiences 41
Barriers to participation
Why aren’t adjustments made?
When asked why their child was not able to
participate at school on the same basis as
students without disability, parents provided a
range of reasons. The most common were that:
• teachers not having the necessary training
(214 survey respondents)
• teachers not having time to address the child’s
needs (199 respondents)
• lack of specialised support, including
integration aides (197 respondents)
• learning and behaviour techniques appropriate
to child’s disability not used (180 respondents).
Eighty-two parents said that technology and
other physical aids were not being utilised, while
40 parents identified physical or environmental
barriers.160
This pattern was similar across all schools; however,
parents with children attending government
specialist schools ranked the lack of specialist
support staff highest. In that cohort, not using
learning and behaviour techniques was also ranked
highly and equal to not enough teacher time.
Teachers were also asked why adjustments are not
made, and suggested the following reasons:
• lack of funding and resources161
• lack of education and training
• lack of workforce capacity, or poor coordination
and staff organisation
A small number of participants in the Commission’s
survey indicated that students may not want
adjustments or different treatment. Some parents
spoke about their children not wanting to ‘stand
out’ from the other students:
All the ‘special’ kids were always grouped
together for sports excursions and school concert
acts. This is not integrating the child into the
mainstream. He never reached his full potential as
he was ‘labelled’.163
One educator also spoke about the importance
of not singling out students when making
adjustments:
Not all students with disabilities require specific
adjustments. They might not want to appear
different to others and teachers might be very
discreet by providing more moral support and
checking in on the student more often.164
The reasons behind some students and their
parents not wanting to ‘stand out’ can be complex.
They may relate to a fear of stigmatisation and
rejection of the student and their parents by the
school community. As indicated by an educator,
this may also be reinforced through the school’s
eligibility criteria and the process of applying for
funding:
There are many hoops and loops to get the
Program for Students with Disabilities. This can
be quite traumatic for parents. The end result is
the support the child needs to participate, but the
application processes for funding shifts the focus
on what the child can’t do/their deficiencies.165
• school culture including poor leadership
• slowness associated with assessment
processes for making adjustments.162
160Parents could report more than one reason why their
child was unable to participate on the same basis as
other students.
161The Commission notes that in the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005 ‘Funding and
resourcing were raised as issues at every consultation
and in the majority of submissions. Both user and
provider representatives argued that there is not
enough funding to effectively accommodate the
needs of students with disability, even when there is a
commitment to do so’. Australian Government, ‘Report
on the review of the Disability Standards for Education
2005’, above n 37, vii. The Commission’s survey, ‘have
a say’ day consultations and submissions revealed a
similar consensus.
162Educator survey participant.
163Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
164Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
165HASD 3.
42 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Inconsistency of approach to making
adjustments
Parents tended to report positive experiences
as being dependent on an individual teacher,
integration aide, special needs coordinator or
principal. While this was not always the case, it
does suggest that compliance with the Standards
and the Equal Opportunity Act may be inconsistent
across the education system:
The teacher last year was not actually inspired to
teach my son and the school bureaucracy wasn’t
all that proactive in doing anything about it. Now
that he has a new teacher he is happy and the
teacher takes any problems (which are little more
than would be presented by other children) in
her stride. It is amazing the contrast between an
angry boy (and that translates to parents as well)
last year and the happy boy this year.166
Before the current principal came, the principal
was good. Great teacher and she had an autism
program in place and was implementing it
through the school. A new principal came and
things changed. There was regression amongst
students.167
Our son made remarkable progress during
his Prep year. He went from being almost
preverbal e.g. a vocabulary of about 80 regularly
used words and speech which was so badly
mispronounced that it was difficult to understand)
to being able read quite fluently and expressing
himself in words. During his grade 1 year thanks
to the negative attitude of his classroom teacher
and poor quality aides which were changed
regularly his language, behaviour and academic
skills deteriorated significantly ...168
Others parents expressed concern that
adjustments could be made in one school setting,
but not in another:
At [a mainstream] state primary school the school
refused to administer vital medication on a daily
basis because they had no experience with it and
wouldn’t accept even a doctor’s letter for her rare
endocrine disorder. I had to dose ‘around’ school
hours and be ‘on-call’ in case of emergency,
which made work extremely hard for me – so I’d
call it a ‘ripple effect’. The Independent school
she attended for 15 months of secondary school
had no problem with administering medication, as
does her current special school.169
166Parent of student attending a Catholic mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
167Phone-in 4.
168Phone-in 8.
169Parent survey participant.
Comments were also made regarding the
timeliness of adjustments. For example, a
therapist spoke about the significant delays they
had experienced in trying to get appropriate
adjustments at their school:
I have found schools reluctant to spend money
on making facilities accessible, including basic
needs such as a disabled toilet. Once the school
approves, there is a still a long time before the
modifications are made.170
Understanding disabilities171
Autism does not mean intellectual
impairment, just intellectual difference.171
Survey responses from parents, students
and organisations cited a general lack of
understanding within the school community about
different disabilities and how these may affect the
child’s ability to learn. A number of parents made
comments about teachers needing training about a
range of disabilities.
Some parents also suggested that some teachers
do not take mental health disorders seriously and
they are not considered a ‘real’ disability:
The child is punished ... [the] child should have
had [the] condition accepted, not challenged.172
In regard to communication disabilities, Speech
Pathology Australia noted:
Professional staff in the classroom can form
the view that if the student is inarticulate, the
underlying problem is an intellectual disability.
This is not the case as these children are
cognitively intact but have a severe language
impairment.173
Another consequence of failing to understand
disability is that some students are challenged
about their disability or it is not taken seriously:
She was referred to by a teacher as a ‘princess
who doesn’t try’.174
170Case study 17.
171Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
172Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
173Submission 11, Speech Pathology Victoria 5–6.
174Parent of student with learning disability attending
a government mainstream school. Parent survey
participant.
Part 2: Experiences 43
Some teachers don’t understand Asperger’s
syndrome, they expect me to be like everyone
else. I get worried a lot.175
My medical condition is misunderstood. I have
ME/CFS and I am bullied by teachers and
students who don’t understand and have been
told ME/CFS is not a real disability.176
A lack of understanding among educators about
how to support students with disabilities can lead
to students being isolated and not participating in
class. Examples from parents included:
• a student with autism relying on other students
for help and then being separated for talking
• teachers giving homework tasks verbally and
a student therefore missing content, dates and
deadlines
• a student sleeping on a beanbag all day
because the teacher was too busy and the
student too far behind
• a student sitting in a corner reading for the first
half of the year. It was not until a psychologist
tested his abilities that they realised he had
fallen drastically behind.177
More than one student identified occasions where
external information sessions were held about
particular disabilities but teachers did not take the
opportunity to attend them. These students felt that
attending the sessions would have helped their
teachers to learn more about their disability and
how to better support their needs.178
The research also suggested that one of the
consequences of failing to understand disability
or adapt teaching styles is that students end up
being punished for behavioural manifestations of
their disability:
He was constantly treated like he was bad and his
behaviour was by choice to buck the system.179
Gaps in understanding about the nature of a
student’s disability were particularly apparent
regarding behavioural and learning-related
disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder,
Asperger’s syndrome and dyslexia.
175Student, government mainstream school. Student
survey participant.
176Myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue
syndrome. Student, government mainstream school.
Student survey participant.
177Parent survey participants.
178Student survey participant.
179Parent of student attending an Independent specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
Parents spoke about the importance of teachers
understanding what things can trigger anxiety in
their children and how teachers can respond most
effectively to behaviour that can seem aggressive.
One parent reported being herself blamed for the
behavioural manifestations of disabilities that their
child’s teachers did not fully understand.180
A submission to the Commission by a disability
advocate also spoke about the impacts of
inappropriate behaviour management, which
can cause deterioration in behaviour rather than
addressing it. The submission suggested that
rather than using ‘positive behaviour plans’ to
identify and remove triggers to behaviour, schools
are using them to identify behaviours that will
attract punishment, detention, a policy of ‘zero
tolerance’ and potential restraint. According to the
submission, these result in a ‘cyclical response’
whereby the student is punished and labelled,
leading to further reactions and punishment.181
More time, resources and skills needed
Some educators spoke about not being able to
give their full attention to other children in their
class, due to a lack of time to support the needs
of children with disabilities in their classroom.
This confirms findings of previous research:182
It’s really frustrating having kids with severe
disabilities in your classes. This is because you
spend most of your time dealing with them, and
cannot give adequate help to other students in
the class.183
Others described a lack of support in building
their knowledge of disabilities and how to teach
in an inclusive environment. This is consistent
with previous survey findings by the Australian
Education Union. This survey of 11,694 educators
conducted in 2010 found that nationally, 18 per
cent of participants ranked ‘additional support for
students with disabilities or behavioural issues’ as
the most important thing that would most assist to
improve student outcomes. Twenty-four per cent
ranked this second.184
180Parent survey participant.
181Submission 2, Julie Phillips, Disability Advocate, 6.
182See also Australian Government, Strategies to Support
the Education of Students with Disabilities in Australian
Schools; Report to Minister Peter Garrett AM MP,
Minister for School Education, from the students with
disabilities working group, 15 December 2010 11.
183Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
184Twenty per cent of the survey sample was from
Victoria. Australian Education Union, The State of Our
Schools Survey 2010 (2010) 2,15.
44 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
The need to build capacity and support for
educators through pre- and post-qualification
training, ongoing professional development,
leadership and support was a very strong theme
in the research. These issues are discussed in
Chapter 15.
• students being excluded from holiday programs,
swimming carnivals and leadership programs
Lack of funding seen as a barrier to
participation
• enrolment being made dependent on receiving
funding.187
Parents made a number of comments about their
understanding of funding arrangements and
whether funding adequately supported their child’s
participation at school.185 Some of the key points
they made included:
One Indigenous student said:
• that the criteria for funding are discriminatory,
with many parents complaining that children
who need assistance miss out because they
do not meet what the parents consider to be
restrictive funding criteria
Both the critical friends group and ‘have a say’ day
participants raised issues that were not reflected in
the general survey results. These issues, described
below, relate specifically to the experiences of
Indigenous students and their families.
• that funding levels are inadequate, with some
parents personally funding assistance due to
gaps in the system
Diagnosis and definitions of disability
• that parents have little understanding of how
funding is spent, due to gaps in communication
with the school.
A high number of educators responding to the
survey commented on funding arrangements,
particularly when asked about reasons why
adjustments were not provided. This was one of
the reasons most frequently cited for why students
are not always provided with the adjustments
they need. Educator survey respondents also
highlighted the delays associated with seeking
funding or problems with the funding criteria.
In addition, educators noted that many students
who are not eligible for PSD funding, due to the
nature of their disability, still need adjustments and
support. As such, they are vulnerable to falling
through the cracks.
Funding is discussed in detail in Chapter 14.
Additional barriers for Indigenous students
The Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network critical
friends group discussed a number of issues that
can negatively impact on the participation of
Indigenous students with disabilities in school life.
‘Have a say’ day participants raised similar issues,
including:
• a lack of cultural safety, intensifying feelings of
isolation for Indigenous students with disabilities
185Parent survey participants.
• labelling of students with disabilities
• students being excluded from school outside
the limited hours they are funded for integration
aide support186
Most teachers are helpful but I get confused and
can’t understand them. Class sizes are too big.
Teachers have too many roles and not enough
time.188
‘Have a say’ day participants described a problem
both of under- and over-diagnosis of disability in
Indigenous children. See Chapter 3: Enrolment,
Identification of disability for discussion of this
issue.
Cultural support
The Commission notes that the Wannik Education
Strategy is reforming the Indigenous workforce in
the Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development (DEECD) by:
employing more Koori support staff, and
integrating the Koori support workforce with
regional support staff and functions linked to the
Department’s broader early childhood and school
improvement strategy, including the coordination
of developing Koori education plans and pathway
plans for students.
Redesigning the roles and responsibilities of
the Koori support workforce to ensure high level
support for individual Koori students and families,
with a particular focus on school-family.189
186This is discussed in Chapter 9.
187HASD 11, see also Victorian Aboriginal Disability
Network critical friends group.
188Student survey participant.
189State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, About Wannik – what we
propose to do (24 March 2010) <http://www.education.
vic.gov.au/about/directions/wannik/whatwepropose.
htm> at 24 July 2012.
Part 2: Experiences 45
We understand that by January 2013 the transition
of Koori education support officers (KESOs) to
new roles will be complete, with the workforce
increased from 56 to 118 positions across the
state. This includes a transition of KESOs to
higher grades in the public service and the
creation of additional positions as Koori education
coordinators in each region.
The critical friends group was concerned about
this shift. Specifically members were concerned
that these staff no longer work inside schools but
have a new role assisting the school to engage
with families. They were concerned that this meant
there were no people with cultural understanding
to support students directly in schools.190
Some ‘have a say’ day participants also raised
issues surrounding the changing role of KESOs.
One participant expressed concern that teachers
did not listen to KESOs:
Teachers think, who are they [the KESOs] to tell
us about children? They are not given the chance
to give cultural expertise.191
I have seen some KESOs used as gofers, not as
experts192
These participants also described situations
where Indigenous students with disabilities were
attending Catholic or specialist schools after
being expelled from government mainstream
schools. These students did not have access
to KESOs or culturally inclusive curriculum in
their new school. They felt that created a choice
between meeting the student’s disability needs
and meeting their cultural needs. Conversely, one
participant described a positive experience at her
local Catholic school, where disability and cultural
support was provided by a Koori educator and
local volunteers.193
One parent expressed her concern about the
inability to meet her child’s cultural or disability
needs:
[The] inability of staff to recognise the needs of
Asperger’s syndrome children. [The] inability of
[the] school to equip teachers or support staff.
Inability of all concerned to understand the
cultural needs of my child.194
Parent engagement with schools
Both the ‘have a say’ day participants and the
critical friends group described barriers to
parents’ engagement with schools. The critical
friends group also stated that many Indigenous
people do not feel comfortable speaking to school
principals.195
One participant also said that many Indigenous
families find it intimidating to talk to teachers:
[It is] connected to institutionalisation, they think
they might be dobbed in.196
Further, one participant shared her experience of
student support group meetings:
When I go to SSGs, I meet with the principal, not
the teachers. But I want the two teachers in the
meeting as well, so they understand the needs of
my child in the classroom. If the principal is there,
even the teachers get scared.197
Additional barriers to participation for
students from CALD and refugee backgrounds
Language and cultural barriers can also affect
parents’ ability to access support for their children.
The CALD critical friends group noted that many
families are unaware of what support is available
to assist their children, and that they can face
barriers when they try to seek out support. For
example, one participant stated that 70 per cent
of his clients did not speak English. He voiced
a suspicion that schools do not consult with his
clients because of language barriers, leading
to misunderstandings and complaints. Another
participant added that translations do not capture
all the information that families need.
In the case studies they provided, the Centre for
Multicultural Youth (CMY) described difficulties
for parents:
... who may be struggling to understand the
mainstream education system, and then need to
also understand the special school system and
potentially navigate both.198
She stated that this led to her child being
suspended.
190Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network critical friends
group.
191HASD 11.
192HASD 11.
193HASD 11.
194Parent survey participant.
195Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network critical friends
group.
196HASD 11.
197HASD 11.
198Case study 39.
46 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Speech Pathology Australia said:
... it is important that recognition also be given to
the challenges facing children from linguistically
diverse backgrounds, and that the ‘Educational
Goals for Young Australians’ recognise the
extremely important role that maintenance of
a first language plays in long-term educational
outcomes.199
A CMY staff member spoke about CALD students
with intellectual disability and the struggle they
have to communicate, particularly in English. They
gave the example:
... of students in a homework club, struggling to
switch between the language they speak at home,
and the English that they have to speak at school
and at homework clubs.200
The CALD critical friends group did note that some
communities might not regard mild intellectual
disability as ‘disability’. They also noted that this
could reflect a fear of stigma, as well as resistance
to categorisation.201 This may mean that families
are reluctant to seek or accept assistance for their
child at school. For example, CMY provided a case
study of a CALD student with intellectual disability
who was eligible for PSD funding but received no
aide time or curriculum modifications at school:
[The caseworker] organised a meeting with the
teacher, the integration aide, himself and the
young man’s mother. Originally from a small
village on the other side of the world, the mother
– who could also not read or write – did not grasp
the concept of intellectual disability, not of her son
being labelled as having an ID. She thus did not
care whether her son had an integration aide or
modified curriculum.202
CMY staff also raised concerns about the
diagnosis of disability in the context of language
and cultural barriers, for example in relation to IQ
testing without an interpreter (when the student
is still learning English). One CMY staff member
also questioned the accuracy of IQ tests when an
interpreter is used.203
Additional barriers for rural and regional
students204
When you live in a small town, you have
little choice where you send your child to
school.204
A number of survey responses indicated that
students in regional areas face specific issues
affecting their participation at school. These often
relate to a lack of specialist support services, such
as speech therapists, and even the choice
of school. Educators participating in ‘have a
say’ days also spoke about lack of access to
expertise to learn and understand more about
particular disabilities.
Regional participants reported that adjustments to
facilities at school had been delayed, overlooked,
or not properly made. A therapist gave an example
of a student still waiting for modifications at their
school to be completed 12 months after the school
had approved them.205 Other examples included
schools not having facilities for children
in wheelchairs.206
Parents and educators participating in the ‘have a
say’ days spoke in particular of the lack of access
to support services in rural and regional areas.
This is discussed further in Chapter 6.
Consequences of not making
adjustments
The combined impact of the factors listed above
means that many students with disabilities are not
genuinely participating in their school community.
A number of parents stressed that they send their
child to school to learn and that it is not enough
for them to simply be ‘managed’ or kept quiet and
happy. As one parent of a student in a mainstream
government school said:207
She is failing with a smile on her face and
no one is noticing.207
199Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia 3.
200Case study 39.
201CALD critical friends group.
202Case study 39.
203Case study 39.
204Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
205Case study 18.
206HASD 2.
207Parent survey participant.
Part 2: Experiences 47
Parents described a range of impacts that result
from not ensuring the participation of students with
disabilities, including:
• the need for support in and out of the classroom
(e.g. sporting activities, playground, camps,
excursions)
• inappropriate expectations being placed on
students and their family due to lack of insight
into disability and its effect on their learning
• schools being more aware of services available
through the Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development (DEECD), such as
visiting teachers and the various professional
development programs on offer
• students experiencing learning delays, anxiety
and self-esteem issues due to misunderstanding
• students becoming ‘school refusers’ due to
anxiety associated with going to school
• children having to be withdrawn from school
and educated from home, or otherwise having
to change the nature and frequency or their
enrolment.208
Educators were acutely aware of these
consequences and in particular the lost
opportunities for students and the school when
a child with disability is unable to reach their
potential:
When I see students who I believe should receive
funding for extra support get knocked back, it
breaks my heart that these students will more
than likely never reach their full potential. We as
a school provide as much support as possible
to unfunded students but we are stretched
beyond our limits ... many aides and teachers
work through lunchtimes ... so we can give
these students the best we can. I have seen the
difference we make. But we need help!209
There are profound consequences when students
with disabilities are unable to participate in
education on the same basis as students without
disability – for the child, the family, the school
and for the community. A person’s life chances,
employment options, future earnings and value in
society are largely determined by their education.
Failing to ensure the participation of students with
disabilities in education, and to maximise their
learning outcomes, is not only discriminatory and
unfair, it is also life-changing.
Opportunities for improvement
There was significant agreement between
educators and parents about what is needed
to improve the participation of students with
disabilities.
Responses from parents in the survey included:
• the importance of educators focusing on the
needs of individual students and adjusting their
methods accordingly
208Parent survey participants.
209Integration aide, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
• the importance of leadership in schools
to ensure teachers have the capacity and
understanding to help students participate
• the need for strong communication between
parents and teachers in supporting
participation, including in relation to the use of
funding and individual learning plans
• more continuity and better transition when it
comes to identifying the needs of the child
(e.g. changing teachers or aides, identification
of needs after transition across year levels or a
different school or level of schooling).
The CALD critical friends group made a number of
suggestions for improvements, including:
• training for teachers about CALD communities in
their area
• developing a communication plan in schools
involving parents and teachers that explains how
schools will communicate with CALD families.
Parents in the survey also made suggestions
about improving the participation of students with
specific disabilities. These included:
• staff training in relation to a range of disabilities,
including vision impairment, cerebral palsy,
autism spectrum disorder, epilepsy, dyslexia and
auditory processing deficits
• extra student support, including reading
recovery and speech therapists
• information for staff as well as other parents
about disabilities, particularly those that some
may be fearful of, such as epilepsy
• supply of physical adjustments, including
appropriate lifting aids, wheelchair accessible
transport, and greater acceptance and carrying
out slight modifications for activities at school
• greater use of creative learning methods
and presentation formats, including use of
technology such as tablet computers where
available, being allowed to type instead
of handwrite more often, and less use of
worksheets
• greater availability of Auslan interpreters for
deaf students, acoustically fitted-out classrooms
and greater deaf awareness among staff.
48 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
The educator survey asked for examples of best
practice approaches to supporting students with
disabilities. Responses included comments about
attitudes, priorities and cultural change, especially
the importance of seeing the child before seeing
the disability, and treating all students with equality
and integrity.
Best practice approaches identified by educators
included:
• adopting an evidence-based approach to
working with students with various forms of
disability
• professional development and training for
teachers to address students’ needs
• greater availability of specific learning
resources, adjustments and aids, visual cues
and timetables
• smaller class sizes and more aide support in
classrooms.
Specific suggestions were also made regarding
facilitating the participation of students with vision
impairments.210
Another educator suggested that schools should
employ advocates for children’s learning:
Every school should employ a trained
psychologist, counsellor or chaplain who
understands development and disability to spend
time in every classroom, to see how every child
learns, understand the family environment and
so on. They would be an advocate for children’s
learning, observing how aides and teachers, and
principals work together to build inclusion. They
would be different to an ‘inclusion coordinator’
who may be caught up in funding issues etc. The
DEECD needs an ‘inclusion and wellbeing leader’
and a dedicated team of people to drive reform.211
These are all very practical suggestions for how
the educational experiences of students with
disabilities can improve and how schools can
achieve compliance with anti-discrimination
law. However, there is also the issue of how the
community, parents and government can measure
how well students with disabilities are faring, and
whether existing and future efforts to promote
participation actually work.
210Case study 1.This visiting teacher reported: ‘the Texas
School for the Blind … has become an international
centre of knowledge. They have day programs, both
short and long-term. They have satellite schools
where students are placed into mainstream classes
and more fully integrated settings with support staff.
They also support students in their local schools. They
offer professional development for staff, are a hub for
research, have excellent online resources and are
always at the forefront of the field’.
211HASD 9.
Currently, there is no system-wide means for
determining the educational outcomes of students
with disabilities – this data simply does not exist.
Instead, all the information is held at a school level,
usually in the student’s individual learning plan,
where these are in place.
One way to gather better information about the
educational outcomes of all students, including
those with disabilities, is to use a data tool called a
unique student identifier. The Victorian government
has already developed such a tool (the Victorian
Student Number). However, this currently only
provides information about where students are in
the system. For example, it tracks which school a
student attends and retention rates. It does
not measure or report on educational outcomes
for students.212
If the Victorian Student Number was enhanced to
provide information about the participation and
learning achievements of students with disabilities,
it would, for the first time allow the DEECD and
the community to know if the investments and
techniques currently underway in Victorian schools
to improve the participation of students with
disabilities are actually working.
The Commission also believes that a simple
way to measure the participation of students
with disabilities and to monitor compliance with
legal obligations is to ask parents, students and
teachers about their experiences. This research
is one example of this approach. It would be
most welcome if the DEECD and other education
authorities established a proactive program of
consultations across the state to build on this.
Recommendations
3. Mindful of the recommendations of the Report
of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005, that, as a matter of urgency,
the Victorian Student Number is enhanced
to enable the measurement of educational
outcomes of students with disabilities in
government schools.
4. Education authorities hold an annual round of
parent and student feedback forums across
Victoria to gather feedback on participation of
students with disabilities in schools, and that
this feedback is publicly reported along with
actions to respond to the feedback.
212http://vcaa.vic.edu.au/schooladmin/vsn/overview.html at
9 August 2012.
Part 2: Experiences 49
Chapter 5: Curriculum development,
accreditation and delivery
Standards for curriculum development, accreditation and delivery
The right
Measures to comply
Students with disabilities have the right to
participate in educational courses or programs that
are designed to develop their skills, knowledge and
understanding, including relevant supplementary
programs, on the same basis as students without
disability.213
Measures a school may implement to meet the
standard include:
Requirements to meet the standard
Under the law, education providers are required to:
• ensuring that activities take into account the
learning capacities and intended educational
outcomes for the student
• take reasonable steps to ensure that courses
and programs are designed in such a way that
any student with disability is able to participate
in the learning experiences of the course,
without experiencing discrimination. This
includes assessments for the course
• making materials available in a format that is
appropriate for the student, including using a
format that the student is able to read (e.g. large
print or Braille), using appropriate communication
devices and using the language of the child (e.g.
Auslan)
• consult with students or their parents or carers
about the effect of the disability on the student’s
ability to participate in learning experiences of
school subjects, including assessment
• ensuring that the student is not disadvantaged
by the time taken to convert materials into an
accessible format
• in light of that consultation, consider and make
any reasonable adjustments to curriculum and
assessments that are necessary, unless making
such adjustments would impose an unjustifiable
hardship
• repeat the process of considering and making
reasonable adjustments over time so as to allow
for the changing needs of the student.214
• making sure the curriculum, teaching materials
and assessment of school subjects are
accessible to the student and appropriate to the
student’s needs
• adjusting teaching strategies to meet the learning
needs of the student and ensuring that any
disadvantage in the student’s learning resulting
for the disability is addressed
• ensuring non-classroom activities, such as field
trips and work experience, are designed to
include the student
• adapting assessment procedures and
methodologies so that the student can be tested
to measure what he or she has learned. This
can include access to portable computers and
extra time to undergo assessments, tests and
examinations.215
• The Standards do not mandate the nature of the
adjustments, as these must be determined for
each child. However, schools must adjust what is
taught, how it is taught and how learning is tested,
so that the student can understand and access
the learning material.
213Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 6.1
notes.
214Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 6.2. See
above n 42 for an explanation of unjustifiable hardship.
215Measures to comply are contained in section 6.3 of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth). See also
Australian Government, ‘Review of Disability Standards
2005 Discussion Paper’, above n 47, 14.
50 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Main findings
• In schools where teaching methods and
learning materials are adapted to the individual
needs of students with disabilities, students are
more likely to enjoy better outcomes. However,
performance across Victoria’s education system
is patchy.
• Students with disabilities may find that
adjustments are made in the classroom but not
for all aspects of schooling. As a result, they are
denied equal access to experiences that other
students take for granted, including excursions,
school camps and other extracurricular
activities.
• Making adjustments for exams and assessment
is inconsistent between schools. In some
schools, adjustments are not even considered.
In others, the environment for testing or
limitations in available supports can lead
students to perform well below their potential.
• Parents expressed concerns about the level
of adjustments that are available to meet the
needs of students with disabilities, especially
during Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE)
examinations, and the arduous process needed
to apply for adjustments.
Adjusting teaching methods and learning
materials216
We don’t expect him to be a Rhodes
Scholar; however, we expect him to be
given the opportunity to reach his full
potential.216
Students told the Commission about the ways in
which teaching strategies are adapted to meet
needs arising from their disability. Twenty-six out
of 60 students in the survey reported learning
programs that have been developed to suit their
needs. However, not all students had positive
experiences:
Some teachers are great but some others aren’t.
For example I can only write for very short periods
of time so we requested if I could take notes
on a laptop or have notes printed off for me so
I could highlight the important parts and write
down smaller bits of information. Some teachers
were great and more than helpful, however others
stated that they thought it promoted ‘laziness’.217
216Parent survey participant.
217Student, Catholic mainstream school. Student survey
participant.
I have dyslexia and find it difficult to read, write
and organise ideas. Sometimes I don’t get the
extra time I need to understand the class or just
even write down the notes.218
[I would like] extra time for homework and
assessments like SACS and exams, notes before
the class, advice on what to read, as I can’t get
through everything. Less noise in the classroom
[and] answering my questions instead of saying
‘I just told you’.219
Some students identified help with homework as
an important need:
I keep falling behind with work and I don’t have an
aide at home to do my homework. I need an aide
at school so obviously I need one at home.220
[The extra help I need is] funding for technology
at home. Help at home to do my homework, being
independent.221
Educators and parents stressed the importance
of adjusting teaching methods and the need for
flexibility and creativity:222
In grade 2, we had a great teacher, and
everything was in place for my child. She
organised a voice-activated laptop. She had
visual cues each day on his desk of how the day
was going to run ... she found special pencils that
he could hold...223
The adjustments my child needs are in most
cases very simple and have little or no cost.224
While learning outcomes and curriculum-based
goals were identified as important, a number
of participants suggested that educators could
be inflexible in their approach, focusing only on
meeting curriculum objectives and not considering
broader learning needs:
218Student survey participant.
219Student, Independent school. Student survey
participant.
220Student, Independent school. Student survey
participant.
221Student, government mainstream school. Student
survey participant.
222See e.g. Manor Lakes College, which incorporates a
support centre model where students with disabilities
access a range of programs including physical
education, art, library and performing arts. Two
specialist classes have been combined with other
mainstream classes. The school also promotes
functional academic and independent living skills
programs. Each student has an Individual Education
Plan that influences the assessment and reporting of
the student, which in turn leads to the modification to
all curriculum areas. <http://www.manorlakesp12.vic.
edu.au/College-Staff/Support-Centre1.aspx? at
11 July 2012.
223HASD 2.
224Parent survey participant.
Part 2: Experiences 51
A ‘command and control’ style approach saw
an increasing number of episodes of serious
distress ... they seemed to approach their job as
to complete his work rather than support his social
and behavioural integration into the class routine.225
226
Teachers need to focus more on teaching
students and not subjects.226
A number of parents gave examples of inflexible
teaching methods regarding requirements to
complete written work by hand. One parent of
a child with Asperger’s syndrome and dyslexia
gave the example of their child preferring to type
their work. For this parent, building up their child’s
confidence by being more flexible about the need
to write by hand was an important step in helping
them participate.227 Other parents expressed their
frustration with an education system that they
consider rewards merit and not effort.
Speech Pathology Australia reported that the
worst discrimination occurs for students who
have a severe speech disorder. They argue that
these complex disorders are not well understood
by other health professionals as well as teachers
‘who continue to teach the curriculum in the same
way not allowing for the need to use a variety of
methods and strategies so that these students can
also access the curriculum’.228
A number of parents of children with autism
spectrum disorder spoke about small changes
in teaching styles, including use of eye contact
and positioning of the child in the room to avoid
distractions and overstimulation:
Some parents also stressed that even minor
changes in teaching style can greatly assist
students:
With some relatively simple adjustments in
teaching style, and a better appreciation of his
particular problems, he should have been able to
achieve better academic results.231
Another parent spoke about the importance of
building confidence in students to communicate
more confidently with teachers about their disability
and the help they need:
For the first time ever he finished his work first
because he had the confidence to tell [his
teacher] that he has some learning issues and
could she explain again ... his first ‘win’ and he is
10 years old ... it doesn’t take much.232
Building on existing curriculum
resources to have more impact
The Commission notes and commends the
development and implementation of the Abilities
Based Learning and Education Support (ABLES)
curriculum and teaching resource by the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development (DEECD).233
ABLES includes an online tool for assessing the
learning needs of students with disabilities and
links this to the development of an individual
learning plan for the student, to be developed in
partnership with the student support group.234
ABLES can also be used to monitor the student’s
progress and to generate specific teaching and
learning strategies for the classroom.
Most autism management strategies are merely
simple good housekeeping ones, with some
sensory processing tools thrown in.229
Educators, however, identified that adjustments
are often made in ways that are not necessarily
measurable, such as interacting in different ways
with students, explaining things, and providing
individual attention and support after class.230
225Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
226Specialist support provider, Independent school.
Educator survey participant.
227Parent survey participant.
228Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia 5.
229Parent of student who is now home-schooled. Parent
survey participant.
230Educator survey participant.
231Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
232Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
233This was developed over three years in partnership
with the University of Melbourne. State of Victoria,
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, Abilities Based Learning and Education
Support: an introductory guide for Victorian
Government schools (2011) 6. See < http://www.
education.vic.gov.au/healthwellbeing/wellbeing/ables.
htm> 9 July 2012.
234ABLES is used to identify where a student is working
at a level equivalent to the Victorian Essential Learning
Standards (VELS) and to plan an appropriate curriculum
for that student. If the student is at VELS level one or
above, then the teacher can use the VELS to provide a
curriculum that is appropriate. For those students who
are working at a level that is below level 1 of the VELS,
the teacher would use Towards Level 1 of the VELS to
access appropriate curriculum advice. Ibid 12.
52 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
The Commission notes that the DEECD
implementation plan for the More Support for
Students with Disabilities initiative includes utilising
Commonwealth funding for further teacher training
around the use of ABLES in schools.235 This is a
welcome initiative.
The value of ABLES is that it makes it easier for
teachers to develop an individualised curriculum,
regardless of where the student may currently sit
on the learning spectrum. It is a comprehensive
tool to support teachers working with students
who may or may not be eligible for funding under
the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD);
however, it is largely applicable to students with
intellectual disabilities.
Potentially this model of individualised assessment
of curriculum and teaching strategies, with clear
links to an individual learning plan, might also
be developed for other forms of disability so that
student progress against the Victorian Essential
Learning Standards (VELS) is more transparent
and targeted to the needs of the individual student.
Ensuring adjustments are made for the whole
curriculum236
We did not even realise there was a camp.
As I was walking him into school, all the
other children were walking to the bus
chatting happily with their bags. My child’s
head went down, and he informed me it
was his grade and they were all heading
off to camp.236
Parents and students spoke about the importance
of ensuring that students with disabilities can
participate in all parts of the curriculum. They
identified barriers in a range of areas:237
The other area that is not existent for my son is
before and after school care as well as holiday
programs. These are services that are an
extension of the mainstream school system but
do not exist in specialist schools.238
235Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23,14. See
also Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n 73, 11.
236Parent of a student attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
237These experiences are consistent with consultation
findings of the review of the Disability Standards for
Education 2005. See Australian Government, ‘Report
on the review of the Disability Standards for Education
2005’, above n 37,16.
238Case study 8.
Her school camp is coming up and due to the
nature of the camp (hiking in a remote location for
several days), the school believes my daughter
will not be able to cope. Therefore, they are not
allowing her to attend.239
The PE teacher had decided he couldn’t go to
swimming class as he would need two aides and
swimming class was at a gym that didn’t have a
person trained to teach people with disabilities
... the first time he went to the pool he wasn’t
involved in the lesson. He said ‘I wish I was with
the other kids.’240
Parents also spoke of their children being unable
to attend camps and excursions due to transport
that was not wheelchair accessible or facilities
that were not physically accessible. A number of
parents in our survey complained that their child’s
school required them to agree to accompany the
excursion (or stay in a hotel nearby) before their
child was allowed to participate.
My child cannot go to camp because the
camp doesn’t have physical access – this is a
DEECD property but it is not DDA [Disability
Discrimination Act 1992] compliant – they should
make all DEECD properties accessible.241
The class was going on an interstate bus trip
and tried to exclude the child as the child could
not travel on the ordinary bus. Inquiries by the
local regional office determined that the same
bus company had access to a large bus with a
wheelchair hoist.242
With excursions and camps, they start with why
he can’t attend rather than planning or trying to
negotiate what can be put into place so he can
attend. The only way he can attend is if I go too.243
I have epilepsy and severe allergies so school
often doesn’t want me to attend excursions.244
The Epilepsy Foundation of Victoria suggested
that more education be offered to staff to
decrease ignorance, however the school
declined. They also gave the school some
suggestions on how they would be able to take
my daughter safely on this trip. The school still
said no and we didn’t take it any further because
she had already missed out on the deadline for
the trip.245
239Phone-in 29.
240Phone-in 3.
241HASD 9.
242Case study 6.
243Phone-in 28.
244Student, Catholic school. Student survey participant.
245Parent of a student attending a mainstream Catholic
school. Parent survey participant .
Part 2: Experiences 53
Adjustments for assessments and
exams
Twenty-four out of 60 students reported being
allowed extra time to complete exams. However,
others said that adjustments for assessments were
not made:
... I was not allowed to reschedule my last exam
and ended up completing it by ticking answers
at random because I so desperately needed
to lie down.246
Out of the 617 parent participants surveyed,
202 (34.3 per cent) reported that they had
requested adjustments to assessments and
examinations in the last year.247
Figure 3: Type of assessments where adjustments
were requested
NAPLAN test
Year 9 0.52%
NAPLAN test
Year 7 6.74%
The National Protocols for Test Administration state:
students with significant intellectual disability and/
or those with significant coexisting conditions
which severely limit their capacity to participate
in the tests may be exempted from sitting
the national tests. This is determined after
consultation has occurred by the principal and
the relevant parent/carer, and the student is not
able to access the tests with adjustments.250
If a student is exempt from testing, the protocol
requires the principal to obtain the written consent
of the student’s parents or carers.
Year 10 assessment
6.22%
VCE 10.3%
NAPLAN test
Year 5 15.03%
NAPLAN is an annual assessment for all students
in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.249 However, most of NAPLAN
tests where adjustments were requested were
in primary school, with a significant reduction in
adjustment requests for NAPLAN in Years 7 and 9
among the parents in our survey. This may reflect
a smaller number of students with disabilities
participating in NAPLAN in high schools, noting that
NAPLAN testing is not compulsory as a parent may
exempt their child.
VCAL 2.07%
NAPLAN test
Year 3 13.4%
In-school tests
45.6%
The most common requests related to adjustments
for in-school testing (45.6 per cent of requests),
followed by National Assessment Program Literacy
and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing.248
246Student, government mainstream school. Student
survey participant.
247Parent survey participant.
248Out of these 202 requests, 193 parents reported the
type of request made. Of these 69 were related to
NAPLAN.
Students who qualify for exemption and do not
submit a test are considered as assessed students
and are counted in the ‘below minimum standard’
calculations for reporting purposes in national
and jurisdictional summary data. Results for
exempt students are not included in school-level
calculations.251
DEECD informed the Commission that in 2011 the
participation rates for Years 3, 5 and 7 for Victorian
students were between 94.4 per cent and 95.5 per
cent. For Year 9, the participation rate was about
91.5 per cent. The Department does not currently
have a figure for the overall number of students, or
percentage of Victorian students, that were exempt
from NAPLAN because of significant intellectual
disability and/or co-existing conditions which
severely limit their capacity to participate in the
tests however this data will be available for 2012
NAPLAN tests.252
249<http://www.nap.edu.au/About/index.html> at 21 July
2012.
250State of Victoria, Victorian Curriculum and Assessment
Authority, 2012 NAPLAN Handbook for Principals
(2012) 8. <http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/prep10/naplan/
schools/2012/handbookprin2012.pdf> at 9 August 2012.
251Students with ‘significant intellectual disability and/or
co-existing conditions with severely limit their capacity
to participate in the tests may be exempted’. Ibid 7-8.
252Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD 9 August
2012.
54 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Are students with disabilities discouraged
from taking part in NAPLAN?
While some parents had requested that their child
be excluded from NAPLAN, others expressed
concerns about:
• cases of students being automatically excluded
from NAPLAN testing without parental consent
• alternative strategies for assessment not being
explored both for NAPLAN and standard testing
• perceived discrimination of excluding students
from NAPLAN in an effort to maximise the
school’s overall results.253
Parents report:
My son was not able to sit the NAPLAN test
because the school could not afford a trained
augmentative communication facilitator.254
I have been asked to withdraw my son from
assessments as it ‘would cause him distress’
to take place, i.e. the NAPLAN testing. My son
is excluded to avoid the results from being
published.255
I was told to sign off that my child’s NAPLAN
results not be included amongst the schools
results. This was after having to fight for her to
actually take the tests. I never received the results
after asking several times and was told three
different stories about how she went!256
Most parents who bring their child to me for
assessments tell me that the school asks them not
to bring their child to school when the NAPLAN
tests are taking place because it will lower the
school’s scores. Therefore, as well as the terrible
effect on the child’s self esteem, the government
will have no idea how many children have learning
disabilities and actually need support because
they are not taking the test.257
Some parents reported a positive experience of
NAPLAN testing:
My child participated in both NAPLAN and
University of NSW maths exams last year. The
school were encouraging of his participation and
it gave them great insight into how they can better
plan for his learning.258
253Parent survey participants. See also Australian
Government, ‘Report on the review of the Disability
Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37,46.
254Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
255Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
256Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
257Dyslexia assessment specialist. Case study 14.
258Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
However, others did not wish their child to take part
in NAPLAN:
The test has absolutely no use for our child and
tells the education department nothing about the
abilities of our child and how they are developing.
It is far too negative and not designed for children
with special needs.259
It is disheartening to know that my child
doesn’t benefit from the experience of testing.
It would be great if there were tests that could
be administered on a scale that meets her
benchmarks.260
Vision Australia also noted that some students
choose to opt out of NAPLAN:
Additional time and exam papers being
provided in various formats are now standard.
What is becoming an issue is the content of
the assessment materials. There is a continual
trend toward more pictorial and graphic based
assessment. These are often complex and very
difficult to reproduce in an alternative format.
The result is that many students [with vision
impairment] are opting out of formal testing such
as NAPLAN.261
When these students are discouraged from
participating in NAPLAN, not only is data on the
literacy and numeracy of children who are blind or
have low vision not being quantified, it also means
‘the required information in which to make informed
decisions about their educational outcomes and
competencies is missing’.262
Adjustments for VCE exams
Parents expressed concerns about the level of
adjustments that are available to meet the needs
of students with disabilities, especially during
VCE examinations:
Our son with autism has a problem with
adjustments, he was assessed by an OT and had
a scribe for exams all through primary school.
Now in high school [VCE] he is not allowed to
have a scribe. So in exams, he just sits and waits
for the exam to finish. The problem is
with VCAA.263
259Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
260Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
261Submission 9, Vision Australia 7.
262Submission 9, Vision Australia 7.
263HASD 9.
Part 2: Experiences 55
According to the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment
Authority (VCAA) guidelines:
Special examination arrangements may be
approved to meet the needs of students who
disabilities, illnesses or other circumstances
that would affect their ability to access the
examination.264
In designing these guidelines, the VCAA notes that
it is:
... mindful of the need to balance the competing
demands of providing students with the
opportunity to perform at their optimum with the
need to preserve the academic integrity of the
assessment process.265
Parents expressed concern about what they felt
was a long and arduous application process:
There are special provisions in place for dyslexics,
which might allow him to use a keyboard
in exams, however the process of applying
for them is so difficult, and includes special
assessments, IQ tests, reports from physicians
and professionals. Because of the unsettling
and disruptive effects of this process, we have
decided to not seek special provisions in exams.
Instead, he will not sit the exams at all, which
means of course that he cannot seek an ATAR
score. The system is designed is such a way that
my son and people like him are systematically
excluded from higher education. This is a hideous
and obvious discrimination which is institutionally
ignored across governments and agencies.266
Applications for Special Examination Arrangements
must be made through the school principal and
be accompanied by recent supporting medical or
other specialist reports. The VCAA will not process
an application until all the relevant evidence
has been supplied. The Special Examination
Arrangement Advisory Panel reserves the right
to seek additional information from any of the
professionals named in the application.
If an application is declined, there are no
grounds for appeal and a new application can
only be submitted where there is a new diagnosis
or evidence of deterioration in an existing
condition.267
264State of Victoria, Victorian Curriculum and Assessment
Authority, VCE and VCAL Administrative Handbook
2012, Part C, section 11.4.
265Ibid.
266Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
267Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority,
‘VCE and VCAL Administrative Handbook 2012’,
above n 264, section 11.4.1.
The VCAA does not automatically adopt a medical
or psychological provider’s advice or replicate the
adjustments the school may have put in place for
school-based assessment. In addition, under the
rules, the use of a reader or a scribe, if approved
by the VCAA, cannot be a person who has a close
association with the student.268 This excludes
anyone who may have assisted the student
previously, other than in VCE examinations, and with
whom a strong professional working relationship
may have been formed (e.g. between an integration
aide or specialist support worker and the student).
Aside from suggesting mistrust of the student and
the professionals providing reading or scribing
services in exams, this rule imposes additional
barriers for students in rural or regional areas who
may not have access to a scribe or aide that they
do not know.
Are adjustments made when
requested?
When asked if the requested adjustment to an
assessment or examination was made, of 612
parent survey respondents:
• 48 per cent reported that the adjustment was
fully made
• 23 per cent reported it was partially made
• 27 per cent reported that the adjustment was
not made.
Some parents were concerned that adjustments for
exams were inconsistent or not even considered
by some teachers. Others were concerned about
the environment for testing or the non-availability
of usual supports once their child entered the
examination hall:
Assessment adjustment depends on the
individual teacher and whether they ‘agree’ that
adjustments are required. Often difficulties arose
with staff who still considered his issues to be
‘laziness’.269
He works better in a quiet smaller group and the
big hall where the exams are held is way too
noisy for him. I fear that he will get lower than
what he should because he won’t be able to
concentrate properly.270
268Ibid section 11.4.3(f).
269Parent of student attending an Independent school.
Parent survey participant.
270Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
56 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Her school has generally been very good.
However, I think she was disadvantaged by the
format of the VCE exams. Her English exam was
six hours long. She had a reader and a scribe.
She experienced equipment failure during her
exams. It was very hard for her and exhausting.
Before her maths exam the teacher set her
calculator to radians not degrees. My daughter
could tell she was getting strange results but
she did not know what was going on. The
reader could tell there was problem but could
not say anything to my daughter unless she was
specifically asked. In the end, she went through
the whole exam getting the answers wrong.271
Other parents reported having to investigate
themselves what adjustments might be made so
that their child could participate in assessments.
When the class teacher sought information,
it appeared that there are no standard
accommodations for learning disabilities in
the NAPLAN tests. It came down to me to do
some research into accommodations provided
for various tests around the world across all
education sectors, university entrance exams, etc.
I then provided this information to my daughter’s
class teacher, and a negotiation followed over
what would be allowed for the NAPLAN test.
Ultimately she was allowed extra time (up to 15
minutes), a larger print test paper, someone to
read questions out to her (except for the reading
test), and a scribe if she had wanted it. In the
event I don’t think all of these things were used.272
Some parents did not know that adjustments were
possible and so had not requested any:
I was under the impression that this was not
possible at all. So she has never been through
any kind of examination and I too never queried
about it.273
271Case study 37.
272Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
273Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
Impacts of not making proper
adjustments to curriculum or
assessment
Parents vividly described to the Commission the
impact of not having proper adjustments made or
of making the process of securing adjustments
overly onerous. A range of examples were
provided, most of which revealed a common
pattern where, if students are not provided with
support to participate, including adjustments to
the curriculum, then they become bored, noncompliant, disengaged or have lowered selfesteem. In the words of one parent:
A child who constantly fails will give up.274
On a positive note, a number of parents told the
Commission they had not faced any difficulties in
securing adjustments to assessments and that they
appreciated the strong support provided by the
school. Others noted that the process for putting
adjustments in place was easier in specialist
schools or in the early years of schooling:
School has been good at letting my son use his
laptop whenever needed and allowing a quiet
space and aide support for testing, however I am
scared that when he reaches higher year levels
he may not be able to do exams.275
Opportunities for improvement
A number of practical suggestions were made by
parents and students. Much of this focused on upskilling teachers and schools around disability, and
adjustments generally, so that the legal requirements
to make reasonable adjustments could be fulfilled,
consistent with themes around capacity building,
which is discussed in Chapter 15.
274Parent survey participant.
275Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
Part 2: Experiences 57
Some very specific suggestions were also made.
These included a stronger emphasis on developing
social skills as a core part of the curriculum.276 It
was argued that this would benefit all students, not
just those with disabilities. A greater emphasis on
social skills to promote post-school readiness was
another strong theme to emerge.277
According to one participant who had taught in
the United Kingdom, this created an incentive for
teachers to establish adjustments where these
could be made, and as a result, ‘…a lot more effort
was made by teachers to improve the achievements
of each child’.280
Additional guidance for schools on adjustments for
NAPLAN testing was suggested to ensure more
consistent application of supports and to reduce
the burden on parents who feel they are fighting to
get their child to participate.
Recommendations
More information for parents and schools around
how and when to apply for scribes and readers for
exams (especially for VCE) was also mentioned.
While visiting teachers are likely to know these
systems well, parents and other teachers may
not. Similar specialist knowledge and advice for
adjustments in assessments for other disabilities
would also be most welcome.
5. Building on existing efforts and consistent with
the recommendations of the Report of the
Review of Disability Standards for Education
2005, that the breadth and depth of curriculum
and practice materials available to teachers to
educate students with a range of disabilities
be enhanced. Further, that monitoring be
undertaken by education authorities to make
sure these are reflected in teaching practice.
While there are a range of views about whether
students with disabilities should be exempted
from NAPLAN testing, the Commission notes that
some parents consider their child’s exclusion from
NAPLAN as discriminatory.
In the United Kingdom, where similar national
testing takes place, a school can only exclude a
student from the test if they are working below the
level of the tests.278 The school must still register
these students for the test and submit teacher
assessments of each student. These exclusions are
included in the school’s results.279
276See e.g. HASD 9.
277Some educators reported structured life skills
programs for students such as cooking, gardening,
shopping, experiences with money, looking at what
skills are more important for life outside school. See
e.g. HASD 8. The Commission notes that the New
South Wales secondary curriculum includes alternative
outcomes for students with disabilities who are unable
to meet the universal curriculum outcomes even with
adjustments. These are called ‘life skills’ courses and
are included in the curriculum for English, Mathematics,
Science, Australian Geography, Australian History and
Personal Development Health and Physical Education.
The General Purpose Standing Committee inquiry into
students with disabilities reported that ‘the inclusion
of Life Skills courses as part of the curriculum at
secondary level was widely supported by inquiry
participants’. General Purpose Standing Committee
no. 2, Parliament of New South Wales, The provision of
education to students with a disability or special needs,
Report 34 (2010) 139–140.
278If a student with disability is working at the level of
the tests, the school must consider and arrange
adjustments for the student to sit the test: Standards and
Testing Agency, Curriculum Assessments: Assessment
and Reporting Arrangements – Stage 2 (2011) 20.
<www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/
assessment/a00197251/assessment-and-reportingarrangements> at 2 August 2012.
279Ibid 17.
Noting the findings of the Report of the Review
of Disability Standards for Education 2005 and
Victorian Auditor-General’s audit of programs for
students with special learning needs, that:
6. All Victorian schools conduct regular audits
of venues used for school camps and other
educational activities to ensure they are
accessible to students with a wide range of
disabilities, including intellectual, sensory and
other disabilities.
7. The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment
Authority establish a working group with the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
to formulate a simpler process for seeking
and making adjustments for students with
disability in Victorian Certificate of Education
examinations. That this working party address
inconsistencies in adjustments between inschool and Victorian Certificate of Education
examinations; and remove any existing
anomalies that may give rise to discrimination.
This working group should include experts
from various fields of disability, including
augmented communication and use of
technological advances to facilitate access.
8. Mindful of the recommendations of the Report
of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005, that data collected by the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development on the number and proportion of
students with disabilities eligible for NAPLAN
testing who are absented from testing be
published in the department’s annual report.
280Case study 14. This case study also identified that
in the United Kingdom schools can work towards a
‘dyslexia mark’ by becoming dyslexia friendly.
58 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 6: Student support services
Standards for student support services
The right
Measures to comply
Students with disabilities have the right to support
services provided to all students, for example
student welfare services and careers advice.
Measures a school may implement include:
Students with disabilities also have the right to
specialised services that they need to participate
in education. This might include personal or
medical support at school, therapists or other
specialist expertise or personal educational
support, such as an integration aide, without which
some students with disabilities would not be able
to access education.281
Requirements to meet the standard
Under the law, schools and educational authorities
that administer schools, such as the Department
of Education and Early Childhood Development
(DEECD) and the Catholic Education Office at a
diocese level, are required to:
• making sure educators are aware of what
specialised support services are available and
that students have information that enables them
to access these services
• providing, either directly or through collaborative
arrangements with service providers, supports
such as speech therapists, occupational
therapists, physiotherapists and personal or
attendant care
• making sure necessary equipment is provided
to the student, including communication devices
and adaptive technology
• ensuring appropriately trained support staff,
such as integration aides or teacher support
staff, AUSLAN interpreters and note takers, are
made available to the student.283
• take reasonable steps to ensure that the student
with disability is able to use support services
used by students of the school generally without
experiencing discrimination
• take reasonable steps to provide, or arrange for
another person or agency to provide, access to
the specialist support services necessary for
the student with disability to participate in the
educational activities for which the student has
enrolled at the school
• consult with the student or their parents or
carers about the provision of the support either
by the school or another provider
• in light of that consultation, consider and make
any reasonable adjustments that are necessary,
unless making such an adjustment would
impose an ‘unjustifiable hardship’
• repeat this process of consultation and make
reasonable adjustments, including through
access to specialised support services, to allow
for the changing needs of the student.282
281Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 7.1
notes.
282Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 7.2. See
above n 42 for an explanation of unjustifiable hardship.
283Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 7.2.
Part 2: Experiences 59
Main findings
• Despite considerable investment by the
Victorian Government, there continues to be
significant unmet need for support services for
students with disabilities, including integration
aides, occupational therapists, speech
therapists, other specialist staff and assistive
technology. If these are not provided when
required, students with disabilities cannot
participate effectively in education.
• Students in regional areas encounter distinct
issues that affect their ability to participate at
school, which commonly relate to a lack of
these specialist supports.
• Despite being contrary to government policy
and legislation, some parents are contributing
financially to the provision of specialist supports
in schools to address gaps in the system and
ensure that their child can remain at school.
Experiences of parents, students and
educators284
My son has what is termed high medical
needs and a severe level of disability.
He is totally PEG fed, requires regular
suction, is ventilated at night time and
uses an electric wheelchair ... He receives
the most amazing education and all of
his medical needs are taken care of when
at school.284
In Chapter 4, we reported that the most common
requests for adjustments from parents in the survey
were for specialist staff such as physiotherapists,
occupational or speech therapists, and for
education support staff (integration aides). This
pattern was the same for parents in the Catholic
and government systems. Parents of students with
disabilities in Independent schools were likely to
request therapists, education support staff and
behaviour support in equal measure.285
However, across all schools, parents reported that
the most frequently made adjustment made was
the provision on an integration aide.
284Case study 8.
285The response rate from parents from Independent
schools to this question was very low and so this data
should be treated with caution.
Reliance on integration aides as the primary
means of making adjustments
There was a general consensus that schools need
to carefully consider how to get the most out of
integration aides. Some parents stressed that the
role of integration aides needs to be clarified as
there can be conflict between teachers and aides
about their respective roles and responsibilities.
Participants spoke about occasions where
integration aides are used by all students in the
classroom. Some parents did not think this was
appropriate and saw the aide as their child’s
support person, not a general classroom resource.
Others took the opposite view, suggesting that it
was better for the teacher to focus on the student
with disability while aides assisted others in the
classroom.
Some people felt there was an over-reliance on
aide time and that funding would be better spent
on other supports. For example, a submission
received from Down Syndrome Victoria pointed to
evidence of inadvertent detrimental impacts that
can result from an over-reliance on one-to-one
paraprofessionals and aides, including separation
from classmates, unnecessary dependence and
limited access to competent instruction.286
Speech Pathology Australia submitted:
There are valuable uses for integration aides in
the school setting. However, they are not trained
appropriately to be able to work with students
with severe speech and language disorders.
The best practice model is to have the most
highly specialised professionals work with these
students.287
Unmet need for integration aides
Even though integration aides appear to be
the most frequently made adjustment, many
participants reported limited access to this form of
support, usually due to lack of funding.
286‘Historically families and schools have tended to
assume that this funding for students with disabilities
is intended to fund a teacher’s aide for the maximum
time possible. However, there is no strong basis for
such an allocation of all support funding and indeed
with inclusion as our goal there is good reason to
allocate funding more judiciously.’ Submission 3, Down
Syndrome Victoria, supplementary materials. See also
Michael F. Giangreco, ‘One-to-one paraprofessionals
for students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms:
Is conventional wisdom wrong?’ (2010) 48 American
Association on Intellectual and Developmental
Disabilities 1, 1–13.
287Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia 9.
60 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
[My child] gets funding for school hours,
although not all of them. He gets an aide
until 1 pm. This is a bit silly because he
doesn’t stop having autism at 1 pm.288
Other points relating to gaps in the provision of
integration aides made by parents included:288
• that many students with disabilities would
benefit from having access to an aide in a range
of areas in addition to the classroom, such as
in the playground, on excursions and at sport;
some parents reported their child has to be
taken home early because no alternative activity
to sport is offered
• changes to aide time without consultation or that
integration aides are not replaced when absent
• having to keep their child at home when an aide
is unavailable, leading to part-time attendance
at school.289
The Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network and
other community members described limitations
in integration aide services. They were concerned
that in their experience there are no Indigenous
integration aides:
Employ someone specifically for Indigenous
children with disability in schools to provide oneon-one support. That person must be trained;
they need cultural knowledge plus knowledge
of disability.290
They also noted that funding for aides did not
extend to participation in National Aborigines and
Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC)
week celebrations. This meant that children with
disabilities missed out on important cultural
events.291
Unmet need for specialist supports
Specialist therapists ranked highest in terms of
demand for adjustments and were likely to be
provided either in full or part at the same rate as
integration aides.292
288Phone-in 15.
289This is discussed in Chapter 9.
290HASD 11.
291Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network critical friends
group.
292See Figure 2, page 38.
In both cases, adjustments were fully made in one
in three cases, while a much higher proportion
of adjustments were partially provided (60 per
cent). This suggests there is a substantial unmet
need, despite significant existing resources being
deployed by the DEECD through Student
Support Services.
Problems accessing specialists
It is clear that access to appropriate, timely and
individualised therapies makes a considerable
difference for students with disabilities who need
this support. Yet, despite significant investment,
the Commission found that lack of access to
specialist supports remains a problem:
I was told that the school speech therapist was
busy with other students and that my son had
great speech needs and that he should see
a private speech therapist. No OT has been
accessed by the school for my son ... I requested
that the teacher be supported by receiving
professional development this was denied
despite the enthusiasm of the teacher.293
My son attended primary school at a government
school with a specialist deaf facility attached
and integrated. Despite Auslan being his first
language, having a significant speech delay and
language disorder, he did not have access to
a fluent/qualified Auslan interpreter during his
primary school years. He also had insufficient
access to speech pathology services. I believe
it had an impact on his language learning and
acquisition. This has affected his reading and
speaking progress.294
Students told similar stories:
Some teachers of the deaf are awesome, but
some schools treat it like an add-on.295
A number of parents indicated they had engaged
external professionals to supplement the child’s
learning, relying on a combination of what the
school provides and what they provided themselves:
The school has tried its best to get the relevant
specialists for my daughter. We too have paid for
some specialist input as we are conscious of the
high expenses (in spite of my daughter receiving
level 4 funding) for the school. However, with the
increase in expenses for these specialist services,
the school has stopped some of these services
being provided for her.296
293Parent of a student attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
294Parent of a child attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
295HASD 15.
296Parent of a student attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
Part 2: Experiences 61
Lack of access to specialist services was a very
strong theme in submissions provided to the
Commission, including those from peak bodies
representing allied health professionals.297 These
submissions outlined the value of these specialist
interventions and made suggestions as to how
provision could be enhanced in classrooms across
the state.
Speech Pathology Australia noted that
across primary and secondary school years,
communication disorders affect as many as
13 per cent of Australian children.298 They further
noted that:
... students with speech and language disorders
are disadvantaged from the start as they
cannot access the curriculum in ways that other
children do ... the importance of oral language
to the development of literacy cannot be
overemphasised.299
The organisation made the strong case that
students with severe speech and/or language
disorders can access the curriculum if best
practice teaching strategies and support in the
classroom is applied and speech pathology
services are provided. It reported it had repeatedly
expressed concern to the DEECD that access to
speech pathology services in the Victorian school
system is at the discretion of the school principal,
resulting in ‘significant inequity’ in service
provision across the state.300 They also submitted
that the absence of specific guidelines and role
descriptions for student support officers leads
to individual therapists having to advocate for
services for students to school principals, where
speech pathology services are either not available
or funds are used elsewhere, for example for an
integration aide.301
Occupational Therapy Australia reported that
the employment of occupational therapists in
mainstream schools is inconsistent between the
states, with Victoria employing these therapists
only in specialised educational settings.302 As
noted in its submission:
297See e.g. submissions 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11.
298McLeod and McKinnon (2007) cited in submission 11,
Speech Pathology Australia 4.
299Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia 3.
300Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia 8.
301Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia 8.
302In other states, mainstream schools employ
occupational therapists to provide services to students
with autism spectrum disorder, physical, sensory and
intellectual disabilities. Submission 5, Occupational
Therapy Australia 15.
In some situations, the occupational therapy
received at school may be the only access
that the students has to a health professional
... Ensuring that all students have equitable
access to occupational therapy services through
timely, school based interventions will foster the
development and inclusion of many students with
special needs into mainstream schools.
Occupational therapists in the field made similar
comments:
I currently don’t see school-aged children in my
Community Health role due to the restrictions in
our funding, however until four years ago I did.
Most community health centres have decided that
this is too big a sector to handle and have left it
to the Education Department. That means little is
done for these children.
This therapist, who also works privately, went on to
describe her experience in schools:
When I go to the schools, there is no
communication with the teachers or the principal.
I simply work with the aides and provide therapy
resources and ideas to them. There is no specific
room I can use and it is a matter of searching
around and helping yourself. Occasionally I
am invited to Parent Support Group meetings
but this is hit and miss ... No one asks or
seems particularly interested in my thoughts/
assessments and nothing is followed through
unless the aides implement recommendations.303
Vision Australia also noted the reliance on aides
to ensure specialist therapies and adjustments
are delivered:
Generally speaking students who are enrolled in
local schools are fully included in the curriculum
and program. To what extent in practice, often
depends on the support and skills of the
Educational Support Officer (ESO or Teacher Aide
and the Visiting Teacher ... As there is a severe
shortage of vision impaired trained teachers
in Victoria, there is the potential for students
and their schools to have reduced access to
experienced staff. One result of this approach
has been that potential Braille using students
have been discouraged from learning Braille as
the teacher supporting them has no background
in Braille.304
303Case study 5.
304‘The teacher may therefore encourage the student and
school to adopt an assistive technology approach.
Braille is crucial for children and young people learning
literacy and numeracy as it is analogous to learning
with sight and the intricacies of syntax, grammar and
structure are largely absent when using screen reading
technologies.’ Submission 9, Vision Australia 6. See
also case study 1.
62 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
In addition to highlighting the lack of access to
specialist services, the Disability Discrimination
Legal Centre was critical of the consultancy
model of specialist supports it claims is used in
government schools.
Recently the DEECD changed its philosophy
surrounding the provision of these services,
which are now provided through a ‘consultancy
model’. This means that instead of children
receiving direct therapy from allied health
professionals, those professionals now speak to
aides and teachers about what is required and
those aides or teachers are expected to provide
direct therapy ... Services such as speech
therapy, if a therapist does ever work with a child
directly are often given in groups. While this may
be cost effective, each child may have a different
severity and type of language disorder, and
therefore does not benefit from the ‘one size fits
all’ model provided.305
Geographic inequities
306
It is hard to get services if therapists are
not available ... it’s difficult when living
in regional areas because services don’t
stretch that far. Everyone has to make do.306
A number of survey responses indicated that
students in regional areas face distinct issues
affecting their participation at school, usually
relating to a lack specialist services. Access to
specialist services was described as a ‘critical
work force and community health issue’ by
Occupational Therapy Australia, which also noted
that access was especially problematic in rural and
regional areas.
Those students with little or no access to
occupational health services within or outside
their school environment, are at higher risk of
acquiring further learning delays, health issues,
having their personal development inhibited by
their disability, and ultimately educational success
arrested.307
305Submission 7, Disability Discrimination Legal Service 28.
306Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
307Submission 5, Occupational Therapy Australia 15.
Parents told stories of having to travel to
Melbourne to access services, such as speech
therapists.308 One mother of three blind students
reported driving to Melbourne twice a term to
get support from the Statewide Visual Resource
Centre, leaving home at 4am.309
Other examples included:
• a parent who said it took half a year for an
occupational therapist/physiotherapist to
come to their school and assist their child with
cerebral palsy.310
• multiple parents suggesting that generally
speech therapists are very difficult to find in
rural and regional areas.
• educators confirming that access to support
services, including both speech therapists and
psychologists, is much more difficult in regional
areas.311
Cultural barriers to accessing specialist services
‘Have a say’ day participants described barriers
that prevent Indigenous families from accessing
services to support their children. They noted that,
in a rural town where fewer services are available,
it is difficult to access culturally appropriate
services.
The Commission also understands there are very
few Indigenous specialist support staff employed
in the government school sector because of an
under-representation of Indigenous people in
speech pathology and other relevant professions
generally.
One participant said:
It is important for families to feel safe and have
programs that are culturally appropriate and
disability-aware – it needs to be clear that
the family is not at fault for having a child with
disability.312
308HASD 4.
309HASD 9.
310HASD 2.
311HASD 5.
312HASD 11.
Part 2: Experiences 63
Current provision of student support
services in government schools
In addition to general school support services
within the government school system, such as
primary welfare officers and student welfare
coordinators, DEECD funds a pool of allied health
professionals and visiting teachers known as
Student Support Service Officers (SSSO).313
The annual budget outlay for the service is
around $65 million.314 315
DEECD estimates approximately one in
five students will need to access the
Student Support Services program at some
stage of their schooling. In 2011, there
were 627 full time equivalent SSSOs and
540,000 students in Victorian government
schools. This equates to one SSSO per
172 students who are estimated to need
access to the program. 315
Student Support Services operate within schools
networks. These are networks of approximately
25 school principals in each area. Services
include a broad range of professionals, including
psychologists, guidance officers, speech
pathologists, social workers and visiting teachers
(vision, hearing, physical disability and autism).316
313There are 256 EFT primary welfare officers in
520 government schools at an annual budget of
approximately $21 million. In addition, there are
170 EFT student welfare coordinators across 311
government schools with an annual budget of
approximately $12 million. Information provided to the
Commission by Student Wellbeing and Engagement
Division, DEECD, 21 November 2012.
314Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD 21
November 2012.
315Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n 73, 12.
316Other interventions beyond Student Support Service
include the Medical Intervention Support and
Schoolcare Program for students requiring regular,
complex medical support at school and equipment
grants to enable schools to purchase equipment for
students with vision impairments who are not eligible
for PSD. The Language Support Program is also
intended to support students with disabilities alongside
other students with language and communication
difficulties. Funding is provided to all state primary
and secondary schools under this program. Students
do not have to meet specific eligibility criteria and
use funds is determined by the school. The annual
budget for LSP is in the order of $30 million per
annum. Information provided by Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD 21 November 2012.
The role, function, and governance arrangements
for Student Support Services are set out in
departmental guidelines. These state that:
Student Support Services operate within schools
networks with the objectives to:
• work in collaboration with services within
the community to identify and intervene
early with children and young people who
have additional needs or are at risk of
disengagement
• develop the capacity of the workforce within
schools to meet the needs of children and
young people who have additional needs, or
are disadvantaged or vulnerable, to enable
them to achieve successful education and
wellbeing outcomes
• target the delivery of individual support
services to those who require specialised
expertise, assessment and intervention in
order to overcome barriers to learning
• respond to emerging student wellbeing
needs and contribute to identified school and
network priorities
• respond to critical incidents involving
students, staff and school communities
• facilitate and strengthen partnerships
between and the Student Support service in
schools, early childhood services, community
organisations, and health, family, child, mental
health and youth services in order to provide
greater options and coordinated service
provision for children, young people and
their families.317
317The guidelines provide a starting point for school
networks to determine the service delivery model
for Student Support Services in their area. Network
Executive Groups are able to supplement the
guidelines ‘by developing their own local operating
protocols over time within the context of these
guidelines and policy directions established by
government’. This provides some discretion to networks
to allow for local circumstances. See above n 315.
64 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Recent initiatives to increase access to
specialist services
Access to specialist services in Catholic and
Independent schools
Additional school supports are also being rolled
out, using recently announced funding from the
Australian Government’s More Support for Students
with Disabilities initiative.318
The Victorian Government provides some funding
to Independent and Catholic schools on an
annual basis to asst schools to access speech
therapists and visiting teachers for students with
hearing impairment, vision impairment or physical
disability.323 Approximately $6 million is allocated to
this funding program each year.324
These include autism teacher coaches who
provide targeted professional coaching to teachers
and staff who support students with disabilities.
Based on an initial trial in one region, a statewide
two-year trial will commence in 2012.319
Autism inclusion support coordinators will also
be trialled in 2012 and 2013 in schools with high
numbers of students with autism. These specialists
will work directly with students and teachers to
model teaching practices for students with autism
spectrum disorder (ASD).320
Expert consultation for schools on ASD will also
be provided through services provided by Autism
Victoria (Amaze). This is one of three support
centres funded under the initiative.321
DEECD states that the implementation of autism
Inclusion Support Programs in mainstream schools
‘represent a key policy direction for provision in
Victoria’.322
Some federal funding is also available for physical
and occupational therapy. Due to the limited
amount of funding, the grant is capped at $1,600
per year in 2012 and must be applied for annually
by the school.325 Grants of up to $30,000 are
available to Independent schools for capital works
and equipment that provide ‘essential access.’326 It
is expected that the school will make a contribution
towards the cost of the project.
Unmet need for assistive technologies
Parents, students, educators and professional
organisations all reported challenges in securing
assistive technology:
When specialist equipment was requested I
was told there was not enough funding. So we
provided our own iPad and continue to do so.327
Some items of assistive technology are very
expensive and require a school to make
difficult choices, reduce aide time to pay for the
equipment or apply for a once off discretionary
equipment grant. Schools are reluctant to reduce
aide time and this results in some students
experiencing significant delays for equipment.328
318For a full list of the initiatives being implemented
in Victorian government schools see <http://www.
education.vic.gov.au/healthwellbeing/wellbeing/mssd.
htm> at 22 June 2012.
319‘One region in Victoria has been trialling autism
coaches for 18 months as a way of strengthening
the capacity of schools to support students with
autism. Information and responses to the trial have
been very positive. Additionally, a metropolitan
regional community consultation process with autism
stakeholders and parents identified coaches as a
preferred strategy for strengthening autism provision.’
Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23,14. <http://
www.federalfinancialrelations.gov.au/content/national_
partnership_agreements/education.aspx> at 8 July
2012.
320Above n 318.
321The other support centres are in partnership with
Down Syndrome Victoria and Victorian Deaf Education
Institute. Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23, 8.
322Ibid 7. <http://www.federalfinancialrelations.gov.au/
content/national_partnership_agreements/education.
aspx> at 8 July 2012.
If all our teachers could have microphones,
it would improve participation. It blocks out
peripheral noise and anecdotally this reduces
behavioural problems in the classroom. We only
have one for each campus and it is used for
deb balls.329
323Independent Schools Victoria, Students with Disabilities
Handbook 2013 (2012) 6.
324Information provided to Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD
9 August 2012.
325Key informant interview, Independent Schools Victoria.
326Independent Schools Victoria, above n 323, 25.
327Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
328Submission 9 Vision Australia 7.
329HASD 5.
Part 2: Experiences 65
Parents funding support services themselves
Assistive technology may be ‘low tech’,
including seating devices, adapted pens
or scissors, and gloves or handsplints to
allow use of a computer or handheld
device, angled writing boards, visual
aides, adjustable tables, equipment for
sport (such as built up sporting bats or
wheelchair accessible basketball hoops)
and equipment for art (such as built
up brushes). Alternatively it may be
‘high tech’, including tablet computers,
interactive whiteboards, mobile devices
and computer software. The device might
be owned by the student, the school or
the therapist.330
The Commission notes that both DEECD and
the Catholic Education Commission Victoria
(CECV) have included the provision of assistive
technology and teacher training on its use in
their implementation plans for the More Support
for Students with Disabilities initiative. This is
welcome.330
The CECV implementation plan states ‘Assistive
technology will be linked to the individual learning
plans of students and these plans will be reviewed
on an annual basis through a program support
structure’.331 CECV estimates that, by December
2013, 110–120 Catholic schools will have assistive
technology provided through this funding, equating
to 120–140 pieces of equipment.332
Victorian legislation requires that instruction in the
standard curriculum program must be provided
free to students in Victorian government schools.
Free instruction includes the provision of learning
and teaching activities, instructional supports,
materials and resources, and administration and
facilities associated with the standard curriculum
program. The costs associated with the
administration and coordination of the standard
curriculum program is considered to be part of
free instruction and must not be passed onto
parents. The legislation provides that a parent of
a student with a disability or impairment is not
required to contribute to the cost of the provision
of additional support for the education of that
student.335
Despite being a clear breach of DEECD policies
and Victorian legislation, a small number of parents
reported that they have funded support services
themselves, often at considerable expense, in
order to address gaps in the system. Parents
reported paying for a range of critical services,
including:
• occupational therapists
• speech therapists
• sensory assessments
• physiotherapy
• counselling336
• therapy/psychologists for social skills and
anxiety management.337
The DEECD plan estimates that 56 more
schools will have assistive technology in place
by December 2013, equating to 256 items of
technology.333 The plan also includes a trial and
evaluation of live deaf captioning in government
schools.334 This will take place over the next two
years in partnership with the Statewide Vision
Resource Centre.
A deaf captioning trial in partnership with the
Victorian Deaf Education Institute will also be rolled
out over 2012 and 2013 in both mainstream and
specialist schools.
330Submission 5, Occupational Therapy Australia 10.
331Catholic Education Commission Victoria and
Commonwealth, above n 17, 5.
332Ibid Attachment A.
333Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23, 17.
334Ibid 6.
335State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, Program for Students with
Disability Guidelines 2013 (2012) 20. <www.eduweb.
vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/stuman/wellbeing/2013PSDGuidlines.pdf> at 31 July 2012. <www.eduweb.
vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/stuman/wellbeing/2013SSGGuidlines.pdf> at 31 July 2012.See also Parent
Payments in Victorian Government Schools at <http://
www.education.vic.gov.au/management/governance/
spag/management/parentpayments/> at 22 June 2012.
336HASD 7.
337E.g. HASD 6 and 7. Similar reports were made to
the Victorian Auditor-General. See Victorian AuditorGeneral’s Office, ‘Programs for Students with Special
Learning Needs’, above n 73, 27-28.
66 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
In addition, some parents engaged consultants
for organisational and goal-setting purposes
and to assist teachers meet educational goals.
More than one parent indicated they had sought
the assistance of an external autism spectrum
disorder consultant to set these goals.
Two parents reported that they had been told by
their school that it was DEECD policy that parents
are not permitted to top-up PSD funds.338 However,
a more common complaint was that parents
had to supplement funding to ensure adequate
adjustments were made for their child:
When my son’s teacher aide was absent from
school I was requested to keep my son at home.
I did this on a number of occasions. As I work
I was finding this difficult so I asked if I could
pay a teacher aide to go in as the school said
they could not afford to cover our teacher aide
when she was off sick. This happened on a
few occasions, I paid half the day’s wage for
the aide and the school paid the other half. As
I am a teacher in a secondary college I didn’t
think this was correct so I contacted the district
office and they informed me this was not correct.
They spoke to the school and I was refunded
the money and since that time I have not been
requested to keep my son at home or pay for an
aide when my son is away sick. However, I do not
have confidence in how the school manages the
situation now when the aide is away.339
Although scored initially at level five, the
Department reduced scores to level four funding.
[It was] very clear that this didn’t meet our sons
needs so we paid around $10,000 over six
months to pay additional hours for an aide.340
Better utilisation of available resources
Some parents, as well as some educators, spoke
about schools not being receptive to the views of
parents or external professionals regarding the
best use of available resources and funding to
address students’ needs.
For example, one parent said:
The majority of staff don’t know how to use the
existing assistive technology in their school and
had an attitude that they have no special needs
training ... so they just don’t know what to do, so
they don’t do anything. We had a private health
team (funded at our expense) ready to assist the
school, but they chose not to use it.342
Other examples and comments shared with the
Commission included:
• a parent providing an intervention program/
visual schedule/pictures on the blackboard that
the school did not use.343
• a parent pushing for a teacher to use a daily
schedule for their child, with reluctance from
the teacher, who thought this would be too time
consuming to use.344
• an educator who suggested that the school
make the final decision about how funding will
be spent, regardless of the specific needs
of students or recommendations provided by
parents or visiting teachers.345
Opportunities for improvement
The Commission’s research suggests that provision
of specialist support services varies across
the state; however, there is no published data
to confirm or contest this as the distribution of
specialist support staff and the provision of these
in schools is now managed through networks of
schools.
Responses to our survey suggested that existing
resources are not always used, sometimes
because teachers and parents do not know they
exist. This seems to occur even though the DEECD
circulates information about these resources, as
well as policy and practice advice indirectly, using
the department’s intranet, and directly through
circulars and emails.341
As Speech Pathology Australia noted, the
systematic collection of data regarding the level
of demand for Student Support Services, along
with the number of staff supplying these specialist
services in schools, would be an important
step forward in enhancing the Victorian school
system.346
338Parent survey participant and case study 30.
339Parent survey participant.
340Parent of a student attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
341Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
342Parent of a student attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
343Parent survey participant.
344Parent survey participant.
345Educator survey participant.
346Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia 9.
Part 2: Experiences 67
Other suggestions from Speech Pathology
Australia included:
• detailed guidelines and role descriptions for
Student Support Services Officers
• minimum standards for clinician-to-student ratios
to reduce the variability of current provision
and promote more equitable access across the
state.347
Occupational Therapy Australia made suggestions
for creating enabling environments for students
with disabilities. At a system level, it recommended
minimum standards for visual, acoustic and
inclusive design in classrooms. For this to work
in practice, schools would need to consult with
occupational therapists who are skilled to provide
this advice.
Occupational Therapy Australia also recommended
the employment of occupational therapists across
Victorian government schools, as has been the
case in Queensland for many years.348
The creation of an occupational therapy
adviser within the DEECD was also suggested.
This position would oversee governance of
occupational therapy in Victorian schools, as well
as establishing service delivery models, including
pathways to service delivery; job descriptions for
occupational therapists; and the development
of accountability frameworks to measure the
efficiency of services that are implemented.349
Participants also wanted to see existing resources
and supports better utilised, in particular autism
coaches and other knowledge holders around
specific disabilities:
It is good to have kids with special needs in
mainstream school so that the other kids also
learn something. There is one disability consultant
in the DEECD who has cerebral palsy and goes
around the schools to talk to kids. This is really
effective.350
Indigenous participants said that a more culturally
appropriate range of services should be available
in schools, along with a greater presence
of Indigenous people, including Indigenous
integration aides.351
A number of people wanted existing rights to
supports to be better articulated, observed and
monitored. Others did not know that rights to
supports, including interpreters, already existed
under the law.
Recommendations
Noting the findings of the Victorian AuditorGeneral’s audit of programs for students with
special learning needs, that:
9. The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development publish annually,
data on demand and supply of student
support officers in each region, and that this
baseline data inform workforce planning and
improved provision of support to students with
disabilities in schools.
10.The Department of Health and the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development work together to consolidate and
promote allied health workforce development
and planning in regional Victoria, so that
current unmet need for specialist support
officers in Victorian schools is addressed.
This workforce planning should also address
the under-representation of Indigenous allied
health professionals among student support
officers in Victorian schools.
347‘Whilst some flexibility must be maintained, formulae that
provide minimum standards for clinician to student ratios
would ensure that school based services are optimised.’
Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia 9.
348Submission 5, Occupational Therapy Australia 4.
In Queensland speech–language pathologists are
generally based in one school, while providing a
service to a number of schools across a local area.
See <www.education.qld.gov.au/studentservices/
learning/disability/specialists/slt/services.
html#organisation> at 11 July 2012.
349Submission 5, Occupational Therapy Australia 4.
350HASD 4.
351Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network critical friends
group.
68 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 7: Elimination of harassment and
victimisation
Standards for the elimination of harassment and victimisation
The right
Students with disabilities have the right to
education in an environment that is free from
discrimination caused by harassment or
victimisation based on their disabilities.
Harassment includes an action taken in relation to
the student’s disability that is reasonably likely to
humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress the student or
their associate, for example their parents or carers.352
Victimisation occurs when someone has been
treated unfairly for complaining or assisting others
to complain about an incident of discrimination or
harassment.
Associates of the student, such as parents, carers
and guardians of a student with disability, are also
protected from discrimination, harassment and
victimisation.353 These rights come from a number
of different provisions in anti-discrimination law.
Firstly, both the student and the parents have
protections against discrimination in education and
in service delivery. It important to note that courts
have found that schools can provide services to
parents in the course of educating a child.354
Harassment based on disability, or someone’s
personal association with a person with disability
(such as being their parent) is also unlawful.
Harassment in education and in goods and services
is directly covered under the Disability Discrimination
Act 1992.355 Harassment can also be a form of
unfavourable treatment and amount to discrimination
under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.
Secondly, the protections against victimisation
under both Acts can apply to anyone. Victimisation
does not have to occur in the context of one of the
areas of public life covered by discrimination.
Requirements to meet the standard
Under the law, education providers are required to:
• have strategies and programs in place to ensure
the environment is free from discrimination,
352Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 8.1.
Harassment is also unlawful under ss 37 and 39 of the
Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). Section 42 of
also makes it an offence to victimise a person for acting
to assert a right given by the Act.
353Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 8.2 notes.
354Sian Grahl v The State of New South Wales (NSW
Department of Education) and Houston (2000) EOC
93-095.
355Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) ss 37–39.
harassment and victimisation, and to implement
these in practice356
• take reasonable steps to ensure that staff and
students are informed about the obligation not
to harass or victimise and that they know the
appropriate action to take if harassment or
victimisation occurs
• take reasonable steps to ensure staff and
students are informed about complaint
mechanisms available if harassment or
victimisation occurs.
An education provider that has no strategy or
program in place because it was not aware that
harassment or victimisation was happening is
unlikely to be able to establish a defence under the
Standards or the Disability Discrimination Act.357
Measures to comply
Measures the education provider may implement
include:
• making sure that policies, procedures and
codes of conduct explicitly prohibit harassment
and victimisation of students with disabilities
and their associates
• ensuring that policies, procedures and codes of
conduct include the need for individual strategies
and adjustments for a student, including the
need to use such supports as a wheelchair,
hearing aid, breathing support, interpreter,
assistance dog or an assistant or carer
• that procedures for handling complaints or
harassment or victimisation are fair, transparent
and accountable and that cases and complaints
are handled promptly with proper regard for the
severity of the matter
• ensuring that professional development programs
for staff include identifying and dealing with
harassment in education settings as well as
policies, procedures and codes of conduct
• informing and reminding staff and students of
their rights and responsibilities in maintaining
an environment free from harassment and
victimisation on the basis of disability.358
356Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 8.2 notes.
357Unlike the other standards, unjustifiable hardship is not
available as a defence where a provider fails to comply
with the standards for harassment and victimisation.
358Measures to comply are contained in section 8.5 of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth). See also
Australian Government, ‘Review of Disability Standards
2005 Discussion Paper’, above n 47, 14.
Part 2: Experiences 69
Main findings
• Discrimination still exists in Victorian schools.
Half of the students and parents in the survey
reported discrimination at school. One in four
educators had witnessed discrimination.
• Bullying is a significant and widespread
problem for students with disabilities, with six
out of 10 reporting they have been bullied
because of their disability. This is much higher
than the rate of bullying for the general student
population where bullying is estimated to occur
to around one in four students.
While discrimination was less likely to be reported
by parents of students attending government
specialist schools (43 per cent, or 41 out of 94),
the figure was still very high.362
Parents of students in Years 7 to 10 reported
discrimination slightly more frequently (63 per cent,
or 101 of 160) than parents of primary schoolaged students or students in Years 11 and 12.363
When these results were analysed by the
child’s disability, parents of students with
certain disabilities more commonly reported
discrimination.
• Bullying of students with disabilities can
also have a racial dimension. All parents of
Indigenous students with disabilities in the
survey reported that their child had been
bullied.
• 68 per cent of parents of children with language
disorders reported discrimination.364
• While existing efforts to reduce bullying
generally in Victorian schools are impressive,
urgent attention is needed to address bullying
specifically based on disability.
• 63 per cent of parents of children with learning
disorders reported discrimination.366
Experiences of discrimination
Students were asked if they felt they had been
treated unfairly at school because of their disability.
Just under half of all the students the Commission
surveyed thought that they had.359 These students
raised a variety of issues including bullying, being
left out, being expelled or suspended and having
problems with teachers. One student explained
how they were treated unfairly in sport classes:
• 68 per cent of parents of children with
behaviour-related disorders reported
discrimination.365
Parents identified a range of issues as
discrimination, which are discussed in more
detail in other parts of this report. These
include: exclusion from excursions, camps,
sports programs and school events; problems
with transport to and from school or mobility at
school; failure to make adjustments or to consult
on individual learning plans; lack of funding or
resources and problems surrounding exams
or assessments.367
I have missed out on getting picked because
when I am concentrating I look down so I can
focus on what they are saying. Coaches think
it means I am not listening or interested. I try
to explain sometimes and then they think I
am stupid. Sometimes I don’t understand the
instructions and I either get it wrong or ask. Either
way they think you are lazy or not interested.360
Just over half of parents surveyed reported that
their child had been discriminated against at
school.361 However, it should be noted that because
the survey was conducted on an opt-in basis,
these results may be skewed towards a higher
reporting rate for discrimination.
359Twenty-seven out of 59 survey responses.
360Student with a learning disability, Independent school.
Student survey participant.
361326 out of 581 parents answering this question (56 per
cent).
362Reporting rates were higher than average in the
Catholic and Independent sectors; however, the
number of parents answering this survey question was
quite low.
363These results should be treated with some caution,
as the question did not specify a time frame for the
experience of discrimination, and did not specify
that it occurred at the school the child was currently
attending. This means that the discrimination may have
occurred at a previous school.
364Forty-nine out of 72 parents.
365Sixty-five out of 95 parents.
366Seventy-four out of 117 parents.
367These issues were reported across a number of survey
questions.
70 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
One parent provided the following example:
Lifts in the school require keys to operate. They
would not allow my son to have a key because of
security concerns ... This meant that whenever he
needed to [use the lift], he had to find a Learning
Support Officer or another staff member with
a key ... Because they often forgot him, he was
frequently late for class, missed lunch breaks
while stuck upstairs and sometimes if a class
changed location ... he would be unable to join
the class. It took over a year, multiple letters and
several failed attempts to meet with the principal,
before the matter was resolved, basically by
someone giving him a key without proper authority
to do so.368
Almost one in four educators said that they had
witnessed discrimination at their school.369 More
educators working at state mainstream schools
reported witnessing discrimination (25 per cent,
or 153 out of 621), compared to educators working
at government specialist schools (14 per cent,
or 28 out of 198).
Educators identified similar examples of
discrimination as parents, such as exclusion of
students with disabilities from camps, excursions,
sports events or particular classes; inappropriate
behaviour management; showing audiovisual
material without captions and a failure to provide
or work well with support staff, such as interpreters
and integration aides.
Some educators also referred to systemic
issues that could lead to discrimination, such
as inadequate funding, resources, knowledge,
support and time:
In addition, some educators raised examples of
name-calling and exclusion by other students, as
well as instances where other parents did not want
a student with disability in their child’s class:371
Some of the new Prep children were calling a
student with autism ‘the retarded boy’ and they
ran away from him and said they were scared etc
... we followed it up and it was coming from one
of the parents. The boy in question is a fantastic
reader, so I took him in to the Prep class and he
read them a favourite book and they all thought
he ‘was great’, the teacher spoke with the parents
and all has been well ever since!372
Although a large proportion of educators had not
witnessed discrimination, this may in part be due
to some lack of awareness of the kinds of issues
that discrimination laws encompass.373 When asked
about discrimination laws at a ‘have a say’ day, one
educator explained:
I don’t think all teachers understand that they
have a legal obligation to accommodate students
with disabilities. More needs to be done for this
information to go beyond the principal level.374
The Disability Discrimination Legal Service submitted
that the reasons why schools fail to comply with the
Disability Standards are various but:
... one of the most prevalent ... is a lack of
training, understanding or even knowledge of
the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 ... in public
schools. However, even where the relevant school
is aware of its obligations under the Standards,
without the appropriate resources compliance is
rarely possible.375
... it is usually due to ignorance, lack of time to
consider the options rather than a teacher or
school wanting to discriminate.370
368Parent of student attending a Catholic mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
369Twenty-three per cent, or 194 out of 854 responses.
Educator survey participant.
370Specialist support provider, Catholic mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
371Educator survey participants.
372Educator, government mainstream school. Educator
survey participant.
373For example, 38 per cent of educators reported that
they were not aware of the existence of the Disability
Standards for Education 2005 (Cth). Looking at these
results by type of school, 42 per cent of educator
respondents from government mainstream schools
did not know about the Standards.
374Educator survey participant.
375Submission 7, Disability Discrimination Legal
Service, 29.
Part 2: Experiences 71
Experiences of bullying
Students with disability have a right to
education without people humiliating,
offending, intimidating or distressing them.
Based on our research, bullying appears to be a
significant and widespread problem for students
with disabilities. Most students and parents who
responded to the survey (62 per cent of students
and 64 per cent of parents) reported that they or
their child had been bullied or harassed at school.
This percentage was slightly higher for parents
of children attending state mainstream schools
(67 per cent),376 Catholic schools (74 per cent)377
and Independent schools (75 per cent).378 It was
lower for parents of children attending government
specialist schools (42 per cent of parents who
responded).379
In addition, parents of students at secondary
school were more likely to report that their child
had experienced bullying or harassment.380
Just over half of teachers reported that they had
witnessed bullying or harassment of students
with disabilities.381
376236 out of 354 parents.
377Forty-four out of 59 parents.
378Thirty-seven of 49 parents.
379Forty-one out of 97 parents. In addition, 12 out of
12 parents of students who were home schooled or
distance educated, and 8 out of 11 parents of students
attending an Independent special school, reported
that their child had experienced bullying/harassment.
Note in addition, that these results should be treated
with some caution, as the question did not specify
if the bullying had occurred at the school the child
was currently attending – meaning that it may have
occurred at previous schools.
380Of the parents of children attending primary school, 59
per cent reported that their child had been bullied (210
out of 353), compared to 73 per cent of parents of
students at secondary school (167 out of 229).
381Fifty-six per cent, or 479 out of 851 educators.
This was slightly higher among educators at
schools that offered Years 7 to 10 and/or Year 11
and 12, where 60 per cent of educators reported
that they had witnessed bullying.382 It was also
slightly higher among educators at government
mainstream schools (58 per cent),383 compared to
government specialist schools (51 per cent).384
Students with disability in our study were
three times more likely to be bullied than
the general student population.
With six out of 10 students in the survey reporting
they had been bullied, it appears that the likelihood
of bullying for a student with disability is much
higher than the general student population.
For example, the Child Health and Wellbeing
Survey 2006 reported that 19.1 per cent of parents
responded it was ‘somewhat true’ that their child
(4–13 years of age) had been picked on or bullied
by other children/young people, while 4.7 per cent
responded that it was ‘certainly true’.385
Another Australian study reported that 27 per cent
of students in Years 4–9 experienced bullying at
school on a frequent basis.386 Even though these
surveys differed from our survey in methodology
and focus, they do suggest that students with
disabilities may experience bullying more
commonly than their peers.
382262 of 440 educators and 245 out of 407 educators
respectively. Note that 244 educators indicated
that their school offered all levels from primary to
secondary. Seventy-one per cent of these worked
at government specialist schools. Looking only at
these educators, 53 per cent reported that they had
witnessed bullying of students with disabilities in
schools.
383357 out of 619 educators.
384100 out of 298 specialist school educators.
385State of Victoria, Department of Human Services, 2006
Victorian Child Health and Wellbeing Survey Technical
Report, (2006) 34.
386Donna Cross et al., Australian Covert Bullying
Prevalence Study, Child Health Promotion Research
Centre, Edith Cowan University (2009) xxi.
72 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Some disabilities at higher risk of bullying than
others
Prevalence of bullying appears to vary according
to the student’s disability.
• Of 346 parents who stated that their child
has an autism spectrum disorder, 70 per cent
reported that their child had experienced
bullying.
• Of 97 parents who stated that their child had a
behavioural disorder (including ADHD), 80 per
cent reported that their child had experienced
bullying.
• Comparatively, 44 per cent of parents of
children with physical disability, and 56 per cent
of parents of children with intellectual disability,
reported that their child had been bullied or
harassed at school.
While the prevalence of bullying for all categories
of disability appears to be higher than the general
population, these results suggest that children with
disabilities that affect their emotions and behaviour
are particularly vulnerable to bullying at school.
One parent said:
There are many aspects to [my son’s] condition
that will lead him to being bullied or to get into
trouble because of his lack of understanding of
how his reactions may seem to others.387
Amaze submitted that many students with autism
spectrum disorder experience:
... both overt and covert bullying by other
students. The bullying may be overt where a
student is subject to ridicule, physical assault
or verbal intimidation while covert bullying may
include encouraging an ASD student to ‘act out’
inappropriately or simply be excluded ... there are
many stories of ASD students never receiving an
invitation to a classmate’s party or more sadly
that no classmates will attend the ASD
student’s party.388
387Parent survey participant.
388Submission 10, Autism Victoria (trading as Amaze) 4.
They also noted that parents of students with
autism spectrum disorder may themselves be
isolated from the school community.
Further impacting on the experiences of students
with ASD is often the lack of support and even
hostile responses to parents of ASD children.
Parents have reported being socially excluded
from the broader parent school community
and in some cases actually experiencing quite
intimidating attitudes from other parents. In some
cases, this may be due to other parents being
defensive of their child but often as not it is based
on fear and ignorance by the other parent.389
Types of bullying
Parents reported a range of bullying behaviours
against their child.
• 114 parents reported verbal abuse (30 per
cent).
• 98 parents reported that their child had been
ignored, shunned or excluded (26 per cent).
• 67 parents reported physical violence against
their child (18 per cent).390
Sixty-nine parents reported multiple types of
bullying. Of these, 62 reported verbal abuse,
56 reported social exclusion, and 56 reported
physical violence. Thirty-two reported cyberbullying. For example, one parent said:
She has been bullied in many different forms. She
is regularly shunned and excluded from playing,
is called stupid, dumb etc. and generally avoids
physical contact with most children.391
[He has had] phone calls from other children
leaving messages on the answering machine
calling him a ‘retard’.392
Most bullying involved taking advantage of their
lack of sight, taking books and equipment, hit and
run, name calling, throwing things at them and
generally being unkind.393
389Submission 10, Autism Victoria (trading as Amaze) 3.
390Note these figures should be regarded with caution.
Due to an error in the survey, parents could not select
multiple forms of bullying. A further 23 per cent
selected ‘other’, and most of these indicated multiple
forms of bullying.
391Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
392Parent survey participant.
393Submission 9, Vision Australia 9.
Part 2: Experiences 73
While most parents described bullying by peers, a
few also described bullying by staff members. For
example, one parent reported that an integration
aide called their child names such as ‘blabbermouth’, ‘sticky-beak’ and ‘busy-body’.394 A few
parents observed that the attitudes or behaviour of
teachers could lead to bullying by peers:
There was a lot of bullying in the playground
because [my grandson] was called dumb in the
classroom by the teacher in front of everyone.395
Amaze identified such behaviours as systemic
bullying when schools fail to understand the
behaviours that result from autism spectrum
disorder, so they interpret and react to students as
if they are badly behaved.396 Similar observations
were made by Speech Pathology Australia. They
noted that bullying and social isolation is intensified
when teachers castigate students for not being
able to contribute effectively in class or when a
behavioural lens is used to respond to a student
who has become disengaged.397
Figure 4: Types of bullying or harassment reported
by parents
Other 23.1%
Being ignored,
shunned or
excluded 26%
Educators reported similar examples of bullying
and harassment against students with disabilities
to those identified by parents.398
• 425 educators reported witnessing verbal abuse
• 343 reported shunning or exclusion
• 175 reported witnessing threats of violence
• 201 reported actual violence.
One educator noted in the survey:
Sometimes students with disabilities seem to
cop the worst treatment. I am truly bothered by
the loneliness and isolation that autism sufferers
endure; they often wander the school grounds
alone, hide in door wells to eat their lunch, sit
alone etc. Sometimes the worst thing is for a child
to be ignored by other children.399
A few educators mentioned bullying in the form
of students encouraging the student ‘to behave
badly so that they break the rules and get into
trouble’. Students with disabilities also reported
this happening.
Some teachers and a few parents pointed out that
some students with disabilities also bully other
students:
Students concerned are spoken to and can
be suspended for bullying behaviour. Often the
disabled student has actually started the bullying
and then, at times, they do not get treated the
same as others e.g. they might not be suspended.
Often this is understandable but at times not. All
students do need to take responsibility for their
actions.400
Physical
violence 17.8%
Threats of
violence 2.1%
Verbal abuse,
including taunts or
name calling 30.2%
Cyber bullying
0.8%
394Case study 19.
395Phone-in 50.
396Submission 10, Autism Victoria (trading as Amaze) 4.
397Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia.
398Educators were able to select multiple answers.
399Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
400Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
74 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Student stories of bullying
In the survey, students were not requested to
categorise the bullying treatment they may have
experienced. Rather, they were given space to
tell their story in their own words. Their responses
identify a similar range of bullying behaviours,
including exclusion, harassment, name-calling
and physical violence. Racist and homophobic
stereotypes and language were also reported by
students:
Bullying of children with disabilities who are
from CALD or refugee backgrounds
Several parents of CALD children described
situations where their children were teased or
isolated because of their cultural background or
disability:
One of his classmate teased him calling him
‘chino’ since I’m his mum ... I only found it out after
the camp, he didn’t want me anywhere near him
thereafter especially [at] the school!405
I was punched and repeatedly smashed into
a brick wall whilst being called a ‘deaf faggot’
because I wear a hearing aid.401
One time we were doing painting and one girl got
some paint in my hair. She and her friends told
me to go into the bathroom so they could help
me get it out. They locked the door and shoved
my head into the sink under some boiling water. I
have always been bullied at school because I am
different and I can sometimes say things in a way
I don’t mean.402
Kids tease me by calling me seizure boy.
They push me around. They laugh at me. I
get obsessed with things and people don’t
understand about that. They get sick of me talking
about it.403
Some students reported that over time the bullying
decreased:
I haven’t been bullied for a while. When I was
younger I used to get teased about my epilepsy
and my clumsiness and awkwardness. I used
to be left out of lunchtime games that involved
physical activity because I wasn’t as fast or ran
with a funny gait. As we got older though, we
started talking more at lunchtimes and running
around less. The students now are extremely
accepting and want to know as much about my
disabilities as possible. I am just one of them and
I catch up with them on the weekends and that.
They are so much less ignorant than the teachers
and even (amazingly) the nurses.404
... to make matters worse, his classmates have
started making racist comments about his
mother.406
The CALD critical friends group noted that it is
difficult to distinguish between bullying or isolation
because of disability and bullying on the basis of
cultural background. They stressed, however, that
the most important issue is how schools respond to
bullying when it occurs.
The Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY)
described a situation where a CALD student with
disability was concerned about the immaturity
and insensitivity of other students about his
disability and the ‘gossip’ among students from
his community. He transferred to a TAFE with a
disability support unit. As CMY noted:
[He] felt more comfortable being around people
who were more mature in their treatment of
people with disabilities, and also enjoyed the
anonymity that the city TAFE provided. He
appreciated the fact that no one knew his family,
community or story and that he wouldn’t be
treated any differently from anyone else.407
Bullying and isolation of Indigenous students
with disabilities
Of the 11 parents of Indigenous students
who completed the parent survey, all
reported that their child had experienced
bullying or harassment.408
408
401Student, Catholic mainstream school. Student survey
participant.
402Student, Catholic mainstream school. Student survey
participant.
403Student, government school. Student survey
participant.
404Student, Catholic mainstream school. Student survey
participant.
405Parent of student attending a government school.
Parent survey participant.
406Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
407Case study 39.
408One Aboriginal student also reported: ‘I got bullied
due to my race and was isolated.’ Student survey
participant.
Part 2: Experiences 75
Members of the Victorian Aboriginal Disability
Network also shared examples of bullying because
of disability and race at our critical friends group.
One participant had witnessed some students
on a train calling a group of Indigenous students
‘monkeys’. This participant challenged these
students.409
Effects of bullying
International evidence indicates that while students
with and without disability face significant negative
emotional, educational and physical results
from bullying, students with disabilities are both
vulnerable and disproportionately impacted.410
This was confirmed by our research.
Parents reported that bullying had profound effects
on their children, including impacts on medical
conditions, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness,
nightmares, anger, bed-wetting, school refusal and
suicidal thoughts.411 Some parents described how
students withdrew from school or tried to find ways
to hide their disability:
She shut down and went into a shell. Towards
the end she was wetting the bed due to fear and
stress of the mainstream school.412
My daughter was finding ways so that she didn’t
have to wear her hearing aids to school because
of the name calling.413
One parent implied that bullying and harassment
had led to some students withdrawing from
mainstream school:
The class that my child is in this year at special
school consists of 10 kids that were bullied at
mainstream school and had to go somewhere
else.414
In fact, for one student, bullying led to a complete
withdrawal from school:
I have not been to school for 20 months.
The year before, I did three schools in one year.
One I only did three days before being bashed.
I have only completed year eight and have been
not attending since then. No one cares and they
can’t find a school that keeps me safe.415
A number of parents described situations
where their children had retaliated in response to
bullying, leading to a deteriorating relationship with
the school:
[My son] was being mercilessly taunted by a
classmate. This classmate was the younger
brother of another student with ASD. [My son]
picked up a rock [and] threw it at the boy who
was taunting him, just as another student [and
friend] ran past. The rock hit his friend and split
his lip. [My son] received 2 days exclusion from
school and no advice, sanction or warning was
ever given to the student who taunted [my son]
or his parents ... in the days and months that
followed school days became a downward
spiral of ever increasing non-compliance, verbal
aggression, physical violence, school refusal,
meltdowns and an anxiety state of constant flight
or fight response ...416
A number of parents in our survey also reported
that their children had angry verbal or physical
outbursts at home after experiencing bullying.
While not the focus of this study, a few parents
said that bullying, or the effects of bullying, had an
impact on the siblings of children with disabilities:
Not only was our son bullied because of his
disability. Our daughter was also harassed and
bullied. She was physically assaulted, targeted by
other students because of her brother.417
Responses to bullying
It is important to acknowledge the strength
of many students with disabilities in the face
of bullying. For example, one student told the
Commission:
409Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network critical friends
group.
410Young, Nieman and Gelser, Bullying and students with
disabilities: A briefing paper from the National Council
on Disability (2010) 1.
411Parent survey participants.
412Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
413Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
414Parent of student now attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
I got picked on at school for most of my life
‘cause I was a bit different. I didn’t have that many
good friends at school but I got through those
tough years and I became a community leader
for my school.418
415Student survey participant.
416Case study 3.
417Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
418Student, government specialist school. Student survey
participant.
76 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Several parents also noted the resilience of their
children and how their child learned positive ways
to respond to bullying:
He became quite stressed and anxious. However,
he used the skills learned at his previous special
school, and attempted to handle the situation
himself. He still needed the principal to step in,
and parental guidance, but learned a lot from the
experience. The next time it happened he dealt
with it himself.419
Figure 5: Parents’ views on how well the school
responded to bullying
School did not
respond
9%
Responded very
well 25%
The vast majority of parents who reported that
their children had been bullied said they had
reported the bullying to the school.420 There were
mixed impressions about how schools dealt with
bullying. A quarter of parents said the school
had responded very well.421 Positive comments
included:
The school worked really hard to stop it and I
believe it did stop.422
[The staff] tried really hard to change behaviours
and gave examples of modelling alternative
behaviours.423
However, around two in three parents felt that the
school’s response was either poor or could have
been better.424
Around one in 10 parents reported that there was
no response from the school.425 One parent was
told that staff could not do much about bullying
because the bullies would ‘take it out on her son’:
... when we questioned this and suggested some
training and resources be sought, we were told
that we expected too much of staff – that, after all,
our son has autism so we should not expect him
to have any friends.426
419Parent of student attending an Independent school.
Parent survey participant.
420Ninety per cent or 341 out of 378 parents who
answered this question.
421Eighty-six out of the 338 parents.
422Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
423Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
424Sixty- five per cent, that is 223 out of 338 respondents.
425Nine per cent or 29 out of 338 respondents.
426Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
Responded
poorly 31%
Responded but could
have been better
35%
Educators were generally positive about how
their school responded to bullying. Almost all
(97 per cent) reported that their school had
policies in place to address bullying and
harassment.427 These results were roughly
consistent across school levels and types.428
Educators described how their school managed
bullying, including through general discipline
policies and behaviour management plans, general
teaching about appropriate behaviour, role plays,
social stories and counselling. Other educators
referred to restorative justice programs, positive
behaviour programs, police liaison officers and
specific programs, including the ‘You can do it’
and ‘Jigsaw’ programs.429
427830 out of 856 educators who answered this question.
428While this is a very positive result, the Commission
notes a previous national survey of students with
disabilities conducted by the Australian Youth Affairs
Coalition. In this survey 54 per cent of young people
said there was none (or were unaware of) any school
system for help stop bullying and discrimination against
students with disabilities. See <www.ayac.org.au/
uploads/AYAC_DisabilitySurvey_summary[1].pdf> at
20 June 2012.
429Other programs mentioned by educator survey
participants included Bounce back, Jigsaw,
Superclubs, Bullybusters, Bullies2Buddies, Habits for
Harmony and Habits of Mind.
Part 2: Experiences 77
One educator – and parent of a child with disability
– described her observations of a school with a
good anti-bullying program:
I know one school that uses restorative practice –
it is working. Everyone is on board, and they have
a consistent approach. I see a huge difference in
the overall school and how they interact with each
other. It has come about because a psychologist
was put on staff. She attends all staff training,
she is part of the system. They have rules and
structures, clear guidelines. The tone of the
school is calmer.430
When educators were positive about their school’s
response to bullying, they generally described
situations where they were supported by other
staff or by a whole-of-school approach. For
example, educators said:
I personally use restorative practices to deal with
a lot of bullying. If I feel unable to manage it, we
have a great welfare team who will support the
process.431
A small number of educators said that their school
does not respond well to bullying of students with
disabilities:
[Bullying] has not been managed by the school,
even though there might be school policies that
might reflect on the subject. School staff are
restricted in what they can do as every incident
must be reported to the school principal, who
then makes the decision what action to take.
Many parents are not informed of this behaviour,
because the bullying and harassment is
undertaken by certain members of staff at the
school.432
[The school] found it difficult to change the culture
of the school/students. [The] focus went on the
deaf student to manage their behaviour or issue,
rather than make it a whole school approach.433
430HASD 2.
431Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
432Specialist support provider, government specialist
school. Educator survey participant.
433Teacher of the deaf, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
Current efforts to eliminate harassment
and victimisation, including bullying
All Victorian government schools must have a
Student Engagement Policy, and this must include
statements about bullying and cyber-bullying.434
Schools are also expected to develop specific
strategies to promote positive behaviour and to
prevent bullying.435 Similar practices operate in
the Catholic system and in individual Independent
schools, where anti-bullying strategies have been
implemented.436
The Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development (DEECD) publication Building
respectful and safe schools is a useful resource
that outlines the characteristics of safe schools,
as well as making suggestions about prevention
programs and response strategies.437 It outlines
some programs/strategies that are being used in
Victorian schools, including assertiveness training,
bystander training, restorative practice and buddy
systems. It also mentions three specific programs:
Friendly Schools and Families, School-wide Positive
Behaviour Support and You can do it! Education.438
These programs offer packages of training,
resources and auditing tools and strategies for
preventing bullying, such as teaching social skills.
For example, the School-wide Positive Behaviour
Support program takes a three-tiered approach
targeting the whole school community, as well as
developing specialised programs for students with
behavioural difficulties.439
434State of Victoria, Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development, Effective schools
are engaging schools: Student engagement policy
guidelines, 2009, 14. <www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/
edulibrary/public/stuman/wellbeing/segpolicy.pdf>
at 31 July 2012.
435State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, Building respectful and safe
schools: A resource for school communities, 2010,
9. <http://www.education.vic.gov.au/healthwellbeing/
respectfulsafe/default.htm> at 31 July 2012.
436Key informant interview, Catholic Education Office
Melbourne; key informant interview, Independent
Schools Victoria.
437Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Building respectful and safe schools’,
above n 435. See also <https://edugate.eduweb.vic.
gov.au/edulibrary/Schools/Circulars/2012/S2062012_attachment_info_for_schools.pdf> at
11 September 2012.
438Ibid 19–23.
439Ibid 23.
78 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
[We have] school-wide positive behaviour support
in school (PBS). [It] caters for a very broad range
of disability – it covers any student who has a
need (intellectual or social). It can be help for a
teacher as well – expanding the notion of who
you’re capacity building. We have para-medical
staff as well. If an issue is raised, we ask, ‘How
can we tackle this, school wide?’ [We] make sure
the family and school relationship is collaborative
and supportive.440
It is up to each school to choose which programs
to use in their school. According to responses in
our survey, schools use a wide range of programs
and approaches.441
Opportunities for improvement
Overall, the Commission found that the range
and effort on anti-bullying programs reported by
educators was impressive. What was less clear,
however, was the implementation of strategies and
actions to prevent bullying based on disability.
Student experiences of bullying in government
schools may currently be measured by schools
using the Attitudes to School survey, administered
to students each year. This survey contains several
questions that may be used as proxy measures for
determining rates of bullying in schools. Parents
are directly asked about bullying in their survey.
However, at this stage, no specific questions
about experiencing or witnessing bullying of
students with disabilities are included in either
of these surveys.
DEECD’s Building respectful and safe schools
resource includes a definition of discrimination
and states that bullying can occur because of
perceived difference (such as disability).444 It
also includes a specific section on homophobic
bullying.445 However, it does not include specific
guidance on preventing or responding to bullying
of students with disabilities.
Given the extent of bullying against students
because of their disability described in this
research, more dedicated work to develop
disability-specific anti-bullying strategies is an
urgent priority.
Amaze made two suggestions to tackle the bullying
of students with disabilities in schools:
... funding be provided to develop and deliver
‘supporting difference’ workshops in all schools.
These workshops would focus on how and what
students can/should do to help other students
who are different.446
Amaze suggested that this program should not
‘target’ students with autism spectrum disorder,
but should assist all students who are ‘different’.
They also recommended that:
... schools consider alternative ways to support
ASD students in the play area including the
adoption and implementation of a ‘buddy’ or ‘big
brother/big sister’ program to assist ASD students
to navigate the playground and to develop
appropriate social skills.447
Previous research suggests that specific strategies
to prevent and respond to bullying on the basis of
disability often do not feature in school policies. For
example, anti-bullying policies from Victorian and
New Zealand schools were analysed in 2011.442
In both jurisdictions, definitions rarely included
bullying on the grounds of homophobia, religion or
disability or bullying between adults and students.
Policies also lacked detail about the responsibilities
of non-teaching staff in dealing with bullying and
rarely described follow-up after
a bullying incident.443
440HASD 5.
441The Commission also notes that part of the Primary
Welfare Officer’s role is to tackle bullying. See <http://
www.education.vic.gov.au/healthwellbeing/support/
primarywelfare/default.htm> at 15 August 2012.
442Ninety-three Victorian schools and 253 New Zealand
Schools.
443Louise Marsh et al., ‘Content analysis of school antibullying policies: A comparison between New Zealand
and Victoria’ (2011) 22 Health Promotion Journal of
Australia 3, 172–177.
444Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Building respectful and safe schools’,
above n 435, 6.
445Ibid 25.
446Submission 10, Autism Victoria (trading as Amaze) 4.
447Submission 10, Autism Victoria (trading as Amaze) 4.
Part 2: Experiences 79
Work on developing a stronger focus on targeted
bullying is not new, and there is a sound basis
to build upon. In recent years, there has been
very positive work that educational authorities
have undertaken in partnership with the
Commission and others to develop specialist
inclusion programs and tools that focus on
target communities of students, for example the
Safe Schools Project448and the Sexual Diversity
Checklist.449 This experience should be built
upon to develop comprehensive and targeted
anti-bullying resources and actions to better
protect students with disabilities, consistent
with obligations under federal and state antidiscrimination law.
Recommendations
Noting the findings and recommendations of the
Report of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005 that:
11.Education authorities develop and implement
specialised programs in schools to target and
address bullying on the basis of disability.
12.The annual government school Attitude to
School Survey include a specific question
measuring the incidence or witnessing of
disability-based bullying. That this baseline
data then be used to track improvements in the
prevention and response to targeted bullying.
Catholic education authorities and Independent
schools should undertake the same data
collection and performance measurement
using relevant student surveys.
13.Professional development courses for
educators include specific training on
identifying, preventing and responding to
bullying based on disability (or other personal
characteristic).
14.Departmental guidelines for student support
groups and individual learning plans be
amended to include consideration of proactive
anti-bullying strategies for students with
disability at risk of bullying.
448This includes recent partnerships between the
Commission, teachers and students to prevent and
respond to homophobia in government schools. See
also <http://www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au/
index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id
=1136&Itemid=448> at 25 July 2012.
449Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society,
La Trobe University, How to support sexual diversity in
schools: A checklist (2008).
80 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Part 3: Specific issues
of concern
This part of the report considers
issues raised by parents and advocates
to the Commission prior to the
commencement of this research.
Some of these concerns included
use of suspension and expulsion
of students with disabilities, use of
restraint, transport problems and lack
of confidence in the complaints system.
As these issues had been raised with the
Commission, we wanted to find out more. For this
reason, we asked questions about these issues
in the surveys and also gathered views on their
prevalence, impact and solutions in the ‘have a
say’ days, critical friends consultations and key
informant interviews.
As the research progressed, further issues
emerged. These included transitions between
stages of schooling, consultation between schools,
students and parents and part-time attendance
at school among students with disabilities. Again,
these issues were further explored in ‘have a say’
days, critical friends groups and key informant
interviews and findings reported.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 81
Chapter 8: Student support groups and individual
learning plans
Main findings
• Experiences of consultation vary between
schools and between regions. The quality and
consistency of consultation is dependent upon
the attitudes, knowledge, efforts and resources
of school staff.
• Around one in three parents reported not being
consulted by the school about the adjustments
their child required to participate on the same
basis as students without disability.
• As part of ongoing communication between
the parent and school, student support
groups (SSG) are the main mechanism for
consultation in the government school system.
Similar processes occur in the Catholic and
Independent school sectors. These work well in
many schools, however, the frequency, quality
and results of these meetings are inconsistent,
despite such groups being mandated under
the Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines.
• Individual learning plans (ILP) are the lynchpin
in the government school system for setting and
delivering on learning goals for students with
disabilities. However, not all students who should
have a plan have one. The development, quality
and monitoring of these plans is inconsistent
and there is no systemic monitoring to ensure
these plans are of a reasonable quality and are
being implemented.
General experiences of consultation450
Please stress the importance for all who
work within the education system ...
to be conscious of not judging the parents
who judge themselves already. Just
advising the parents that they are hearing
what the parents are saying. Be upfront
with parents and advising of what can
and cannot be changed to accommodate
their child. This is what parents want –
honesty.450
Consultation with parents and students is an
essential part of understanding the nature of a
student’s disability and what adjustments are
required to ensure access and participation at
school. For this reason, consultation is mandated
in the Disability Standards for Education 2005
(the Standards).
The Commission’s research heard a number
of positive examples from parents about their
communication with teachers; however, many also
reported negative experiences.
450Parent survey participant.
82 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Our survey asked parents if the school had ever
consulted with them about what reasonable
adjustments and support their child required.
Educators were also asked if they consulted with
parents and students with disabilities.
• 87 per cent of educators reported that they
consulted with parents and students with
disabilities on adjustments to accommodate the
specific needs of the student.451
• 71 per cent of parents reported that the school
had consulted with them.452 This was broadly
consistent across all school sectors, between
mainstream and specialist schools and for all
stages of school, from Prep through to Year 12.453
While this result is better than our findings on
participation of students with disabilities generally,
it is still sub-optimal.454 It means that around one
in three parents had not been consulted by the
school about the adjustments their child required to
participate on the same basis as students without
disabilities. This is of concern as consultation with
parents and students is part of each school’s
legal obligations.455
Student support groups
Student support groups are the primary
means of consultation in the state system
In the government school system, all students in
receipt of Program for Students with Disabilities
(PSD) funding must have a student support group
(SSG) established.456 Sometimes these are called
parent support groups.
451867 educators answered this question. Of these 758
said parents and students were consulted, 44 per cent
said they were not. Sixty-five respondents did not know.
452587 parents answered this question. 419 said they had
been consulted.168 had not been consulted.
453Specific issues were also raised regarding the
participation of parents with disability. For example ‘As
a deaf parent, I would have liked to see the school have
access to ample funds to allow myself and other deaf
members of the family to attend school events. Auslan
as a language other than English should be more
encouraged in schools and actively funded.’ Parent
survey participant.
454Fifty-three per cent of parents in the survey reported
that their child with disability was not able to participate
fully at school.
455Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 5.2(2)(b).
456‘A student support group is mandatory for students in
the Program for Students with Disabilities and strongly
encouraged for any student with additional needs.’
State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, Program for Students with
Disabilities Guidelines 2013 (2012) 9. <www.eduweb.
vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/stuman/wellbeing/2013PSDGuidlines.pdf> at 31 July 2012.
The Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development (DEECD) issues detailed guidance
on the role and activities of the SGG each year.457
The student support group guidelines are
supplemented by references to the SSG in the
funding guidelines for the PSD. These describe the
SSG as ‘a cooperative partnership between the
parent/guardian/carer(s), school representatives
and professionals to ensure coordinated support
for the student’s educational needs’.458
The focus of the SSG is on educational planning
and monitoring of a student’s progress. The SSG is
tasked with:
• identifying the student’s needs, which includes
identifying the most appropriate learning style
• determining adjustments that need to be made
to the curriculum
• setting short-term and long-term educational
goals that enable the student to undertake a
meaningful educational program
• completing and implementing an individual
learning plan (ILP)
• monitoring and evaluating the plan to ensure
progress for the student.459
Formal consultation through the SSG (or similar)
is probably the single most important means to
ensure that all people supporting the student
with disability and the parents have a shared
understanding about what the student needs to get
the best possible educational outcomes. They are
also the immediate mechanism for making sure the
school delivers on its commitments and, as such,
provides an important accountability measure
at the school level. It is therefore vital that these
groups are regularly held, properly constituted,
fulfil their brief, and are respectful of parental and
specialist input.
457State of Victoria, Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development, student support
group Guidelines 2013 (2012). <www.eduweb.vic.
gov.au/edulibrary/public/stuman/wellbeing/2013SSGGuidlines.pdf> at 31 July 2012.
458Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines’, above n 456, 9.
459Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Student Support Group Guidelines’,
above n 457, 15.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 83
Similar mechanisms operate in Catholic and
Independent schools
Catholic schools have a process with parents to
negotiate an annual plan called a ‘program’ for the
student. This program is developed by the program
support group, which is similar to an SSG. The
program is signed by the parents or carers and
forms the basis of the adjustments that the school
will make using funding provided by the Catholic
Education Commission funding committee.460
Independent schools also have a program support
group, although it is not mandatory to establish
such a group as all schools in this sector are
independent entities. Independent Schools Victoria
(ISV) does encourage its members to establish
these groups in order to ensure that those most
concerned for the student work together to provide
effective support for the student. The ISV Students
with Disabilities Handbook states:
A program support group is effective for planning
and evaluating a student’s program and it is
strongly recommended that such a group be
established for any student who requires ongoing
monitoring and support including a student with a
disability.461
Educator experiences of the student support
groups
The majority of educators responding to the
Commission’s survey said that consultation with
parents and students with disabilities takes place
at the SSG or other meetings. This reflects the
high proportion of survey participants from the
government school sector where this terminology
is used.462
Educators from the government school sector
reported that the child’s specific needs are usually
determined on enrolment when a consultation and
initial assessment takes place (partly to determine
funding eligibility). The student’s progress and
requirements are then reviewed on an ongoing
basis, usually once every term, through regular
SSG meetings.
Educators suggested that the process is different
for students with disabilities who are not funded
through the PSD and that these students’ needs
are generally addressed on a more ad hoc basis.463
460Key informant interview, Catholic Education Office
Melbourne. Funding in the Catholic system is
discussed further in Chapter 14.
461Independent Schools Victoria, above n 323, 5.
462In Catholic schools, Independent schools and
specialist schools these may be called parent support
groups.
463Educator survey participants.
Other means of consultation and monitoring
student progress reported by educators in our
survey included:
• communication booklets (a daily communication
book between the school and home) and diaries
• emails, phone calls and other informal methods
as needed (also for review of progress)
• meetings with stakeholders, such as specialist
support providers
• parent information nights
• parent and teacher interviews.
Educators described the process, purpose and
frequency of SSG meetings and discussions about
students’ needs. They also highlighted some of
the challenges involved in making the SSG work
effectively. Those who had taught at multiple
schools indicated that levels of commitment can
vary from school to school. It would also appear
that resource and funding constraints can lead to
poor organisation; for example, where one person
bears the responsibility to coordinate meetings and
motivate others but does not have time to do this
effectively. This can lead to variations in practice
between schools:
Schools are required to hold support meetings,
but it has been my experience that the teacher
who coordinates the disabilities program has too
little time allowance to do an effective job.464
Educators were also asked about the process
of reviewing adjustments, including consultation
with parents and students, as required by the
Standards. The majority of survey responses
indicated that reviews take place largely through
SSG meetings, other meetings and informal
communication as needs arise. Others said that
reviews are generally done on a needs basis.
Some educators reported that plans and
adjustments are also reviewed through annual
school-based surveys.465 These appeared to
complement the consultation processes already
mentioned and were listed by these respondents
in addition to other methods of communication
between parents and the school.
464Classroom teacher, government school. Educator
survey participant.
465Victorian government schools are required to undertake
annual parent and student surveys. Seven educators
spoke specifically of these surveys.
84 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Parent experiences of student support groups
A number of parents made positive comments
about the effectiveness of SSG meetings:
The regular student support group meetings
work well – they have been very positive for us.
At the end of each meeting, we always planned
the next meeting. Usually, the visiting specialist
teacher, integration coordinator, Vice Principal, my
daughter and I would meet.466
Because we are privately funding an OT to
come into school, school are supportive of our
endeavours and therefore include both us as
parents and the OT in any decision making with
our child.467
Parents spoke of the importance of working
together with the school, particularly around crucial
matters concerning medication or other needs.
They also stressed that regular communication
between parents and teachers is essential to
manage behavioural issues appropriately in a
consistent and supportive manner:
My son was the first at primary and the second at
secondary with autism. I had to work very closely
with primary staff teaching them the best way to
teach my son. I organised specialists to visit the
school, wrote to parents explaining why my son
acted differently, and had continual chats with
staff every week about what had happened in his
life that may affect his learning and behaviour.468
Inconsistency of approach
However, parents who reported having positive
experiences with SSG meetings also suggested
that their experiences varied at different times or
from school to school and that there could be a
lack of consistent organisation and commitment to
the SSG meetings.
This is consistent with the findings of the Victorian
Auditor-General who found that ‘while the intent
and purpose of having SSGs is sound, parents
advised that meetings did not occur unless they
initiated them, were often not documented, and
student outcomes were often not identified.
Parental awareness of SSG processes was
generally poor’.469
466Case study 38.
467Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
468Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
469Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n 73, 25.
Parent ‘have a say’ days also highlighted a degree
of dissatisfaction with consultation arrangements;
for example, some parents who may have been
involved in successful SSG meetings that now take
place more infrequently.
We have gone a whole year without a meeting
in the past. High school was great, but primary
school was not willing to listen.
SSGs were good early on. Then they drop off, and
start up again around Christmas.470
Student support meetings while required are
not always followed. This is more an issue in
secondary school settings when it is difficult to
coordinate all the teachers.471
Some educators also reported that practice was
patchy:
As I cover over 25 schools [consultation/
organisation] varies between being excellent
and following guidelines, having plans ... to SSG
meetings being shocking, no records, slapdash
meetings, no understanding of obligations.472
Quality of consultation473
Communication is vital and we try to
involve the student and parent/s as much
as possible. If the student participates in
the decision-making and the parent is
actively supportive, the overall outcomes
are more successful.473
While some parents indicated having positive
relationships and partnerships with the school
through the SSG, some felt that, in the absence
of resources, the changes necessary to make a
difference to their child’s education would not
be realised.
[We are] well consulted, but the teachers and
school has no resources to make a difference.474
Others reported that consultations and meetings
either do not happen or, if they do, are not
genuinely consultative.
470HASD 9.
471Submission 9, Vision Australia, 8.
472Visiting teacher, government mainstream schools.
Educator survey participant.
473Educator, government mainstream school. Educator
survey participant.
474Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 85
Some parents said they have to push the school for
the SSG or parent support group meetings (PSG)
to take place.475 Others said they felt the meetings
were not always effective or that their concerns are
not heard:
PSG meetings were few and far between and
goals and interventions were never carried out. It
was basically just lip service to enable teachers to
tick appropriate boxes.476
Some parents also told us that changes to
adjustments are made without their consent or
knowledge and that they have to actively request
information, such as minutes of these meetings:477
The school has not discussed with us as parents
any changes made to support time. Changes
made to my child were due to the school’s need,
not what was of benefit to my child.478
Hours for the aide were reduced without my
knowledge. The aide was used for another child
in the class instead. The aide was changed twice
without any consultation or notice and our son
found that very hard to adjust to.479
One parent indicated that an SSG had not been
established and that the school had been writing
individual learning plans without consultation.480
Respecting parent knowledge481
We try and help the school as we know
what helps but they pretend to listen and
then do what they like ... they say they
are the experts.481
A number of parents said they had to do a lot of
work themselves to ensure that their child can
participate at school, with some teachers ignoring
or being unreceptive to the parent’s knowledge
about their child’s needs and how their child
learns. Some Indigenous parents told us that the
SSG meeting can be ‘shaming’.482
475Parent survey participant.
476Parent of a student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
477HASD 9.
478Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
479Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
480Parent survey participant.
481Parent survey participant.
482HASD 11.
Parents felt that their intimate knowledge and
understanding of their child and his or her learning
needs should be respected by teachers and the
school community. As one parent put it, ‘You may
be an expert in your field, but I am an expert in
my son’.483
Other comments included:
I would like to be able to assist teachers without
having to feel like a nuisance and know it all.484
Teachers need to have a better understanding of
her problems ... and not brush me off like I am
stupid and don’t know what I am talking about.485
Others wanted to see a broader, whole-of-person
approach taken:
The education system doesn’t appear to be very
good at seeking outside support, or considering
the whole person when dealing with the student.
For example, families may be consulted, but rarely
will others who work with the student be fully
involved in helping to plan for what’s best for the
student. I like the idea of a ‘whole of life’ plan for
our kids with disabilities, where every aspect of
her life would be covered.486
Relationships with Indigenous parents and
communities
Indigenous community members discussed the
importance of engaging parents with schools and
services, with a focus on inclusive processes that
look beyond traditional conversations between
schools and parents:
[Schools need to] think of ways to engage that
suit parents, not just parent-teacher interviews.
For example, one school had a Bushdance
Welcome Night and a sausage sizzle, and now
they have 19 new families in Prep.487
Having a place to go for Indigenous parents who
have to fill in forms would be good – a parents
hub for support and so on [at the school)488.
483HASD 6.
484Parent of student attending an Independent school.
Parent survey participant.
485Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
486Parent survey participant.
487HASD 11.
488HASD 11.
86 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
On the theme of broader engagement within the
education system, Speech Pathology Australia
said:
SPA strongly advocates for active and inclusive
dialogue with Indigenous communities and
those from disadvantaged and culturally and
linguistically diverse backgrounds, so as to
facilitate their meaningful engagement in relation
to current and future education initiatives.489
Individual learning plans490
The development of individual education
plans to meet individual student’s needs
and access to support are critical factors to
enabling the participation of students with
disability in schools.490
State school educators reported that the main
purpose of SSG meetings is to discuss and review
ILPs and to develop and measure progress against
agreed goals. These plans are sometimes also
called individual education plans (IEPs).
The Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines state that in order to maximise
opportunities for students with disabilities, policy
and practice should reflect, among other things,
‘curriculum based Individual Learning Plans
developed by a student support group that set out
the student’s short-term and long-term learning
goals’.491
Thus, ILPs are a key component in the DEECD
strategy for ensuring inclusion of students with
disabilities.492
489Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia, 3.
490Australian Government, ‘Report on the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37,
42.
491Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines’, above n 456, 22.
492Aboriginal students must also have an individual
learning plan. See Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, ‘About Wannik’, above n 189.
An ILP is expected to be completed for all students
in receipt of PSD funding. The goals and strategies
in the plan should form part of the PSD application.
There is no one method for developing an ILP, but
there are template examples available for schools
to utilise. 493
Among those in receipt of PSD funding taking part
in our survey, three-quarters of parents reported
that their child had an ILP. Seventeen per cent
indicated that they did not have a plan, and 8
per cent said they did not know if their child had
one.494 This is in spite of the fact that such plans
are mandatory for all government school students
with PSD funding:
I have asked for one but have never received
or viewed one and I was told that my child did
not have a disability and therefore did not need
one.495
He had one last year but I was told that now he is
in year eleven he does not need one.496
I asked endlessly for an ILP but keep being told
that there isn’t such a thing.497
Schools also have the discretion to develop ILPs
for students with disabilities who do not receive
PSD funding but who may benefit from a plan. A
number of survey respondents whose children did
not have PSD funding indicated that their child did
have an ILP in place. The Commission considers
this to be a positive step.
Of those parents whose child did not receive PSD
funding, 46 per cent said their child had an ILP, 39
per cent said their child did not have an ILP and 15
per cent said they did not know if their child had
an ILP or not.498
493‘While there are inconsistencies, we are working
on getting more consistency with ILPs. Quality
is variable—increasingly providing more explicit
advice and focus on achievement… Part of future
work is looking at benefits of a more standardised
ILP’. Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
494142 parents whose child received Program for Students
Disability reported that an individual learning plan was
in place (75.5 per cent). Thirty-one parents reported no
plan was in place. Fifteen parents did not know.
495Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
496Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
497Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
498Twenty-eight parents reported a non-funded student
having an ILP. Twenty-four did not have an ILP. Nine did
not know.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 87
Involvement of parents in developing the ILP
Among the 341 parents in our survey whose child
had an ILP, there was a mixed level of satisfaction
regarding the consultation involved in developing
the plan.
• 64 per cent of parents reported being well
consulted on the development of the ILP.
• 32 per cent did not feel well consulted and were
told what would be in the plan.
• Less than five per cent reported not being
consulted at all.499
These satisfaction rates were broadly the same,
regardless of whether the ILP was mandatory or
not. However, the reporting rate of ‘no consultation’
was marginally less for PSD-funded students:500
Our school has individual learning plans for every
child in the school. The teacher and the children
work together to agree on three goals for the
children (personal goal, maths goal, literacy goal).
At three-way conference every semester (parent/
teacher/child interview) the parents discuss
the goals with the child and teacher and the
strategies that will be put in place to assist the
child to achieve these goals and then all parties
sign and date the goals. At the next three-way
conference we review the goals.
Also, I have built a great rapport with both my
child’s classroom teacher and the assistant
principal who oversees all the children with
special needs in the school. I am able to talk to
either one of these teachers on a regular basis
and discuss my child’s progress and his needs. I
keep them informed about what is happening at
home and provide copies of all our son’s therapy
appointments with Occupational Therapist and
Speech Pathologist and Paediatrician.
The school keeps me informed of my son’s
progress and needs at school and lets me
know what I can do to reinforce and support his
learning at home. I think it is great and it works
really well for us and my son knows that we are all
working together to support him.501
499215 parents said they were well consulted, 107
reported not being well consulted, 15 said they were
not consulted at all. Four did not answer this question.
5003.5 per cent rather than 4.5 per cent.
501Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
Some parents were overwhelmed by the process
and did not have confidence in the school’s
capacity to develop the plan:
The assessment/collaboration with school process
has been a bit of a mystery to me – we have
not been specifically informed of an ‘individual
learning/education plan’ although we know that
some changes have been made.502
I am amazed that I have had to drive the plan. The
school did not offer me any guidance in terms of
what sort of plan/steps would be helpful for my
son. They do not have any idea what his issues
are or how to help him. I have had to explain and
suggest all aspects of his learning plan. I have
appreciated the willingness of the school to listen
to me ... I feel very sorry for other parents and
children who have no understanding of education
and children’s learning needs. Their children
float along with very little direction and ineffective
assistance. They are baby sat in schools and that
is NOT good enough.503
Using specialist expertise when developing
plans
Consistent with guidance from the DEECD,
educators reported that ILPs are often developed
with the assistance of external professionals, such
as health professionals, psychologists, and speech
and occupational therapists. Other specialists,
such as the family liaison officer, agencies such
as Vision Australia, Statewide Vision Resource
Centre and the Visiting Teacher Service, may
also be involved.
However, Vision Australia reported that the visiting
teacher’s role is not always reflected in the ILP
document. They also noted that families had
mentioned that ILPs are ‘very useful but the care in
development and attention to these plans are often
left wanting’.504
As one parent commented:
The bare minimum is done to meet the standards
of an IEP and seems to be based on the principal
class officer’s decision instead of professionals in
the area of autism. They also barely acknowledge
any recommendation if it is not made by an
employee of the department.505
502Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
503Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
504Submission 9, Vision Australia, 8.
505Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
88 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Quality of plans506
I wrote it myself because the PSD
Coordinator didn’t know how to do one! 506
In its consultations, the Review of the Disability
Standards for Education 2005 found that nationally.
‘There is limited accessible practical advice
and training on implementing the Standards for
educators about identifying individual needs,
developing individual education plans and
providing appropriate support to achieve
learning outcomes’.
In our study, parents expressed to the
Commission a wide range of views about the
quality of ILPs.507 Some felt they were very good
while others were extremely concerned about the
capacity of teachers and others in the school to
develop and implement these plans:508
The plan has not changed much since first
starting at the school as my child has not made
much improvement from year to year. The plan
is usually rolled over to the next school year,
I have a PSG meeting with the teachers but the
plan is usually already typed out and ready
for me to sign.509
Some felt the only reason the ILP was done was to
secure funding:
The staff at the school provide goals that are not
individualised, are not negotiated with us, and do
not reflect our child’s needs. The school verbalise
that the purpose of the goals is to account
for funding. They do not see them as a tool to
support our child’s learning.512
In some cases parents reported disengaging from
the process altogether:
To assist I furnished the school with extensive
language and cognitive reports which I had
already obtained privately from a speech
pathologist and a paediatric psychologist at great
expense. I also provided a template and model
individual learning plan from the Ed Dept website.
Some weeks later the school emailed me a brief
document that did not remotely fit the basic
requirements for an individual learning plan. It had
no obligations, timelines, and ways to measure
what was to be achieved and so on. Promises of
further meetings – e.g. head teachers bumping
into me in the corridor and saying they would ring
to arrange a proper review – never eventuated.
I have ceased to insist on further meetings or
plans, because they will most likely be a sham.513
They did listen and list our suggestions in the IEP.
But it has been hard following through on some
of those things due to limited resources and time
on the part of the teacher and aides, and lack of
experience on their part.510
The teacher prepared an ‘individual class plan’
for my child based on what she observed in the
classroom not on my child’s disability. I don’t
blame the teacher. How can she develop a plan if
she is untrained to recognise the symptoms and
therefore cater for my child’s learning needs?511
506Parent survey participant.
507The Commission notes that detailed guidance on
developing and implementing an individual learning
plan is provided by the DEECD however, take up
among schools appears inconsistent. In some cases
schools exceed the guidance.
508Australian Government, ‘Report on the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37,vii.
509Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
510Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
511Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
512Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
513Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 89
Inconsistency of implementation
Some parents described a flurry of activity to
develop the ILP as part of the PSD funding
application but, following that, implementation of
the plan falls away:
I was consulted (when he was about to start year
7) but there has been no further plans provided to
me and my son is now going into year 9.514
Initially, he entered this school with a full transition
plan and lots of meetings between myself and
the school special ed. team. This boded well, but
no individual learning plans at all were put into
in place, and after seven months of heartbreak,
they were finally initiated ... The problem lies
in the transition from one year level to the next.
Each new teacher must be convinced that it is
necessary. Then the slow process begins, and it
is usually about second or third term by the time
that the plan is in place. The teachers should
be in-serviced at the commencement of the
year, but this rarely happens. The worst is when
replacement or temporary teachers are used –
the children with difficulties are ignored.515
Failure to review and update plans
Parents and educators in ‘have a say’ days
throughout Victoria reported ILPs not being
reviewed or updated, in some cases for years.516
Similar comments were made in the parent survey:
We have had consistent term meetings with her
support team (principal, special-ed co-ordinator,
teacher and aide). Goals have been set from day
one, however, they have not changed very much
over 7 years. This is due in part to our daughter’s
progress, but also due to staff not necessarily
looking for new goals as well.517
Others felt the ILP paid lip service to the students’
needs as it was not followed through:518
I believe the plan is just a formality/paperwork to
obtain funding. Each year the plan looks the same
like it is a cut and paste job from the previous
year’s plan.519
I have to write it up myself every SSG meeting
and hand it out as they always lose the last one I
gave them.520
Goals get set but are very generalised, often
incorporating more than one goal in the
sentence. There are no short-term goals to help
assist reaching the long-term goal. Goals are
not reviewed regularly, and not reviewed with
parents.521
Accountability for results in the plan
Some parents also expressed concern at not being
informed of their child’s progress at school:
I was surprised to receive a not satisfactory result
at the end of year 11, as I was not informed that
my child was not performing adequately.522
I found out that he was failing maths in the first
week of the last term.523
Other parents raised concerns about what they
viewed as a lack of accountability on behalf of the
school for implementation of the plan:
I was consulted in the development, however
have found over the years it is a process, the
school is not really answerable to it. They just say
he is moving at his own pace. There is again no
accountability to outcomes.524
It looks great on paper but lack of implementation,
assessment and reporting make it almost
meaningless.525
Meeting held, student also involved, all written
up, realistic goals. All looked good on paper but
nothing followed through.526
Great to have a plan – but it’s not much
use if the teachers never see it.518
514Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
515Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
516See e.g. HASD 3 and 13.
517Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
518Parent survey participant.
519Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
520Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
521Parent survey participant.
522Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
523Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
524Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
525Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
526Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
90 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
However, some parents felt the level of
accountability was high or was improving:
Initially we had a poor experience with this, but
the school has come a long way. We now have
a SMART plan [specific measurable attainable
realistic and timely], with accountabilities in place
and she is excelling with the tasks she is set.527
Others thought some form of external review would
help improve the quality of the plan and the results
that could be achieved:
The school designed the ILP and provided the
parents with some review opportunity. However,
when we attempted to get an external expert
to review the program (at our cost) the school
refused to permit such a review arguing that
they were the experts and it was an education
department matter to provide curriculum content.
We remain dissatisfied with this outcome. Our
daughter will be in year 9 in 2012, so perhaps it is
not too late to get a better outcome.528
The Commission notes that government schools
are currently required to report on the number
of students eligible for PSD funding who do
not have an ILP in place. This forms part of the
Supplementary Schools Census. Schools must also
report on the percentage of PSD students who are
meeting the learning, independence, engagement
and participation goals in the ILP.529
However, this self-assessment by the school does
not report on outcomes for individual students.
Thus, ‘there is no systematic auditing of ILPs at
the moment other than the initial submission of the
goal and strategies’.530
Opportunities for improvement
The educational outcomes of students with special
learning needs are potentially being compromised
by inconsistent, poor quality ILPs.531
While ILPs ‘are the backbone of planning for the
teaching of students’, not all staff know how to
write an effective plan or have access to expertise
within the school to guide them. Some appear
unaware of their obligation to prepare one. This is
unacceptable.532
527Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
528Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
529Accountability for PSD funds is discussed in Chapter
14.
530Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
531Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n 73, 26.
532Submission 2, Julie Phillips, Disability Advocate 5.
Suggestions from parents and organisations
included having dedicated staff with extensive
training in developing and implementing
adjustments to support the development of ILPs,
along with a stronger oversight role by DEECD
to make sure plans are of a high quality, are
implemented in practice and reviewed regularly.
These suggestions often went hand-in-hand with
maximising the potential of SSGs, in particular by
promoting greater involvement of specialists, such
as occupational, speech and other therapists, in
these meetings.
To truly meet the needs of dyslexic children, there
should be one member of staff in each school
who has received extensive dyslexia training
and is capable of writing individual learning
programmes for students. All teachers should
know what dyslexia is, how to recognise it and
how to teach dyslexic children.533
Educators spoke of developing ILPs that draw
on good research models and the importance
of a whole-of-school approach to professional
development on establishing and implementing
ILPs.534 Parents also suggested the value of
providing training for teachers so that ILPs were
meaningful and put into practice:
If schools cannot write an individual learning plan
then DEECD should step in. Plans need to be
measurable in terms of positive student learning
outcomes rather than ‘Mary will go on camp’.535
Clearly, educators want to deliver the best
outcomes they can for their students. To do this,
they need the appropriate tools. For this to happen,
they need to be trained and supported to develop
and implement ILPs and schools must be publicly
accountable.
It was suggested that ILPs be submitted to DEECD
online to make sure that schools are compliant
each term by a certain date.536 Potentially, the
regional disability coordinator could then check
that every student in receipt of PSD funding had an
SSG and an ILP in place.
Online submission and storage would also have
the advantage of allowing school principals,
teachers and parents to check the content and
progress of plans quickly and easily. It could also
open up the opportunity for the regional director
to conduct random reviews of ILPs to be sure that
their quality is of the required standard.
533Case study 15.
534HASD 5.
535Case study 8.
536Parent survey participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 91
Recommendations
Noting the findings of the Report of the Review of
Disability Standards for Education 2005 and the
Victorian Auditor-General’s audit of programs for
students with special learning needs, that:
15.Individual learning plans be mandatory
for students whose disability affects their
education regardless of whether they are
eligible for targeted funding.
16.Educational authorities, at a regional or
diocese level undertake a review of a random
sample of individual learning plans (and
student support group records) to ensure
these are of a satisfactory standard and
are achieving educational outcomes for the
student. Further, that the Victorian Registration
and Qualifications Authority inspect a similar
random sample as part of the cyclical review
of Independent schools and require the same
in government and Catholic school reviews.
92 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 9: School attendance patterns of students
with disabilities
Main findings
• Even though the law requires all students
who are enrolled to attend school full-time,
some schools do not allow some students with
disabilities to come to school full-time. This is
discrimination.
• In some cases, students are only allowed to
attend during the hours that a funded integration
aide is available. In other cases, the student
may be put on part-time attendance following
behaviour problems that have not been wellmanaged.
• While part-time schooling is forced on a small
number of students, it is a serious matter
that the Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development (DEECD) must
proactively address.
• Although our study found that some students
with disabilities are suspended multiple times,
nearly always in connection with behaviourrelated issues, there is no way to verify if
students with disabilities are over-represented
among students who are suspended or expelled
as DEECD does not collect or analyse this data.
This information is also not available from the
Catholic or Independent school sectors.
This is a significant information gap that
hinders opportunities to understand and
address the problem.
Patterns of attendance
In the Commission’s survey, 596 parents indicated
the current attendance pattern of their child with
disability at school.
• 509 (85.4 per cent) reported that their child
attended school full-time
• 54 (9.1 per cent) reported that their child
attended school part-time
• 33 (5.5 per cent) reported that their child was
either home-schooled, undertook distance
education or was dual enrolled.537
When asked how this pattern of attendance
came about:
• just over half (50.6 per cent) of parents said it
was agreed between the parents and the school
• 27 parents (31 per cent) chose this arrangement
• 16 parents (18.4 per cent) reported that the
school required it.538
Home-schooling and distance
education
The survey of parents revealed only 12 instances
of home schooling and four instances of distance
education for students with disabilities. A small
number of instances of these types of education
were also raised in case studies and through ‘have
a say’ sessions with parents.539
Educators were asked how common it is for
students with disabilities to receive homeschooling. The majority (62.3 per cent) said homeschooling was rare; however, 12.8 per cent (110
educators) described it as occasional and
a further 2.6 per cent (22) said home-schooling
was common or very common.540 This pattern
was broadly similar across all school sectors,
with a slightly higher proportion of government
specialist school educators reporting homeschooling as occasional.541
537Seventeen were dual enrolled, 12 were home-schooled
and four undertook distance education.
538Only parents of children with non-full-time attendance
were asked this question – 87 parents responded.
539See e.g. HASD 1.
540535 educators said home schooling was rare. Parents
must register with the Victorian Registration and
Qualifications Authority.
54116.6 per cent of government specialist school
educators reported home-schooling as occasional
compared to 12.8 per cent of all educators.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 93
Educators were also asked about trends in
distance education for students with disabilities.
Almost 40 per cent answered that they did not
know. Only nine educators described it as common
or very common and a further 59 described
distance education as occasional. In contrast, 448
educators said it was rare.542
Home-schooling or distance education may be
chosen by the parent or student or it may arise
following suspension or expulsion.543 In some
cases, it was reported that students are fearful of
returning to school because of bullying. In other
cases, it was reported that the school may suggest
home-schooling as a response to bullying and the
parent followed that advice:544
[It became quite obvious] ... that his needs
were not going to be met, so in the end with the
support of our case manager at DHS we were
left with very little choice but to take him out of the
school situation, be ‘deemed’ enrolled and not
attend for 12 months ... We have recently been
left to enrol him in homeschooling and somehow
find the time to educate him at home and work
through what in reality the education system
should be doing.545
He spent more time at home in Year 7 than at
school ... by June of Year 7 he was home full-time.
He attempted to complete a distance education
program but was eventually cut from the program.
It took to the end of Year 8 for the family to find a
school with the assistance of CAMHS.546
The culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)
critical friends group suggested there might be a
high proportion of CALD students with disabilities
who are not at school. The group said that this
could reflect problems accessing transport, but
also suggested that this could reflect a belief in
some families that the child is better off learning at
home, either through physical work or work around
the home. There was disagreement in the group
over whether this mainly affected male or female
teenagers.547
54250.7 per cent said it was rare, 6.6 per cent said it was
occasional, one per cent said it was common or very
common, 41.5 per cent did not know or did not answer.
543See e.g. case study 34 where the student was
suspended multiple times, was then placed on a two
day per week attendance and eventually did distance
education.
544See e.g. phone-in 51.
545Parent of student now home-schooled. Parent survey
participant.
546Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
547CALD critical friends group.
Dual enrolment
In some circumstances, students with disabilities
may attend more than one school. This is a parent
choice. For example, they may attend a specialist
school for a number of days per week and a
mainstream school for the remainder, therefore
being enrolled in school full-time. In our survey,
parents reported 17 dual enrolments.
Dual enrolment was more frequently mentioned in
‘have a say’ day discussions, particularly among
parents of children with intellectual disability.
• 405 educators surveyed said that dual
enrolment was occasional (46.9 per cent)
• 250 educators said it was rare (29 per cent)
• 105 said it was common (12.2 per cent)
• 18 educators surveyed said that dual enrolment
was very common (2.1 per cent).548
Part-time attendance
In Victoria, enrolled students are generally
expected to attend school full-time.549 However,
the Commission found that this is not always the
case for students with disabilities. Similar, national
findings were made in the Report on the Review of
Disability Standards for Education 2005.550
548Eighty-five educators (9.9 per cent) did not know.
549In Victoria, education is compulsory for children aged
between 6 and 17 years. Students are expected to
attend normal school hours (between 9 am and 3.30
pm) every school day of each term. Education and
Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.1.1. Access to
education free from discrimination is also protected by
section 8 of the Charter (equality before the law). The
right to education is also protected by international
laws including the Convention on the Rights of the
Child; Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities and the Convention on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights.
550‘Consultation about adjustments was often limited and
one-sided – a ‘take it or leave it’ approach. In some
cases, parents were not consulted until issues became
critical, resulting in suspension or exclusion of students
with disability. A number of submissions reported
that students with disability may only be offered part
day/part week attendance as a result of inadequate
resources or limited access to support staff’. Australian
Government, ‘Report on the review of the Disability
Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37, 42.
94 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
While home-schooling, distance education and
dual enrolments are all authorised, part-time
attendance when a student is enrolled fulltime is a clear breach of departmental policy
and of Victorian law, apart from exceptional
circumstances prescribed in DEECD’s Student
Engagement Policy Guidelines.551
Within our survey sample, however, one in 10
students with disabilities attending government
mainstream schools were not attending school fulltime.552
Fifty-two parents reported that that their child
attended school part-time. Of these:
• 39 students attending part-time were enrolled at
state mainstream schools553
• six were enrolled at government specialist
schools554
The problem is that if students are only attending
school a few hours a day they have very little
chance of catching up on missed learning
opportunities.
The Commission also notes the findings of the
Victorian Auditor-General that ‘mainstream schools
and regional offices reported that they encourage
part time attendance for some students through
what they term ‘flexible learning’. In these cases,
students were not given any alternative educational
provision for the time they were not present at
school’.558
Educators in our survey were asked how common
it is for students with disabilities to attend school on
a part-time basis. Their answers suggest that parttime attendance is as frequent as that suggested in
the parent survey data.
• three were enrolled in Catholic mainstream
schools555
Just over 40 per cent of educators reported parttime attendance as rare. However, one in eight
educators described it as common.559
• four were enrolled in Independent schools,
of which one was an Independent specialist
school.556
• 362 educators (41.8 per cent) reported parttime attendance as rare
The Commission also heard reports of significant
part-time attendance patterns among Indigenous
students with disabilities in at least one regional
centre. In addition, the Victorian Aboriginal
Disability Network reported part-time schooling
and high rates of suspensions and expulsions:
• 106 educators (12.2 per cent) described it as
common
We have 80 children going to school at 10 to
11.30 am, three days a week, at the Catholic
School, having been expelled from the
government school ... Also at the primary schools
children with disability are not being catered for.
They are being expelled or only allowed to attend
two or three hours a day, including lunch.557
551For more information about attendance policy and
procedures see: State of Victoria, Department of
Education and Early Childhood Development, School
Policy and Advisory Guide: Student Participation:
Attendance <www.education.vic.gov.au/management/
governance/spag/participation/attendance/default.
htm> at 25 June 2012.
552Of 359 parents of students in government mainstream
schools, 39 had children attending part-time. Of 100
parents of students in government specialist schools,
six had children attending part-time.
553Of these, six parents had chosen to have the child
attend part-time, 23 had agreed this attendance
pattern with the school. In 10 cases, the school had
required part-time attendance.
554Four parents had chosen this. In two cases, the school
required part-time attendance.
555In all three cases, the school and parents had agreed
this arrangement.
556Two parents chose this, one agreed with the school
and the other part-time attendance was required by the
school.
557HASD 11.
• 324 educators (37.4 per cent) said it was
occasional
• 34 educators (3.9 per cent) said it was very
common.560
These rates were broadly similar across all sectors.
558Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n 73, 28.
559This excludes dual enrolments, home-schooling and
distance education.
560Forty educators (4.6 per cent) did not know.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 95
Causes of part-time attendance
Relationship to funding
The drivers of part-time attendance are complex
and interrelated. However, a common underlying
factor appears to be that the school is unable to
make the necessary adjustments to facilitate the
full-time attendance of a student with disability.
This may relate to funding or other capacity
constraints, including lack of professional support
for educators, attitudinal barriers and knowledge
deficits about working with students with different
forms of disability, as well as a failure to adopt
behaviour management strategies.
In a few cases, parents and advocates told the
Commission that part-time schooling arrangements
were tied to a lack of funding. We were told that
some schools would only allow a student to attend
for the hours and days where support – typically
an integration aide – was funded and available.
Other parents chose part-time hours as they felt
a full-time aide was necessary for their child’s
participation; however, this was not provided:563
Failure to make adjustments
For some parents, their child’s part-time hours
were a result of the school being unable to provide
adequate support for the child to attend full time in
the first place:
I wanted my child to attend an Independent
school but there were none who could meet his
complex needs. I tried to get him into a local
mainstream school but again there were none of
which could meet his needs. I tried to do a split
enrolment between the specialist school and the
local mainstream primary school but several of
the local schools did not want to enrol him. In the
end, we found a local school that would allow him
to attend as a visitor one day a week. He is not
enrolled and, as such, there is no support for him
in the school. I am his full time carer while he is at
the school.561
For others, part-time attendance resulted after
many years effort to get effective support in place
at the school but without success:
My daughter is now 17. She has ASD. She
attended mainstream school all her life – now in a
part-time capacity. She attends part-time because
of the inability of schools to modify curriculum
around her needs. At the outset, I should say the
schools did lots of things well, but there are a lot
of problems as well ... every year I have to justify
why she is not at a special school. I am over it.562
561Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school part-time. Parent survey participant.
562Case study 36.
My son was only allowed to attend 6–8 hours
a week [because] that’s all the aide funding he
could get and after I sold my car and furniture I
couldn’t continue funding extra aide time.564
My child has critical safety needs and was only
given enough funding for an integration aide for
three hours a day. We want to use this in the key
learning hours of the day. However, we are yet to
work out [how] to manage her safety at lunchtime.
For this reason, she is still only doing half days
while the rest of the class attend full-time.565
In some cases, community service organisations
are asked to, and pay for, essential supports so
that the student with disability can attend school.566
Relationship to suspension and expulsion
Part-time attendance may also be a consequence
of a breakdown in schooling; for example, where
behavioural or other issues, which themselves may
result from not making adequate adjustments to
accommodate the student’s disability, have led to
suspension or expulsion:567
My child’s school would forget to medicate him,
and when he displayed autistic behaviours would
punish him by suspension. I would take him to
school at 9am and regularly a teacher would drop
him home by 9.30am. Sometimes they would tell
my child they were taking him home to collect his
bike. At the house, he would run in to get his bike
and they would drive off leaving me to deal with
the emotional aftermath.568
563See also Australian Government, ‘Report on the review
of the Disability Standards for Education 2005’, above
n 37, 49; and Victorian Auditor-General’s Office,
‘Programs for Students with Special Learning Needs’,
above n 73, 28.
564Parent survey participant.
565Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school part-time. Parent survey participant.
566See e.g. HASD 6.
567See e.g. Case study 34.
568Parent survey participant.
96 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
In limited circumstances part-time attendance may
be included in a student’s individual learning plan
(ILP). The department told the Commission ‘this
may reflect some specific circumstances and the
individual needs of the child, but must be of timelimited duration with very clear goals and strategies
to ensure full time attendance is achieved’.569
However, currently there is no official data on
how often part-time attendance is used as part
of a graduated return to school and there is no
systematic monitoring of ILPs at a regional or central
level when these arrangements are in place:570
At my school, suspensions are not considered
at all for any student. There is regional advice
and strict guidelines around official suspension.
We also do not expel students. At times where
behavioural or emotional matters are severely
impacting on the state of the student (with or
without disabilities) and or on the safety and
wellbeing of other students, the school with the
advice often of student support officers will enter
into short day arrangements for specific students.
This strategy aims to ensure that success comes
from the shortened attendance and confidence
builds stronger engagement. There are always
student support group meetings and agreed and
negotiated arrangements when this strategy is
used. It is always a short-term plan with an aim
to steadily increase attendance opportunities.
This strategy is more often used for students
who are NOT supported under the PSD, those
who may have the presentation and forms of
behaviour disorder or other (such as Reactive
Attachment Disorder or behavioural anxieties but
rarely aspects of ASD, ASHD and students who
are officially diagnosed with disorders.) Where
a student has complex needs or whose parents
have not sought advice or followed through with
diagnosis or who do not fit the criteria of disability
under the PSD, this strategy is often a strong
strategy to enable the student to start small with a
single goal improvement focus.571
Suspension of students with disabilities
Departmental policy on suspension573
DEECD has issued specific guidance to
schools on the use of suspension in the
Effective Schools and Engaging Schools:
Student Engagement Policy Guidelines,
which states that schools should only
use suspension when all other strategies
have failed and for the shortest time
necessary.573
These guidelines aim to ‘promote student
engagement, attendance and positive behaviours
in Victorian government schools’. They require all
schools to develop a Student Engagement Policy
that ‘articulates the school community’s shared
expectations in the areas of student engagement,
attendance and behaviour’.574
The guidelines include detailed advice to schools
on promoting positive behaviour and engagement,
consulting with students and parents, and
implementing prevention and early intervention
strategies to promote positive behaviours at an
individual and whole-of-school level. Information
is also provided regarding obligations under the
federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the
Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Charter of
Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
Among other things, templates and pro forma for
ILPs, return to school plans, notices and reports of
suspensions are included in the guidelines.575
At our school students with major behavioural
issues, and funded as such, are not suspended
or expelled, however at times some of these
students may have a modified program that helps
the child participate to their best capacity. This
can vary from a ‘day off’ or modified times at
school for a period of time. The decision is always
aimed at being in the best interest of the child.572
569Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
570Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
571Classroom teacher, government mainstream school,
Educator survey participant.
572Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
573Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Student Engagement Policy Guidelines’,
above n 434, 25.
574Ibid.
575Information for parents on procedures for suspension
and expulsion is also translated into community
languages.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 97
The guidelines also set out grounds for
suspension. These include where a student is
engaged in, or travelling to or from any school
activity:
• is violent or threatens the health, safety of
wellbeing of another person
• causes damage or destruction to property, or is
involved in theft
• possesses, uses or assists another person to
use prohibited drugs or substances
• fails to comply with any reasonable, clearly
communicated instruction
• consistently interferes with the wellbeing, safety
or educational opportunities of another student
• consistently vilifies, defames, degrades or
humiliates another person based on any
personal attribute protected by law (for example,
race).576
The guidelines describe the suspension process.
The school principal is required to follow the
school’s own engagement policy, to ensure that
suspension is the appropriate response and
to convene a student support group meeting
(SSG) with the student’s parents to explain the
suspension and to put in place a student absence
learning plan. Before the suspension begins, the
principal must provide a notice of suspension to
the parents and to the president of the school
council that includes, among other things, the
reasons for the suspension. The principal must
also give the parents a DEECD brochure on
‘procedures for suspension’. The guidelines
does not specify that the SSG meeting has the
purpose of determining whether a suspension
is appropriate but does require the principal to
set out previous actions to support the student,
including previous SSG meetings.577
DEECD’s guidance on suspensions forms part of
an overarching policy called Effective Schools and
Engaging Schools: Student Engagement Policy
Guidelines. A key component of the Guidelines is
576State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, Student Participation: Student
Policy and Advisory Guide, Expulsions (2011) http://
www.education.vic.gov.au/management/governance/
spag/participation/engagement/expulsions.htm at
26 June 2012.
577As required by the Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, ‘Student Engagement Policy
Guidelines’, above n 434, 27.
Ministerial Order 184, Procedures for Suspension
and Expulsion.578 This limits the maximum length
of a suspension to five days. It also limits the
maximum number of school days a student can
be suspended in a school year to 15 days. The
ministerial order states that suspensions must
conclude at the end of school term and not
continue into the following term.
If a student is suspended for the maximum of
15 days then ‘an expulsion is not the automatic
consequence’. Where a student has been
suspended for eight days in a school year, or has
reached a total of four individual suspensions in
a school year, the school principal must consult
the regional office to address the behavioural
concerns for the suspended student. If it is
proposed that a student be suspended for more
than 15 days in the year, approval must be sought
from the regional director.579
How common is suspension of students with
disabilities?
Currently there is no systemic data available
on the specific rate or number of suspensions of
students with a disabilities in Victorian schools.580
DEECD is not able to collect and therefore does
not publish suspension or expulsion data either at
a statewide or regional level.581 This data is also not
available from the Catholic system or Independent
school sector.582
This makes it impossible to determine if students
with disabilities are over-represented among
students who are suspended or expelled or
to identify any other trends in the causes and
consequences of this form of punishment.
After receiving anecdotal reports that students
with disabilities are more likely to be removed from
school on either a temporary or permanent basis,
the Commission included questions on this topic
in our survey.
578Victorian Government, Procedures for suspension and
expulsion, Ministerial Order no. 184, 1 July 2009, http://
www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/stuman/
wellbeing/segministerorder.pdf at 26 June 2012.
579Ibid.
580Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
581Suspensions and expulsions data for students in
receipt of Program for Students with Disabilities
funding is not recorded or reported. Key informant
interview, Student Wellbeing and Engagement Division,
DEECD.
582Key informant interview, Catholic Education Office
Melbourne; key informant interview, Independent
Schools Victoria.
98 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Survey responses suggest that suspension and
expulsion appear to be the exception rather than
the norm, with 84.8 per cent of parents reporting
that their child had never been suspended.583
However, in the absence of comparative data for
the student population as a whole, it is not possible
to determine if this rate is better or worse than that
for the general school population.
Most educators (59.5 per cent) believed
suspension and expulsion is rare. However, a
significant number (239) reported that suspension
is occasional (27.7 per cent) or common (7.2 per
cent).584 This pattern was broadly similar across
educators from all school sectors.
Multiple suspensions
While it is positive that the use of suspension
and expulsion appears to be infrequent, it is of
concern that our survey revealed a small number
of students with disabilities who have been
suspended multiple times.
Internal suspensions
In some instances, parents reported ‘internal
suspensions’ or their child being sent home without a
formal suspension:
My child was not suspended as such but was
placed in a day-long time out, this was before
her formal autism assessment was done, and it
was due to the fact that she had been disruptive
to the class, was sat under her chair and refused
to come out and then once removed, refused to
return to the classroom.589
He has been sent home numerous times without
suspension, when he has had a full blown
meltdown, just so he is able to calm down enough
to understand that his aggressive behaviour is
not acceptable. I have often been called to come
to the school. This makes it very difficult for me to
return to the workforce, which is something I really
need to do.590
Of the 90 students that parents in our survey
reported as having been suspended:
• 32 students had been suspended once.585
• 28 students had been suspended more than
once.586
• 30 students had been suspended more than five
times.587
Parents also reported patterns of frequent and
multiple suspensions in ‘have a say’ day sessions,
during the phone-in and in case studies.588
583502 parents reported no suspensions. 84.9 per cent of
parents in government mainstream schools reported
that their child had never been suspended. This
compares to 89 per cent of parents in government
specialist schools, 95 per cent of parents in Catholic
mainstream schools, 77.6 per cent of parents in
Independent schools and 36.4 per cent of Independent
specialist schools; however, the survey participation
rate of Independent specialist schools is very low and
so data should be treated with caution.
584Twenty-nine educators (3.4 per cent) did not know.
Nineteen educators (2.2 per cent) said suspension of
students with disabilities was very common.
585Of these, 18 were from state mainstream schools, six
were from government specialist schools, two were
from Catholic schools. Two were from Independent
schools. One did not identify the type of school.
586Of these, 20 were from government mainstream
schools, two were from government specialist schools
and four were from Independent schools.
587Of these, 16 were from government mainstream
schools, three were from government specialist schools
and one was from a Catholic school. Five were from
Independent schools.
588See e.g. HASD 11, Case studies 3, 11, 18 and 34. See
also phone-in 1 and 10.
589Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
590Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 99
Expulsion
Departmental policy on expulsion
DEECD has issued specific guidance to schools
on expulsion in the School Policy and Advisory
Guide, which states that principals must:
• ensure expulsion is a measure of last resort
• ensure all other reasonable measures to avoid
expulsion have been implemented, as consistent
with the advice around staged response in
the Effective Schools are Engaging Schools:
Student Engagement Policy Guidelines
• determine that expulsion is appropriate to the
student’s age, behaviour, educational needs,
residential and social circumstances, and
additional learning needs or disability.591
If a decision is made to expel a student, the
principal must demonstrate that it ‘is the only
remaining measure and that all other measures
have been implemented in good faith without
success’. He or she must also ‘ensure, with
support from the regional director, that an
expelled student of compulsory school age is
enrolled at another school or a registered training
organisation’.592
591Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘School Policy and Advisory Guide,
expulsions’ above n 576.
592Ibid.
While an expulsion can be made on the same
grounds as those of suspension, the magnitude of
the student’s behaviour ‘outweighs the need of the
student to receive an education when compared
to the need to maintain the health, safety and
wellbeing of other staff and students at the school
and the effectiveness of the school’s educational
programs’.593
The process for an expulsion is broadly similar to
that for suspension. However, additional checks
and balances are included. These include formal
notice periods for the issuing of a notice of
expulsion; that the regional director is notified
when the SSG is convened; the right of the student
and parent to be heard at the SSG meeting;
and mandatory reporting of the expulsion to the
regional director within 24 hours of the expulsion
taking place.594
Ministerial Order 184 Procedures for Suspension
and Expulsion provides further guidance, including
details of the appeals process.595 Detailed
guidance is also provided for educators in the
Student Engagement Guidelines, which include,
among other things, pro forma notices and reports
for expulsions and a ‘procedure for expulsions’
brochure to be provided to students and parents.596
593Ibid.
594Ibid.
595Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Ministerial Order no. 184’, above n 578.
596The procedure for expulsions brochure is translated
into community languages.
100 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Experiences of parents and students
In our survey, 23 parents reported that their child
had been expelled (close to four per cent).597 Ten
students (17 per cent) reported being suspended
or expelled.
Some parents told us that they withdrew their child
before a formal expulsion took place. Others spoke
of multiple expulsions:
Due to the staff’s lack of expertise, the focus
was on my son’s behaviours and not the cause.
There was no interest in finding out why. Basically
schools just wanted him out – too hard.598
At the time we withdrew our son from the
secondary school, the school was planning to
expel him. We got in first and left the school.
Which resulted in the school having a melt down
and stating we could not do this. We responded
by telling them we could do this, we have done
this and to escort us to his locker so we could
retrieve his belongings.599
He has been asked to leave every school he has
attended.600
A student reported:
I was overwhelmed by an unfortunate
misunderstanding and I had a physical reaction
to a teacher and was expelled. I spent two and a
half terms at home because I was so distressed I
couldn’t attend school.601
Educators’ experiences of suspension and
expulsion
Educators who participated in our survey said the
reasons for suspending or expelling students with
disabilities were nearly always associated with issues
concerning the students’ behaviour. Actual or risk of
harm to self and others was most often mentioned.
• 363 educators (41.1 per cent) referred to actual
or threatened violence, property damage,
and risk of harm to self or others or (including
sexualised behaviours in a few instances).
597Twenty-three parents out of 582 parents who
responded to this question. Of these, 23 expulsions,
11 were from state mainstream schools, four were from
government specialist schools, six from Independent
schools and one from a Catholic school.
598Parent survey participant.
599Parent survey participant.
600Parent survey participant.
601Student, government mainstream school. Student
survey participant.
• 87 educators (9.9 per cent) referred to
behavioural issues generally, not conforming
with school rules, disrupting the class or not
following instructions.
• 38 educators (4.3 per cent) referred to
antisocial, uncontrollable or aggressive
behaviours.
• 24 educators specifically referred to repeated
incidents or behaviours of concern.
Twelve per cent of educators (105) stated that
suspension or expulsion never or rarely occurs.
Some educators described suspending or
expelling students as a last resort. In other cases,
in-house suspensions, temporary or longer-term
short day, part-time and off-site arrangements
were reported as alternatives to formal suspension.
Others spoke of putting in place positive behaviour
plans and detailed strategies to manage the
causes of behaviour. Others mentioned student
safety plans and restorative approaches. Several
mentioned that suspensions are accompanied by
return-to-school plans:
Students with disability are usually managed
differently with a lot of time put into understanding
how to avoid a similar situation. Managing them
differently causes some controversy amongst staff
who believe there should be one rule for all.602
I don’t suspend or expel students. The student
may present with concerning behaviours but we
try and work as a team with the family to support
the student. We look for other ways to give the
student and staff a break from each other if that is
what is needed.603
Not so much as suspended or expelled but more
about asking the parents/carers to keep the
child home where the behaviour is disrupting the
learning of others or having an emotional impact
on staff/students ...604
Other educators articulated concerns about
occupational health and safety and their duty of
care to other students and staff. Some described
suspension as part of a continuum of actions
around managing behaviour as part of a policy of
‘zero tolerance’ towards violence.
602Educator survey participant.
603Principal, government specialist school. Educator
survey participant.
604Principal, government mainstream school. Educator
survey participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 101
Suspension is usually as a result of physical fights
with other students. Our discipline and behaviour
management plans contain a number of steps
and flexibility to give students more chances to
change their behaviour and avoid suspension.
Physical violence results in automatic suspension
for all students, regardless of disability.605
Students diagnosed with conditions such
as ADHD but who don’t receive any funding
support who commit acts of violence against
other children have been suspended for periods
of a day to (a) attempt to make the point to
them that there are consequences for acts of
violence and (b) other students see that there are
consequences and that violence is unacceptable.
Such suspensions might happen a maximum of
four times a year in a student population of 450.606
A few teachers noted that frustration leading to
poor behaviour was aggravated in settings where
adequate disability supports were not available
due to funding or other resource constraints:
Students get into trouble due to frustrating
interactions with other students which causes
them to lash out. This is compounded when there
is limited presence of integration aides to help
diffuse such situations.607
As a parent of a special needs child and school
principal, I understand the significance of
equal opportunity and basic human rights but
sometimes we feel we are put into situations
of reverse discrimination. All students have the
right to learn in a safe and secure classroom
environment, this includes the more abled. A
severe lack of resources, physical facilities and
teacher/student ratio to be able to support special
needs students is placing unhealthy levels of
stress on staff/parents/carers alike. Integration is
a fantastic initiative, funding however is not
keeping pace with increased numbers and needs
of special needs students, especially in the
poorer areas...608
Others were more optimistic in the face of lack of
resources and support:
Reasons for suspension or expulsion – parent
and student perspectives
In common with educators, parents and students
who spoke about instances of suspension
or expulsion said these tended to arise from
behavioural issues. For parents, however, the
use of suspension was more often described
as symptomatic of the school not responding
appropriately to the needs of their child:
My son was suspended due to behaviour,
outburst, verbal and physical aggression. He was
rarely supported in the appropriate ways, there
was no real assistance or strategies offered and
he would have meltdowns and then be sent out
of the class or sent home. The school could see
some of the triggers but did nothing to prevent
them, stating they had no funding or resources.610
The school made little allowance for my son to
communicate through facilitated communication
with aides and other staff. He felt extremely
alienated as facilitated communication was his
preferred method of communication because he
is non-verbal. Frustration and feelings of anxiety
resulted in a spate of antisocial behaviour such
as throwing objects at classmates and aides.
Suspension resulted from these behaviours
but the school did not address the issue
adequately. This has improved since facilitated
communication has been accepted after lengthy
negotiation with the school, and aides were able
to support his typing.611
My child was suspended over 20 times in primary
school. I was being called to the office almost
on a daily basis for minor behaviour through to
complete shut downs and at these points my
child had become non-communicative. Since
attending ... secondary school, my child has
never been suspended and is having a vastly
different experience. This I believe is due to the
understanding and education the secondary
school has in educating children with a disability
... My child has moved forward in both his
academic levels and his social interactions.612
We don’t expel or suspend students. We support
them. We don’t really have the resources to do
so (tangible resources or personnel) but we do
our best.609
605Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
606School principal, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
607Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
608Educator survey participant.
609Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
610Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
611Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
612Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
102 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Relationship with bullying
Parents and students reported suspensions that
followed incidents where they believed the student
with disability was responding to bullying or unfair
treatment by others:613
I was fighting a boy and I can’t remember but I
think he was teasing me.614
I get very angry when they don’t believe me that
I am unwell and I have sometimes sworn at the
teachers.615
Children would bully him and the school would
not act on his complaints and they would say it
was because they did not see it happen ... My
son could not take it anymore and would react
and hit out and he was expelled from two schools
for this reason. The schools felt it was easier to
expel him than deal with the group of bullies who
surrounded and kicked my son ...616
After being in situations that increased my son’s
anxiety and after several bullying incidents,
my son’s ‘fight or flight’ reaction changed from
‘flight’ (e.g. hiding in the car park or climbing the
fence) to ‘fight’ (mainly swearing) and lost trust in
teachers and therapists leading to exclusion
from classes.617
Impacts of suspension and expulsion
Parents and students described the impacts of
suspension and expulsion, including implications
for future life chances:
My son has been expelled twice from schools.
After that, I spent 16 weeks at home with him
every day trying to get him into another school –
any other school. It took 177 phone calls to get
him into a special school, on limited hours. They
started with one hour a day and we had to drive
him up and back every day. The cost? It cost me a
fantastic project, it cost me my career, it just about
cost me my job ...618
613Some educators also mentioned this. Conversely, some
educator survey respondents described bullying by the
student with disability as a reason for suspension.
614Student, government mainstream school. Student
survey participant.
615Student, government mainstream school. Student
survey participant.
616Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
617Parent of student attending an Independent school.
Parent survey participant.
618Parent survey participant.
My son has Asperger’s and was severely
disadvantaged during secondary school, with
many suspensions through things he had no
control over. We were told that the school staff
were educated in Asperger’s students needs –
but you have to wonder. Their education certainly
did not transfer to practical application. My son
did not complete his secondary school education,
which now extremely disadvantages him. Had
all things been equal he would have been at
university now.619
While it is generally accepted that school
suspensions can have serious negative effects
on the student, in particular the increased risk
of their disengagement from school, research
by the Centre for Adolescent Health at the
University of Melbourne suggests that school
suspension may also increase the likelihood of
antisocial and violent behaviours over time.620 If,
as this research found, suspension may actually
exacerbate challenging behaviour, then it calls
into question the use of suspension as a means
of responding to behaviours that manifest as part
of a student’s disability, both on the grounds of
anti-discrimination principles and on the grounds
of efficacy.
Opportunities for improvement
In this research, there was consensus that
behavioural issues are a common reason for
suspension, expulsion or other exceptions to fulltime attendance at school.
Experience has shown, and departmental policy
confirms that positive behaviour support is the
best way to manage what can be very challenging
issues.
Much has been done in this area, but our research
suggests that some educators still struggle to look
beyond the behaviour to the student’s disability,
and to maximise prevention strategies through
greater use of positive behaviour support.
Policy guidance is in place to encourage the use of
behaviour support plans to deal with these issues
but it appears this guidance is inconsistently
applied. This means that while the majority of
students with disabilities do not face suspension,
some students are being suspended over and over
again, and in some cases expelled.
619See e.g. Case study 18.
620Sheryl Hemphill and John Hargreaves, ‘The Impact of
school suspensions: A student wellbeing issue’ (2009)
56 ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal (3/4) 2009 5, 5.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 103
Previous research by the Commission found a
link between reduced attendance, suspension
and expulsion, and the relinquishment of
children into state care. We also found that there
was inconsistency between how schools and
services provided by the Department of Human
Services support families where behavioural
issues associated with disability were present.621
Improving consistency on approaches to positive
behaviour supports would help to ease pressures
on schools and families who are grappling with the
complexity of such behaviours.
The Commission was disappointed to find that
there is currently no robust data available on how
many students in Victoria are on reduced (parttime) attendance patterns and how many of these
students have disabilities.622 Suspension and
expulsion data is not published either.
Without this information, it is impossible to
understand how large the problem is, where it is
happening, and if students with disabilities are
over-represented among children not attending
school full-time.
A simple solution would be for the DEECD and
counterparts in the Catholic system to collect,
analyse and publish this data. This would help
establish where effort should be focused and build
confidence in the transparency of school systems.
Given the importance of school attendance for
successful learning outcomes, if a reduced
attendance arrangement is agreed with the parent
and meets the narrow range of exceptions allowed
under Student Engagement Policy Guidelines, then
this should be recorded on the student’s individual
learning plan. The ILP should also include a return
to school plan. These ILPs should be submitted to
the regional disability coordinator so that they can
monitor trends in part-time attendance and offer
appropriate support.
Recommendations
17.Education authorities collect and annually
publish aggregate data on the number of
suspensions and expulsions of students with
disabilities from schools.
621Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights
Commission, Desperate measures: The relinquishment
of children with disability into state care in Victoria
(2012) 32, 36.
622Data on dual enrolments is available. Dual enrolment
is lawful under the Education and Training Reform Act
2006 (Vic) and so is not considered by the Commission
to equate to reduced or part-time attendance.
18.All Victorian schools report on the number of
suspensions and expulsions of students with
disability as part of their cyclical review to
maintain registration as a school.
19.Noting that some Victorian schools already
have a ‘no suspension or expulsion of students
with disability’ policy, that this approach be
examined by relevant education authorities with
a view to mandating this in all schools.
20.Noting the findings of the Report of the
Review of Disability Standards for Education
2005, and the Victorian Auditor-General’s
audit of programs for students with special
learning needs, that any reduced attendance
arrangements for a student with disability be
consistent with Victorian laws, be time limited;
accompanied by a return to school plan and:
a. approved by the student support group;
b. recorded in the student’s individual
learning plan;
c. in government schools, that this individual
learning plan be submitted to the regional
disability coordinator so they may monitor
the student’s return to school.
21.Government schools submit data to the Student
Wellbeing Division, Department of Education
and Early Childhood Development on the
number, type, frequency, length and reason
for reduced attendance patterns of students
with disabilities as part of the mid-year school
census and that this information be published
in aggregate form in the department’s annual
report. In the first instance, this could relate to
students eligible for Program for Students with
Disabilities funding, and thereafter all students
with disabilities.
22.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development and the Department of
Human Services develop a protocol for sharing
information regarding students with disabilities
on reduced attendance arrangements, and
those excluded or frequently suspended
from school. This should be developed in
consultation with the Privacy Commissioner
and the Child Safety Commissioner.
23.The Department of Human Services and the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development work together to improve
consistency in behaviour supports for students
with disabilities.
104 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 10: Use of restraint and seclusion
Main findings
• There is no legal requirement for a teacher or
school in Victoria to report the use of restraint or
seclusion of a student. This means that there is
no data on how frequently these practices occur
in schools, why they are used or their impacts.
• There is no independent oversight or monitoring
of the use of seclusion and restraint in Victorian
schools. This contrasts with disability services
where such instances must be reported to the
Office of the Senior Practitioner, Department of
Human Services. The Commission is concerned
that, although adults with disabilities subject
to restrictive interventions have the benefit of
reporting and independent monitoring, children
with disabilities in school do not have the same
protection.
• As part of our research, 34 parents reported
the use of restraint on their child at school and
128 parents reported that their child had been
placed in ‘special rooms’. Because there is
no official data, it is not possible to test these
claims.
• 514 educators reported having used restraint.
Over half said they were inadequately trained to
deal with this situation.
• A number of circumstances describing the
use of restraint and seclusion described to the
Commission by parents and educators would
constitute a breach of human rights.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 105
Definitions
A restrictive intervention is any intervention used
to restrict the rights or freedom of movement of
a person with disability.623 It can include various
forms of restraint or seclusion.
Seclusion is the sole confinement of a person with
disability in a room or place where the doors and
windows cannot be opened by the person from the
inside; or where the doors and windows are locked
from the outside.624 Seclusion ‘includes situations
in which people believe they cannot or should not
leave an area without permission’.625
There are various forms of restraint, including:
• physical restraint – the use, for the primary
purpose of the behavioural control of a person
with a disability, of physical force to prevent,
restrict or subdue movement of that person’s
body or part of their body, and which is not
physical assistance or physical guidance.626
• mechanical restraint – the use of devices, such
as harnesses or straps, to restrict or subdue a
person’s movement for the primary purpose of
behavioural control. It does not include use of
devices for therapeutic purposes or to enable
the safe transportation of a person
with disability.
623State of Victoria, Office of the Senior Practitioner,
Physical Restraint Direction Paper (2011). 4. The
Commission notes that this legislation does not apply to
Victorian schools; however, the definitions contained in
the Act as consistent with international guidance.
624This definition is based on that contained in the
Disability Act 2006 (Vic).
625Australian Psychological Society, Evidence-based
guidelines to reduce the need for restrictive practices
in the disability sector (2011) 11.
626Office of the Senior Practitioner, above n 623, 2.
See also Ibid 11.
• chemical restraint – where a drug is used to
control or subdue a person with disability, for the
primary purpose of behavioural control. It does
not include the use of a drug prescribed by a
registered medical practitioner for the treatment,
or to enable the treatment, of a mental or
physical illness.627
• psychosocial restraint – the use of social or
material sanctions, or verbal threat of those
sanctions, to attempt to moderate a person’s
behaviour. It can include techniques such as
being directed to stay in an unlocked room,
corner of an area, or in a specific space until
requested to leave. Also known as ‘exclusionary
time-out’, it can include being directed to remain
in a particular physical position until told to
discontinue.628
• consequence-driven strategies – such as
withdrawing activities and or items until the
person ‘behaves correctly’.
• environmental restraints – including lack
of free access to all parts of the person’s
environment.629
627These definitions are based on those contained in
the Disability Act 2006 (Vic). Physical restraint is not
defined in the Disability Act, it is defined by a direction
of the Senior Practitioner under section 150(2)(e) of the
Act. See also Australian Psychological Society, above n
624, 11.
628State of Victoria, Office of the Senior Practitioner,
Practice Guide – other restrictive interventions : locked
doors, cupboards, other restrictions to liberty and
practical ideas to move away from these practices
(2010) 3.
629Section 150 of the Disability Act 2006 refers to
‘other restrictive interventions’. These can include
psychosocial restraint, environmental restraints and
consequence driven strategies. Ibid 3.
106 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Experiences of parents and students
Prior to commencing this research, the
Commission received anecdotal reports of
restrictive interventions in schools, including use of
restraint and seclusion as a behaviour modification
tool.630 The Principals’ Association of Specialist
Schools had also published a position paper on
positive behaviour management indicating that
restraint was in use in Victorian schools, and that
locked time-out rooms were also in operation.631
Similarly, Worksafe has published a Guide to
challenging behaviour risk prevention in specialist
schools which refers to restraint and seclusion
– suggesting that these restrictive practices are
operation in some Victorian schools. These issues
were also raised in the review of the Disability
Standards for Education 2005, where it was
submitted that ‘teachers are not well equipped to
deal with the challenges associated with students
who have complex needs…this is increasingly
leading to the use of restrictive practices such
as the unplanned use of medications, physical,
mechanical and special restraints’.632
In an effort to learn more about how and why
restrictive interventions might be used in school
settings, we included questions on the use of
restraint specifically and behaviour management
generally in our survey of parents and educators.
The Commission acknowledges that the stories
collected through the survey, ‘have a say’ days
and case studies are from the perspective of one
person only. Where allegations of the inappropriate
use of restraint or seclusion are made, these
cannot be substantiated or contested. This section
of the report should be read with this in mind.
It is also important to note that a significant
proportion of parents (one-third of survey
respondents) reported the effective use of positive
behaviour supports at school. In particular, the
use of positive reinforcement, calming techniques,
clear communication and, most importantly, an
understanding of what can drive and trigger
behaviours in students with disabilities were
identified as working well in the schools where
these approaches are used.
630There have also been media reports of alleged use of
seclusion. See e.g. Andrea Hamblin, ‘Special school
probed’, Geelong Advertiser (Geelong), 12 September
2011 1.
631Principals’ Association of Specialist Schools, PASS
Position Paper on Positive Management Strategies
(2011) 3.
632Australian Government, ‘Report on the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005’, above n
37, 18. See also Victorian Auditor-General’s Office,
‘Programs for Students with Special Learning Needs’,
above n 73, 27.
Human rights considerations regarding
the use of restraint and seclusion
The Charter of Human Rights and
Responsibilities
The use of restrictive interventions in government
schools engages, and arguably limits, the following
human rights under the Charter of Human Rights
and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the Charter).633
These rights must also be considered when
making law and policy about the use of restraint or
seclusion in schools.
Equality before the law. Section 8(2) of the
Charter provides that every person has the
right to enjoy his or her human rights without
discrimination.634
Protection from torture and cruel, inhuman
or degrading treatment. Section 10(b) of the
Charter states that a person must not be treated
or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.
International human rights bodies have repeatedly
emphasised that corporal punishment and, more
generally, physical restraint in a school environment
is incompatible with the protection against cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment.635
Freedom of movement can also be engaged by
use of restraint or seclusion.636
Protection of families and children. Section 17(2)
of the Charter states that every child has the right,
without discrimination, to such protection as is in
his or her best interests and is needed by him or
her by reason of being a child.
633A government school is a public authority and therefore
bound by the Charter. However, Independent and
Catholic schools are not public authorities. Charter of
Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) s
4(1)(c).
634This is relevant where adults have protection or
oversight, and children do not.
635See e.g. UN Human Rights Committee, General
Comment No. 20, para 5. See also: Report of the
Committee against Torture, UN GAOR, UN Doc.
A/50/44 (1995), para 169 (declaring that the ‘continuing
application’ of corporal punishment ‘could constitute in
itself a violation of the Convention’).
636Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006
(Vic) s 12.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 107
Right to liberty and security of person. Severe
restrictions on movement, such as physical
restraint where a person is effectively ‘detained’,
can amount to a deprivation of liberty. Under
section 21 of the Charter, a person must not be
deprived of his or her liberty, except on grounds,
and in accordance with procedures, established
by law. This Charter right also includes the right to
security. The concept of security refers to people’s
physical and mental health. Public authorities can
have a range of responsibilities to protect people’s
security. This can arise when they have direct care
of the people concerned, and also when they can
intervene in treatment by third parties, through
appropriate policing, oversight and emergency
services.637
Section 38(1) of the Charter states that it is
unlawful for a public authority to act in a way that
is incompatible with a human right or, in making a
decision, to fail to give proper consideration to a
relevant human right.
For example, physically restraining a student,
especially in front of his or her peers, may be a
degrading experience for the child. In addition, for
a child who does not understand why the restraint
is being applied, or when it will end, the restraint
could arguably constitute cruel treatment.
Similarly, placing a child in seclusion, such as a
locked room, will engage rights to protection from
cruel or degrading treatment. It also restricts a
child’s right to freedom of movement and liberty.
It is also arguable that, given physical restraint
is associated with high risk of injury and harm, it
is not in the best interests of a child to physically
restrain him or her.
In certain circumstances, it is lawful for rights
protected by the Charter to be limited under law.
Section 7(2) of the Charter states that a human
right may be limited where it can be ‘demonstrably
justified in a free and democratic society based on
human dignity, equality and freedom, and taking
into account all relevant factors ...’638
637This means that a lack of government oversight can
operate to limit this right.
638These factors include the nature of the right; the
importance of the purpose of the limitation; the nature
and extent of the limitation; the relationship between
the limitation and its purpose; and any less restrictive
means reasonably available to achieve the purpose
that the limitation seeks to achieve. Charter of Human
Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) s 7(2).
While the degree of restraint, any immediate
danger to the child or others, and the
circumstances in which students are restrained
must be taken into account in determining whether
this action is a reasonable limitation on the right to
be free from degrading treatment,639 the significant
impact that restraint has on children, particularly
children with a disability, must also be taken into
account.
Use of restrictive practices may amount to
discrimination
Although Catholic and Independent schools are
not bound by the Charter, all Victorian schools are
bound by the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the
Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
Arguably, the use of restraint and seclusion may
amount to indirect discrimination where the school
requires such practices in order for the student
with disability to receive education services. In
this case, the use of restraint or seclusion could
be an unreasonable requirement or condition that
disadvantages them because of their disability.640
Whether a requirement or condition is reasonable
depends on all the relevant circumstances of
the case, including whether the disadvantage
is proportionate to the result sought and the
availability of an alternative requirement, condition
or practice that would achieve the result.641 In this
case, whether there was another way to keep the
child and others safe, or an alternative way to
improve behaviour using other methods would be
factors to consider in determining whether unlawful
discrimination has occurred.
It should be noted that under the Equal
Opportunity Act, a school may discriminate against
a student with a disability if the discrimination is
necessary to protect the health or safety of any
person.642 This exception might arise in a situation
where a student with a disability is isolated
because of dangerous behaviour linked to the
student’s disability; however, if the restraint or
seclusion is not related to the immediate protection
of another person, for example where it is used
for general behavioural control or punishment, this
exception would not apply.
639Applying the reasonable limitations test in section 7(2)
of the Charter.
640Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 9 (1).
641Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 9 (3).
642Equal Opportunity Act 2010 s 86(1)(b).
108 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
International obligations
International human rights protected by treaties
under which Australia has obligations, that relate
to use of restraint and seclusion of children
include the:
• International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights 643
• International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights 644
• Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities 645
• Convention on the Rights of the Child 646
• Convention against Torture and Other
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment.647
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the
Child has recognised that children, by reason of
their physical and mental immaturity, need special
safeguards and care, including appropriate legal
protection and that government institutions such as
schools have additional responsibilities to protect
children.648 The Committee has also recognised
that children with disabilities are more vulnerable
to violence, abuse and neglect in all settings,
including schools.
In addition, Australia as a signatory to the
Convention on the Rights of the Child must ‘take
all appropriate legislative, administrative, social
and educational measures to protect the child
from all forms of physical or mental violence,
injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment,
maltreatment or exploitation’.649
Frequency of physical restraint and
seclusion in Victorian schools
Mindful of the human rights implications of the
inappropriate use of restrictive interventions, and
concerned for the dignity and rights of children
with disabilities, the Commission sets out below
the experiences of parents and educators in their
own words.
Positive behaviour management was the most
common behaviour management strategy reported
by parents involving their child. Some 283 survey
respondents reported this form of intervention
and the Commission welcomes this finding.
However, the use of restrictive interventions was
also reported by some parents in our survey.
• 128 parents reported that their child’s school
uses placement in special rooms (other than
time-out rooms) as a behaviour management
technique.
• 34 parents reported the use of physical restraint
on their child as a behaviour management
technique at school.
643International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
opened for signature on 19 December 1966, 999 UNTS
171, arts 7, 9, 10, 12, 24, 26 (entered into force 23
March 1976).
644International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, opened for signature on 19 December
1966, 999 UNTS 3, Arts 12, 13 (entered into force 3
January 1976).
645Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
opened for signature 30 March 2007, A/RES/61/106,
arts 4, 7, 14, 15, 16, 24 (entered into force 3 May
2008).
646Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for
signature 20 November 1989, 3 UNTS 1577, arts 3, 12,
19, 25, 37 (entered into force 2 September 1990).
647Under this Convention state parties are obliged to
prevent acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
or punishment; ensure that education and information
regarding the prohibition against torture and other
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
are included in the training persons that are involved
in the arrest, custody and interrogation, detention
or imprisonment of any individual; and implement
mechanisms to regularly review this. Convention
against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment, opened for signature 10
December 1984, 9 UNTS 1465 (entered into force 26
June 1987).
648UN General Assembly, Declaration on the Rights of the
Child, Resolution 1386 (XIV), 20 November 1959.
The use of time-out rooms was reported by 216
parents. Some parents were positive about use
of these rooms, others were not:
Time out at [child’s school] is a positive, selfcalming opportunity for the student, in a remotely
monitored space. The time-out room is a large
space and does not intimidate my child, but offers
him a solitary space to calm down.650
The use of time out may be a legitimate therapeutic
intervention, however, if the person can not
leave it, and is alone then it would be defined as
seclusion.651
649Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for
signature 20 November 1989, 3 UNTS 1577, art 19
(entered into force 2 September 1990).
650Parent of student attending government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
651Key informant interview, Office of the Senior
Practitioner, Department of Human Services.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 109
Around 60 per cent of educators surveyed
reported that they had physically restrained
a student at school during their career.652
Comparatively few parents surveyed reported
that their child’s school uses physical restraint as
a behaviour management technique.653 A higher
proportion of parents of students in specialist
schools reported that their school used
physical restraint.654
This high rate of reporting by educators may
be because many viewed the term ‘physical
restraint’ as including circumstances where they
had to quickly grab a child to prevent them from
running on a road or into some other situation of
potential harm, while parents specifically referred
to physical restraint as a form of behaviour
modification. However, it may also indicate that
they do not necessarily know when, and if, restraint
is occurring.
The issue of restraint and seclusion in schools
was discussed at nine out of the 15 ‘have a say’
days that the Commission convened. Out of those
nine, five were groups of parents (and sometimes
students) and four were groups of educators.
All nine groups agreed that restraint occurs in
Victorian schools, although some participants
stated that restraint is much more of an issue in
specialist schools than in mainstream schools.
Some parents reported less serious incidents of
restraint, while others reported extreme examples.
The overall view of parents and educators who
attended the ‘have a say’ days was that there is
insufficient guidance in relation to restraint and
how it should be used in schools. Many highlighted
the need for more detailed practice protocols and
training for educators on the use (and avoidance)
of restraint.
The Victorian Auditor-General came to a similar
conclusion in his recent report which found that
‘audited schools used a variety of practices to
restrain and seclude students… but rarely had
documented policies for their use’.655
Types of restraint reported by parents
Some selected examples of the use of restraint
reported by parents are set out below. These
cannot be proven or disproven by the Commission
as they are the perceptions of parents and
have not be subject to independent verification.
However, they have been included to provide
feedback to educators about what parents believe
is occurring in some school settings:
My child has been taped to chairs, roped to get
out of trees, has been locked in rooms and out
of the classroom, he has been locked in the
principal’s office for hours even when he was
having meetings, he has been held down, he has
been grabbed by the back of the neck and pulled
to the ground, he has been in holds.656
Reports of restraint and seclusion were also made
in submissions from the Disability Discrimination
Legal Service and others. Autism Victoria
(Amaze) wrote:
He only has to stand up or call out and up to 10
staff will jump on him and force him to the ground
where they will hold him until he stops moving or
shouting and then let him go – it can be up to half
an hour.657
Throughout the 2011 year Amaze received
innumerable calls from parents regarding
what they considered to be unfair treatment of
their child by the school when responding to
behaviours of concern. These included reports
by parents of their children being forced to sit
on chairs for hours in the Principal or Deputy
Principal’s office, use of fenced enclosures as
time out, teachers focussing blame unfairly on
their child, children being unfairly punished
by staff and children being expelled for
inappropriate behaviour when the behaviour was
created by poor school practices.
Our son has experienced a variety of behaviour
management techniques during his educational
program including: rewards with special activities
(e.g. time on the computer, walk to the shop,
McDonald’s), sent home, removed from the school
bus, time out in the sensory room, removed from
the classroom, missing out on special activities,
picking up rubbish, physical restraint (taken to the
ground by staff) locked in a classroom, held up by
his underwear (several pairs of underwear were
torn during this technique) to walk laps of the oval
as endorsed by the school’s contracted behaviour
specialist.658
652514 educators. A breakdown on the reason for restraint
was not included in the survey however comments
in other questions suggest that educators are likely
to include instances where a teacher holds a child
to prevent the child from running away or otherwise
into danger as restraint. However, other practices that
would fit within the definition of a restrictive intervention
were also reported by educators.
653Thirty-four parents.
654Fourteen out of 105 parents.
655Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’ above n 73, 27.
656Parent survey participant.
657Parent of student attending government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
658Parent of student attending government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
110 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Our son was going through a very difficult time.
His behaviour was very aggressive at times
and he was very frustrated. We gave the school
permission to use time out to try to address these
issues. He was sometimes put in his push chair to
be restrained.659
... I have been asked for a helmet to be used for
behaviour control.660
Reports from parents in our survey included:
• a child at a government mainstream school being
restrained ‘for his own good’ when self-harming,
despite parents not agreeing with this method661
• a child who lost the right to use electric
wheelchair under a behaviour management
points system. He would then have to use the
manual wheelchair, which required him to be
pushed.662
Another example reported to the Commission
involved a student with physical disabilities who
had been assessed by the school occupational
therapist as able to walk between classes,
provided he left class five minutes earlier than
other students and had assistance. However, the
school placed him in a wheelchair to transport
him from one class to the next. This also meant
the child was unable to fully participate with the
rest of the class, particularly with subjects such
as PE. Even when the class was being read to, the
child was sometimes placed in a wheelchair. The
parent and the student viewed the requirement to
sit in a wheelchair as being a restraint, as it was
not necessary for the student to be in a wheelchair
when he could walk.663
‘Have a say’ day discussions of restraint
Four out of seven parents participating in one
of the regional ‘have a say’ days reported that
restraint had been used against their child.664
These parents said that the use of restraint in
schools is common. Three parents stated that it is
often difficult to get the full story of these incidents
because schools may be reluctant to disclose
the incidents and the child may not be able to
articulate what happened until they are older. One
parent was informed of an incident of restraint by
another parent.
The types of restraint reported by parents in our
‘have a say’ days included:
659Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
660Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
661Parent survey participant.
662Parent survey participant.
663HASD 1.
664HASD 2.
• four teachers restraining a child after a mirror
was smashed665
• tying a rope to a child’s foot to pull him down
from a tree, holding down the child and taping
the child to the principal’s chair666
• grabbing a child to stop him running upstairs,
which resulted in the child panicking and
knocking over the teacher. The teacher got a clot
in her eye and the child was traumatised. The
police were called. He could not eat or speak
and became withdrawn and was unable to
return to the school for a whole term.667
One parent noted that teachers are often upset
about having to use restraint and do not do
so in a punitive manner.668 Another parent said
they understood why restraint was sometimes
necessary:
Some parents take their children to school,
‘dump them at the door’ and expect the schools
to do everything.669
Parental permission
While the majority of reports on the use of
restraint were negative, a small number made
supportive comments. For example, one parent of
a child attending a government specialist school
commented that restraint was used against their
child for his safety and the safety of others. This
parent supported such action ‘as long as it was
needed at the time’.670
Educators’ descriptions 671
Some children are tied to chairs so they
won’t move around the class or walk
out when a teacher is busy with another
child.671
Educators were much more likely to describe
restraint in terms of protecting the student or
others from harm in an emergency. However, a few
examples were reported of restraint being used
against students with disabilities purely as means
of behaviour modification or punishment. Some
situations described by educators where it was
deemed necessary to restrain a student involved:
665HASD 2.
666HASD 2.
667HASD 2.
668HASD 6.
669HASD 6.
670Parent survey participant.
671Educator, specialist school. Educator survey
participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 111
• holding down a student’s arms and legs to
prevent them physically attacking other students
in the class or members of teaching staff672
• when a child was damaging furniture or other
school property673
• when a teacher was being physically assaulted
by a child (multiple teachers identified this as a
trigger for physical restraint)674
• preventing a child who was having an epileptic
seizure from leaving a room675
• removing sharp objects, such as pencils and
compasses, from students with intellectual
disability where these objects were being used
as weapons against other students.676
An educator responded:
Although I have not had to physically restrain a
student myself, I have been in situations where
other staff have had to do this. Sometimes a
student has become a danger to himself/herself,
staff and other students e.g. smashing windows,
throwing chairs or tipping over tables. This can
happen with younger students as well as older
students. Physical restraint has always in my
experience, been only when necessary to ensure
the safety of others, and only to the degree
needed. Students often need time alone to
calm down.677
Another told the Commission the school has a
room that a student is sent to when ‘he has a
meltdown and starts thrashing’. The door to this
room is not locked and teachers are with him. The
principal and the student’s parents are notified
when a student is put in this room.678
Some educators identified the critical importance
of planning and getting to know the student with
disability so that triggers for behaviour can be
identified and avoided, and teachers do not need
to resort to using restraint. Several teachers cited
the option of removing other students from the
room as an alternative method to restraining
the child.679
672Educator survey participant.
673Educator survey participant.
674Educator survey participant.
675Educator survey participant.
676‘Students with intellectual disabilities try to stab each
other with compasses and pencils and teacher usually
has to grab their arm or the equipment from their hand.’
Educator survey participant.
677Classroom teacher, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
678HASD 8.
679HASD 5.
Parents’ reports of seclusion680
He was locked in rooms the size of a
broom closet. Sometimes they would
forget and I would arrive to find him still
locked in a little room alone. The school
would never tell me – I found out from
other parents.680
Some parents expressed concern regarding the
use of special rooms as a behaviour management
technique.681 Examples described by parents are
included below. Again, these are the perceptions
of parents and have not been subject to
independent verification; however, they do provide
feedback to educators about what parents believe
is occurring in some school settings:
He is placed on a daily basis into a locked
cupboard for at least 15 minutes at a time. They
justify this but I am sorry, there is no justification. It
is wrong, inhuman and abuse. They use this as a
way to get rid of a problem rather than deal with
the problem and finding a solution to the issues.682
He was isolated from students. In secondary
school [he was placed] in a special room, [it] was
a disused school room used as junk. It was just
he and his aide. This school used a chair with a
red square around it. If he misbehaved he was
not allowed to go out of the square and was not
allowed to have a drink.683
Our child was locked in a pen/yard without
protection from the weather or access to food or
water for extended periods, up to 5–6 hours a day.
He would come home with large bruises, which
staff admitted to doing. Fingernails ripped off
and covered in blood. We have written proof from
teaching staff that they did this over an extended
period of time, until we withdrew our child from
the school.684
680HASD 2.
681Parent survey participant.
682Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
683Parent of student attending Independent specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
684Parent of student now in distance education. Parent
survey participant.
112 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
One parent told the Commission that their teenage
son has autism spectrum disorder and that his
teacher stands on his feet to restrain him. This
causes his distress to escalate and he is then
deemed to be ‘violent’ and ‘threatening’ and put
in isolation, often being dragged off in front of the
other students. The child is now too scared to go
to school.685
Another parent reported that their son, who has
a primary diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder,
was sent to a seclusion room for swearing.
However, nothing further was done to address
his behaviour and he continued to be placed
periodically in the room until he left the school.
The parent went on to say:
I never found this out until the end of his
schooling… I had seen another child shut in
the seclusion room for about an hour when I
was at the class for my son’s birthday. I don’t
know why the girl was placed in the room. It is
never mentioned at parent–teacher meetings
as a way they were managing behaviours and
I was never informed when my son was sent to
the room. It may have been more often. There
are no guidelines or regulations in Victoria as to
how seclusion rooms may be used, or any safety
guidelines. A boy hung himself in a seclusion
room in the USA a few years ago: it could
happen here.686
Further, a parent told us that their child was
placed in a room without a roof where they could
hear the child banging his head against a wall
made of thick concrete.687
A small number of parents also commented
that isolating their child from others helped to
calm them down and was a positive behaviour
management technique:
The school has a safe spot for him to withdraw to.
I’m happy with their efforts in this area.688
My son often yells when he gets excited. [I]f he is
being too noisy he is removed from the room and
told that when he can use his inside voice he can
return to the classroom. This was done
in consultation with me the parent and [I]
agreed to it.689
685HASD 12.
686Parent of student who previously attended a
government specialist school. Parent survey
participant.
687HASD 12.
688Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
689Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
How are allegations of restraint and
seclusion managed?
While the overall reporting by parents of incidents
of restraint and seclusion was relatively low in
terms of numbers, those incidents that were
reported were relatively severe. However, some
parents expressed the view that their concerns
about restraint and violence in schools were not
taken seriously:
I believe physical abuse of children at specialist
schools is happening too often now and schools
and teachers are getting away with it. Even
though my son told me exactly what his teacher
did to him, the school principal did not take
it seriously, she discriminated against him ...
Teachers should be more accountable for their
actions, they must be monitored more closely by
an independent organisation as [the Department
of Education and Early Childhood Education
(DEECD)] is not doing anything! ... I believe
cameras should be mandatory in all classrooms
at the specialist schools as these children have no
voice and a camera cannot lie.690
What is the point – try proving in courts that it was
unnecessary restraining. The school will back the
carer; I will be challenged on details. It will be a
case of ‘she said, he said’.691
Training of educators
Range of training provided
As part of the Commission’s survey, educators
identified the following general categories of
training in relation to behavioural management
generally, and physical restraint specifically:
• one-off training session with teachers from
specialist schools on ‘what to do when restraint
was required’ and how to utilise safe spaces
and time-out rooms
• one-off address given by a union official
• occupational violence training (multiple
respondents indicated this was common)
690Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant. See also case study
29 where the parent reported their child being held
down and hit resulting in severe bruising, anxiety and
self-harming behaviours. The parent withdrew the child
from the specialist school after the internal school
investigation found the claim to be unsubstantiated.
See also case study 33.
691Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 113
• school-wide training in safe restraint techniques,
where training opportunities are offered on a
biannual basis and provided by external service
providers with speciality training
Three in four educators at specialist schools had
physically restrained a student. Of these, one-third
felt they did not have adequate training to manage
the situation.694
• training programs run by DEECD, including ‘safe
restraining training’
Understanding the limits of restraint
• training on minimally invasive restraints through
in-school professional development
• the Management of Violence and Aggression
International Training (MOVAIT) course
• the Calmer Classrooms Professional
Development training program (multiple
respondents reported being provided with this
training)
• the Professional Adult Response Training
(PART) and positive behaviour support training
programs (several respondents reported being
provided with this training)
• annual programs by Team Teach Australia
• an annual training program from James
Sumerac on low-resistant restraints and
protective actions to use when moving students
displaying harmful behaviours (reported by
three respondents)
• occupational health and safety manual handling
training, as well as physiotherapists at the
school providing training sessions on safe lifting
techniques
• Physical Response Program training
• tertiary study programs
• managing challenging behaviour training.
Educators also reported receiving on-the-job
training by principals and other senior teachers.
Some reported the establishment of protocols
regarding ‘escorting, reporting of incidents,
lock down procedures and manual handling of
students’ distributed throughout the school, while
others described whole-of-school behavioural
management plans.
Several survey respondents reported taking part in
a martial arts therapy program, which introduced
various types of self-protection and ‘methods
of restraining students without injuring them’,
as well as non-physical behavioural correction
techniques.692
Teachers who reported using physical restraint
were also asked if they felt they were given
adequate training to manage the situation. Just
over half reported that they did not.693
692Educator survey participant.
69355.6 per cent (224 teachers) said no.
A majority of educators who had received some
training in restraint and seclusion reported that
they had been directed not to physically restrain
students unless it was ‘absolutely necessary to
do so’.
Many respondents also reported that they were
aware that student safety was the most important
consideration when restraining or moving children
with a disability.
This is broadly consistent with DEECD policy.
However, the policy is very specific in that physical
restraint can only be used when all of the following
conditions are met:
• the situation is an emergency and the danger of
harm to the student and/or others is imminent
• the restraint is used to prevent the student from
inflicting harm on him/herself and/or others
• there is no reasonable alternative that can be
taken to avoid the danger.695
Several teachers reported the difficulties involved
in balancing the dignity and safety of a student
who may need to be restrained with the need to
ensure the safety of other children and the teacher:
There has only been one incident and this was a
new Year 7 who had only been in the school for
a few weeks. We had lots of information about
his behavioural issues but had never been made
aware that his outbursts were so extreme and
violent and that he had been regularly restrained
throughout primary school. I was completely
unaware of the legality of restraining him or of
any strategies or techniques to manage such
an outburst and [I] had to go completely on
instinct.696
694Seventy-seven per cent of educators at special
schools (154 out of 200) reported they had physically
restrained a student with a disability. Sixty-six per cent
felt they had adequate training, but 34 per cent did not.
695State of Victoria, Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development, School policy and
advisory guide: safety response- restraint <http://www.
education.vic.gov.au/management/governance/spag/
governance/safetyresponse/studentrestraint.htm> at 26
June 2012.
696Principal, government mainstream school. Educator
survey participant.
114 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
One teacher from a state specialist school
commented that, at their school, only selected staff
are permitted to restrain students and they are
provided with comprehensive training in order to
do so.697
While most comments about the adequacy
of training related to in-school professional
development, two teachers reported that
strategies around physical restraint, seclusion
and behavioural management techniques were
not adequately covered in teacher training at
university.698
Challenges in the classroom
Several teachers noted that teaching students
with disabilities requires specialised skills and
training and that each child has different needs
and triggers for behaviour. This can make training
requirements very complex and often situationspecific.
Many teachers reported that funding for training
was inadequate and that while schools might want
to provide further training for staff, they could not
afford external specialised training.699
A number of respondents noted that time and
teaching resources are often limited in government
schools and that this has a direct impact on the
availability and quality of teacher training, as well
as on the facilities and teaching resources for
students with disabilities in general. They told us
that it was very difficult to balance the needs of
students with disabilities, particularly where there
is more than one child per class, with the needs
of other children, and that this affects the type of
interaction that teachers have with these students:
I have three autistic students in my class, one of
them is not funded. He is quite violent and lashes
out at other students and needs one-on-one
assistance to start and complete tasks. This just
can’t be done in a grade of 24 [students].700
I don’t think [DEECD] provides enough support
for physically abusive students – some classes
have several students who throw furniture/harm
others: they obviously need smaller groups and
more intensive support.701
697Educator survey participant.
698Educator survey participant.
699Educator survey participant.
700Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
701Classroom teacher, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
One teacher reported that inappropriate
management of student behaviour can lead to
an increase of challenging behaviours in the
classroom and that this in turn contributed to a
need to restrain children:
Some teachers appear to increase aggressive
behaviour in their students. These teachers shout
at students and use aggressive body language
when responding to difficult behaviours. They
sometimes confiscate security objects, with a
result of increased cycles of anxiety resulting
in increased aggressive, self-injurious or other
unwanted behaviour or sometimes school
refusal.702
Ad hoc training
Survey responses indicated that regular, formal
and specific training on restraint and seclusion is
not the norm. Rather, a majority of respondents
reported ad hoc training that varied from institution
to institution. For example, a teacher might receive
formal training in restraint and safe behavioural
management at one mainstream school but receive
no equivalent training at their next school:
As the AP [assistant principal] I’m in charge of
discipline. I need to act quickly and in doing so, I
don’t have time to remember some of the issues
affecting my students. An autistic child won’t
react to my instructions ... he kept running away
from me and I did the chasing when I was not
supposed to do it ... Chasing him encouraged the
child to run faster in this case.703
Immediacy of incidents
Another issue identified was the immediate nature
of incidents where a teacher felt that physical
restraint was necessary. In many examples given,
the situation arose very quickly and an immediate
response was required. Teachers reported that
they felt that they did not have the planning and
emergency response training to properly respond
to the incident and so relied on ‘common sense’ or
instinct to manage the situation.
702Classroom teacher, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
703Assistant principal, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 115
At least four teachers reported that incidents
where restraint was used are unusual and that, as
a result, training is provided on a reactive basis
(e.g. after an incident has already occurred) or on
a sporadic basis (one respondent reported one
training session in 10 years).704 705
The training is so brief and infrequent that
it is difficult to remember. We are trained
in administering EpiPens every six months;
it is a shame that handling students in
physically threatening situations isn’t as
thorough.705
Training and support following an incident
Several respondents reported that training and
professional development was offered after an
incident had occurred. However, this did not occur
regularly enough to enable staff to put in place
behavioural management plans to decrease the
likelihood of restraint incidents occurring.706
The majority of educators reported that their
colleagues were supportive of them when an
incident did occur, although a large number of
respondents reported that senior teachers and
principals did not take effective measures to
prevent future incidents occurring after a restraint
incident:
Current regulation of restrictive
practices in Victorian schools
Policy and guidance for schools
DEECD publishes a Restraint of Student Policy on
its website.709 The Catholic Education Office does
not have a specific policy on restrictive practices
but looks to the DEECD policy.710 Independent
Schools Victoria cannot develop binding policy
on schools. However, it does not currently have
published materials on restrictive interventions for
its members.
The purpose of the DEECD policy is to ‘ensure
schools are informed about the department’s
policy about restraint including that restraint is
only used when certain conditions are met and
that appropriate standards and procedures are
followed’.711
The policy quotes the Education and Training
Reform Regulations 2007, which state that ‘[a]
member of staff of a Government school may
take any reasonable action that is immediately
required to restrain a student of the school from
acts or behaviour dangerous to the member of
staff, the student, or any other person’.712 The terms
‘reasonable action’ and ‘dangerous behaviour’ are
not explicitly defined in the regulations.713
We have been directed not to restrain any student,
but have been given no appropriate or practical
instructions on what to do, if, for example, a
student is attacking a staff member or student
or running away or dropping to the ground and
refusing to move or smashing furniture, etc.707
One teacher said that when a student becomes
violent, someone from DEECD will come to talk to
the school. However, it was felt that there could be
stronger leadership in this area so that teachers
are clear as to what they can and cannot do.708
704Educator survey participant.
705EpiPen® is an emergency device that can inject
adrenaline. It is used to treat severe allergic reactions
(anaphylaxis). Classroom teacher, government
mainstream school. Educator survey participant.
706Educator survey participant.
707Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
708HASD 8.
709Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘School policy and advisory guide: safety
response- restraint’, above n 695. Since this research
commenced the policy was reviewed, and guidance
that is more comprehensive developed.
710Key informant interview, Catholic Education Office
Melbourne.
711Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘School policy and advisory guide: safety
response- restraint’, above n 695.
712Education and Training Reform Regulations 2007
(Vic) reg 15. The regulations also prohibit corporal
punishment in government and non government
schools. This includes any deliberate action taken with
the intention of causing physical pain or discomfort.
Education and Training Reform Regulations 2007 (Vic)
reg 14.
713Or in the authorising enactment: the Education and
Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic). Further, the Explanatory
Memorandum to the Act does not discuss physical,
chemical or mechanical restraint or seclusion as means
of ‘reasonable action taken to restrain a student’,
nor is the issue of restraint discussed during the
parliamentary debates for the Act.
116 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
The Restraint of Student Policy refers to physical
restraint only.714 It does not include mechanical
or other forms of restraint, or those of seclusion,
because these practices are not endorsed by
DEECD.715
The policy sets out when physical restraint may
and may not be used. In particular, it states that
restraint must not be used to intentionally provoke
or punish a student or to cause harm or injury to
the student. It also states that restraint should not
be used to maintain good order or respond to a
class/school disruption or to respond to a student’s
refusal to comply, verbal threats from a student, a
student leaving the classroom or school without
permission or property destruction caused by
the student.
Schools should only use restraint in the
circumstances set out in the Guidelines and
must comply with these guidelines. The policy
states ‘Only staff trained in using restraint should
use restraint on a student’.716 It also sets out the
conditions that must be met before restraint can be
used. The policy then steps through the process to
be followed, including communicating with student
throughout the incident and reporting mechanisms
following an incident.
OHS approaches to managing challenging
behaviour
WorkSafe Victoria has published a guide to assist
specialist schools to understand their duties under
OHS legislation.717 The Australian Education Union
has summarised this guide in a checklist, which it
describes as useful for all schools.718
714The policy defines physical restraint as ‘the use of
physical force to prevent, restrict or subdue movement
of a person’s body or part of their body for the primary
purpose of behavioural control’.
715‘Seclusion is not defined in current policy- and not a
practice endorsed by the Department if by the use of
the word it is intended to cover practices where this
student cannot leave the space, there is a closed door
that stops egress…Some schools may have cooling off
areas or quiet areas. We would be clear that it should
not be somewhere with lack of egress for student,
no locked doors; needs to be warm, comfortable,
age appropriate, with appropriate supervision’.
Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
716Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘School policy and advisory guide: safety
response- restraint’, above n 695.
717Victorian Workcover Authority, Guide to challenging
behaviour risk prevention in specialist schools
(2008) <www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/
wsinternet/WorkSafe/Home/Forms+and+Publications/>
at 9 August 2012.
718Australian Education Union, Challenging behaviour
checklist, <http://www.aeuvic.asn.au/challenging_
behaviour.pdf> at 9 August 2012.
The WorkSafe guide defines challenging behaviour
as any behaviour that:
• is a barrier to participation at school
• undermines a person’s rights, dignity, quality of
life and health
• poses a risk to health and safety of students,
staff and visitors.719
The guide gives examples of challenging
behaviour including violence and aggression,
unconscious movement or the need for assistance
with movement.720 The guide also defines manual
handling as ‘using your body to handle, support
or restrain objects (or) people’. It gives examples
including moving equipment, toileting students,
pushing wheelchairs and restraining students.721
The guide provides advice to schools on
identifying hazards, making risk assessments and
controlling risks related to challenging behaviour.
This should be based on consultation with health
and safety representatives, staff and stakeholders,
such as parents.722 The guide advises schools
on developing incident management procedures
and systems, and on checking that risk prevention
measures are working.
The guide refers to behaviour management plans
for individual students as a tool for identifying and
responding to risks associated with challenging
behaviour.723 According to the guide, an effective
behaviour management plan would identify
appropriate and inappropriate responses to
behaviour, names of staff that can use restraint or
seclusion, and procedures for monitoring restraint
and seclusion.724 The school should also consider
and reduce risks in the physical environment and
develop strategies and procedures for assessment,
handover, incident recording, evaluation of the
behaviour management plans and policies
for aggressive or abusive behaviour (such as
behavioural contracts).725 The school should
consider staffing issues and train staff to handle
challenging behaviour as safely as possible.726
719The guide does not make clear whether all three
factors must be met before behaviour is considered
‘challenging’.
720Victorian Workcover Authority, above n 717, 1.
721Ibid 2.
722Ibid, 3.
723Ibid 7.
724Ibid 8.
725Ibid 10,13.
726Ibid 14-15.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 117
The guide makes clear that it is important that
schools review their procedures to make sure
that they are working. This review could result
in changing the workplace environment or
procedures, or identifying training requirements.727
The Commission is concerned that the WorkSafe
guide conceptualises students with disability as a
risk or hazard. It does not talk about the risks to the
student if restraint or seclusion is used.
Further, we are concerned that the guide includes
requests for disability supports, such as assistance
with toileting, or assistance with movement as
‘challenging behaviour ‘and thus a risk or hazard
to be managed.
The guide also refers to ‘student initiated
challenging behaviour’. This terminology fails
to consider that such behaviours may arise as
a means for a child to communicate distress,
frustration or occur in the absence of positive
behaviour interventions to assist them to replace
the behaviour with a better alternative.
Further, the guide specifically refers to the use of
seclusion in schools, although this is prohibited
under Departmental policy and offends human
rights protected by the Charter and international
laws. We are concerned that because Worksafe
issues this guidance, school staff may consider
that this condones the use of restraint or seclusion
as a legitimate means of behaviour management
rather than adopting a positive behaviour
approach.
Opportunities for improvement728
Seclusion and restraint are high-risk,
violent interventions whose impact
extends beyond the immediate task
of attempting to manage a volatile
situation.728
New initiatives in training and support
In June 2011, the Principals’ Association of
Specialist Schools (PASS) published a position
paper on Positive Management Strategies. That
paper stressed that specialist schools currently
adopt comprehensive management strategies,
with many being modelled on positive behaviour
strategies.729
In its position paper, PASS noted:
Although there are comprehensive behaviour
management plans for most of these students,
and training in Aggression Management for staff
in many of the schools, situations can arise when
it is deemed that a student needs to be withdrawn
or restrained to minimise the chances of harm to
themselves or to others. It must be emphasised
that staff in Victoria’s specialist schools do not
use restraint as a punishment or threat, but rather
as one of a range of behaviour management
techniques, in these cases to protect the safety of
all parties involved.730
It also suggests that specified staff who are
authorised to use restraint and seclusion be named
in the risk management plan – this risks school
staff thinking that such restrictive practices can
be authorised under occupational health and
safety law without proper consideration of their
obligations under the Charter.
727Ibid 18.
728Janice LeBel and Robert Goldstein, ‘The economic
cost of using restraint and the value added by restraint
reduction or elimination’, (2005) 56 (9) Psychiatric
Services 1109–1114, 1109.
729‘This approach involves a school-wide system with
three levels of intervention. Primary prevention
strategies focus on interventions used on a schoolwide basis for all students. Secondary prevention
strategies involve students who do not respond
to primary prevention strategies and are at risk of
academic failure or behaviour problems but are not in
need of individual support. Tertiary strategies are for
students who display persistent patterns of disciplinary
problems and employ intensive or individualised
interventions which are the most comprehensive and
complex.’ Principals’ Association of Specialist Schools,
above n 631, 2.
730Ibid.
118 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
PASS also recommended, among other things,
that DEECD clarify more explicitly policies and
procedures on the restraint of students and the
use of time out due to concerns that locking the
door on a time-out room might contravene the
provision of the Charter.731 The recent changes to
the DEECD guidelines discussed above go some
way towards meeting that recommendation.
In addition, PASS recommended that DEECD
provide funding for school staff to undertake
appropriate training in working with students with
very challenging behaviour.
This recommendation has now been taken up by
DEECD under the More Support for Students with
Disabilities initiative. Over the next two years, a
partnership project between DEECD and PASS will
develop three professional development modes for
specialist school teachers and principals around
positive behaviour management, including faceto-face training, an e-learning tool and schoolbased resources. A reference group that includes
representatives from DEECD, the Office of the
Senior Practitioner, academics and other key
stakeholders oversees this project.732
The Commission welcomes this investment in
professional development and, in particular, the
active involvement of the Department of Human
Services’ Senior Practitioner in its development and
execution, noting ‘the variable approaches being
taken currently, indicate the significant positive
impact of a collaboratively developed statewide
approach’.733
While this project is currently in its development
phase, the Commission notes that evidence
suggests that when people are trained in restraint
they will generally use that approach, while those
trained in positive behaviour techniques will use
that approach as the basis of their interactions.734
731Ibid 3–4.
732Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing Division,
DEECD.
733Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23, 6.
734Key informant interview, Office of the Senior
Practitioner, Department of Human Services, Key
informant interview, Catholic Education Office
Melbourne.
It is therefore very important that the primary
focus for training and professional development
is building capacity in implementing positive
behaviour management. The DEECD has advised
the Commission notes that the PASS project
‘takes an ecological approach, looking at the
environment, planning, understanding why these
situations occur, positive behaviour. Then at the
end would have an add on to the course on selfprotection and protection of others’.735
We also note that the PASS and DEECD
partnership is limited to specialist schools. Our
research suggests that while the use of restraint
and seclusion is more common in specialist
settings, it may still occur in mainstream schools.736
Workforce development needs to be focused
on positive behaviour interventions
Information provided by the Office of the Senior
Practitioner shows that, as training on positive
behaviour has been rolled out across the disability
services workforce, the use of restraint has
declined.737 This is good news for students, for
schools and the state budget as restraint is quite
costly in terms of lost worker time, occupational
health issues and staff turnover.738
Disability service providers commonly need
training about why people with disabilities display
particular types of behaviour. Educators are
no different; understanding the function of the
behaviour the student is displaying is central
to developing behaviour plans that will work in
practice and to minimising the use of restrictive
practices.
735‘Restraint is not a behaviour management practice and
so training is not about behaviour management when it
deals with restraint. It is about protective behaviours to
avoid harm to self or others’. Key informant interview,
Student Wellbeing Division, DEECD.
736The Commission was advised that ‘The current focus
on specialist schools could expand to mainstream
schools’. Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing
Division, DEECD.
737Key informant interview, Office of the Senior
Practitioner, Department of Human Services.
738This is confirmed by international evidence, including
a US study that reported that the implementation of
a restraint reduction initiative was associated with ‘a
reduction in the use of restraint, staff time devoted to
restraint, and staff-related costs. This shift appears to
have contributed to better outcomes for adolescents,
fewer injuries to adolescents and staff, and lower staff
turnover. The initiative may have enhanced adolescent
treatment and work conditions for staff’. Janice LeBel
and Robert Goldstein, above n 728, 1114.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 119
In addition, the use of positive behaviour will
benefit students in mainstream settings. For
this reason, we would encourage the further
development of learning and development on
these issues at a whole-of-school level across the
system. Some work is already in place through
initiatives such as School-wide Positive Behaviour
Support; however, the Commission understands
that this has not been rolled out in every school.739
A more comprehensive and rights-based
policy
The Commission welcomes the recent
improvements in DEECD’s Restraint of Student
Policy. However, it still has some shortcomings. For
example, the policy does not cover the full range of
restrictive practices that may occur in schools.
According to parent reports in the Commission’s
study, restraint and seclusion are currently used
in some Victorian schools. If that is the case,
educators require clear guidance from DEECD as
to the limitations of their use. Ensuring the policy
comprehensively covers all forms of restrictive
intervention is an important step in this process.
Likewise, there is no reason why Catholic
Education Offices could not issue a similar
policy or Independent Schools Victoria make an
equivalent statement of principle.
The DEECD policy does not include information
about the harmful effects of restrictive practices on
students with disabilities. This is important context
for educators to understand. Materials developed
by the Office of the Senior Practitioner for disability
service organisations could be readily adapted
for this purpose. The existing policy also does not
explicitly refer to educator’s legal obligations under
the Equal Opportunity Act or the Charter, or at
federal law, nor does it clearly state that educators
place the school and themselves at potential risk of
legal action for the unlawful use of restraint.
739‘The purpose of Schoolwide Positive Behaviour
Support program (SWPBS) is to establish a school
climate in which appropriate behaviour is the norm for
all students. SWPBS is an evidence-based approach
which promotes proactive and explicit teaching of
behavioural expectations and rewarding students for
following them rather than waiting for misbehaviour or
unacceptable behaviour to occur before responding. It
provides schools with a school improvement framework
which focuses on data and enquiry to drive continuous
improvement in the school’s behaviour management
processes and policies. SW-PBS is currently being
implemented in some schools in Victoria, Queensland,
New South Wales and Tasmania.’ <http://www.
education.vic.gov.au/healthwellbeing/respectfulsafe/
strategies.htm> at 26 July 2012.
Zero tolerance of seclusion
The Effective Schools are Engaging Schools:
Student Engagement Policy Guidelines state that:
Actions and consequences should have an
educational role and aim to foster positive
relationships and retain the dignity of the student.
Actions and consequences that isolate a student
from learning should be avoided
where possible.740
This is somewhat opaque guidance. On the face of
it, the Commission cannot see any circumstances
where seclusion is a reasonable action in a school
environment or where a child’s dignity can be
retained in such circumstances.
Although the Restraint of Student Policy is silent on
seclusion, DEECD has informed the Commission
that use of seclusion is a clear breach of policy.741
As such, the policy should unequivocally state that
seclusion is not to be used in any circumstances,
and this message should be clearly communicated
to staff in all schools.
Making sure parents are informed
Participants in the Commission’s research made
a number of suggestions for improvements in this
area, including providing specific information for
parents and schools in community languages.742
The Restraint of Student Policy states that the
staff member(s) involved in the restraint must
immediately notify the principal of the incident. The
requirement to report the incident to the student’s
parent(s) is more equivocal, stating that a staff
member ‘should contact the student’s parents and
provide them with details of the incident as soon
as possible’.743 This means that parents might
not be informed of an incident and unless the
child tells them, which also may not occur of the
child is non-verbal, very young or frightened of
repercussions.
740Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Student engagement policy guidelines’,
above n 434.
741Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
742See e.g. CALD critical friends group.
743Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘School policy and advisory guide: safety
response- restraint’, above n 695.
120 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
The Commission understands that policy is now
being amended to avoid any perception that
‘should’ indicates a lower expectation that parents
will be informed. The Commission welcomes this
clarification of policy.744
Comprehensive monitoring and reporting on
the use of restrictive intervention is required
The Restraint of Student Policy states that the
restraint ‘may need’ to be reported as an incident
to DEECD Security Services Unit (previously known
as the Emergency Management Unit).745
It is also not clear if these incidents are audited
by that unit or if data on incidents is collected and
passed on to regional directors, who would have a
strong interest in knowing if any issues of this kind
were occurring in schools.
By treating restraint as a critical incident, DEECD
should now, for the first time, have reliable,
statewide data on the use of restraint in schools.
This is an important first step towards a more
comprehensive understanding of the use of
restrictive interventions.
While the Commission welcomes this measure,
we consider that the rights of both students and
teachers would be better protected by establishing
a system of reporting and monitoring that ensures
independent oversight.
Victoria already has the infrastructure for this
through the Office of the Senior Practitioner, who
is generally responsible for ensuring that the
rights of people who are subject to restrictive
interventions are protected. The Senior Practitioner
has extensive powers to set standards and
guidelines and to monitor and direct disability
service providers in relation to the use of restrictive
interventions.746
In regard to the use of physical restraint, additional
rules apply. As of 1 January 2012, physical
restraint against a person with disability can
only occur with the prior approval of the Senior
Practitioner, except in situations where physical
restraint is necessary in an ‘unplanned emergency’
or in a ‘duty of care’ exception.747 Specific types of
physical restraint, such as pin-down techniques,
are also prohibited. The rules apply to all disability
service providers defined in the Disability Act but
do not apply to schools.
Oversight to ensure compliance with international
obligations
Children with a disability are entitled to and
required to attend school. However, the legislative
framework that governs how children with a
disability are treated in a school is complex.
The duty of care on education authorities and
teachers reflects a range of legislative obligations
at a national and state level. These rights and
protections reflect the obligations in international
human rights instruments including the:
• Convention on the Rights of the Child – which
protects children from all forms of physical
or mental violence, injury or abuse and
maltreatment and requires that children with
disabilities should enjoy a full and decent life in
conditions that ensure dignity and promote self
reliance.748
• Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Diabilities – which requires that the best interest
of the child be the primary consideration in all
actions concerning children with a disability,
and that people and children with a disability
enjoy the right to security and liberty of person
and to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment and torture.749
• The Optional Protocol to the Convention against
Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) which requires
that countries implement a system of regular
visits to places of detention – that is places
where people are deprived of their liberty.750
744Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
745Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘School policy and advisory guide:
safety response- restraint’, above n 695.
746<http://www.dhs.vic.gov.au/for-individuals/yourrights/offices-protecting-rights/office-of-the-seniorpractitioner> at 29 June 2012.
747Office of the Senior Practitioner, above n 623, 6.
748Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for
signature 20 November 1989, 3 UNTS 1577, arts 19,23
(entered into force 2 September 1990).
749Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
opened for signature 30 March 2007, A/RES/61/106,
art 7,14,15 (entered into force 3 May 2008).
750Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture
and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment, opened for signature 10 December 1984,
A/RES/57/199, art 19,20 ( entered into force 22 June
2006).
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 121
Arguably schools, and in particular specialist
schools, are places where children are deprived
of liberty both by fact that children are required
to attend school and schools are able to limit both
access to the school and a child’s ability to leave
the school. Schools are places where children with
a disability may be detained through the practice
of seclusion or isolation. It has been reported that
some schools have facilities specifically for the
purpose of detaining or restraining children with a
disability751 which arguably means they are places
of detention for the purposes of OPCAT.
At this time, no existing oversight body has
inspection rights over Victorian specialist schools,
or schools generally where children with a
disability may be detained through isolation or
seclusion. Thus while Australia’s consideration of
OPCAT means that people in aged care facilities,
prisons and detention centres, and children in out
of home care facilities would be covered by the
OPCAT provisions, there are no clear mechanisms
for the same bodies to inspect those schools
where children may be deprived of their liberty
through seclusion or restraint.752
Arguably, schools are sites where children are
deprived of their liberty given they are unable
to leave between certain hours, or without being
accompanied by a parent or responsible adult, and
given they are places where vulnerable children
may be subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment – including seclusion or other practices.
This is a matter worthy of further consideration in
considering current oversight mechanisms and
in considering the implementation of OPCAT in
Australia.
Generating costs savings and human rights
gains through independent monitoring
If restrictive practices are to be used in school
settings, schools will benefit from the lessons
learned from the disability sector, including the
experience of public scrutiny, subsequent research
and practice advancement over the five years
since the Office of the Senior Practitioner was
established.
751See Principals’ Association of Specialist Schools,
above n 631, 3-4.
752These bodies could include the Victorian Ombudsman,
the Office of the Senior Practitioner, the Disability
Services Commissioner, the Child Safety Commissioner
and the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The role of the Senior Practitioner to monitor
the use of restrictive interventions in disability
services has made a measurable contribution to
the reduction in the use of seclusion and restraint
in disability services. This has delivered
significant improvements for the human rights
and dignity of people with disabilities and
potentially may also lead to cost savings for
disability services over time.753
Mandating positive behaviour plans754
The problem is that restrictive practices
such as restraint and seclusion may
provide at best a short-term solution to
stopping a behaviour, but cannot resolve
any underlying issues over time and, at
worst may result in psychological and
physical trauma.754
The Restraint of Student Policy mandates
that support must be provided to parents and
students after an incident, including through the
SSG. This is welcome. It also makes reference to
separate policy advice on preventing endangering
behaviour and promoting positive behaviours
under the Effective Schools are Engaging Schools
– Student Engagement Policy Guidelines.755
This is also welcome. However, the policy could
be strengthened and include a more preventive
focus by stating that the use of restraint can be
prevented by understanding critical behaviour
triggers and ensuring that all students who display
behaviours of concern should have a positive
behaviour support plan in place.
753This is confirmed by international evidence, including
a US study that reported that the implementation of
a restraint reduction initiative was associated with ‘a
reduction in the use of restraint, staff time devoted to
restraint, and staff-related costs. This shift appears to
have contributed to better outcomes for adolescents,
fewer injuries to adolescents and staff, and lower staff
turnover. The initiative may have enhanced adolescent
treatment and work conditions for staff.’ Janice LeBel
and Robert Goldstein, ‘The economic cost of using
restraint and the value added by restraint reduction or
elimination’, (2005) 56 (9) Psychiatric Services 1109–
1114, 1114.
754Webber, Richardson, Lambrick & Fester, above n 754,
3.
755Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Student engagement policy guidelines’,
above n 434.
122 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
At a minimum, if a student has been subject to
restraint or seclusion based on behaviour then the
policy should require that a behaviour support plan
be put in place. Data from our research suggests
that these plans are used in some schools very
effectively. There is no reason why this practice
could not be guaranteed by departmental policy
or legislation. Mandatory behaviour plans would
also be consistent with requirements under the
Disability Act and international jurisdictions.756
In the United States, every student with additional
learning needs arising from their disability
is entitled under law to have an individual
education program. If the child faces behavioural
zchallenges, this program must include a
‘Behaviour Intervention Plan’.757
Potentially, existing Victorian guidance could
be strengthened by legislating that a positive
behaviour support plan must be in place for a
student with disability who is at risk of, or has been
subject to a restrictive intervention. This should
also extend to students with disabilities who have
been suspended, expelled or placed on reduced
attendance due to behaviour.
Improving behaviour support plans
Evidence shows that the quality of behaviour
support plans reduces the use of restraint
and seclusion. A recent Victorian study of 198
behaviour support plans in disability services
showed that individuals with high-quality plans
were found to be subjected to less restrictive
interventions over time, while those with lowquality plans were subjected to more restrictive
interventions. Central to the quality of these
plans was inclusion of elements such as targeted
positive interventions that focus on the individual’s
learning and needs, attention to environmental
factors, use of a team approach and timely
reviews.758
The Commission notes that Office of the Senior
Practitioner has developed an electronic template
for behaviour plans for use in disability services,
which prompts the behaviour support team to
respond to important components of support.759
Potentially, this could be adapted for schools.
This would reinforce existing policy directions
in promoting effective behaviour management,
and encourage more consistency in how schools
approach this task. Further, if such behaviour plans
were mandatory, school leadership would be in
a stronger position to advocate for professional
development and other resources to ensure
compliance at a school level.
756This specifies that all people who receive a government
funded disability service and who are subjected to a
restrictive intervention must have a behaviour support
plan (referred to as a ‘behaviour management plan’ in
the Act. See: Disability Act 2006 (Vic) s 141.
757Section 504 of the Americans with Disability Act
requires an individual education program. This must
include information about the student’s needs and
what services will meet those needs. This means that
the problem behaviour will be considered part of the
disability and must be addressed by the behaviour
intervention plan. For information regarding the
inclusion of Behaviour Intervention Plans see e.g.
<http://www.courts.ca.gov/courts.htm/1106.htm> at
25 July 2012.
758Webber, Richardson, Lambrick & Fester, ‘Quality of
behaviour support reduces restraint and seclusion’
(unpublished) 2–3.
759Key Informant Interview, Office of the Senior
Practitioner, Department of Human Services.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 123
Recommendations
Noting the findings of the Report of the Review of
Disability Standards for Education 2005 and the
Victorian Auditor-General’s audit of programs for
students with special learning needs, that:
24.The use of restrictive interventions in Victorian
schools be regulated in the following manner:
c) That the Education and Training Reform
Act 2006 and the Disability Act 2006 be
amended to provide that regulation of
restrictive interventions in Victorian schools
(including Catholic and Independent
schools) be transferred to the jurisdiction
of the Office of the Senior Practitioner,
Department of Human Services. This is
the Commission’s preferred option.
d) That, in the interim, the DEECD Restraint
of Student Policy be amended to expressly
state that:
• The use of seclusion in government
schools is prohibited
• That whenever a restrictive intervention
is used by a school that the parent must
be notified
• That whenever a restrictive intervention
is used that the student support group
be convened to review the incident and
put in place a plan to minimise the risk of
such an intervention being used again.
25.The WorkSafe Guide to challenging behaviour
risk prevention in specialist schools be revised
in consultation with the Office of the Senior
Practitioner to ensure consistency with rights
protected by the Charter of Human Rights
and Responsibilities Act 2006 and antidiscrimination laws.
26.The Education and Training Reform Act 2006
be amended to provide that any student
subject to a restrictive intervention must have
a positive behaviour plan put into place and its
implementation monitored.
27.That, building on the Principals’ Association
of Specialist Schools project on effectively
responding to challenging and extreme
behaviour, the Office of the Senior Practitioner
on-line behaviour plan tool be adapted for use
in all Victorian schools.
28.Noting that positive behaviour support is more
effective, that schools report to the relevant
education authority, the name and details of
organisations providing training to school staff
on behaviour management, including where
such training includes use of restraint and
seclusion. This information should include
details on the training courses or modules
proposed to be delivered.
• That parents have the right to bring an
independent third person or expert to the
student support group to consider the
incident.
• That if restrictive interventions are
contemplated that these are included in
the student’s individual learning plan,
and that this must be submitted to the
regional disability coordinator.
• That whenever a restrictive intervention
used, it must be reported as a critical
incident to the Emergency Management
Unit, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, and that this
critical incident report must be passed
to the Student Wellbeing Division so
that they may monitor the frequency of
restrictive interventions in government
schools.
and, that the Catholic Education Office
develop and implement a policy on
restrictive interventions, consistent with
the DEECD Restraint of Student Policy
(as amended above).
124 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 11: Transport
Main findings
• More than one in four students with disabilities
reported problems accessing and using
transport. Parents had a similar dissatisfaction
rate.
• Some students are travelling for many hours
on buses to get to and from specialist schools.
Being denied food, water and toileting facilities
on these buses violates their dignity and their
rights.
• Some students attending specialist schools
are ineligible for bus transport when they
live outside the school’s zone. However, they
may have no real choice on this matter if a
closer school is unwilling or unable to make
the necessary adjustments to facilitate each
student’s education.
• There is a lack in discretion in how eligibility
criteria are applied to programs that may
assist students with disabilities getting to
and from school. This may amount to indirect
discrimination.
Transport policy and provision for
students with disabilities
Aside from concession fares on public transport,
which may not be an option for some students with
disabilities, there are three main ways a student
with disability can access transport assistance to
get to and from a government school.760
Students attending mainstream schools in regional
Victoria and some parts of outer metropolitan
Melbourne may use free school buses under the
School Bus Program. Under criteria set by the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Education (DEECD), the student must attend the
760Students attending Catholic and Independent schools
are also eligible for concessionary fares on Victorian
public transport. Guidelines for concession fares
can be found at <http://ptv.vic.gov.au/fares-tickets/
concessions/students/> at 27 July 2012.
closest government school to the family home.
Public Transport Victoria procures and contracts
the services with bus companies. Coordinating
principals are responsible for coordinating and
approving all applications for permission to travel
on a school bus service. This includes students
attending government and non-government
schools.761
Transport assistance for students with disabilities
attending mainstream schools is also available
under the Conveyance Allowance Program
(CAP), provided that eligibility criteria are met. An
allowance of up to $2,000 per annum is available
to assist with travel costs.762 This program is
administered by schools and the Student Transport
Unit of DEECD.
Under the CAP, the first eligibility criteria to be met is
that the school being attended is not located within
metropolitan Melbourne. Once this criteria is met,
‘appropriate school’ is used to determine if a student
is eligible to receive assistance. ‘Appropriate’ has the
following definitions within the CAP:
• If attending a government mainstream school,
then ‘appropriate’ refers to the school year level
the student is enrolled in (i.e. primary, secondary
or P–12 school). This definition applies to all
students attending mainstream schools – the
definition does not differentiate on the basis
of disability
761State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, Student Transport Contract
Bus Procedural Guidelines: Rural and Regional
(July 2011) 11. <www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/
public/schadmin/schops/Resources/conveyance/
Student_Transport_School_Contract_Bus_Procedural_
Guidelines_Rural_and_Regional_Jul11v2.pdf> at
3 July 2012.
762State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, Procedural Guidelines
Student Transport: Conveyance Allowance (April 2012).
<www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/schadmin/
schops/Resources/conveyance/Conveyance_
Procedural_Guidelines_April_2012_v1.0.pdf> at
3 July 2012.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 125
• If attending a non-government mainstream
school, then ‘appropriate’ refers to the
denomination of the school enrolled in (e.g.
Catholic, Anglican). This definition applies to all
students attending mainstream non-government
schools – the definition does not differentiate on
the basis of disability
Eligibility for specialist school bus travel under
the SDTP is set out in the Transport for students
attending specialist school procedural guidelines.
These state that the student must be approved for
PSD funding, attend the specialist school at least
three days per week and meet other eligibility
criteria.768
• If attending a specialist school, then appropriate
refers to the primary disability of the student
and the cohort of students the specialist
school is intended to support. For example,
for a student who has established eligibility
for the Program for Students with Disabilities
(PSD) under the autism spectrum disorder
category, an appropriate specialist school is
one established to provide specialist programs
for students with autism spectrum disorder.
Generally all specialist schools have Designated
Transport Areas (DTAs) mapped around them
that define ‘closest’.763
Summarised on the DEECD website the guidelines
note that:
While generally a student must attend the ‘closest
appropriate’ school to be eligible for a conveyance
allowance, the CAP guidelines do provide for some
exemptions.764
Further, while a conveyance allowance is
not generally payable to students attending
mainstream schools located within metropolitan
Melbourne, students with severe disabilities or
who are blind are able however to apply for a
conveyance allowance of up to $2000 per annum
if they need to travel by taxi to and from school.765
For students with disabilities attending a specialist
school, transport assistance may also be provided
through the Students with Disabilities Transport
Program (SDTP) and the CAP. The SDTP provides
bus or taxi transport.766 CAP payments are
provided to some 900 students attending
special schools.767
763Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD 1 August 2012.
764These include if enrolment at their nearest government
school has been refused due to the nearest school not
having sufficient enrolment capacity or if the student
is attending their nearest recognised special setting.
Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD 1 August 2012.
765Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD 1 August 2012.
766In addition, some specialist schools have purchased
their own buses which are used for school activities.
Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
767Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
To be eligible for travel support, students must
reside within the designated transport area of the
school that they attend. Transport networks do
not extend beyond the designated transport area
so students residing in other areas will need to
arrange independent travel if they wish to attend
a specific location.769
If the student lives within the designated travel
area, but less than 4.8 kilometres from the school,
the student ‘may receive transport assistance
if they are unable to access the school through
private travel arrangements’.770
All students receiving SDTP transport assistance
must have an Individual Travel Plan.771 DEECD
informed the Commission that:
Planning for the SDTP is a multi-faceted task. It
involves the challenge of catering for students
with a wide range of physical and intellectual
disabilities and complex transport planning.
A range of people, including parents, school
principals, bus operators and the STU of DEECD
all have roles and responsibilities in the program.
For example if bus travel is not appropriate for
a particular student then the school and STU
would assess the utility of a taxi service or a
CAP payment to parents to assist meeting
private travel expenses.772
768State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, Transport for students
attending specialist school procedural guidelines
(2011) 14.
769<www.education.vic.gov.au/management/
schooloperations/studenttransport.htm> at 3 July 2012.
770Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Transport for specialist schools
guidelines’, above n 768, 14.
771Ibid 10.
772Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit DEECD, 29 June 2012.
126 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
In 2011, around 7500 students of specialist
schools received travel assistance under the SDTP,
across 77 schools.773
Taxi services are also provided to around
100 students. They are ‘normally provided in
‘overflow’ circumstances where due to logistical
and affordability reasons the procurement of an
additional bus service is not economically feasible.
Around thirty taxi services are contracted under
the SDTP’.774
Student experiences of accessing
transport
Among all students with disabilities surveyed by
the Commission, the most common means of
getting to and from school was by car, followed by
bus and then train. However, students attending
specialist schools were much more likely to travel
by bus.
When asked about the time taken to get to and
from school, just over half the students reported
a journey time of less than 30 minutes. Around a
quarter reported a journey of between 30 and 60
minutes. The remaining quarter of students spent
more than an hour travelling to school.775
Of the 59 students who discussed their transport
experiences in our survey, 17 (28.8 per cent)
reported difficulties. The majority of these
students attended mainstream schools and were
largely reliant on public transport. This presented
difficulties for some students, including lack of
wheelchair access, unreliability of services and the
time involved in getting to school.
Deaf students at the ‘have a say’ session raised
a number of specific challenges when using
public transport, such as transport providers only
providing verbal information when trains were
cancelled or diverted.776
In addition, the deaf students discussed problems
associated with taxi transport, reporting that where
deaf students were previously eligible for taxi
subsidies, this was no longer the case unless there
were exceptional circumstances. This issue was
also raised by the Victorian Aboriginal Disability
Network critical friends group.777
Other participants talked about how leading
deaf facilities in schools could not be accessed
because of transport difficulties in the regions:
We have a great deaf facility in school, but kids
can’t get there because of transport. We end up
with hundreds of kids being supported by the
visiting teacher service instead. If a deaf child
goes to a mainstream school they get a travelling
teacher five hours a week. If they go to a school
with a deaf facility they get a deaf teacher for
every four students enrolled.778
Parent perspectives
When parents were asked to discuss their child’s
transport options to and from school, a broadly
similar pattern of transport modes and travel times
emerged.
Of the 605 parents who answered this survey
question:
• 58 per cent reported that the primary mode of
transport to school for their child is by car
• 17 per cent walked or rode a bike
• 16 per cent travelled by special school bus
• 7 per cent travelled by public bus.779
773That is approximately 80 per cent of students attending
government specialist schools. In addition, ‘a small
number of special schools (7) directly operate
subsidised bus services (17), due to an unavailability
of contract providers in their geographic location.
The same eligibility criteria and service requirements
apply to these services as with the services provided
by private bus operators’. Information provided to the
Commission by Student Transport Unit, DEECD,
29 June 2012.
774Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
775Out of 60 students, 32 students (53.3 per cent) had a
journey time of less than 30 minutes. Fourteen (23.3
per cent) students had a journey time of 30 to 60
minutes and another 14 students travelled for more
than one hour.
776HASD 15.
777HASD 7, 9, 15.
778HASD 9.
779336 travelled by car, 98 walked or rode, 92 caught a
special school bus, 39 used a public transport bus. The
remainder travelled by train (11), tram (3) or taxi (2).
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 127
Inaccessibility of public transport leads to
reliance on car transport
Some parents said they would prefer that their
child enjoy their independence and use public
transport to get to school but are unable to do
so because of accessibility issues or previous
experiences of bullying. For those in regional
Victoria, public transport is largely non-existent:
It would be impossible for him to get from
our home to his school by any form of public
transport; the travelling time would be over two
hours one-way. This school is the only one that
would accept him, therefore he is driven to school
and back every day.780
It is three bus changes from our home to his
school which is only a 15 min car drive. He
wouldn’t physically cope with three changes.781
Communication on the bus is not provided to
her, she can’t even hear what is going on. She is
teased and bullied on the bus, so I drive her.782
There is no public transport near where we live.
We live 14 km from the school, so he cannot walk
or ride his bike. When he was in grade Prep, we
asked about travel compensation but they said
no as there is a bus that the school can organise.
But it is not a direct route, there is no direct
supervision so I did not take this option.783
Our autistic daughter is too naive to use public
transport safely. There is no special school bus.784
Eligibility for specialist school buses –
zoning rules
Although specialist schools usually have a bus
that students can access, if a student lives outside
the school’s geographic zone – the ‘designated
transport area’ – then the bus service is not
provided.785
For many parents who felt forced to enrol their child
in a school out of zone due to lack of reasonable
adjustments at more local schools, this eligibility
rule seems unfair and unduly burdensome.
780Parent of student attending an Independent school.
Parent survey participant.
781Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
782Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
783Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
784Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
785The Commission notes that taxi transport may be
provided; however, parents in our study facing the
problem of being out of zone did not report taxis being
available or offered.
Arguably, the blanket application of the zoning
rule may amount to indirect discrimination in
cases where the child with disability suffers a
disadvantage (not being able to get to school) and
the condition (the zoning rule) is unreasonable:
DEECD told me I had to go to a school in zone. I
heard about this school [out of zone]. I came and
looked, I wanted to come here straight away – I
felt something special, welcome and comfortable.
I had never felt that at another school. I brought
my son here to look. He said, ‘I’m going to
that school’. We faced a big hurdle to jump –
transport. So I drive him an hour each way.786
Some parents reported that, as their child was on
a dual enrolment and only attended the specialist
school two days a week, they were ineligible for the
specialist school bus.787 The Transport for students
attending specialist school procedural guidelines
state that a student on less than 0.6 enrolment
‘may be permitted to travel on existing services
if places are available. Such students cannot
be counted to establish, extend or maintain a
transport service’.788 The Commission is concerned
that the blanket application of this policy may lead
to indirect discrimination against students who
may be dual enrolled and attending the specialist
school for less than the minimum 0.6 period for
whom there is no empty seat on the bus.
Other parents reported that the time spent taking
their child to school was impacting on their
employment. For many, the cost of petrol or taxis was
prohibitive, especially for those on a low income.789
In one case, a parent who had escaped domestic
violence was at risk of losing an offer of permanent
housing because to accept it would mean she
would remain in the wrong school zone and
continue to be denied access to the school bus.790
I have just moved schools and cannot
access the bus as it is out of zone. It is
placing enormous stress on my family.
The schools in our zone are not the most
appropriate for my son’s needs and
would not lead to the best outcome in
both my opinion and the opinions of the
professionals involved with him.790
786HASD 14.
787Parent survey participant.
788Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Transport for specialist schools
guidelines’, above n 768, 14.
789See e.g. HASD 4, 7 and 14.
790Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
128 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
We are not in the Department of Education bus
zone for his specialist school even though it is the
closet specialist school to where we live.791
Significant financial and time commitment, if our
son was not Autistic we would have a choice of
local schools to select from yet we are not zoned
for a specific school.792
My child is not eligible for the special school bus
as he is on oxygen. This means I have to spend
up to 4 hours a day transporting him to and from
school. If we need to use a taxi it’s a $140 round
trip from the house to school and return.793
Travel times for students for disabilities794
There has never been a problem getting
a spot on the bus as long as we are
prepared to have him on the bus for three
hours a day.794
Although one in four parents reported problems
accessing or using transport to school, travel times
were better in the parent survey sample than in
the student survey.795 Around three-quarters of
respondents reported that their child’s journey
was less than 30 minutes. Less than 10 per cent
reported a journey time of more than one hour.796
Nevertheless, problems with long journey times
were a strong theme in the survey and ‘have a
say’ days, particularly for parents of students
attending specialist schools and for those living in
rural and regional Victoria. Excessive travel times
on specialist schools buses were also noted in
submissions.
The Disability Discrimination Legal Centre
submitted:
Due to special schools being located in
geographically dispersed locations throughout
the state, transport to and from them is more
difficult as opposed to a student with a disability
attending their local school ... The State of Victoria
contracts private bus companies to provide a
pick up and drop off service for students with
disabilities who attend special schools. However,
the resources in the program are scarce, as a
result students can be subjected to up to four
hours of travel on such buses per day. This
lengthy travel is not caused by the fact that the
students live far away, but because buses make
frequent stops. Consequently, it is common-place
for a 15 minute car trip to take 2 hours on a bus.797
You cannot get the best out of a child
that has been on a bus for two hours. It
is why they have behavioural problems
when they get to school. They are tired
and hungry by the time they get to school.
There is only a token amount of funding
and they don’t care how long the kids
have to sit on the bus.798
Parents confirmed these long travel times:798
To access the school bus my child would be
picked up 1½ hours before school and the same
coming home. For me to drive it takes 5 minutes.
Children with special needs should travel no
more than 1 hour on school buses. It is unfair
and effects their health and development when
travelling longer.799
It takes my son nearly one and a half hours to get
to school and that frustrates him and adds to his
fatigue. There is a closer school but is public and
he doesn’t qualify for support in that system.800
791Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
792Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
793Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
794Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
795153 out of 586 (26.1 per cent) parents reported
problems. This is marginally better than the student
reporting rate of 28.8 per cent.
796Of 575 parents who answered this question, 422 (73.4
per cent) reported an average journey time of less than
30 minutes, 102 (17.6 per cent) reported their child’s
journey time being between 30 minutes and an hour.
Fifty-two (nine per cent) reported a journey time of
more than one hour.
Under the Transport for students attending
specialist school procedural guidelines, the
maximum travel period for a student on a bus is
two hours.801
797Submission 7, Disability Discrimination Legal Centre, 23.
798Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
799Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
800Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
801Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 129
DEECD informed the Commission that:
Driver attitudes and behaviour
Bus routes are designed annually to ensure travel
times for all students are constrained to less
than two hours and are reasonably accessible
to families ... A recent evaluation of route
optimisation in 2011–12 has shown that in general
DEECD provides an efficient service in terms of
time travelled. For over 90 per cent of the students
receiving bus travel under the SDTP the travel
time is less than 1.5 hours.802
However, the Commission notes that this same
data shows that one in three students travelling by
specialist school bus are travelling for more than
one hour each way.
Figure 6: DEECD data on travel times on specialist
school buses
Travel time
% of
students
Less than 30 minutes
26.5
Between 30 – 60 minutes
38.8
Between 60 – 90 minutes
26.1
Between 90 minutes – 2 hours
8.6
Over 2 hours
0.0
Total
100
Several parents in our research made mention
of the lack of supervision on the bus. Other
responses noted concerns about the level of
patience and understanding displayed by the bus
driver:
The bus which goes from our house to her
school refused to take her repeatedly. If the
bus was crowded she would be told she can’t
fit with her wheelchair. At school times, it is
frequently crowded. Not all buses are wheelchair
accessible, in fact less than 50 per cent, so
she really needed to get on those that were.
Some drivers would actually lie and say it is not
accessible when she could see the ramp right
there; they just didn’t want to get out and put the
ramp in place.803
My child is consistently told off by a particular
bus driver, he feels that she does not listen
appropriately, and has more than once had her in
tears, on two occasions I have had to follow this
up with the school, who directed me to the bus
company directly.804
The bus driver yelled at him because he sat in the
wrong spot on the bus. I attempted to contact the
bus company to explain that he didn’t understand
that he had sat in the wrong spot, but was totally
ignored by the company and had to ring the
assistant principal at the school and have him
intervene on my behalf to the bus company and
explain my son’s disabilities.805
On two separate occasions my child has been
left waiting on the side of the road for over 90
minutes. On both occasions it was my child who
called me from his mobile phone. The school did
not call me on either occasion to let me know that
the bus had broken down. I also had an issue with
the bus chaperone dropping my child off some
blocks away from his bus stop in punishment for
not being able to express to the new bus driver
where his stop was the day before.806
For many of these parents, concerns about how
their children were being treated on the bus
service came down to a lack of understanding
from staff about disability.
802Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
803Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
804Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
805Parent survey participant.
806Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
130 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Physical conditions on the bus
Parents described to the Commission the poor
physical conditions of the buses their children
use, sometimes as result of the age of the vehicle.
Other buses were said to not be fit for purpose:
Trouble using transport because the bus windows
are very high and not tinted so in summer my
child suffers from heat stress to the extent that it
takes him 30 minutes to cool down to a normal
temperature when dropped off at school.807
My child has cerebral palsy and there are no
disabled seats on buses in Victoria.808
Bus has broken down on a few occasions and
replacement does not have wheelchair access.809
She uses an electric scooter and was told that
she was not allowed to use this on one bus.
This was quickly sorted out. At another time, the
driver went around through a round about too fast
and causing the scooter to tip and my daughter
fell out.810
Dignity of students when travelling
A number of parents also expressed serious
concern about conditions on buses that they
believed were degrading, in particular that children
had no access to toileting facilities when travelling
for long periods of time:
When I requested that a system be established to
be able to access a toilet if necessary the school
suggested that he have no drinks in the pm prior
to going on the bus. Other suggestions included
putting him in a nappy. When his parents stated
that the believed both of these strategies were
inhumane and degrading they were informed that
the only other intervention possible was to provide
an absorbent towel in the event of a repeat
situation again.811
My son used to travel 1.5 hours to [name of
specialist school] which is 30 minutes away. I
complained that he is not able to eat/drink on the
bus and could have a poo at some stage and
have to sit in it for an hour. This is unacceptable
treatment for any human being. We have now
received a better time on the bus schedule, but
some other poor kids are travelling for hours.812
807Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
808Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
809Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
810Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
811Parent survey participant.
812Parent survey participant.
On any measure, travelling four hours a day to
attend school for six hours is unreasonable. If
students are denied toileting, food and drink
during this time, then remaining on a bus in these
circumstances offends their dignity and breaches
their rights.
Service inflexibility
Several parents complained of inflexibility about
where buses can travel, their pick-up and dropoff points and the availability of accessible buses
for school events, such as excursions and sport.
Non-availability of transport when the child was
in respite was also identified as a problem, even
though DEECD policy clearly allows children to be
collected from respite facilities:813
Currently my child spends alternate weeks in
respite facility. The Victorian Government only
allows you to access the bus from one pick up
point. Also you must use the bus a minimum of 6
times per fortnight. Because of this rule my son
is denied access to school bus program. The
bus from home pick up has over 20 empty seats,
the bus that drives past the respite house has 15
empty seats.814
My child has to spend just under 4 hours per day
on the school bus travelling to and from [name of
town]. My child is NOT ALLOWED to hop off the
school bus and walk up the country street to our
home. Therefore, her parents cannot both work
as someone needs to be at the bus stop at 4.50
pm to ‘pick her up’ even though she is perfectly
capable of walking up the road and does it on
her own on a weekly basis.815
The bus can arrive at anytime from 7.13 am to
7.15 am with no explanation or warning, yet the
three minute window we have to meet can be very
difficult to meet with a child with a disability.816
813‘Students may be dropped off/picked up within their
existing bus route if it does not adversely affect the
travel schedules of other students and where this does
not present an additional cost to the department.’
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Transport for specialist schools
guidelines’, above n 768, 15.
814Parent attending a government specialist school.
Parent survey participant.
815Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
816Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 131
Being banned from the bus
Parents described the impacts of public transport
being withdrawn due to behavioural issues. A
common element in all of these stories was a lack
of training for bus drivers on managing challenging
behaviours of students with disabilities, as well
as an apparent absence of positive behaviour
strategies. In some cases, parents reported
the use of mechanical restraints on their child.
However, when positive behaviour strategies were
used, better outcomes could be found over time:
Our son has experienced many difficulties
using the specialist school bus. He spends
approximately three hours each day travelling to
and from school on the bus. The Bus Drivers and
Chaperones seem to have little understanding
or training as Disability Support Workers. There
are times this has resulted in physical assault
of transport staff and students. Our attempts to
resolve issues around behaviour management
strategies on buses were repeatedly met with the
response that ‘transport is a privilege not a right’
and we are lucky to have the service at all.
When our son was regularly removed during
transport the bus would stop until we could leave
work and collect him from the side of the road.
This would take a minimum of 30 minutes to reach
and resulted in [making] all other students and
families on the bus late. The act of removing him
from the bus served to reward his behaviour as
getting off the noisy and uncontrolled bus was
exactly what he was trying to communicate.
Attempts to establish behavioural triggers,
events and explore alternative strategies were
dismissed as our son’s behaviour was described
as ‘unpredictable’ without any documentation or
efforts to assess the situation. The only solution
offered to our son was physical restraint (a
special seat belt that he could not get out of) or
not travelling on the bus. In the end we agreed
to provide the bulk of his transport needs to and
from school in the family car and pushed for the
school to support him with independent travel
training using the public bus. Over the course of
a year, with support from his integration aide, he
regularly and successfully caught a public bus
without incident.817
817Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
Opportunities for improvement
Support for students with disabilities
accessing public transport
The Commission notes that ‘travel training’ is
undertaken by many state specialist schools,
which involves a period when the school provides
a trained adult (for example, an integration aide
or teacher) to show the student with disability how
to use public transport. This includes the adult
accompanying the student on the public transport
mode to and from school until the student has the
capacity to travel without assistance.818 This is very
welcome. Consideration should also be given to
extending this scheme to provide financial support
for attendant care or other supports to facilitate
independent travel by students.
It is currently unclear as to whether such support
can be funded by the Department of Human
Services under an Individual Support Package
or, alternatively, through CAP funding. Even if the
latter could be used, the relatively small amount
available of $2000 would not cover many instances
of support.
Greater discretion in zoning rules for specialist
school buses
The Commission notes that parents may appeal the
decision to refuse access to the specialist school
bus under the SDTP. Appeals are considered by
a Special Cases Transport Consideration Panel
established by DEECD, which meets every six
to eight weeks. DEECD’s Chief Finance Officer
chairs the panel and other panel members are
representatives of the Student Transport Unit, the
Student Wellbeing Branch and two principals from
schools that include specialist school programs.
The panel considers appeals related to decisions
for both the CAP and SDTP.819
However, grounds for appeal are limited and the
parent must seek the support of their school or
DEECD region before submitting an application.
The Transport for students attending specialist
school procedural guidelines state:
818Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
819Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
132 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
It is important to note that special case
consideration only applies in circumstances
where factors around transport are particularly
challenging or complex. Applications involving
simple circumstances of ineligibility, financial
circumstances and matter relating to educational
or residential choice will not be considered by the
panel.820
Similarly, special case approval for the CAP can
only be considered if the application falls into
specified categories.821
Given the challenges parents report in finding
a school that is able to make the necessary
reasonable adjustments required under law to
accommodate their needs of their child, it seems
unreasonable to apply a blanket policy on zoning
that is incapable of review on ‘educational or
residential choice’. From the perspective of
parents, there is no real ‘choice’ about which
school their child can attend. Potentially, the
blanket application of this policy could amount to
indirect discrimination under the Equal Opportunity
Act and a breach of section 8 of the Charter, which
protects the right of equality before the law, and
section 17(2) which protects the best interests of
the child.
These issues could be resolved by providing
specialist school principals with more discretion
to address special circumstances, in particular,
where the child is unable to be accommodated at
another school or where there is no appropriate
specialist school in the local area where the child
lives. Currently ‘[t]he school principal can make
representations to the Special Cases Transport
Consideration Panel if exceptional circumstances
exist.’822 However, he or she is not the decision
maker, nor does DEECD have any discretion to
consider such special circumstances within the
current appeals system.823
820Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Transport for specialist schools
guidelines’, above n 768, 16.
821Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Conveyance Allowance Guidelines’,
above n 762, 15.
822Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
823‘However the STU will request detailed information and
local knowledge from regional offices when issues and
appeals are being considered’. Information provided to
the Commission by Student Transport Unit, DEECD, 29
June 2012.
Driver and supervisor/chaperone training
The Special School Bus Service (SSBS) contract
outlines the minimum training that drivers of
special school buses are required to have. This
contract requires operators to ensure that all
drivers hold a valid Working with Children Card at
all times; participate in any training offered by the
relevant school or DEECD; and receive appropriate
training in relation to:
• service requirements of passengers with
disabilities
• management of confrontational or difficult
passengers and personal safety
• occupational health and safety issues.824
The Transport for students attending specialist
schools procedural guidelines include
requirements that bus service supervisors
will secure wheelchairs in position; check that
wheelchair brakes are on and electric wheelchairs
are off; and activate wheelchair restraints.825
Under these guidelines, it is also expected that
schools will arrange training for service providers
on topics including their roles and responsibilities,
guidance on communication, safety obligations,
consideration of each student travelling and
relevant information about the student.826 The
guidelines are silent on legal obligations in relation
to discrimination and human rights however bus
operators contracted by government (including
government specialist school bus operators)
are public authorities under the Charter and so
bound by that law.827 All bus operators are bound
by the Equal Opportunity Act and federal antidiscrimination laws.
824‘For mainstream school buses, the bus must ensure
that the driver has been the subject of and successfully
complied with all appropriate security checks as
required by law, including the Working with Children
check. The Operator must also ensure that drivers are
properly trained, experienced and otherwise fit and
proper, in relation to the duties to be performed. The
Operator must ensure that, where required, the driver
receives appropriate training in relation to the service
requirements of passengers with disabilities i.e.
wheelchair loading, harness etc.’ Information provided
to the Commission by Student Transport Unit, DEECD,
29 June 2012.
825Good Practice Guides and Safe Travel Fact Sheets
(section nine of the Transport for students attending
specialist schools procedural guidelines) also provide
direction to bus operators, schools and parents to
ensure the safe travelling of students including the
use of safety belts, harnesses and booster seats.
Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
826Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Transport for specialist schools
guidelines’, above n 768, 24.
827Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006
(Vic) s 4(1)(c).
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 133
Given the concerns raised by parents in this
research regarding conditions on buses, including
allegations of discriminatory behaviours by some
bus drivers, the Commission considers that the
guidelines, contracts and training materials for this
program should explicitly deal with discrimination.
We would welcome the opportunity to review
the training provided to bus drivers and to make
recommendations about how this might be
improved, including increasing knowledge and
understanding of legal obligations under antidiscrimination law and the Charter.
Monitoring for human rights compliance
As part of this research, the Commission asked
DEECD about auditing and inspection processes
to ensure that students with disabilities using
special school buses are not subject to any
unreasonable conditions while travelling.
In its reply, DEECD indicated that compliance is
monitored by the principal of each school. The
SSBS contract includes monthly key performance
indicator reporting, as well as incident reporting by
the principal and/or bus operator. DEECD further
reported that incidents that are not able to be
resolved locally are investigated by the Student
Transport Unit.828
If a parent or student has a complaint about a
school bus, they can use the DEECD complaints
process. The limitations of this process are
discussed in Chapter 13.
Alternatively, they can raise the complaint directly
with the Student Transport Unit or, in the case of a
mainstream school bus service, with the regional
office of Public Transport Victoria or the school bus
coordinator employed by a state secondary school
in the area.829
Recommendations
29.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development allow students who
reside outside the designated transport area
for a specialist school to be eligible for bus
transport where the student is enrolled at that
school in order to maximise participation in
education consistent with anti-discrimination
laws or in other circumstances relating to the
best interests of the child.
30.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development remove the
requirement that a student must attend a
specialist school six days per fortnight in
order to be eligible for transport assistance
as this discriminates against students with
disabilities attending less than three days per
week.
31.Consistent with the dignity and rights of
students with disabilities, that the Department
of Education and Early Childhood
Development reduce the maximum travel
period on specialist school buses to one hour
each way.
32.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development mandate that all
schools must provide disability awareness,
equal opportunity law and Charter training
for all specialist school bus drivers and
chaperones, as part of their induction and
ongoing professional development.
The Commission notes that the Transport for
students attending specialist school procedural
guidelines compel a school principal to notify
the Student Transport Unit if they have ‘concerns
about the suitability of a driver’. However, no
detail is given as to what such concerns might
include.830 We consider that these guidelines would
be strengthened by specifying that discriminatory
behaviour or conduct that demeans a student with
disability should be automatically notified to the
Student Transport Unit.
828Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
829Information provided to the Commission by Student
Transport Unit, DEECD, 29 June 2012.
830Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Transport for specialist schools
guidelines’, above n 768, 12.
134 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 12: Transition
Main findings
• The quality of transition between school
stages for students with disabilities may be
compromised by poor planning and inadequate
sharing of information between schools.
• Programmatic boundaries between early
years supports through the Early Childhood
Intervention Service and school may lead to loss
of educational and development opportunities
for children.
You are led to believe that the information
about your child’s needs will follow
through but it doesn’t, you start again.833
Continuity of support can also be compromised
because of misconceptions that the student’s
needs have been adequately met, which can
sometimes result in supports being withdrawn.
• Funding reviews before entering secondary
school may precipitate a step down in supports
when a student with disability enters high
school, even though the environment and
curriculum may be more challenging in that
new environment.
Other participants told us that the late identification
of needs or diagnosis of disability can result in a
population of students with hidden disability,
which leaves both the students and teachers in
a situation where things are not working, but no
one can articulate the changes necessary to
improve things:
• Transfer from specialist primary schools to
mainstream secondary schools appear to be
common, however the range of supports offered
for this transition may be inadequate for some
students with disabilities.
There are still kids being picked up in years 7, 8,
9 who have disabilities. This is where the
behaviour gets in the way of having a decent
look at the kid.833834
Continuity in meeting students needs
Continuity in addressing the needs of students
with disabilities was a strong theme to emerge
from the Commission’s research. In some cases,
a lack of continuity arose when information about
the specific needs of students with disabilities was
lost due to inconsistent exchanges of information
among all the teachers involved with the education
of the child. In other cases, information and
expertise in working with the student was lost when
the student changed schools or progressed to the
next stage in their education.831 832
831In most cases this related to educational needs;
however, in at least one case it involved important
medical information. Parent survey participant.
832HASD 6.
I have to advocate and educate each new
teacher.834
833HASD 5.
834Parent survey participant.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 135
Starting school
Educators and parents shared a clear preference
for effective intervention in the early years
to support children and families and lay the
groundwork for successful schooling.
For many parents, the culture, attitudes and
practical supports offered by these services
were of great value. However, other parents said
they encountered barriers even when accessing
kindergarten and other early childhood services:
Both my boys went to preschool. When we went
to enrol my daughter with special needs they said
they would have to put her on the list. They then
said that they have no places when they realised
that she would need extra help.835
Indigenous community members noted that in the
Hume Region, Rumbalara Family Services, the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development (DEECD) and Scope have been
working together to address the low numbers
of Indigenous children accepted into the Early
Childhood Intervention Service (ECIS) program.836
One participant expressed frustration about the
lack of information-sharing about program:
We met with the Koori education and support
officers (KESO) about ECIS. But the KESOs were
not familiar with ECIS, despite it being in DEECD.
If they don’t know, how do they pass it on?837
835HASD 4.
836HASD 11.
837HASD 11.
Despite this, it was reported that the ECIS was
using new strategies to improve take-up by
Indigenous families and to build more effective
transitions for children with disabilities from early
childhood services and kindergarten into schools.
Several participants also spoke about assistance
available in the child’s early years being withdrawn
once the child enters school.838
In the Hume Region, the ECIS has employed
a part-time occupational therapist to work
specifically with Indigenous families, the first being
to support their access to ECIS and then to assist
families and teachers in the first term of Prep. This
is a flexible model where a therapist meets the
family wherever they feel most comfortable and
works informally ‘in any way we can to give that
child a boost in school’. However, as support is
only provided until the end of the first term of Prep,
the value of this approach is largely dependent on
the school following through on the relationship of
trust that has been built up by the therapists.839
One parent also suggested there was a common
misconception that if early intervention is provided
prior to school or in the Prep, then ongoing support
is not needed. In reality, support generally needs to
continue right through the school years to ensure
the student’s education remains on track and their
needs continue to be met.840
838HASD 1.
839The Sharing our Journey Protocol describes the
process for transition from kindergarten to school
for children with disability who are receiving a
Kindergarten Inclusion Support funding package.
According to the protocol, the process should begin
in terms two or three of kindergarten when the parent
enrols the child at school and the school begins
gathering information to assist the child. In term three
or four of kindergarten, the Kindergarten teacher
should convene a support group meeting to develop a
transition plan with the school and ECIS. In term one,
the school should organise a student support group
meeting with ECIS. Following the meeting, formal
involvement of ECIS ceases, unless some continued
short-term involvement is negotiated with the school.
See State of Victoria, Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development, Sharing our journey:
protocol for enhanced transition from Kindergarten to
School for children receiving Kindergarten Inclusion
Support funding packages (3 May 2012) <www.
eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/earlychildhood/
healthwellbeing/sharingourjourneyprotocol.pdf> at
20 August 2012.
840Parent survey participant.
136 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Transition to high school
It is well understood that the transition from primary
school to secondary school is a critical point in a
child’s personal and education development. This
transition was often mentioned by parents and
educators as a strong determinant of how well
students with disabilities fare in the rest of their
education and into adulthood.
However, people also told us that funding eligibility
reviews under the Program for Students with
Disabilities (PSD) at this transition point can lead to
supports being stepped down or, in some cases,
withdrawn once a student enters high school.
This is consistent with the findings of the Victorian
Auditor-General who reported that in 2010 of 1,592
Year 6 students who had their PSD reviewed, 15
per cent had their funding withdrawn. For those
that remained eligible ‘the Year 6-7 review often
resulted in a decrease in funding, as was the case
of 31 per cent of students’ in that year.841
She was allocated level three [funding] in primary
school, and because she and the school have
worked so hard to progress, her level of support
was dropped going into secondary school, where
she needs to actively learn the voices of 14 new
staff, many new students, new terminology and
[so] where the curriculum steps up, her supports
are dropped.842
The transition into high school was not an easy
one ... it is common ‘word on the street’ that as a
child transitions to high school their funding level
will be dramatically cut. In our case it was cut
from level 4 to level 2. I’ll give you a tip ... Down
syndrome doesn’t go away when your child turns
12, and if anything, their needs increase, as does
the learning gap.843
Parents and educators also commented on other
premature withdrawal of support:
If they are improving, I find that their hours of help
are taken away. It is because they are getting the
help that they are improving. Take it away and you
are back to square one.844
841Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n 73, 17.
842Parent survey participant.
843Parent survey participant.
844Educator survey participant.
As your child improves you are entitled to less, but
your child improves because of the extra support
they receive.845
It’s ridiculous to withdraw something because
it’s working ... and it’s much harder to help when
they’re older if they regress.846
Leaving school
A number of participants highlighted the difficulties
that many students with disabilities face when they
make the transition out of school and into work.
Educators participating in ‘have a say’ days spoke
about work and training opportunities for students
with disabilities and the barriers these students
face when they leave school:
They have to do a work placement and it’s hard to
find someone in the community who will accept
them.847
Terrible things are happening to students when
they go into the workplace because employers
just don’t understand disability – both students
and employers are not well prepared.848
There is not enough preparation given to them for
their future life in the community.849
The Commission notes the work being done by
the Department of Human Services through the
Futures for Young Adults Program. This program
provides support to students with a disability
to make the transition to post-school options. It
is available to eligible students from when they
complete their schooling until they turn 21.850 To be
eligible, the student must be currently receiving
PSD funding or an equivalent in a Catholic or
Independent school.
While not all students will be eligible for this
assistance, it is a structured program that supports
students into employment, training and education
options. However, to maximise this opportunity, the
student needs a firm foundation based on the best
possible education they can receive.
845HASD 4.
846HASD 6.
847HASD 3.
848HASD 3.
849Educator survey participant.
850This program also includes the Transition to
Employment (TTE). ‘This is an initiative that aims to
enhance opportunities for young people interested in
pursuing further education, training and employment.
It builds a young person’s work skills, experience
and capacity towards pursuing a work pathway.’ See
<http://www.dhs.vic.gov.au/about-the-department/
documents-and-resources/forms-and-templates/
futures-for-young-adults-transition-to-employmentregistration> at 2 July 2012.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 137
Unfortunately, a number of parents in our research
felt this was not being delivered. Their fundamental
concern was how well equipped their child was to
function later in life due to what they consider to
be the failure of the system to adequately address
their child’s learning and developmental needs.
These responses were particularly strong among
parents of students with autism spectrum disorder
and a number of parents of students with dyslexia.
These parents stressed that providing support for
students with disabilities, particularly at critical
stages of transition, is crucial to provide children
with better outcomes later in life.851
As one educator responding to the survey
suggested:
If nothing is done to increase funding to provide
intervention programs and more intensive support
for these students we are going to see a whole
raft or subculture of young people who the
system has failed and who have reduced chance
of success in their adult lives.852
The long-term consequences of failing to provide
students with disabilities the support they need
were also highlighted in submissions from
organisations. According to one submission,
the immediate and long-term consequences of
failing to address the needs of students with
disabilities include:
• students leaving school without functional
literacy and numeracy
• mental health problems, including clinical
depression and suicidal ideation due to bullying
and poor self-esteem due to lack of progress
• families of students with disabilities also
developing serious health and stress-related
problems.853
851See e.g. HASD 1.
852Educator survey participant.
853Submission 2, Julie Phillips, Disability Advocate 2.
Opportunities for improvement
Educators made a number of recommendations
to support students with disabilities at critical
transition points, including empowering primary
school special needs coordinators to pass on
records to secondary schools and establishing
liaison processes between secondary schools and
feeder schools.854
Parents also provided a number of specific
suggestions so that transitions could be better
managed:
A year prior to the student making the transition,
parents, primary school and secondary school
administrators need to sit and work collaboratively
on information exchange that is positive, strengthbased and not dictated by what funding level the
student was on, or what IQ the student has.855
Funding for transition visits to high school as
some schools demand an aide accompany you
and you may need a series of visits for a gradual
transition.856
Individual learning plans to be compulsory and
handed over from primary to secondary schools
through a dedicated process with verification that
this has occurred.857
A longer supported transition from specialist
schools to mainstream.858
Special education services within mainstream
schools to make it easier to transition between
specialist and mainstream environments.859
Support for a student with ASD to be carried
across from primary school into at least their first
year of secondary school before a review is done.
Transferring from one environment to another is
the hardest thing for these students.860
854Phone-in 8.
855Case study 11.
856Case study 11.
857Parent survey participant.
858‘He was only provided with four hours of supported
transition after being at (a special school) for four
years.’ Parent survey participant.
859Parent survey participant. Note that these may be
available in some schools through satellite units.
860Parent survey participant.
138 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
One parent described their desire for a flexible
system that would allow movement between
special and mainstream education:
My ideal schooling system would allow students
to move easily between mainstream and specialist
schools with tailored programs suited to each
child. There are some great programs available
but these vary greatly according to geographic
region ...861The Commission notes that DEECD,
in partnership with Monash University, has
developed a detailed training program and
manual entitled Autism Spectrum Disorders:
Planning a successful transition to secondary
school.862 This resource includes templates that
educators can use with students and parents to
help plan a transition. It also contains learning
materials and slides that can be used to present a
half-day training workshop in schools.
The Commission also notes that the Catholic
Education Commission Victoria (CECV) has
included transitions between stages of school
and post-school as a priority in its implementation
plan for the More Support for Students with
Disabilities initiative. CECV also intends to develop
best practice guidelines for primary to secondary
transition for students, with a ‘particular focus on
individual learning plans, student health support
plans, complex care needs and behavioural
support plans’.863 In addition, it intends to conduct
an audit of existing successful practice and a
review of post-school options for students with
disabilities, building on an existing transition
framework.864 CECV estimates that by December
2013, an additional 300 students will be supported
in transitions under this initiative.865
Recommendations
33.Building upon existing guidance, the capacity
of individual learning plans to improve
transitions is enhanced through dedicated
professional development opportunities and
through the auditing of individual learning
plans as identified at recommendation 16.
34.The Early Childhood Intervention Service
provide an enhanced navigation and advocacy
role for students with disability seeking to enrol
at their first school, and that in order to ensure
effective transition the ECIS support children
with disability for the first year of schooling.
35.Existing programs to support effective
transition from primary to secondary school,
and post-school options be enhanced,
including allowance for longer periods for
transition support for students with disabilities.
36.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development investigate if any
systemic patterns of reductions in funding
under Program for Students with Disabilities
are occurring for students transitioning from
primary to secondary school, publicly report
on these findings and take action to prevent
unreasonable reductions in funding.
861Case study 1.
862State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, Autism Spectrum Disorders:
Planning a successful transition to secondary schoolAutism-friendly learning (2011).
863Catholic Education Commission Victoria and
Commonwealth, above n 17, 14.
864Ibid 17–19.
865Ibid 19.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 139
Chapter 13: Complaints
Main findings
• The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development (DEECD) does not
systematically monitor complaints made
to schools at a regional or central level. As
such, there is no available data on how many
complaints are made, what they are about or
how they have been resolved.
• There is dissatisfaction among parents of
children with disabilities about the current
complaints process. Many do not think it makes
any difference, and that legitimate concerns are
ignored. Others are fearful of repercussions for
themselves or their child if they do complain.
• The current complaints process lacks
independence as it allows the respondent to
the complaint – the school – to be the primary
decision maker about whether a complaint is
substantiated.
• While each school must have a complaints
policy, there is no single, consistent policy for
handling complaints across schools in Victoria
and no clear systems in place to monitor the
fairness and accountability of complaints
processes at a school level.
• Those responsible for considering complaints in
schools do not have specific training or skills in
alternative dispute resolution. This increases the
risk of complaints escalating.
140 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
The DEECD complaints policy
DEECD publishes information on its website
regarding its complaints process, including a
Parent Information Sheet.866 Further detail is
contained in Addressing parents’ concerns and
complaints effectively (the complaints policy).867
This policy was developed in response to a
2005 review by the Ombudsman Victoria which
recommended that DEECD ‘review its guidelines
for managing complaints in schools and regional
officers to ensure a balance between the rights of
complainants and officers’.868
The complaints policy requires each school to
develop a policy and procedures to address
concerns and complaints of parents and students.
This means that each government school has its
own complaints policy and procedure.
The DEECD policy also outlines how complaints
should be monitored. It provides a summary of the
role and responsibilities of the school in relation
to publicising the complaints policy, maintaining
confidentiality, following principles of natural justice
and reviewing the policy on a regular basis. It also
requires regional offices to have a complaints
policy and procedure in place.869
866<http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/contact/
pcmoreinformation.htm#H2N10160> at 3 July 2012. The
Commission notes and welcomes that this information
is available in a number of community languages;
however, it is not available in alternative formats so as
to be accessible for parents and students with a vision
impairment, Auslan video or in easy English formats.
867<http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/contact/
pcschools.htm> at 3 July 2012.
868State of Victoria, Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development, Addressing parents’
concerns and complaints effectively (2009) 2. <www.
education.vic.gov.au/about/contact/pcschools.htmwww.
eduweb.vic.gov.au/policy_and_guides_Addressing_
parents_concerns.pdf> at 31 July 2012. DEECD has
advised that it is currently undergoing considerable
organisational change and that the current parent
complaint policy has been identified as likely to be
reviewed. Information provided to the Commission by
Regional Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
869Ibid 7.
The complaints policy sets out the relevant legal
framework, including the Education and Training
Reform Act 2006 and the Charter of Human Rights
and Responsibilities Act 2006. However, it does
not mention the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, the
federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992 or the
Disability Standards for Education 2005.870 It details
the type of concerns or complaints covered, as
well as those that it does not cover. These include
matters where there are existing legislated rights
of review or appeal, including discrimination
complaints to the Commission, or specific actions
by a school, including expulsion of a student.871
In addition, the complaints policy is accompanied
by guides for principals and staff on a range of
issues, such as building positive relationships;
dealing effectively with complaints; good listening
skills; understanding the blame cycle; managing a
request for an apology; moving beyond stalemate;
encouraging fair play in negotiations; managing
aggression and unreasonable conduct; and
managing anger and confrontation.
870Ibid 3.
871Ibid 7.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 141
Complaints handling in Catholic and
Independent schools
All schools must have a complaints policy in
order to be eligible for registration in Victoria.872
As Independent schools are individual entities,
they each have their own policies and handle
complaints within the school.
Catholic schools also handle complaints internally.
If a parent contacts the Catholic Education Office
in their diocese, they will refer the matter back to
the school and assist with enabling communication
between the school and parent to resolve the
complaint.873
Complaints handling in government
schools
The DEECD policy is based on the rationale that
‘complaints are most effectively addressed where
the issues have occurred, at the local level. The
premise is that schools are best placed to resolve
parent concerns and complaints that relate to
them’.874
The Parent Information Sheet on the DEECD
website states:
When making a complaint, your child’s school
should always be your first point of contact;
concerns are best resolved at school; the
Department expects that most complaints will be
resolved by the school.875
872All schools must be registered by the Victorian
Registration and Qualifications Authority. The
registration standards are described in Part 5 and
Schedules 2–5 and 7 of the Education and Training
Reform Regulations 2007 (Vic). These standards
include that a school has policies and procedures for
managing complaints or grievances. See Victorian
Registration and Qualifications Authority, Minimum
standards and other requirements for school
registration.<www.vrqa.vic.gov.au/registration/schools/
default.htm> at 26 July 2012.
873Key Informant Interview, Catholic Education Office
Melbourne. 4 June 2012.
874Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
875<http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/contact/
pcmoreinformation.htm#H2N10160> at 3 July 2012.
If a parent takes a complaint directly to the DEECD
regional office, it will generally be referred back to
the school. If a school cannot resolve a complaint,
or considers the complaint to be complex, it may
seek the assistance of the DEECD regional office.
Complex complaints may include those where the
complaint is about the school principal.876
If the complaint is not resolved to the parent’s
satisfaction, he or so may take it to the DEECD
regional office where, ‘[de]pending on the nature
and complexity of the concern or complaint, the
regional director may involve the assistant regional
director, the community liaison officer or other
officers in the resolution of the issue’.877
If the complaint still cannot be resolved, the parent
may refer the complaint to the DEECD deputy
secretary.878 The parent will be asked to state in
writing why he or she considers that the complaint
was not resolved and to outline a realistic course
of action to resolve the complaint.
Where a complaint relates directly to a student’s
disability then relevant expertise will be sought
within DEECD, usually from the Student Wellbeing
and Engagement Division, to assist in the
discussions. External specialist information will also
be sought if appropriate.879
If the complaint raises complex issues, the deputy
secretary may refer the matter for independent
review by an external agency.
If the complaint remains unresolved after all
these processes have been implemented, the
deputy secretary may refer the complainant to an
external agency, such as Ombudsman Victoria, for
investigation.880
876Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Addressing parents’ concerns and
complaints effectively’, above n 868, 7.
877Ibid.
878If a complaint has not already been raised with the
school or regional office prior to its receipt by the
deputy secretary, it will be referred back to the relevant
regional office for investigation and resolution.
879Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
880Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Addressing parents’ concerns and
complaints effectively’, above n 868, 8.
142 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Figure 7: Concerns and complaints management process 881
Parents’ concern or complaint
School principal determines appropriate process
School procedures to
address concerns and
complaints initiated
Legislated complaints
process initiated
(see Victorian Government
Schools reference Guide
– Human Resources
Complaints Resolution)
Regional office support
available to address
complex complaints
OUTCOME
– Complaint resolved
– Complaint dismissed
– Complaint addressed
Central office (Group
coordination division)
review of unresolved
complaints
OUTCOME
– Complaint resolved
– Complaint dismissed
– Complaint unresolved
referred to appropriate
externl agency - e.g.
Ombudsman Victoria
Experiences of the complaints system881
882883
I always feel that you have to tread very
carefully to not get the school offside as
communicating effectively with them is
fraught enough without making things
official.882
Parents should not have to fight for what
their child is entitled to.883
881Ibid 5.
882Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
883Parent of student attending a Catholic mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
OUTCOME
– Complaint dismissed
– Complaint resolved
unsatisfactory performance
procedures commenced
– Serious misconduct
procedures commenced
Parents who had reported discrimination in our
survey were asked if they had made a complaint.
Most parents – around two in three – who said that
their child had experienced discrimination, had
also made a complaint.884
Most parents took their complaint to the school
principal and/or a teacher or staff member.885 This
is consistent with the DEECD complaints policy;
however, this preference to raise the matter directly
with the school was generally shared by all parents
regardless of school sector.886
884326 parents (56 per cent) reported that their child had
been discriminated against at school. Parent survey
Q 51. Of these 216 parents (66.2 per cent) had made
a complaint. Parent survey Q 52.
885168 parents complained to the school principal.
140 parents complained to school staff.
886See <http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/contact/
pcschools.htm> at 3 July 2012.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 143
A significant number of parents had also made
a complaint to the DEECD regional or central
office.887 However, very few had made a complaint
to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human
Rights Commission or the Australian Human Rights
Commission.888
Some said they had reported their concerns to
their local Member of Parliament or the media,
while others had sought assistance from advocacy
groups or lawyers to address their concerns.
The Commission also notes that parents may
seek assistance from bodies that do not have
formal oversight of schools. For example, since
its establishment in 2007, the Disability Services
Commissioner has received ‘over 60 enquiries and
complaints about issues of concern that parents of
children with disabilities have with the DEECD and
their child’s school, focusing on disability issues.
These enquiries are not within the jurisdiction
of the Disability Services Commissioner. Advice
from the Association for Children with a Disability
confirms that over 38 per cent of calls to the Parent
Support Line in 2010 concerned education related
services’.889
Figure 8: Bodies to which parents make complaints about disability discrimination in schools
168
School principal
School teacher
or other staff
140
94
DEECD
18
VEOHRC
HREOC
15
23
Legal service or lawyer
Disability or family
advocacy organisation
49
Local Member
of Parliament
36
12
Media
Other
22
0
50
100
150
Responses
887Ninety-four respondents.
888Eighteen respondents had complained to the Victorian
Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
Fifteen had complained to the Australian Human Rights
Commission.
889Submission 1, Disability Services Board 3.
144 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
200
Feedback from parents on how complaints
are handled
A number of parents told the Commission that they
were happy with the school’s response to their
complaint:
The school took on board our genuine complaint
and addressed it, apologising and putting
in place strategies to prevent future issues
occurring.890
[The school] used to use [the] disability toilet as a
storeroom – [I] felt that was disrespectful ... when
[I] raised that, [it] was heard and [the] problem
[was] fixed.891
We complained to the vice principal who provided
the teacher with training and support. When this
did not work, she has worked closely with us to try
to ensure successful outcomes for our child.892
Other parents also reported having successful
results after approaching DEECD:
Action only occurred when a complaint was
lodged with the Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development. We now have
an ILP in place although regular reviews are
still difficult to get. I am continuing to work with
the Department to address my concerns. The
Department have been very supportive and
assisted me greatly in working with the school.893
[The] Department of Education was helpful
and gave me methods of contacting them if it
happened again.894
However, a number of parents expressed concern
about the effort and resources it took to be
successful advocates for their children:
I can say I am satisfied with the outcome [of our
complaint] but it was only achieved because I had
legal representation from a barrister and top-tier
solicitors’ firm. I don’t believe I could have ever
got the case to the point that I did without their
support.895
890Parent of student attending an Independent school.
Parent survey participant.
891Phone-in 7.
892Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
893Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
894Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
895Case study 8.
Changes were made following request from
parents. School did not adequately know how to
deal with it and relied on parents for strategies.
Fortunately strategies are working, however,
parents must regularly (daily) monitor that all is
going okay. Parents also have formal meetings
with school (monthly) to assess effectiveness and
raise new issues. Seems to be no acceptance
from school or teacher that they were at fault, nor
any proactive work to remedy in the future. Rather
that they will do something about it because the
parent’s complained. Seems that each parent(s)
that experience similar have to ‘reinvent the wheel’
with the school.896
A number of parents said they were unhappy
with the complaints process or felt that it had not
achieved anything for their child.897 Some reported
that their complaints or suggestions had been
ignored:
Made a complaint with school. They ignored it.
Informed regional office, no response, no receipt,
nothing ... Apparently there was an internal
department review ... They eventually said that
after an internal investigation there was no case
to answer. They didn’t speak to anyone involved.
There was no detail. No reasons provided. They
say complaints are receiving attention – say they
take it seriously. But they don’t do anything.898
The Department of Ed need to be held
accountable. No one would return my calls or my
emails.899
[The Department] passes [complaints] back
down to the school really quickly. So there is no
coaching from DEECD, no monitoring of what the
schools are doing.900
One parent made a suggestion for other parents
considering making a complaint:
Parents should always take an advocate if they
can. The school was not really happy with me
having an advocate. The Principal never spoke
negatively in front of the advocate.901
896Parent survey participant.
897In addition, one advocate reported that when parents
requested an independent investigation of a complaint
that the regional office of the DEECD is likely to arrange
for ex-principals to carry out these investigations.
This advocate was concerned that this may lead to a
skewing towards favourable findings for the school.
Information provided to the Commission by Julie
Phillips, Disability Advocate 13 July 2012.
898Phone-in 4.
899Phone-in 33.
900Case study 36.
901HASD 4.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 145
The Disability Discrimination Legal Service put
forward a view that complaints and litigation rarely
lead to systemic change as ‘the [State of Victoria]
vehemently defends itself against all complaints
instead of looking to the cause of such complaints
and attempting to address this’.902
Reasons for not making a complaint
The Review of Disability Standards for Education
2005 found that nationally ‘The complaints process
is complex and parents, associated and students
are reluctant to make a complaint… There are
few consequences for education providers that
breach the Standards or fail to act on complaints…
The lack of accountability for compliance with
the Standards is a significant impediment to their
overall effectiveness’.903
As part of our research we asked parents who did
not complain why they chose not to do so. One in
three said the reason they did not complain was
that they did not think anything would happen. One
in five parents were concerned there would be
repercussions if they complained.904
Figure 9: Reasons for not making a complaint
Other 16%
Did not think the
matter was serious
10%
Did not know how
or where to make a
complaint 7%
Some parents commented:
We were concerned going to the Department
as previous disability student parent had no luck
from our school. Also did not want to affect our
child’s funding for future years by rocking the
boat!905
I had not complained as I did not want it to impact
my son in a negative way so early [into] his
education starting.906
Repercussions were my greatest concern. Any
issue my child has raised I have addressed with
the school. But, I have observed teachers rolling
their eyes and being dismissive of his input, and
not showing the appropriate respect ... I wonder
how much this impacts his learning, when he
doesn’t feel heard or worthy of their attention.907
The culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)
critical friends group noted that language
difficulties can be an additional barrier to making
complaints for some parents. A lack of knowledge
about the complaints process and issues of
cultural safety were also raised by the Victorian
Aboriginal Disability Network.908
Parents are not aware of how or where to
complain, and the process is not easy. How do
you complain if you do not know what to expect
from schools?909
Another parent said that they were actively
discouraged from making a complaint:
I was told by the Education Dept not to put
a formal complaint in as it would affect my
relationship with the school and my son would be
disadvantaged.910
Complaint
process too
complicated
11%
Concerned
there would be
repercussions
21%
Didn’t think anything
would happen 35%
902Submission 7, Disability Discrimination Legal Service
30.
903Australian Government, ‘Report on the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37,
viii.
90434 per cent and 21 per cent respectively.
905Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
906Parent of student attending a Catholic school. Parent
survey participant.
907Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
908Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network critical friends
group.
909CALD critical friends group.
910Parent survey participant.
146 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Relationships with the school after
making a complaint
DEECD advised the Commission it does ‘not
tolerate victimisation and require schools to take
reasonable precautions to prevent victimisation
from happening’.911 Nevertheless, in our study, a
small number of parents related experiences of
negative treatment after making a complaint:
Eventually someone at Department of Education
called the school and told them they were not
allowed to kick him out. The principal called me
at home in a fury. His teacher did not talk to me
for virtually the whole of last term we spent there
as she was so angry for the lack of support I had
shown the school – they felt I had dobbed them
in and done the wrong thing by standing up for
my son’s rights. We eventually left as the pressure
was too much on both my son and I.912
The Principal dragged me into his office (I work
at the school) and ripped my head off for going
to the Department.913
... as an exhausted parent if you complain it only
leads to suspensions or more seclusions and
if you have little respite and other children it is
a sacrifice you make. You don’t make too much
fuss because you are petrified you child will be
expelled and then you can’t cope.914
The school were angry that we should think
about raising any issues. They have been
consistent in this response with everything.
Sport has kept my son hooked in to school and
rather than use this to engage him they appear
to have deliberately excluded him from almost
every opportunity he has shown an interest in.
This has been devastating at times and it
appears to have occurred immediately following
our complaint about discrimination. He felt
victimised as a result.915
911Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
See also Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Addressing parents’ concerns and
complaints effectively’, above n 868, 3, 11–12, 26–29.
912Parent survey participant.
913Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
914Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
915Parent of student attending an Independent school.
Parent survey participant.
One kind of negative treatment, and a barrier to
making complaints, is a perception held by some
parents that schools ‘label’ parents who complain:
I feel that I can’t speak up about [exclusion from
excursions and camps] because I am seen as a
trouble maker by the school.916
Sometimes you feel as if you are the whingeing
mum ... Parents should not have to advocate as
much as they do.917
Some parents said they no longer have the energy
to make complaints. Many years of pushing for
change can leave parents feeling frustrated and
exhausted:
We have made numerous complaints to the
Regional Office and are worn out by the
process.918
I know I could make a complaint but I am a
mother of three disabled children and I don’t have
the time to go through that. The only solution I can
see if there is a class action.919
My daughter is 17. I have been fighting a long
time. It has been the same problems for many
years. I have used advocacy, I have told my story
many times. I have brought discrimination claims
and complaints. This has consumed a lot of time
and energy but things have not changed. Nothing
has changed in 12 years – maybe it is even a
bit worse.920
The Disability Discrimination Legal Service
expressed their view that DEECD has treated
parents badly in the course of litigation:
Parents are alienated, maligned and singled
out in the DEECD’s determination to portray
parents of children with disabilities as bullies
and haranguers ... Doctors, psychologists,
psychiatrists, speech pathologists who dare to
volunteer themselves as expert witnesses for their
patients in legal cases find themselves to also be
targets of discredit.921
916Phone-in 28.
917HASD 4.
918Case study 38.
919Phone-in 32.
920HASD 1.
921Submission 9, Disability Discrimination Legal Service,
39.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 147
Opportunities for improvement
Suggestions were made for improving responses
to discrimination generally, and to the complaints
process more specifically.
Meeting the information needs of parents
One parent wanted clearer information about her
child’s rights at school:
I would like to be able to get the answers I need
about my rights for my child at school easily, so
I can give the school the right information, and it
would cause a lot less stress.922
The Disability Services Board suggested that the
department consider:
A separate brochure for the parents of children
with disabilities, outlining the various options
available to them to make a complaint or raise a
concern.923
In particular, they observed that the current Parent
Complaints Information Brochure does not address
the rights contained in the Education Standards,
and does not advise parents of their avenues for
review or appeal of decisions.924 The Commission
agrees that these limitations should be addressed.
The Commission notes that since the department’s
policy has come into effect, brochures explaining
the process have been provided to parents of
each Prep student at the commencement of the
school year, in Prep information bags distributed by
the department.925 This is a welcome initiative that
arguably could be extended to entry into Year 7 of
high school when parents and students are likely to
be dealing with a new school.
We also note that schools are required to include
a questions on ‘I know how to make a complaint’
and ‘this school takes parent’s concerns seriously’
in the annual parent opinion survey that all
government schools are required to run.926 This is
also welcome. However, it could be supplemented
with a more explicit question about the level of
confidence parents have in the complaints system
at the school.
922Parent survey participant.
923Submission 1, Disability Services Board, 7.
924Submission 1, Disability Services Board 7.
925Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
926Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Addressing parents’ concerns and
complaints effectively’, above n 868, 11.
The Commission also notes and welcomes that
the Parent Information Sheet is available in a
number of community languages. However, it is
not available in alternative formats so as to be
accessible for parents and students with a vision
impairment, Auslan video or in easy English
formats.927 Again, these are simple actions that
could improve parent and student awareness of
the complaints process.
The Commission also welcomes the work DEECD
is currently undertaking in partnership with the
Association for Children with a Disability to develop
resources for parents and teachers to assist them
to resolve issues in a positive manner.
Capacity building for key personnel
The Addressing parents’ concerns and complaints
effectively policy requires schools to ‘provide
staff with (or provide access to) training and
support appropriate to the responsibilities under
the complaints handling procedures’.928 We also
note that DEECD offers biannual training sessions
to central office and regional staff who deal with
complaints.929
This is welcome. However, we consider that this
effort could be bolstered by extending the range
of training offered to schools to include support
around techniques that might assist them to deliver
better results when managing complaints. The
Commission would welcome the opportunity to
work with the department to facilitate this.
The Commission also notes the international
experience of utilising alternative dispute
resolution techniques in complaint handling
and building relationships between parents
with children with disabilities and schools. This
indicates that positively involving parents in their
child’s education not only reduces complaints, but
also delivers improved educational outcomes.930
927The Commission also notes that the complaints form
available on the DEECD website is not currently
available in alternative formats. It is not compulsory to
use this form to lodge a complaint.
928Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Addressing parents’ concerns and
complaints effectively’, above n 868, 21.
929Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
930Key informant interview, Disability Services
Commissioner. See e.g. National Center on
Dispute Resolution in Special Education. <www.
directionservice.org/cadre/cadreconf2011resources.
cfm> at 26 July 2012.
148 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Building in some independence
Currently most complaints are dealt with directly by
the school; however, complaints about a principal
must be dealt with by the regional office of DEECD.
This reflects the policy preference for issues being
resolved at the local level and the relationship
between schools and the department being
one of ‘professional trust’. While there is much
to commend a localised approach to complaint
handling it does create a situation where the legal
entity considering the merit of the complaint (the
school), is the same organisation against whom the
complaint has been made.
One way to resolve this issue would be for
schools to establish a panel of people to deal
with complaints. This would include the principal
and other appropriate school staff, but could
also include an independent person from
the community. This would be a simple way
to ensure a higher level of independence in
considering complaints and need not be onerous
for the school, who would already have strong
relationships with leaders in the community,
beyond the membership of the school council.
Systemic reforms
Several participants put forward ideas for changing
the structures that relate to complaints handling
and compliance. For example, one parent argued
the need to reform disability discrimination
legislation:
An overhaul of the DDA [Disability Discrimination
Act 1992] is needed. People should have to
make sure certain things happen, rather than
allowing things to get to the complaint stage.
DDA should ensure that access happens and if
it does not, penalties will apply. It should not be
the responsibility of those with disability to make a
complaint because many don’t have the strength,
ability or courage to do this – it is very stressful
going through complaint process.931
Another parent suggested that schools should be
audited for compliance:
I think at the least someone should be appointed
to do some kind of audit – someone who goes
into a school and looks at whether they are
meeting the requirements outlined in Department
policy. Right now it’s just individual parents
wondering if they are going crazy, being
unreasonable, and families enduring ridiculous
amounts of stress.932
931HASD 7.
932Parent survey participant.
The Disability Services Board suggested ‘there
may be a benefit in the establishment of an
independent complaints process for disability
service provision within the Education Department’,
modelled on the Disability Services Commissioner
that includes the requirement of education
providers to report complaints and complaint
outcomes:933
The nature of issues raised by parents of
students with a disability suggest the merits of
having an independent complaints resolution
process that focuses on the rights of the student
with a disability, the quality and efficacy of
supports provided, the nature of communication
and ongoing relationships between the family
and the school, and opportunities for service
improvements.934
The Commission does not consider that an
additional complaints handling body is feasible;
however, our research suggests that improving
the independence of the existing complaints
process and encouraging a more conciliatory
focus would make the complaints process more
robust, transparent and fair. There are a number of
changes we would suggest.
Consistency and fairness
It is important to note that each government school
currently develops its own complaints policy and,
as such, there is no single consistent policy across
all schools. DEECD informed the Commission of
the rationale for this approach:
Development at the local level increases school
community involvement and understanding of
the complaints process and the regular review
of policy and procedure ensures ongoing
knowledge within the community.935
Currently there is no regional or centralised
DEECD process for:
• auditing the quality of complaints processes in
schools
• ensuring adherence to minimum time frames for
handling complaints suggested in the DEECD
complaints policy
• monitoring that parents are notified by the
school about the manner in which their
complaint will be investigated, the outcome
of their complaint and when the complaint is
finalised.936
933Submission 1, Disability Services Board – cover letter.
934Submission 1, Disability Services Board 7.
935Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
936Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 149
While the Commission appreciates the value of
a localised approach to these matters, we are
concerned that there may be a lack of consistency
in how complaints are managed, especially when
accountability is devolved to the body that is the
subject of a complaint.
In addition, DEECD notes that schools ‘vary in
size and configuration ... and while aspects of
the policy will remain the same, procedures could
differ’.937 For consistency and fairness across all
schools, the procedures for handling complaints
should not differ from school to school and there
should be at least a basic level of monitoring of
practices by DEECD to ensure accountability.938
Otherwise it is left to parents to escalate a
complaint if procedures have not been correctly
followed, thereby shifting the burden of monitoring
and accountability onto the complainant and away
from the government school system.
Monitoring discrimination complaints specifically
As part of the research, the Commission asked
DEECD what process it followed when a
complaint alleging discrimination is made.
We were informed that:
Where allegations of ‘discrimination’ are made
within a complaint, either directly or indirectly
stated, advice is sought from the Department’s
Conduct and Ethics Unit, regardless of whether
the complaint has been made at the local schoolbased level or by way of the state or federal
commission.939
However, when asked how many complaints
of alleged discrimination were received by
government schools in the previous year,
DEECD stated:
The Department has no information on the amount
of complaints received by individual schools.
937Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
938The Commission acknowledges that each DEECD
region employs a Community Liaison Officer who
is available to provide advice to schools in their
development of a complaints policy and procedures.
Central DEECD staff are also available to provide such
advice. Information provided to the Commission by
Regional Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
939Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
This suggests that not only does DEECD not know
how frequently instances of discrimination have
been alleged to have occurred within government
schools, it also does not know how many
complaints have been made on other issues.940
Ensuring lessons are learned from complaints
The DEECD complaints policy states that
schools ‘should’ consider recording details of all
complaints received. This is not mandatory under
the policy. However, each school is required to
‘regularly review its record of complaints to identify
common or recurring issues that may need to be
addressed’.941 While this is welcome, if schools are
not mandated to capture complaints data then it
seriously undermines their ability to undertake any
meaningful review.
It is also not clear if DEECD, either at a central or
regional level, undertakes reviews of aggregate
complaints data from schools to identify systemic
issues or lessons that can be learned. As DEECD
does not know how many complaints are made
to schools in any one year, it is unlikely that this
aggregate or trends data is captured.
DEECD advised the Commission that ‘[i]ndividual
regional offices make their own arrangements in
the monitoring of parent complaints received by
them and the identification of any systemic issues.
Individual regional directors determine how this is
managed’.942 The central office of DEECD has a
similar process for reviewing complaints made to
the deputy secretary.943
This means that regions may undertake systemic
reviews of complaints they themselves have
received but there is no explicit process for
reviewing schools complaints data at a regional
or central level. This is despite the fact that the
vast majority of complaints are handled solely at
the school level. As such, it would seem that most
of the data about complaints is not reviewed to
identify systemic issues or emerging trends. This is
a significant missed opportunity to learn lessons,
improve practice and ensure accountability
throughout the system.
940However, the Student Wellbeing and Engagement
Division, DEECD informed the Commission that
this division has recently introduced a phone call
register process to track the nature of complaints and
indentify trends and actions in the disability area. This
is a welcome step. Key informant interview, Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD.
941Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Addressing parents’ concerns and
complaints effectively’, above n 868, 12-15.
942Information provided to the Commission by Regional
Support Group, DEECD, 5 July 2012.
943Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Addressing parents’ concerns and
complaints effectively’, above n 868, 12–13.
150 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Recommendations
Noting the findings and recommendations of the
Report of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005, that:
37.In all Victorian schools, parent and student
information materials regarding complaints be
updated to include a clear statement of rights
and obligations under anti-discrimination laws.
38.The Department of Education and Childhood
Development include training in alternative
dispute resolution for school principals
and regional staff who have responsibility
for handling complaints, and that Catholic
Education Offices and Independent Schools
Victoria develop similar training for school
principals.
39.All complaints regarding government schools
escalated to a regional or head office level be
considered by a panel of persons that includes
an independent person, and in the case of a
student with disability, an independent person
with expertise in disability issues.
40. All government school complaints regarding
students from vulnerable groups , including
Indigenous students with disabilities be
referred for expert input and monitoring, for
example from the Koori Education Unit in the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development.
41.All government schools be required to submit
data on the nature and type of complaints
received each year, and that this aggregate
data be published on a regional and
state-wide basis.
Part 3: Specific issues of concern 151
Pageheader
- head
Part
4: Removing
barriers in
the system – building capacity
Chapter 14: Funding and resources
Main findings
• While over 20,000 students currently receive
additional assistance through Program for
Students with Disabilities (PSD) funding
provided to government schools, feedback
from parents and educators reveals
considerable concerns about how the program
is structured, delivered and held accountable
for educational outcomes.
• Parents reported that the application process
for PSD funding was expensive, time consuming
and stressful, especially its focus on what their
child could not do. Many also said that the
funding criteria were applied too rigidly and that
some forms of disability are not covered under
the seven PSD categories.
• Parents and educators indicated that there is
less likelihood of adjustments being made to
support students with disabilities who do not
qualify for PSD funding.
• Parents also raised concerns about the
transparency of PSD funding decisions, as
well as the process which schools use to
determine how this funding will be used.
This is a crucial area where schools can
improve their communication with parents.
They should also seek to engage parents in
the decision-making process.
Funding for students with disabilities in
Victorian government schools944
The Program for Students with Disabilities
is a targeted additional program for a
defined student population with moderate
to severe disabilities. [It] supports the
education of students with disabilities in
Victorian government schools by providing
schools with supplementary resources.994
Funding to support the inclusion of students with
disabilities differs between Catholic, Independent
and government schools. This chapter focuses
on the dedicated funding stream available in
the government school system, the Program for
Students with Disabilities (PSD).
It is important to note that the PSD is not the only
source of funding to support the inclusion of
students with disabilities in government schools.
The global school budget – the student resource
package – is expected to be used to support the
learning of students with disabilities as part of
delivering a universal education service.
944Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD, 22 June
2012.
152 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
In addition, extra workforce resources (including
specialist support officers, psychologists, social
workers, visiting teachers, and autism coaches)
curriculum resources and pedagogy resources,
such as the Ability Based Learning Education
Support (ABLES) are also available, as well as
support for student transport and access to
the Statewide Vision Resource. Funding for the
Language Support Program is also provided.945
The Victorian budget papers indicate that the
combined total of these investments in 2011–12
amounted to $686.1 million.946
In addition, new initiatives using funding provided
by the Australian Government’s More Support for
Students with Disabilities initiative will roll out in
Victoria over the next two years.947
The PSD program does, however, represent a
significant funding stream, with an annual budget
allocation of more than $500 million per annum.948
What makes the PSD distinct from the universal
supports funded through each school’s general
budget is that it provides targeted assistance to
support access to education for students with
moderate-to-severe disability who meet specific
eligibility requirements.
Funding for students with disabilities in the
Catholic system
In the Catholic school system, the Catholic
Education Commission of Victoria (CECV) is the
formal body established to receive Australian
Government and Victorian Government grants on
behalf of the Bishops of Victoria and all Catholic
schools in Victoria.949
945The Commission notes that $30 million was allocated
to this program in 2011–12. Information provided to the
Commission by Student Wellbeing and Engagement
Division, DEECD, 21 November 2011. The Commission
further notes that some organisations are critical of
this program on the basis that it is an inadequate
substitute for PSD funding that was previously available
to students with severe language disorders under more
generous eligibility criteria. See Submission 7, Disability
Discrimination Legal Centre, 18–19.
946State of Victoria, Department of Treasury and Finance,
2012–13 Budget Paper no. 3 – Service Delivery (2012) 98.
947Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23.
948Total PSD funding has increased from $359 million
in 2006/07 to $533 million in 2011. Victorian AuditorGeneral’s Office, ‘Programs for Students with Special
Learning Needs’, above n 73, ix.
949The Catholic Education Commission Victoria is made
up of members from the four dioceses in Victoria.
<www.ceomelb.catholic.edu.au/our-schools/funding-ofcatholic-schools> at 4 July 2012.
CECV can distribute an additional quantum of
funding to support the education of a student
with disability where the school has applied for
this additional resource and the student has been
determined as eligible for this funding. Around
8200 students are currently supported with this
funding in Catholic schools in Victoria.950
The eligibility criteria is broadly similar to that for
the PSD; however, the amount of funding available
for individual students differs.951
The needs of students are determined annually
through an evaluation of the submitted student
program. Criteria have been established to create
a three tier level of need. The Catholic Education
Office Melbourne informed the Commission that
schools will often supplement this funding and will
pool resources across multiple students if that will
provide the best model of disability support.952
Funding for students with disabilities in the
Independent sector
In the Independent sector, a small amount of
dedicated funding for students with disabilities is
available through targeted Australian Government
programs. To be eligible for this funding, the
student must be assessed as having a disability
under one of seven categories of disability and
have ‘demonstrated education needs’.953
In 2012, the quantum of funding, together with the
demand for funding, allows three levels of funding,
ranging from approximately $1,700, $2,800 and
$3,900 per annum.954 Level 4 funding is reserved
for students attending one of the 11 Independent
specialist schools in the state. This federal funding
can be used to provide support teachers, aides,
counsellors and resources. It is generally ongoing
for four years.955
950Catholic Education Commission Victoria and
Commonwealth, above n 17, 9.
951The Catholic Education Office Melbourne estimates that
around 9,000 students in Catholic schools in Victoria
would be eligible for PSD funding if they were in the
state sector. Key informant interview, Catholic Education
Office Melbourne.
952Key informant interview, Catholic Education Office
Melbourne.
953The categories are intellectual disability, severe
language disorder, severe emotional disorder, autism
spectrum disorder, physical disability – chronic health
impairment, vision impairment and hearing impairment.
Independent Schools Victoria, Students with Disabilities
Handbook 2013 (2012) 6.
954Key informant interview, Independent Schools Victoria.
955Independent Schools Victoria, above n 323, 6–7.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 153
To apply for funding, the school submits an
application to Independent Schools Victoria (ISV).
ISV engages a panel of experts to assess the
applications. If an application requires further
consideration, it goes to the ISV Special Education
Committee.
The ISV Board finally approves all funding.956 An
appeal process exists for any application deemed
ineligible; however, the appeal must be lodged by
the relevant school principal.957
Figure 10: Students in the Victorian Independent sector who received funding in 2011 under Australian
Government targeted programs for students with disabilities958
Disability type
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Total
Autism spectrum disorder
27
66
35
24
152
Hearing impairment
29
18
33
0
80
Intellectual disability
217
75
64
78
434
Physical disability
69
20
31
2
122
Severe emotional disorder
98
118
108
292
616
Severe language disorder
339
262
62
1
664
1
3
7
0
11
780
562
340
397
2,079
Vision impairment
Total
958
Other programs to support students with
disabilities in Catholic and Independent
schools
In Victoria, around $550 million in recurrent
funding for non-government schools through the
Non-Government Schools Financial Assistance
Model. This funding is untied to enable each nongovernment school to manage its funds to meet
the school’s particular educational priorities and
student needs.959
956Key informant interview, Independent Schools Victoria.
957Independent Schools Victoria, above n 323, 7.
958Independent Schools Victoria and Commonwealth,
above n 18, 2–3.
959‘In 2010-2013 Non-Government Schools Funding
Agreement is providing an additional $63 million on
top of existing funding levels to increase support for
students with a disability in non-government settings’.
Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD,
9 August 2012.
Independent and Catholic schools may also lodge
applications for State Support Services funding.
This program, with a budget of around $6 million
per annum, provides funds for visiting teachers
and speech therapy and must be applied for each
year.960 Funding for speech therapy is limited to
students in Prep to Year 4 only and is available for
a maximum of three years.961
Some federal funding is also available for
physiotherapy and occupational therapy. In 2012,
this is capped at $1,600 per year and must be
applied for annually. Up to $30,000 for capital
works and equipment is also available using
Australian Government funds. Again, this limit
applies within the context of a limited amount of
funding.962
960Independent Schools Victoria, above n 323, 6.
961Ibid 19.
962Key informant interview, Independent Schools Victoria.
154 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Although additional funding is also provided to
Catholic and Independent schools through the
Australian Government’s Literacy, Numeracy
and Special Learning Needs Program, this only
provides a flat per capita annual amount for every
eligible student with disability. In 2011, this amount
was $994.
As the Gonski report notes, these funding
arrangements ‘have resulted in some students with
disabilities in non-government schools receiving
substantially less funding than students with the
same educational needs in government schools,
particularly students with high support costs’.963
The Program for Students with
Disabilities (PSD)
The PSD provides additional resources to
government schools to support the education of
students with disabilities. In 2011, 20,883 students
received PSD funding964 – around 3.9 per cent of
the government school population.965
Students approved for PSD funding made up
2.17 per cent of the government mainstream
school student population in 2011.966 Almost all
students attending government specialist schools
have PSD funding.967
In 2011, 55 per cent of students with PSD funding
were educated in mainstream schools. The other
45 per cent were attending specialist schools.968
963Australian Government, ‘Final Report of the Review of
School Funding’ above n 27, 134.
964Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Summary Statistics for Victorian Schools
(March 2012)’, above n 13.
965Ibid. Nationally, in 2010, there were around 172,300
students who met state and territory eligibility criteria
for receiving disability funding, representing 4.9 per
cent of total student enrolments. There are differing
percentages of funded students with disabilities in
each state and territory (between 3 and 8 per cent),
which is largely due to differing definitions, with some
definitions adopted by states and territories broader
than others. Survey data shows that 8.8 per cent of
people in Australia aged 5 to 14 years had a disability,
based on a broader definition of disability (ABS
2010). Most funded students with disabilities attend
mainstream schools. It is estimated around 9 per cent
of students with disabilities aged 5 to 14 years attend
special schools (AIHW 2006). Cited in Australian
Government, ‘Final Report of the Review of School
Funding’ above n 27.
966That is 11,525 students out of 530,821 students in
all government mainstream schools. Department
of Education and Early Childhood Development,
‘Summary Statistics for Victorian Schools (March
2012)’, above n 13.
9679385 out of 9989 students in government specialist
schools. Ibid.
968Information provided by Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD, 19 June 2012.
Program objectives
DEECD guidelines state that the objectives of the
PSD program are:
Student learning – Student potential for growth
and development in (academic) disciplinebased, personal and interpersonal learning, and
independence in learning is maximised and is
consistent with their goals and aspirations.
Student engagement and wellbeing – Students
are motivated and are able to participate fully in
their education and wider school life, consistent
with optimal and relevant goals and aspirations.
Student pathways and transitions – Students
successfully transition to, throughout and from
school, and the pathways selected maximise their
potential for growth and development while they
attend school and after they leave school.969
The application process
There are three types of applications for PSD
funding: new applications, Year 6–7 reviews,
when the student is transitioning to secondary
school; and reappraisals. The Year 6–7 review is
mandatory for all students in receipt of Level 1–4
funding. Reappraisals can be submitted when the
level of support needed for the student changes.
Applications are dealt with through an annual
round.970 The application is submitted by the
principal of the school, following preparation by
the student support group (SSG).971 It must also
be accompanied by documentation required by
DEECD to prove eligibility.972
969Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines’, above n 456, 1.
970Applications for funding for the 2013 school year closed
on 20 July 2012. Late applications may be accepted
in limited circumstances. For example, in cases of
a seriously deteriorating medical or behavioural
condition. Applications for the Prep year may also be
accepted. Ibid 6.
971The student support group is mandated for all students
in the PSD program. It is discussed in more detail in
Chapter 8.
972For example, to prove eligibility on the basis of autism
spectrum disorder a signed report from a psychologist
and a signed report from a speech pathologist
containing a current comprehensive speech pathology
assessment (not more than one year old) is required.
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines’, above n 456, 10.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 155
Timeframes for dealing with applications are set out in the Program for Students with Disabilities Guidelines.
If an application is not successful, the principal is notified and he or she is then responsible for informing
the parents of the student, contacting the regional DEECD disabilities coordinator for feedback on why
the application did not meet the criteria for eligibility and convening the SSG ‘to discuss the needs of the
student, and set and prioritise educational goals’.973 The principal may then choose to submit an appeal
with DEECD on behalf of the SSG.
Figure 11: The PSD application process974
Summary of the Program for Students with Disabilities application process
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
Step 5
Step 6
Step 7
Step 8
Student
enrols
Student
Support
Group (SSG)
established
Further
assessment
SSG meets
Application
submitted
Resources
Coordination
Group
SSG meets
Student
Review
Printed
information
about school
program and
PSD provided
to parents
Existing
documentation
examined
occurs if
necessary
(Lewis and
Lewis undertakes eligibility
assessment
for ID and SLD
categories)
to check
eligibility
criteria
SSG
completes
Educational
Needs
Questionnaire
(ENQ)
Documentation
supporting
eligibility and
ENQ indicators
collated
online and in
hard copy
ensures
eligibility
criteria met
Level of
funding
determined
School
receives
notification
to make
recommendations
to the Principal
on the resources
required to
implement the
educational plan
for student
Funding begins
at start of new
school year
occurs at
Year 6-7
transition
SSG meets regularly to develop and oversee educational plan for student
Eligibility for PSD funding973974
To be eligible for PSD funding, students must
be enrolled in a government school and have
a moderate-to-severe disability within seven
categories of disability.
• Autism spectrum disorder: a diagnosis of
autism spectrum disorder and significant
deficits in adaptive behaviour with two standard
deviations below the mean and significant
deficits in language established by a speech
pathologist.
• Hearing impairment: a bilateral sensoryneural hearing loss that is moderate, severe or
profound and the student requires intervention
or assistance to communicate.
• Intellectual disability: sub-average general
intellectual functioning with two standard
deviations below mean score, as well as
significant deficits in adaptive behaviour and
history of an ongoing problem and history.
• Physical disability: must be significant, and
or a significant health impairment and require
paramedical support.
973Ibid 21.
974Ibid 11.
• Severe behaviour disorder: disturbed
behaviour and deviant behaviour with the
frequency such that the student requires regular
psychiatric or psychological treatment and
the behaviour does not fit into other defined
categories. History or evidence of an ongoing
problem with expected continuation must be
shown.
• Severe language disorder with critical
educational needs: a score of three or more
standard deviations below the mean for the
student’s age in expressive or receptive
language skills on recommended tests is
required. The disorder must not be attributable
to a hearing impediment, social or emotional
factors, low intellectual functioning or cultural
factors. A non-verbal score not lower than
one standard deviation below the mean is
required.975
• Vision impairment: less than 6/60 visual acuity
with corrected vision or visual fields of less than
10 degrees.976
975Ibid 28–29.
976Partially sighted students may obtain support of visiting
teachers or the Statewide Vision Resource Centre.
Eligibility criteria are: 6/18 or vision fields of less than
20 degrees. Ibid 25.
156 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
The majority of PSD applications and funding
allocations are associated with intellectual
disability.
Figure 12: Proportion of total PSD funding by
category of disability, 2012
Severe behaviour
disorder 5%
Severe language
disorder
(with critical
educational
needs) 1%
Vision Impairment
1%
Autism Spectrum
Disorder 21%
Physical
disability
5%
Hearing
Impairment
3%
Intellectually
Disability
64%
Levels of funding
For the purpose of establishing eligibility, the PSD
only requires one category to be demonstrated.
The level of PSD funding provided to the school
for the support of a student is based on the
Educational Needs Questionnaire (ENQ) submitted
by the school with the PSD application.977
There are six levels of funding.
Figure 13: PSD funding levels 2012978
Level
Amount of funding paid to school
1
$6,095
2
$14,095
3
$22,250
4
$30,366
5
$38,421
6
$46,519
977Ibid 11.
978<www.education.vic.gov.au/management/srp/budget/
ref015/psd1-6.htm> at 4 July 2012. 2012.
It is the students’ needs, and not their disability
category, that determines the level of funding
under the PSD. This is because two students
eligible under the same category may have
different needs and have different funding levels.
Alternatively, two students eligible under different
categories of disability may have the same ENQ
profile and receive the same amount of funding.979
Within the PSD, the largest proportion of students
(40 per cent) receives Level 2 support. Level 3
accounts for 26 per cent and Level 1 accounts for
10 per cent of PSD student numbers.980
Figure 14: Number of PSD students by level of
funding 2008–2011981
Funding
level
2008
2009
2010
2011
Level 1
2,772
2,701
2,619
2,463
Level 2
6,381
7,219
7,955
8,425
Level 3
4,311
4,768
5,257
5,512
Level 4
2,074
2,062
2,016
2,017
Level 5
809
817
824
810
Level 6
501
488
478
477
Non-Level
Funding982
1,022
1,061
1,121
1,179
Total
17,871
19,115
20,270
20,883
The level of PSD funding, and the overall
investment in the program, is much higher than
that in Catholic and Independent schools. This may
account for a greater proportion of students with
higher levels of support needs in the government
school system. However, in the absence of data on
the range of disabilities and the support needs of
students in Catholic and Independent schools, it is
impossible to test this.982
979Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD,
22 June 2012.
980Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD,
22 June 2012.
981Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD,
22 June 2012.
982Non-level funding refers to students in deaf facilities
or autism specific schools, where school/facility based
resourcing agreements exist. They do not get a ‘level of
support’’ amount. Information provided to Commission
by Student Wellbeing and Engagement Division,
DEECD 17 August 2012.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 157
How PSD funding is used
Parent experiences of the PSD
It is important to note that PSD funding is not given
to the individual student. Instead, it goes to the
school as part of its student resource package.
DEECD states that ‘[i]t is the responsibility of the
school, in consultation with parents, to determine
how the resources are used’.983
Of the parents who answered questions about
the PSD in our survey, 57.2 per cent said they had
applied for this funding.986 Of these, three-quarters
(189 students) had their application approved.987
Schools may use PSD funding for:
• special teachers/integration teachers
• education support staff
• associated payroll tax
• relief teaching
• interpreter
• curriculum resources
• specialised equipment
• consultancy or professional development
• speech pathology
• physiotherapy
• nurse
• occupational therapy
• superannuation.984 985
This is lower than the actual rate of approval
for PSD funding. DEECD data shows that
approximately 88 per cent of all PSD applications
meet the eligibility criteria.988
The high approval rate for PSD applications noted by
DEECD may itself be both an under-reporting and
over-reporting of demand. In some cases, parents
may not bother to make an application if they are
told by a school that they have little prospects of
success (whether this is the case or not).989
Conversely, some schools may submit PSD
applications in the hope that they may be successful
when they are unlikely to be. There is no firm
evidence to determine this either way, however,
our survey does point to some under-reporting of
demand.
Figure 15: Outcomes of PSD applications by disability category type 2012985
Disability category
Applications made
Eligible
Not eligible
% eligible
1,163
973
190
84%
Hearing impairment
138
136
2
99%
Intellectual disability
3,225
2,958
267
92%
Physical disability
268
194
74
72%
Severe behavioural disorder
467
399
68
85%
Severe language disorder
104
42
62
40%
Vision impairment
26
26
5,391
4,728
Autism spectrum disorder
Total
983Above n 978.
984Ibid.
985Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD,
22 June 2012.
100%
663
88%
986As it is only government school students who are
eligible for PSD funding, questions about the program
were only asked for parents in the government school
system. Out of 449 parents who answered this question
257 had applied for PSD funding..
987189 applications out of 250 applications reported.
Sixty-one applications (24.4 per cent) had been
refused.
988This disparity is most likely due to a skewing in our
sample due to the subject matter of the survey being
discrimination.
989‘School principals reported that they generally adopt
a conservative approach to applying for support-only
applying for students they consider to have a high
probability of meeting the funding criteria’. Victorian
Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for Students with
Special Learning Needs’, above n 73, 13.
158 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
For example, out of 449 parents who answered
this survey question, 80 (17.8 per cent) had not
applied for PSD funding because they did think not
their child would be eligible. Another 112 parents
(24.9 per cent) who were in the government school
system had not heard of the PSD, even though
they may well have been eligible for assistance.
Of the parents in our survey who had applied for
PSD at their current school, the majority (67.5 per
cent or 166 parents) said it had been their first
application. Another 45 parents (18.3 per cent)
had applied for the mandatory Year 6–7 review,
while 23 parents (9.4 per cent) had sought a
reappraisal of funding. Three parents had made
a special application due to the deteriorating
health of the child, and nine had made an out-ofround application.
Problems identified by parents and
educators
Eligibility criteria seen as rigid and inflexible
A number of parents said they felt the current
funding criteria were inadequate or too restrictive.
One parent responding to the survey summed
up what appeared to be a common dilemma for
parents whose children need support for their
disability but do not qualify for this funding:
She has been assessed for the Program for
Students with Disabilities, her IQ assessment
was too high to qualify, but her IQ was too low to
qualify for severe language disorder with critical
educational needs. Her IQ is 82. I have spoken
to the school numerous times to see what other
supports are available for my daughter and have
been informed there is no other supports, they
are doing all they can, due to budget constraints.
Report time is very disappointing when you are
continually informed your daughter is ‘well below
expected level’, but what is required to increase
her level is unavailable.990
990Parent of student with learning disability, language
disability and sensory disability attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant. See
also Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n 73, 15.
Some categories of disability not eligible
Parents and educators also noted that some
forms of disability are not covered by the seven
PSD categories. The most frequently mentioned
by parents in our research were dyslexia and
Asperger’s syndrome:991
I was told by my son’s last three schools that no
funding was available to him through the PSD
scheme as he was Asperger’s diagnosed which
doesn’t meet the criteria. I was forced to sign
an application form this year by the Grade 7
assisting principal to try and obtain funding via a
student with severe behavioural problems scheme
which included forced application to enrol into an
intervention school, for psychologists to assess
my child and have DHS involved into investigating
my sons welfare at home. All of the reports to
be generated through the funding that might be
provided later in the year will only be viewable for
the department and not myself. I am concerned
about the lack of clarity surrounding our sensitive
information and privacy rights:992
I have heard that my child is not eligible as
dyslexia is not recognised as a disability in
Victoria. This is heartbreakingly unfair ...993
Some educators shared this frustration:
At the beginning of the survey, I included nine
students with disabilities. That number only
includes those students that currently have
funding – there are probably at least four times
that many students who are either undiagnosed
or do not meet PSD criteria but in fact require
funding and aide support.994
Asperger’s funding needs to be looked at, these
kids struggle with everything at school and
receive no support with their education.995
In my experience, the supports in schools for
students with severe and moderate disabilities
are excellent. Where mild to borderline disabilities
are relevant there is frustration with the PSD
system which has categories which are exclusive.
Behavioural/emotional disorders for students
who are of borderline intellectual abilities are not
addressed adequately by the PSD ...996
991See e.g. case studies 3, 14, 30, 34.
992Parent of student with multiple disabilities attending
a government mainstream school. Parent survey
participant.
993Parent of student attending government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
994Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
995Educator survey participant.
996Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 159
In response, DEECD states that the needs of
these students should be met by the school using
the global school budget and other programs,
including the Language Support Program and
targeted initiatives around dyslexia.997
However, as identified by some educators,
schools struggle to achieve this goal, as it is
dependent on their base budget being adequate
in the first place:
The funding provided to compensate schools is
good but nowhere adequate to support these
high needs students many of whom need 1:1
support. While schools generally do excellent
work to modify and accommodate for these
students needs, there are categories where
schools struggle to cater for needs from within
the global budget. Schools with high numbers
of families of disadvantage tend to have a high
‘borderline’ population of students for whom they
cater for without supports. This comes down also
to school funding being adequate generally for
schools with higher needs.998
Cut-off points for eligibility
The cut-off points for eligibility also attracted
a large proportion of comments from parents
dissatisfied with the PSD:999
My child missed out because his IQ was two points
above the cut-off. He was also not violent enough
to be considered a risk to others or himself.1000
997‘It is what the teacher does that usually makes the
greatest difference for students with dyslexia, and all
disabilities … The actions currently being undertaken
are: website with advice on teaching, information about
learning and reading difficulties and dyslexia, a manual
for schools is being developed by a leading academic
in this area, statewide training program under national
partnerships’. Key informant interview, Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD.
998Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
999New South Wales has a ‘special consideration’
category for funding: students who do not clearly meet
the disability criteria but need additional support. Each
region can give special consideration based on a
student’s needs. This is subject to annual review.
‘…less than 600 students state-wide accessed
specialist support via special consideration in 2010;
this is around 1.8 per cent of the approximately 33,000
students receiving specialist support services’. State
of NSW, NSW Government Response to the Inquiry into
the Provision of Education to Students with Disability or
Special Needs (2011) 15.
1000Parent survey participant.
My son’s language scores always come out too
high, even though he is always described by
speech pathologists as having severe pragmatic
language disorder. It is extremely frustrating that
DEECD pretty much uses this one aspect of all
the reports we submit to cancel out every other
recommendation that he receive assistance.1001
In my view, the current criteria ‘composite’ scoring
around expressive and receptive language
deficits is extremely narrow, failing to recognise
the totality and complexity of the language
problems many of these children suffer. It is often
a clinical condition that ASD children will score
highly on some of these areas but have severe
deficits in pragmatic areas.1002
When my son was diagnosed on the autism
spectrum I was pleased as I thought that he
would now be given the support he needs in the
classroom. I was devastated when, because of
his IQ, he did not fit the criteria.1003
My son missed out qualifying by three db
[decibels] in his better ear – he would qualify in
his worst ear.1004
I have always been told by school bureaucrats
that language disorders do not qualify; and
her attention deficit disorder is not disruptive to
anyone else – she is not hyperactive, just unable
to focus, so she only disrupts herself.1005
1001Speech Pathology Australia reported that while ‘The
World Health Organisation states that if students score
1.0 standards deviations below the mean, students
are considered to have a language disorder. The
Education Department uses 3.0 standard deviations
below the mean as the criteria for language disorders.’
Submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia 8.
1002Case study 4. See also HASD 1 for discussion of
limitations of eligibility.
1003Parent survey participant.
1004Parent survey participant.
1005Parent survey participant.
160 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Complex application process with a deficit
focus
A number of parents in our survey spoke of
the challenges the PSD application process,
especially its complexity and what they found to be
burdensome evidence requirements:
Long-winded, tiresome to complete, the same
questions over and over.1006
The process is very intense and time consuming
for minimum return.1007
The costs of assessment were also prohibitive for
some parents:
I had to spend heaps of money on reports from
private specialists.1008
Some educators were also critical of the process,
although this was usually linked to concerns about
inadequacy of resources generally:
Schools are not supported to provide places to
students with disabilities. It’s a lengthy and uphill
battle to obtain adequate funds for resources
and aides. The PSD application process is like a
chess game.1009
More often, however, parents expressed concerns
about the deficit-based assessment model
adopted by the PSD program:
The level of information from my daughter’s life
was overwhelming, confronting and daunting. The
ongoing focus on her challenges and difficulties,
and emphasising these instead of her capabilities
and potential, was a very depressing, emotionally
draining process whereby you start [to] doubt
everything you and your child have gone through
to get to the level that they are at and decision of
school you came to.1010
It seemed all they wanted to know was what she
couldn’t do and where her areas off need were
most noticeable. Rather than what strengths she
had and where a change could have helped
her. The whole process took ages and was quite
depressing for me. I was warned you had to
steel yourself for the worst, but it was a very soul
destroying process ...1011
1006Parent survey participant.
1007Parent survey participant.
1008Parent survey participant.
1009Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
1010Parent survey participant.
1011Parent survey participant.
Some parents also reported a perverse incentive
to make their child’s disability seem as bad as
possible in order to secure PSD funding, which
would provide the best chance for them to
participate in education:
We took our son off all his medication prior to
his last assessment to ensure he presented as
badly as possible as that was the only way we
could easily gain access to a special school for
secondary school. We would have preferred to
stay in mainstream but had no confidence that
he would receive adequate funding and that he
would deteriorate dramatically behaviourally with
inadequate support and we were not prepared to
take this risk.1012
Testing methods seen as non-inclusive
A few parents noted that the assessment
methodology itself was non-inclusive of some
disabilities, with a bias in testing against those
students with specific communication needs,
for example those who were non-verbal or had
strong verbal but weak non-verbal skills.1013
Parents and students from culturally and
linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds may
face additional barriers:1014
... her learning disability is called a non-verbal
learning disability. The language assessment
that the Education Department use (CELF-4) to
determine funding isn’t sensitive enough for this
particular learning disability as it is a verbal test ...
She learns through verbal, it is all the non-verbal
areas she struggles in.1015
Many of the questions are not suitable
when applying for a student who is blind.
Nor are the approved tests needed from
specialists like speech, receptive and cognitive
communication.1016
1012Parent survey participant.
1013See e.g. HASD, 1, 4, 12. See also case studies 4, 14,
15 and 23.
1014A pre-school field officer in outer western Melbourne
reports that significant time is needed to explain
funding processes to CALD parents who struggle to
navigate the system. Case study 13. See also CALD
critical friends group.
1015Parent survey participant.
1016Parent survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 161
Success may be dependent upon the school’s
willingness to support the application
While some parents spoke of strong support from
their school when applying for funding, others had
significant concerns. Some suggested that schools
try to manage parents’ expectations:
The school told me that my son doesn’t meet all
the criteria for funding, it is very hard to get and
he is never really likely to get it.1017
There is a huge discrepancy between how it
operates in schools. Schools do not give good
advice to parents about eligibility and discourage
parents from applying for funding.1018
A small number of parents reported that their
school did not know about PSD funding at all
or were unaware of key information, such as
application cut-off dates:
... our vice principal had never heard of this
funding. Nor did she offer to find out more about
it. I subsequently tried to find out more about
this and asked the psychologist who attends the
school if she knew of the PSD funding. She also
didn’t know but rang the Education Department
and found out the eligibility.1019
My eldest daughter has a mild intellectual
disability and I’m afraid she was the guinea
pig in me coming to learn about the PSD! Her
state primary school had to have the application
process explained to them by myself and then got
her birth date wrong so she was given the wrong
IQ test! She is now at a state special school, but
her Prep year was inadequately dealt with and
she suffered.1020
Funding reviews and transitions
Several parents told us that uncertainty about
ongoing PSD funding for their child was a source
of significant anxiety:
... Because she was so young she scored
well and got a good funding level which we
were pleased about but [we were] even more
pleased about the fact that it was ongoing so
we haven’t had to apply each year. I am terrified
about reapplying when we get to high school
because if we don’t get the large funding we
wont have enough money for Auslan interpreters
for performances or any extracurricular activities.
In fact no funding is most likely because our
daughter has been very well supported with lots
of extra help from her parents and is now doing
1017Parent survey participant.
1018Parent survey participant.
1019Parent survey participant.
1020Parent survey participant.
very well at school and I think that we will be
punished for this.1021
Others were concerned that funding reviews were
either too frequent or not frequent enough:
I feel a program that reassessed more frequently
might be fairer as many kids could benefit hugely
from some extra aid in the first few years of school
but don’t necessarily need it all the way through.1022
We have a child/young adult that will have this
condition for the rest of his life. There is no miracle
operation or medication that can heal him, so why
do I, we and he have to continually fill out these
forms at each different juncture in his learning
life cycle? We just want extra help to make sure
he gets the very best education possible for his
future.1023
One educator responding to our survey also
commented on the funding model:
... only allows aides for severe cases and is
applied for in June/July for the following year ...
therefore students may be diagnosed in August
of a given year, but not receive funding, if eligible,
until 18 months unto the future.1024
Parents and teachers also noted that funding
might be reduced over time if a child is doing
well, even though the level of support needed to
ensure participation on an equal footing with others
remains the same. This appeared to be a particular
issue in the transition from primary to secondary
school when the Year 6–7 reviews take place, as
noted by the Victorian Auditor-General.1025
My son had level three in primary school which
was automatically reduced to level two ‘because
we expect improvement into high school’. We are
now in year eight and still fighting for a review of
this absurd decision.1026
Often students that are funded in primary school
lose their funding as they approach high school.
This sets them up for failure and the debilitating
issues associated with the mental trauma that
results from an inability to cope with the demands
of secondary school. This often marks the start of
a downward spiral often resulting in behavioural
issues. The system is failing many students by
imposing such stringent criteria for funding.1027
1021Parent survey participant.
1022Parent survey participant.
1023Parent survey participant.
1024Educator survey participant.
1025See also Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs
for Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n
73, 17.
1026Parent survey participant.
1027Classroom teacher, government school. Educator
survey participant.
162 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Transparency and timing of funding decisions
Some parents expressed concerns about how and
when they were notified of funding decisions. One
reported that the school did not inform them of the
result of their PSD application:
I feel that outcomes of the decision should be
made earlier so that parents can plan for their
future and their everyday life, finding out at the
very end of the school year for grade six and year
seven leaves parents on [tenterhooks] and we feel
like second class citizens who can’t plan for their
future like everybody else.1028
Parents should be notified directly by letter
regarding the PSD outcome. Our school lied
and offered our son 10 hours of aide time as
he only had level two funding. When I rang the
department it was established that he had level
three funding.1029
We were advised by the Department of Education
that the school would be able to advise why she
was not accepted. The school was as helpful
as they could be but we weren’t provided with
any information. I did a further follow up with
the Department of Education and they were still
unable to tell me why she was not accepted. I
find this totally inappropriate. If we applied for
funding and she wasn’t accepted we should have
freedom and transparency in the process.1030
Others were disappointed by delays in decision
making and the time taken for appeal processes,
especially while the school remains without funding
for the their child:
This is despite the DEECD policy that schools
support students using the student resource
package and other initiatives.1032
According to one educator:
Mainly adjustments are made for students who
get funding through PSD. Many other students
who do not qualify for funding attract very little
intervention unless their behaviour becomes an
issue.1033
When asked if adjustments were made, a visiting
teacher said:
It usually happens for funded students. The
unfunded students gets considered depending
on the needs of the child, the aggression of
the parent and the willingness of the school to
accommodate these needs within the budget.1034
Many educators in the survey expressed concern
for students ineligible for funding. They were also
concerned about the impacts of inadequate
support for students with disabilities on other
students:1035
All children deserve an education and our
school is a richer place for having children
with a disability. It is often difficult to
give the children a full education due to
the hard time obtaining funding let alone
adequate funding.1035
The decision making and appeal time was
appalling – 12 months including the appeal.1031
Necessary adjustments are less likely to
be made if the student does not attract
PSD funding
Many responses from both parents and
educators indicated that there is less likelihood of
adjustments being made to support students with
disabilities who do not qualify for PSD funding.
1028Parent survey participant.
1029Parent survey participant.
1030Parent survey participant.
1031Parent survey participant.
1032‘The Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development provides a range of resources to
schools to enable the delivery of a high quality
program for all students, including students who
are having difficulty learning. These resources may
be provided in the student resource package, the
Language Support Program, student support services
including psychologists, social workers, youth
workers, speech pathologists and visiting teachers or
through specific early identification and intervention
programs.’ Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing
and Engagement Division, DEECD.
1033Special needs coordinator, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant. See also
Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n
73, 11.
1034Educator survey participant.
1035Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 163
There is not adequate staff in order cater for
student needs. Kids with behavioural issues
(ADHD) are often not funded so staff don’t
receive the time and assistance they need. This
also disadvantages other kids in the school
as teachers have to spend so much time on
behaviour management rather than teaching.1036
[The PSD] often leaves many students unfunded.
These students just miss out by an unknown
whisker and then schools are left to support these
students in the classroom. The whole process
is inadequate and whilst we may celebrate the
support of those students funded we ignore those
students who just miss out and they are left to rely
on classroom support where they are one of up
to 25 or 30 students in a class. It is an atrocious
situation for these students.1037
Some are clearly struggling to work with children
with disabilities:
We have a student who cannot read, write, spell,
walk, and is not toilet trained (even for bowel
movements). We are funded just enough to clean
his ‘nappy’ every day. Teachers are supposed to
teach this child in a normal 25 student class? He
can’t hold a pen! He can’t feed himself, can’t do
anything ...1038
Even if eligible, funding may still be
inadequate
Among those parents in our survey who had been
successful in securing PSD funding, less than half
reported that the funding provided the support
necessary for their child to participate effectively
in school. This is despite the stated aim of the
program to ‘maximise student potential growth in
education and learning, and ensure that students
with disabilities are valued and participate in all
aspects of school life, consistent with optimal and
relevant goals and aspirations’.1039
Of 188 students eligible for PSD funding:
Parents consistently told the Commission that
PSD funding was inadequate, either in quantum
or because a comprehensive range of supports
needed to ensure participation was not provided:
As it is issued in a lump sum it doesn’t take into
account CPI increases or salary increases,
therefore the amount available decreases each
year. The school has to make the difference or
fundraise or, as is the case, my daughter goes
without (such as decreased working hours for her
aide).1041
Even though my son clearly meets the criteria
for PSD funding, it doesn’t fully support his
educational needs in the classroom. He requires
speech pathology and occupational therapy
support in the classroom to facilitate basic
reading and writing, which has been minimally
provided at school. I have paid for a private
therapist to visit his classroom to assist with
this. He also requires a behaviour management
program and therefore his teacher should have
access to a psychologist but the psychological
component has been removed from school ...1042
Educators also noted that inadequate funding
was a significant barrier to schools delivering
an individualised approach to supports. This
is consistent with research by the Australian
Education Union, which found that 40.6 per cent of
teachers identified accessing suitable resources
for students with disabilities as a ‘main concern’ in
the operation of their school:10431044
Some things are just out of reach through
lack of funding.1044
Whilst we do everything within our power, the lack
of financial support is our biggest issue. Many
children who need aides don’t receive funding
and children who have aides don’t receive as
much support as they need ...1045
• 82 parents (45.1 per cent) said the PSD
provided full support for participation
• 99 parents (54.4 per cent) said the PSD
provided partial support.1040
1036Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1037Assistant principal, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1038Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1039Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines’, above n 456, 1.
1040One parent who answered this question was not
eligible for PSD.
1041Parent survey participant.
1042Parent survey participant.
1043Australian Education Union, State of our schools
survey 2011 (2012) 2. <http://www.aeuvic.asn.au/
research_9_67504896.html> at 5 July 2012.
1044Classroom teacher, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
1045Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
164 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
I work in two Prep classes which contain
altogether six children with disabilities but only
one is funded under the current guidelines. These
other children cannot function in the classroom
environment without an aide. It is not possible
to give these children the best education/
opportunities without more aides.1046
I feel like I am lying when I tell parents we are
fully supporting their child (those that cannot get
funding) and you see the struggle the child and
the teacher have to do the best they possibly can.
The PSD process and funding is a disgrace!1047
I try and coordinate this program (as an assistant
principal), I love the students that I work with
and become very frustrated when I am unable
to provide them with everything they need. We
are inadequately funded ... Coordinating the
disabilities program is only a tiny part of my
overall role, I always feel like I am not doing my
job properly, I work 10 hours a day, five days a
week and also work at home at night but still can’t
do it all.1048
Links to part-time attendance
In a few cases, inadequate funding may also lead
to part-time schooling if the relevant support,
typically an integration aide, cannot be funded
full-time. As noted in Chapter 9, this appears to
be happening even though part-time attendance
is clearly against DEECD policy, except in very
exceptional circumstances.1049
Filling the PSD funding gap
From responses provided to the Commission,
it appears that parents and individual teachers
are bearing the financial burden of providing the
necessary supports for students who don’t qualify
for PSD funding and those who are funded at a
level that, in the view of the parents and school,
does not meet the student’s need.
1046Integration aide, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1047Assistant principal, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1048Educator survey participant.
1049Students are expected to attend normal school hours
(between 9 am and 3.30 pm) every school day of
each term. Education and Training Act 2006 (Vic) s
2.1.1. The Student Engagement Policy Guidelines
provide further information about attendance policy
and procedures. See Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development, ‘Student Engagement
Policy Guidelines’, above n 434.
As discussed in Chapter 6, the Program for
Students with Disabilities Guidelines make it clear
that parents are not required to make financial
contributions to top-up PSD funding:
Victorian legislation requires that instruction in the
standard curriculum program must be provided
free to students in Victorian government schools.
Free instruction includes the provision of learning
and teaching activities, instructional supports,
materials and resources, and administration and
facilities associated with the standard curriculum
program. The costs associated with the
administration and coordination of the standard
curriculum program is considered to be part of
free instruction and must not be passed onto
parents. The legislation provides that a parent
of a student with a disability or impairment
is not required to contribute to the cost of the
provision of additional support for the education
of that student.1050
Parental contributions being required by schools
to provide reasonable adjustments for a student
with disability is unlawful under the Education
and Training Reform Act and is likely to amount to
unlawful indirect discrimination under the Equal
Opportunity Act.1051 Nevertheless, parents reported
that it is happening in some Victorian schools.
In some cases, this may include parents
paying for speech or occupational therapy
conducted at home to supplement inadequate
provision at school. However, in other cases, it
was explicitly reported that parents were paying
for integration aide support at school, either in the
long-term or to cover short-term staff absences.1052
In addition, the Commission was informed of
instances where parents paid for the services of
specialist therapists:
Many students will need specialised occupational
therapy to teach them to write and teachers only
have access to an OT if a parent is paying for
one to come into the classroom (like I did) or the
consultant OT comes in the classroom because
she has a student there who is also a private
client.1053
1050Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Program for Students with
Disabilities Guidelines’, above n 456, 20. See also
Parent Payments in Victorian Government Schools.
<http://www.education.vic.gov.au/management/
governance/spag/management/parentpayments> at
22 June 2012.
1051Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s.2.2.6;
Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 38.
1052This is discussed in Chapter 6.
1053Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 165
Most of my son’s funding was not spent on him,
whilst I am taking out personal loans to pay
for therapists to go into the school and work
with him and his teachers, devise behavioural
management plans. I supply essential equipment
like writing boards and weighted blankets, as
they have no money, yet they had three level four
funded students in one classroom with
one aide.1054
Having to push to get assistance with a small
primary school with little or no funds so I had to
hire the extra assistance myself.1055
In one case, parents wanted to pay for extra help
at their child’s school and had been doing so but
this arrangement had to end. These parents did
not agree with the ‘no contribution’ policy:
It would be great if there could be more flexibility
about allowing parents to contribute to funding
initiatives for their own children where they can
– waiting for an appointment from the school
psychologist just isn’t the answer for us given the
waiting lists and his level of need.1056
Some educators also reported making personal
contributions to assist the students with disabilities
in their care:
We simply do not have the resources to provide
for all these students’ needs all the time. It is
due to a lack of funding being available. We do
the best we can but it often requires teachers
spending their own money to purchase what
a student needs to participate fully in their
learning.1057
We could do so much more if we had more
funding in schools ... I know at our school I
often pay for things out of my own pocket if the
funding bucket is empty and some small thing will
make a difference. Sometimes in comparison to
mainstream students that one small, tiny step in
progress is enormous and that’s what we
work towards.1058
1054Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school.. Parent survey participant.
1055Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1056Case study 30.
1057Educator survey participant..
1058Integration aide, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
Accountability for PSD funds
Accountability to students and parents
A major issue in the research, linked to the issue of
parent–teacher communication and consultation,
was the issue of understanding how PSD funding
is spent. Many parents indicated they do not
understand how money allocated to schools will
be spent and how it will be used to support
their child:1059
I am completely unclear about what it means to
get to level one, two, three etc of funding and
how many contact hours with his aide my son
is entitled to without part of his own funding
disappearing into other areas of the school.1060
Some parents felt that decisions were made
unilaterally by the school, without any consultation
with parents. These parents appeared to have no
understanding about how the funds would be used
and believed the funds simply went into a pool to
be used at the school’s discretion without any input
from parents.1061
This gap in communication and consultation can
affect the overall relationship between the school
and parents and result in tension, conflict and
resentment, as these responses indicate:
The school sees my son for the money he
attracted to the school.1062
There is a lack of respect for parents’ thoughts
and opinions.1063
Some parents reported strong and cooperative
relationships with the school and effective
consultation through the SSG.1064 A number spoke
positively about the use of PSD funding, their
contribution to discussions about how it would be
used and their understanding that the teachers
and principal were doing the best they could within
their constraints:
1059A similar finding was noted in the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005. This
suggests that this may be an issue across the country.
Australian Government, ‘Report on the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37,
35.
1060Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1061Parent survey participant.
1062Parent of student being home-schooled. Parent
survey participant.
1063HASD 12.
1064A student support group is compulsory for all PSDfunded students. It is responsible for developing
the PSD application, identifying the student’s needs
and mapping the supports needed for effective
participation.
166 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
We have direct involvement with how this funding
is to be spent. Our opinions are listened to and
we have total faith in the decisions made for
our son. Nothing is changed without us being
consulted and we are always well informed of any
changes.1065
Time and money is always a problem ... the
school has largely tried their hardest.1066
One concern raised repeatedly with the
Commission by parents was the apparent
disconnect between PSD eligibility being
determined on an individual basis but funding
being allocated to the school and utilised within
its total budget.1067 This situation is a significant
source of frustration for parents who are focused
on ensuring their child can participate in school on
an equal basis as others. They perceive that the
current system lacks accountability for the manner
in which funds are spent.
Educators also commented on the gap in
communication between parents and the school.
Some spoke about ‘misunderstandings’ or
‘unrealistic expectations’ of parents regarding the
role of schools in allocating funding:
Parents feel ‘that is my money and it needs to go
towards my program’.1068
There is still a disconnect about what happens if
those services just aren’t available.1069
In the eyes of most parents, however, the PSD
funds belong to the student and should therefore
be spent to meet that student’s individual learning
needs. However, in practice, PSD funds are pooled
to maximise participation.
This would not create problems if the amount
of funding and the delivery of supports met the
individual needs of every student with disability
in receipt of funding. However, as this research
shows, there continue to be unmet needs, and
the stresses associated with this are amplified for
parents who feel they have been though a complex
and intrusive funding application process that
has not delivered what their child needs to fully
participate in school.
1065Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1066Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1067The ‘student resource package’.
1068HASD 3.
1069HASD 3.
Some parents understood that PSD funds were
pooled but did not agree with this approach.
Others were under the mistaken belief that funding
was fully individualised and attached to their child:
The parent has no say in how the funding is
spent! Yet we are the ones who know our children
best. The school doesn’t even have to justify or
explain where the funding is going.1070
Parents do all the work applying for this funding
only to be left in the dark and the school gives out
whatever they like.1071
One parent said that they had no problem sharing
funds across the school. Others did not oppose
the pooling of funds but wanted a stronger say in
how the funds were used:
My child has received full support and I have
nothing to complain about but other children who
struggle as much as he does receive no support
and I hope the school uses some of his support
for those who get nothing.1072
The special school obtained the full PSD monies,
however as parents we are not allowed to have
any input into how their funds are used for our
child. I can understand the complexity of needing
to organise school structures around funding,
however there is no consultation with parents at all
about their child’s needs and how they would best
see funding used.1073
There still needs to be someone in control of the
funding ... 50/50 parents and schools. Parents
can’t just say what happens, and neither can the
teachers.1074
Parents also noted that the value of the funding in
terms of outcomes for their child was closely tied
to workforce capacity in schools:
The PSD has the potential to be successful only
if properly trained staff are employed in schools.
Like any learning institution, success depends on
staff attitudes.1075
The funding is all used for aide time. There is no
usage of it to help teachers learn more about OT
support that they might provide or better ways to
scaffold my daughter’s learning ...1076
1070Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1071Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1072Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1073Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
1074HASD 6.
1075Parent survey participant.
1076Parent survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 167
Overall, the comments from parents and educators
combined indicate there needs to be greater
communication and transparency about the use
of funds, as well as a balance struck between the
school’s discretion to manage the use of funds
with genuine input from parents. Central to this is a
relationship of trust between parents and schools,
which in turn requires greater consistency in how
SSGs are established and run.
Accountability for PSD funding to DEECD
As noted by the Victorian Auditor-General in a 2007
review of the PSD, ‘program accountability refers
to the way delivery, performance and outcomes
of the program are monitored, assessed and
accounted for’.1077
A sound accountability framework will be founded
on good-quality performance information so that
government can answer the question: how effective
is the program in achieving its desired outcomes?
For the PSD, the performance information required
is the educational progress students in receipt of
PSD are making at school.
In 2007, the Auditor-General found that:
DEECD has established a strong focus on
outcomes at the individual student level through
requirements for schools to work with, and report
directly to, parents or carers on individual student
planning and progress. However, DEECD has
yet to establish a clear and consistently stated
objective for the PSD and has yet to identify
performance indicators to progressively monitor,
and evaluate program outcomes for reporting to
the minister, Parliament and the community on
the effectiveness of the PSD at the whole-ofprogram level.1078
The Victorian Auditor-General recently audited
programs for students with special learning needs,
including the PSD. He found that over the last five
years ‘DEECD has not established appropriate
performance indicators to monitor outcomes for the
PSD that are measurable and auditable’.1079
1077State of Victoria, Victorian Auditor-General,
Program Accountability: Program for Students
with Disabilities Audit Summary (2007) 2. <www.
audit.vic.gov.au/reports__publications/reports_by_
year/2007/20070919_students_disability.aspx> at 5
July 2012.
1078Ibid 3. <http://www.audit.vic.gov.au/reports__
publications/reports_by_year/2007/20070919_
students_disability.aspx> at 5 July 2012.
1079Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n
73, 31.
The Commission notes that at a school level,
principals are accountable for PSD funds.
Each year, PSD funds are audited for financial
compliance, as part of the audit of each school’s
school resource package. However, this financial
audit does not include any processes for checking
that each PSD student has an individual learning
plan (ILP) or an active SSG. Rather it is focused
on accounting for expenditure against income and
ensuring there are no financial irregularities.1080
As noted in Chapter 8 government schools are
required to report on the number of students
eligible for PSD funding who do not have an ILP in
place. Schools must also report on the percentage
of PSD students who are meeting the goals in the
ILP. While this is welcome, this self-assessment
by the school does not report on outcomes for
individual students.1081
This means that there is currently no data capture
at either a regional or state level to see whether
the PSD funding is actually delivering improved
learning outcomes for students with disabilities,
all accountability rests at the school level.
Accordingly, learning outcomes are expected to
be monitored by the principal against the
student’s ILP.
While this is consistent with the policy trend
towards devolution to local schools, the success
of this as an accountability mechanism is entirely
dependent on the ILP. This means that every
principal in every school with a PSD student must
have the skill, motivation and time available to
make sure that:
• every PSD student has an ILP
• every ILP is of high quality
• deliverables under the ILP are monitored and
adjustments made
• parents and relevant specialists are actively
involved in all stages
• meaningful educational gains are made for the
student using PSD funds.
1080Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD,
22 June 2012.
1081All individual learning plans should reflect the
Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) or
towards level one of VELS (ABLES) – this makes
it possible to report on academic achievement.
Potentially if this was linked to the Victorian Student
Number outcomes could be monitored against PSD
funding. Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing
and Engagement Division, DEECD.
168 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Given the feedback from parents, students
and educators in other parts of this report, the
Commission cannot be confident that this is always
occurring. In common with the Auditor-General,
we are concerned that the quality and use of
ILPs is inconsistent across the state. We are also
concerned that there is no mechanism available to
enforce the PSD guidelines in any meaningful way.
Opportunities for improvement
The Review of Disability Standards for Education
2005 reported that nationally ‘stakeholders
consider that resourcing available to meet the
needs of students with disability is inadequate
and this compromises the effectiveness of the
Standards. It was argued that additional
resources would assist students with disability
to participate in education, provide professional
development for educators and improve access
to support services’.1082
The review also found an increase in participation
rates of students with disability. ‘This is a positive
development, but as a result, stakeholders are
concerned that available resources are being
stretched further to meet the needs of an
increasing number of students’.1083
Transitioning to a needs-based model that
maximises outcomes rather than deficits
The Commission is mindful that the future of
funding models for schools generally, and disability
specifically, is currently unknown as we await the
implementation of the recommendations in the
Gonski Review.1084
In its final report, the Review Panel recommended
that in the future the costs of supporting students
with disabilities should be included as an
additional ‘loading’ within the Schooling Resource
Standard in both government and non-government
schools. This loading would be calculated based
on data on the prevalence of disability and the
level of adjustments needed by students with
disabilities.
However, to achieve this, a common definition
of disability needs to be agreed, and modelling
undertaken on the value of such a loading. This
work is currently under way.
1082Australian Government, ‘Report on the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37,
viii.
1083Ibid vii.
1084In April 2010, the Australian Government initiated
a comprehensive review of funding arrangements
for Australian schools (the Gonski Review). The
Review Panel delivered its report in December 2011.
Australian Government, ‘Final Report of the Review of
School Funding’ above n 27.
Potentially, this could mean a shift towards a
needs-based model of funding assessment, rather
than a targeted program that provides support
to students with a specific range of disabilities
and then applying a needs based assessment to
determine the level of funding for each student.
This approach would be more consistent with
the principles of the Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities and with the legal
obligation under both federal and Victorian laws
which require adjustments to be made based on
need, so long as such adjustments are reasonable.
It would also be more consistent with obligations
under the Disability Standards for Education 2005
to maximise learning outcomes rather than focus
on a deficit model of examining needs and making
adjustments.
The Commission notes that in New South Wales the
state education system is starting to shift towards
a more needs-based system, under their Every
Student, Every School reforms. Using Australian
Government funding through the More Support for
Students with Disabilities initiative, this is a new
program that targets students with lower levels of
additional need. Schools will receive support in two
components: specialist teacher time and flexible
funding.1085 These resources will be allocated
without the need to ‘confirm’ individual student’s
disability.1086
In addition to Every Student, Every School, the
Integration Funding Support Program (individual
funding) will continue to support other students
moderate-to-high levels of additional need due
to disability.1087
1085Schools are allocated flexible funding based on the
schools ‘student learning need’ and the general
prevalence of autism (estimated at one in 100
children). Specialist teacher time is calculated using
a base (0.1 FTE for school under 160, 0.4 FTE for
160+ school) and a component based on the school
learning need index. The school learning need index
is calculated based on the number of students at
a school that perform in the lowest ten per cent for
literacy and numeracy in the NAPLAN over a threeyear period. Specialist teacher positions will be for
three years and funding will be allocated annually
Government of NSW, ‘Project details with background
notes’ Every Student Every School: Learning and
Support (2012) 35-39. <www.det.nsw.edu.au/everystudent-every-school> at 11 July 2012.
1086Ibid 31.
1087Ibid 36.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 169
This needs-based approach was initially trialled in
the Illawarra and the South East regions of New
South Wales. The trial revealed many positives. For
example, many smaller schools received funding
for the first time and schools reported that the
model was flexible, could provide more immediate
support (without needing to wait for confirmation
of disability) and that it resulted in a better
‘whole school’ approach. There was also positive
feedback about the online training courses and the
flexibility to make decisions based on educational
need, rather than ‘disability’ categorisation. Areas
for improvement identified by the trial included
professional development for staff and support
for transition.1088
While Victoria’s education environment differs
from New South Wales, the question of how to
effectively ensure the participation of all students
using a funding model that is fair, flexible and
based on need is a shared challenge and lessons
might be learned from this trial and the broader
suite of Every Student, Every School reforms.
Improving accountability for PSD funds
Currently there is no central system in place
to track and check the progress of students in
receipt of PSD funding. Nor are there specific
performance indicators for the program.
Schools do have the Victorian Student Number that
could be further developed, however, this currently
does not have the capacity to track individual
progress or the achievement of goals for students,
including students eligible for PSD funding.
Currently, all accountability measures are invested
in the ILP of each student which are solely
monitored by schools. Even so, there are some
simple measures that DEECD could implement
to improve accountability for PSD funds. These
need not be expensive or burdensome on schools
and all relate to existing requirements under the
Program for Students with Disabilities Guidelines.
This would be an interim step while work
progresses on building the capacity of the
Victorian Student Number to measure outcomes for
students and so enhance system accountability.
Recommendations
42.Noting the findings and recommendations
of the Report of the Review of Disability
Standards for Education 2005, and the
Victorian Auditor-General’s audit of programs
for students with special learning needs,
that the Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development introduce key
performance indicators for the Program for
Students with Disabilities that are tied to
educational outcomes. That these outcomes
are measured in the first instance through a
random audit of individual learning plans, and
thereafter using an enhanced Victorian
Student Number.
43.The Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development undertake a review of
eligibility criteria and the Educational Needs
Questionnaire for the Program for Students with
Disabilities to identify and remove any inherent
bias against specific types and manifestations
of disability.
44.The Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines require schools to provide a clear
report to parents on how funding allocated to
the school is being used to make reasonable
adjustments for the student, and that this
information be included in plain language in
the student’s individual learning plan agreed
with the parent.
For example, DEECD regional offices could
conduct a random audit of school networks to
ensure that ILPs are in place, are of sufficient
quality, contain the information set out in the
Program for Students with Disabilities Guidelines
and that SSG meetings have been taking place
to monitor outcomes (for example, by checking
minutes of the meetings). This need not be a
large-scale exercise and could be done using a
peer-review model in partnership between school
networks and the DEECD region.
1088Government of NSW, Department of Education and
Communities, Summary Report: Trial of the school
learning support program in Illawarra and South East
Region 2010–2011 (2011) 3–4.
170 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 15: Building workforce capacity
Main findings
• One in five parents believe that lack of teacher
training in disability is a barrier to their child
being able to fully participate in education.
• Over half of the educators surveyed said they
did not have the support, training and resources
they needed to teach students with disabilities
well.
• Forty per cent of educators were not aware
of their legal obligations to students with
disabilities under the Disability Standards for
Education 2005.
• Victoria needs a teacher workforce that
is better equipped to meet the learning
and support needs of all students in their
classrooms. To achieve this, teacher training
university courses and ongoing professional
development programs need a stronger focus
on understanding and teaching students with
disabilities across the full range of disabilities.
Workforce gaps in educating students
with disabilities
Parents and students are also acutely aware that
some teachers do not understand disabilities,
particularly those that are unfamiliar to them or
those that have behavioural aspects. When asked
why their child was not able to participate at school
on the same basis as students with disabilities,
one in five parents in our survey reported that
their child’s teachers do not have the necessary
training. They also stressed that teachers need
specific training in relation to their child’s
particular disability.1090
The importance of skills training for educators
was highlighted in submissions the Commission
received. For example, a submission from
Down Syndrome Victoria highlighted that ‘skill
development is the single most cost-effective
method of improving outcomes for students with
a disability’ and stressed the need for ‘systematic
strengthening of teacher training and professional
development in the area of disability’.1091
This lack of knowledge and practice expertise
plays out in the daily lives of students with
disabilities and inhibits everyone’s best efforts
to deliver a quality education.
Students with disabilities are likely to be found
in almost every classroom in Victoria. Yet, as the
Commission’s research demonstrates, they still
face significant barriers to accessing education
on the same basis as other students and reaching
their potential.
In some cases, this can be the result of antiquated
attitudes held by a small minority of educators.
However, the vast majority of educators we heard
from want to deliver the very best education they
can to all their students, including those with
disabilities. However, many feel they do not have
the support, training and resources they need to
do this well.1089
1089Educator survey participants. See also HASD 3, 5,
8,13.
1090See also HASD 1, 2, 4, 6, 12.
1091Submission 3, Down Syndrome Victoria 1. See also
submission 4, Emmy Elbaum, Parent Advocate;
submission 5, Occupational Therapy Australia;
submission 6, parent, submission 9, Vision Australia;
and submission 11, Speech Pathology Australia. See
also Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for
Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n 73,
22-23.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 171
Educator experiences
The Commission’s survey asked educators whether
they felt they received adequate training and
support as a teacher of students with disabilities.
Of those who responded to this question, just
under half said that they did.1092 However, there
were significant variations in whether educators
felt adequately trained, depending on their role in
the school.
While overall 52 per cent of educators said they
did not feel adequately trained and supported to
teach students with disabilities:
• 62.3 per cent of classroom teachers said they
were not adequately trained and supported to
teach students with disabilities
• 54 per cent of school principals said they were
not adequately trained and supported
• 40.6 per cent of integration aides said they were
not adequately trained and supported
• 35.7 per cent of specialist support providers
said they were not adequately trained and
supported.
In the government system, educators in
mainstream schools (61.1 per cent) were much
more likely to report that they were not adequately
trained and supported than their counterparts in
specialist schools (22.6 per cent).
Educators were also asked whether there are
particular kinds of disability they find more
difficult to accommodate. Respondents identified
the following disabilities they struggled to
accommodate effectively:
• behaviour-related disability (297 respondents;
23.2 per cent)
• autism spectrum disorder (204 respondents;
15.9 per cent)
• physical disability (150 respondents;
11.7 per cent)
• mental health disability (123 respondents;
9.6 per cent)
• language disorders, including dyslexia
(82 respondents; 6.4 per cent).
1092412 respondents said yes (48 per cent) and 446
respondents said no (52 per cent).
Poor knowledge of legal obligations under antidiscrimination law
Almost 40 per cent of educators surveyed by the
Commission reported that they were not aware
of the existence of the Disability Standards for
Education 2005 (the Standards).1093 This confirms
the findings of the Report on the review of
Disability Standards for Education 2005, which
found that knowledge about the Standards across
education sectors, users and providers and the
general community is low.1094
Looking at the Commission’s survey results
by school type, 42.7 per cent of educators at
government mainstream schools did not know
about the Standards.1095 A similar proportion of
Independent school educators were not aware
of the Standards.1096 Of 14 Catholic mainstream
school educators who answered this question,
four were not aware of the Standards.1097
Knowledge was better in government specialist
schools, with 73.5 per cent of educators aware that
the Standards exist.1098 However, this still leaves
one in four educators in schools that only educate
students with disabilities unaware of their legal
obligations.
The Disability Discrimination Legal Service
submitted that there are various reasons why
schools fail to comply with the Standards, but:
... one of the most prevalent ... is a lack of
training, understanding or even knowledge of
the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 ... in public
schools. However, even where the relevant school
is aware of its obligations under the Standards,
without the appropriate resources compliance is
rarely possible.1099
1093329 respondents. Despite this, 22.7 per cent (194
educators) of educators in our survey reported that
they had witnessed discrimination at their school.
1094The review also found ‘There is limited access to
qualified professions and limited ongoing professional
development in inclusive education’. Australian
Government, ‘Report on the review of the Disability
Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37, vii.
1095265 out of 621 government school educators.
1096Five out of 13 Independent school educators were not
aware of the Standards (38.5 per cent). Independent
Schools Victoria informed the Commission that each
school should be aware of the Equal Opportunity
Act and the Disability Discrimination Act and they
make available a copy of the Standards to all schools
attending relevant information sessions at ISV or
should discussions indicate that more knowledge of
the Standards is needed at the school. Key informant
interview, Independent Schools Victoria.
1097That is 28.6 per cent.
1098Of 200 government specialist school educators, 147
were aware of the Standards, 53 were not.
1099Submission 7, Disability Discrimination Legal Service,
29.
172 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
When asked about discrimination laws at a ‘have
a say’ day, an educator explained:
Most teachers know it but they may not have a
detailed understanding.1100
Another educator said:
I don’t think all teachers understand that they
have a legal obligation to accommodate students
with disabilities. More needs to be done for this
information to go beyond the principal level.1101
The Commission notes and welcomes that the
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development (DEECD), the Catholic Education
Commission Victoria and Independent Schools
Victoria have all included significant programs of
professional development for educators under
each of their implementation plans for the rollout
of the Australian Government’s More Support
for Students with Disabilities initiative. These are
discussed at the end of this chapter. However,
DEECD’s implementation strategy is the only plan
that includes dedicated training ‘for all school
staff to improve understanding of their obligations
under the Standards and how to meet those
obligations’.1102
Training and support for integration
aides
A number of educators reported that integration
aides – sometimes referred to as education
support officers (ESOs) – play a crucial role
in supporting the education of students with
disabilities, with many commenting on the
availability of aides, how aide time is used, the
effectiveness of that time and the adequacy of
their training. Comments from educators in our
survey focused on concerns that teachers and
aides are often left unsupported. Parents also
expressed concern that aides are not adequately
trained and supported.1103
1100HASD 3.
1101Educator survey participant.
1102Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23, 6.
1103The Commission notes that DEECD provides a range
of professional development opportunities for staff
employed as integration aides (education support
staff) in government schools. These include standard
and extension courses on ‘a window into autism’
and courses on ‘literacy success’, courses provided
by the Victorian Institute of Deaf Education and
professional learning grants. <www.education.vic.gov.
au/proflearning/sso/default.htm> at 10 July 2012.
Four out of 10 integration aides in our survey
reported that they did not feel adequately trained
and supported.1104 This is disturbing when, for
many students with disabilities, the integration
aide is the person on whom they are most reliant
at school.
There are currently no formal qualifications
required to work as an integration aide in a
Victorian school.1105 However, certification
requirements – such as a driver’s licence, first aid
certificate or safe food handling training – may be
required to perform specific tasks.1106
According to DEECD, the role of an integration
aide is to:
• provide routine support for teachers
• communicate with teachers and parents about
routine matters
• provide basic physical and emotional care for
students, such as toileting, meals and lifting
• communicate with students about
comprehension of basic tasks and information
• address immediate behaviour issues relating to
specific students within a classroom setting
• assist with coordination and planning of school
routine in accordance with student needs.1107
An integration aide supports the educational
services being provided to students but must
not include duties of teaching, as defined in
clause 2.6.1 of the Education and Training Reform
Act 2006.1108
1104That is seventy-three out of 180 integration aides that
answered this question.
1105See also Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs
for Students with Special Learning Needs’, above n
73, 24.
1106State of Victoria, Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development, Human Resources
Dimension of Work Education Support Class, 3.
<www.education.vic.gov.au/hrweb/Documents/
Dimensions_of_Work_descriptors.pdf> at 8 July 2012.
1107Ibid 3–4.
1108‘Supervision of students cannot be required except
where it is an integral part of the employee’s position
or involves supervision of students individually or in
small groups, in controlled circumstances, where
the responsibility for students remains clearly with a
teacher.’ Ibid 3.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 173
In practice, however, many integration aides, will
have attained a Certificate III in Education Support.
This is commonly referred to as an Integration
Aide/Teacher Aide (Certificate of Education
Support). This TAFE course can be completed
on campus, online or by correspondence. The
estimated time to complete the qualification is one
year, based on 10 hours a week, and includes a
practice component.1109
Several participants in the ‘have a say’ days and
survey respondents expressed concern that formal
qualifications are not compulsory for integration
aides and that this can lead to them being poorly
paid and, in some schools, undervalued. Some
suggested that formal qualifications should be
mandatory for integration aides to work in a school
and that this training should be supplemented with
‘refresher courses’ every two years. They also felt
that parents should have a say in the recruitment of
aides.1110
Submissions also highlighted problems faced by
integration aides, due to the significant pressures
they face, a lack of experience and a lack of
formal training to address the needs of students
with disabilities.1111 Others noted that there are no
opportunities for career progression for integration
aides:1112
From an educator’s perspective, integration aides
are at the bottom of the education ladder with
very poor working conditions and low pay.1113
Aides do not get paid enough, therefore it is
difficult to find the right people to work with
high need behavioural problems in mainstream
schools.1114
These concerns were also reported by integration
aides:
The lack of job security and low pay means that
many capable aides will leave the profession.1115
I feel that all teacher aides should be on a higher
level of pay within special schools and that would
give the school extra funds to assist the aides to
take on more professional learning.1116
1109See e.g. <www.seeklearning.com.au/tafe/certificate3-education-support.asp?CampaignCode=LRN:S
EM:SEMG41&s_kwcid=TC|1026387|teachers%20
aide%20certificate||S|b|10386976684&gclid=CNy2ZitibECFSdNpgodTEOwSA> at 8 July 2012.
1110Case study 11.
1111Submission 2, Julie Phillips, Disability Advocate, 3.
1112HASD 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 12.
1113Educator survey participant.
1114Educator survey participant.
1115Integration aide, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1116Integration aide, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
Some schools have introduced significant
professional development opportunities for
integration aides. For example, in at least one
region, all integration aides have access to video
conferencing to network with aides in other
schools, as well as a minimum of two hours
professional development each term. However,
despite these good initiatives, many aides who took
part in our survey felt opportunities were limited
and the provision of professional development was
inconsistent across the state:
As an Aide, I took it upon myself to fund
my own training – Certificate of Education
(Integration Aide). I have done some Professional
Development since but one school did not
support training at all and supplied none ...1117
I have had some personal development
opportunities in my years as an Aide. I feel that
support staff should have more opportunities to
educate themselves. My initial training was having
my own child with autism.1118
I have only been allowed to attend one training
session on autism spectrum disorders and was
then told not to expect any other training for the
remainder of the year ... However the school
is quite willing to spend a large quantity of the
budget on Teaching staff to gain knowledge in
other fields while ESOs are struggling to gain
enough support and knowledge in supporting
(all too often) the most difficult children in the
classrooms.1119
All ES PD is at the grace of the school principal
and the time availability and funding of the school
budget. Access to training for ES is also based
on the employment contract time fraction of
individual staff and the ES staff’s willingness to
give up time voluntarily to gain knowledge directly
related to their job ...1120
Overall, the combined responses from both
parents and educators indicate that the role of
integration aides, including their remuneration,
qualifications and status in the school, needs
urgent attention given the crucial role they play in
supporting teachers and students with disabilities
in Victorian schools.
1117Integration aide, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
1118Integration aide, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1119Integration aide, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1120Integration aide, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
174 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Equipping educators before they enter
the classroom1121
Quality teaching is the single greatest
in-school influence on student
engagement and achievement.1121
To work effectively with students with disabilities,
educators need to understand disability in all
its forms. They also need to know the practice
techniques necessary to implement reasonable
adjustments though changes to teaching styles,
methods and equipment. They need to know this
both in theory and in practice, before they enter
a school.
However, current teacher education models
indicate that there are no clearly defined standard
approaches for pre- or post-service training to
equip teachers to effectively accommodate the
learning needs of students with additional health
and development needs.1122
As part of the research, the Commission
contacted all the Victorian universities that provide
undergraduate teacher training courses. We asked
them if the curriculum contained:
• core or elective subjects on educating students
with disabilities and, if so, how much time in
each of these subjects is allocated to instructing
undergraduates about educating students with
disabilities
• core or elective subjects on disability
awareness, and/or awareness of specific forms
of disability, and if so how much time in each
of those subjects is allocated to educating
students about disability generally, and or
specific forms of disability
• core or elective subjects that include teaching
students about their legal obligations as
educators under the Disability Discrimination
Act, the Standards or the Equal Opportunity Act.
1121Australian Government, Strategies to Support the
Education of Students with Disabilities in Australian
Schools; Report to Minister Peter Garrett AM MP,
Minister for School Education, from the students with
disabilities working group, 15 December 2010, 8.
1122Catholic Education Commission Victoria and
Commonwealth, above n 17, 3.
Ten universities responded. They provided
information about over 50 courses that can lead to
registration as a teacher.1123
Based on the information that universities were
able to provide, there appears to be considerable
variation between courses in the time devoted
to teaching about disability within core subjects.
Estimates provided by universities ranged from
three hours within a ‘professional contexts’ subject,
to a 33 hour ‘additional needs’ subject.1124 It is also
important to note that two universities indicated
that inclusion and diversity was embedded within
all core units of the course.1125
Most of the universities indicated that some
content about disability awareness and teaching
students with disabilities was included in elective
subjects. In addition, there was usually potential for
students to pursue an interest in disability through
optional specialisations, electives or placements.
This means that some students may complete their
degrees having spent significant time considering
issues related to the teaching of students with
disabilities. On the other hand, some teachers may
have completed their qualifications with little more
than a few hours that touch on disability.
This suggests that there will be a wide variation
among graduate teachers in their awareness
of disability and their engagement with ideas
and practices around educating students with
disabilities.
I am a student teacher who has just completed
my 4 year Bachelor of Primary Education. I have
not had any specific training on disabilities, just
on how to differentiate lessons for varying abilities.
More specific training is needed for specific
disabilities.1126
Completed university in 2010 and only had one
core subject relating to working with students with
a disability. Accessed a dyslexia PD through my
own research.1127
1123Universities were asked to respond within a tight
deadline, so may not have been able to provide
detailed information, such as the number of hours
spent focusing on disability within general courses.
1124University of Melbourne Masters of Teaching
(Secondary) – estimated one-hour lecture and twohour workshop. Homesglen Institute Bachelor or Early
Childhood Education estimated 33 hours within a core
subject, with additional time in related subjects. Some
universities were unable to provide estimates of the
hours spent focusing on disability within particular
subjects, due to the time frames for response.
1125Responses from Deakin University and Monash
University.
1126Educator survey participant.
1127Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 175
Figure 16: Disability awareness education in teacher training curriculum in Victorian universities
(excludes specialist education specialisations/degrees)
l – Full subject taught
s – Lectures and/or themes within a broader subject
6 – Not taught
University
Subject on educating
students with
disabilities
Subject on
disability awareness
Subject includes
anti-discrimination
legal obligations
University of Melbourne
s Core (Primary)
s Core
s
Deakin University
s Core
s Core
s
l Elective (Primary)
s Elective (Secondary)
Monash University
s Core and elective
s Core and elective
s
Holmesglen Institute
l Core
l Core
6
Australian Catholic University
s Core
s Core
s
University of Ballarat
l Core
l Core
s
RMIT
s Core
s Core
s
La Trobe University
s Core1128
s Core1129
s 1130
Tabor College
6
6
6
Victoria University
s Core
s Elective
s
l Elective
Ongoing professional development
for educators1128 1129 1130
When asked what sort of professional development
they had completed to improve the education and
support they provide to students with disabilities,
a number of educators reported that they had
had no professional development at all.1131 Others
reported a wide range of activities, from a few
hours of training to postgraduate courses.
Examples included:
• in-school or DEECD-provided courses and
seminars
• external professional development opportunities
relating to a range of disabilities, including
autism spectrum disorder, AUSLAN and
integration studies
• advice from speech therapists, occupational
therapists, social workers and other
professionals
• reading and advice from parents and those who
support students with disabilities
• vocational qualifications (Certificate IV)1132
• postgraduate special education qualifications,
both self-funded and as part of DEECD
scholarships.
1128Subject yet to begin.
1129Subject yet to begin.
1130Subject yet to begin.
1131Educator survey participant.
1132It was noted that for qualified teachers there is a
financial disincentive to undertake a Certificate IV
integration aide course because you are required
to pay fees because you already have a higher
qualification. HASD 8.
176 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Self-funded professional development
Some educators reported that they had received
support from their school to undertake additional
professional development. However, quite a few
said they had self-funded further study:
I have undertaken my Masters of Education
(special ed) but this was not endorsed or
practically supported by my school. My school
supports attendance at PD days etc but I have
found useful and practical training and support
to be inadequate in terms of specific and clear
information from DEECD about what is required of
a special education teacher.1133
[I] work with many staff members who have no
training in this area and if requested to complete
professional development refuse to do so. Whilst
I have completed much training in the area of the
years, it has rarely been through the school I
work for.1134
Plenty of PD from external sources, not the
school. This has required me to take at least
10 days off this year and out of the classroom.
I have also attended out of hours PD. There is
little support from leadership and I must learn
to manage the parents, student, specialists etc
without any support.1135
Funded professional development activities
Responses to our survey revealed a wide range of
professional development opportunities available
to educators, ranging from general disability
awareness training to more targeted interventions,
including support from specialist organisations.
Several educators reported partnership
arrangements with other schools and the regional
DEECD office or, in the case of Catholic schools,
the relevant education office in each diocese.
Independent schools also have access to a
program of seminars provided by Independent
Schools Victoria.1136
1133Educator survey participant.
1134Integration aide, Independent school. Educator
survey participant.
1135Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1136See <http://www.independentschools.vic.edu.au/
schools/seminars/calendar/index.shtml> at 8 July
2012. The Commission notes that when entering
the keyword ‘disability’ to search for a course in
the current calendar, the only course that is found
is one for gifted students. A search on the word
‘discrimination’ generates no results.
A significant number of educators reported
relying on specialist support providers, such as
occupational therapists and speech therapists,
as a key source of knowledge and support for
their teaching. In addition, peer support from
other teachers and professionals was a strong
theme in the survey responses.1137 In-school and
off-site courses were also common ways in which
educators developed additional understanding
and skills for the classroom:
There have been PD sessions centred on
particular disabilities. There is a disability and
impairment liaison person. We have access to
and occasional visits from district support staff.1138
Staff have had access to network meetings,
approved training through professional
development and support of a special needs
coordinator.1139
PD sessions, meetings and discussions with
Educational Psychologist about particular
students with disabilities in my classes, with
strategies given by the psych, information from
visiting teachers who provide strategies in relation
to students with specific disabilities.1140
Support through our regional initiative of autism
coaches. A brilliant initiative where a coach is
in place across the region – role is to support
classroom teachers and administration with
the development of strategies to support ASD
students in the classroom.1141
Some parents were concerned, however,
that schools were not aware of the range of
professional support available to them.
The DEECD has autism experts working in the
Student Wellbeing Department. Unfortunately,
these experts are not ‘advertised’ to teachers or
principals at schools (my school was not aware
of these people). There were times (when my son
first started school) that this Department’s support
would have been greatly appreciated and made
his transition to school a whole lot easier for my
son, myself and his teachers. I think all schools
that receive funding for a child with a disability
should be made aware of the assistance that the
education departments can provide.1142
1137Educator survey participant.
1138Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1139Principal, Catholic school. Educator survey
participant.
1140Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1141School principal, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1142Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 177
Other parents suggested that a simple solution
might be to establish a funding pool that can be
used to train and support teachers when a student
with disability enters their class:
Straightaway, if a child enrols with a disability, it
would be a good idea if $5,000 could be made
available to train the teachers regarding this
disability.1143
Best practice: whole-of-school learning1144
In reality you get the best outcomes when
the whole staff learn together.1144
A number of educators spoke of great gains
being made through whole-of-school professional
development around disability. This might involve
bringing in external experts or building on existing
knowledge in the school. The majority of educators
with whom we spoke expressed a strong
preference for establishing these whole-of-school
approaches. As DEECD noted, ‘critical mass is
important’:1145
We have also had whole school training in
classroom behaviour management, restorative
justice, understanding poverty. Our teachers plan
for various abilities in the classroom, including
students with special needs, and they use a
variety of strategies to provide the best learning
environment for all students. We have a hearingimpaired student and many staff have gone to
signing classes to improve our communication
with the student.1146
The internal structure that works best for providing
information about disability is when they have
in-school, in-service groups across different
subjects (for example, a science teacher, an
English teacher) in a small cluster meeting
regularly. The information is given to the small
group, who then goes away to discuss the issues
they have. This is the best internal structure to
bring these things forward. Then it becomes a
united group of people that you can work with.1147
1143HASD 13.
1144HASD 3.
1145Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
1146Principal, government mainstream school. Educator
survey participant.
1147HASD 5.
A teacher from a regional Catholic school told
us that the diocese now requires that whole-ofschool professional development be included in
the school’s strategic plan, for example learning
about ASD.1148 This embeds the knowledge in the
broader school system, rather than relying on a few
teachers to carry the knowledge. Other positive
whole-of-school initiatives were also reported in the
survey and key informant interviews.1149
Barriers to professional development
An issue raised in discussions with educators
was the difficulties around determining the
most appropriate person to attend professional
development opportunities:
[I have attended] many professional development
short courses and seminars, especially in ASD.
The issue is that the actual teachers of the
students often do not attend these but the Special
Needs Coordinator does. They report back but
the teachers often will not take their advice or
suggestions on board.1150
... Teaching staff should get the same training
as aides. At my school the aides have more
training in disability than the teachers. Both need
to access the same information so we can work
together effectively.1151
Some educators explained that the pressure of
competing demands on ‘time-poor’ teachers can
lead to missed opportunities for professional
development to really make a difference:
Major problem is getting time for PD and when
you do go to training, etc. when you return to
school the workload has mounted up whilst you
have been absent.1152
1148HASD 3.
1149For example, in 2011 the Inclusion Support Program
was trialled in six government mainstream schools.
This supports students with autism spectrum disorder
by providing ‘…teaching expertise, knowledge and
facilities for them to participate as fully as possible in
the school’s curriculum’. Each school has an autism
spectrum disorder coordinator who is a teacher with
specific knowledge and expertise. They work with
staff to ensure effective policies and procedures are
implemented in the school, and support both teachers
and students. See <http://www.education.vic.gov.au/
about/directions/autism/inclusion.htm> at 13 July 2012.
Independent Schools Victoria also reported that the
Mansfield Statewide Services is completing a two-year
trial of a program where their staff provide intensive
support to another school. Professional development is
provided to the whole of school staff over eight days.
Key informant interview, Independent Schools Victoria.
1150Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
1151Integration aide, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1152Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
178 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Geographic inequalities can also create barriers to
accessing professional development:
We can access PD based upon student needs
but these courses are often in metropolitan
areas and we are three-and-a-half hours from
Melbourne. Limited local PD. Very tight budgetary
restraints within the school also limits the amount
of support we get.1153
Others felt that, regardless of the leadership shown
in the school around disability-related issues, some
teachers do not take up professional development
opportunities when they were offered. Further,
some educators said they did not consider
professional development around teaching a
student with disability formed part of their brief.
Definitely not. I am trained as a Primary school
teacher, NOT a special ed teacher. If I had wanted
to teach disabled students, I would have trained
as a special ed teacher!1154
Our school has arranged sessions to help
teachers understand the needs of students with
severe behaviour disorders. Teachers still need
help with the management of students as some
of the behaviours are unpredictable. Teachers are
not well trained in understanding or dealing with
disabilities. This field is a study in itself. Due to the
demands of teaching, some teachers will revert
to a position of teaching to the average student if
the disability is challenging and there is not a full
time support person for the child.1155
Frustration of entering the classroom illprepared
Some educators reported feeling inadequately
prepared to teach and support students with
disabilities, despite many years experience as a
teacher:
No training just thrown in the deep end with four
integration children in my composite 2/3/4, two
with very different but severe autism and two with
very low intellectual ability. Being an experienced
teacher did not prepare me at all for these
children.1156
1153Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1154Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1155Educator survey participant.
1156Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
I have had almost NO training or support. I
am told very little about the students I teach,
and this is not helped by confidentiality limits. I
am not given any time to help me modify work
for students. I am not given funding to pay for
modifications needed. There are not enough
support staff to provide support during classes,
even for severely disabled students.1157
I have received little training. Training I have
received is based on the scenario of having
one student with a disability in a class. My class
has one third of students with a disability of
some kind. My teaching skills do not stretch to
accommodate this.1158
Educators are keen for more opportunities1159
Staff need professional development in
learning how to first demonstrate a ‘will
to include’ and finally in knowing ‘how to
include’ with the resources available.1159
Even though a lot of positive effort is being made,
it was clear from our survey that educators still
want more training and development:
I worked for 2.5 years with a community program
providing services to adults with disabilities. I
have now worked at a special school for 3.5 years.
All of my learning has been ‘on the job’. It would
have been great to have better access to formal
training.1160
Have sourced some training myself together
with what the school can offer. More professional
development days should be offered. More visits
from consultants should be organised.1161
We are, however, finding more students coming
into schools with a multiplicity of disabilities and
very little support is given to us to support these
children in terms of learning how to manage the
disability, access to information, finances to give
these students aide support where applicable.1162
1157Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1158Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1159Case study 11.
1160Integration aide, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
1161Integration aide, Catholic school. Educator survey
participant.
1162Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 179
Each year our school provides some professional
development on several areas of disability
e.g. autism, language; however this is funded
at a school level and not by the Education
Department. A higher level of training is required
in order for all teachers to feel supported.1163
Other educators noted that disability awareness
in itself is not enough. Instead, it is the practice of
teaching for individual needs and understanding
the child that is key:1164
[I] have attended PD within the school external PD
does not cater to the needs of my students. When
I started I had no training in special ed, however
training would not have prepared me anyway,
learning on the go was a better way of learning, it
catered to the needs of my students.1165
The importance of educators being willing to
adjust their attitudes and their teaching methods
was a common and important message:
Providing time may give staff a chance to
understand the needs of these students but
no amount of PD will influence the staff who
are unwilling to make adjustments for the
individual needs of these students. Staff with a
willingness to learn, and the flexibility to adjust
to the new challenges of teaching these special
needs students create a positive learning
environment.1166
More specific workforce development activities
around disability are also available. In government
schools, these include scholarships for
postgraduate study in special education and
professional development resources, including
the Language Support Program-Professional
Learning Guide and training resources to support
the Abilities Based Learning and Support (ABLES)
tool.1168 This is complemented by webinars,
e-learning and face-to-face training on working
with specific disabilities, such as autism spectrum
disorder, as well as specialist training offered by
the Victorian Deaf Institute.1169
The Commission welcomes the renewed emphasis
on workforce development across all school
systems and sectors that have been facilitated
through national partnerships funding under
the More Support for Students with Disabilities
initiative. As noted by DEECD, this is an important
opportunity to build on what is happening already
to ensure:
... our teaching workforce has access to
contemporary knowledge and evidence related to
effective pedagogy for all students with learning
disabilities, and that we have in place professional
learning approaches that meet the needs of
teachers while delivering positive and sustainable
increases in our workforce capacity to meet the
needs of this large group of students.1170
DEECD, Catholic education offices and
Independent Schools Victoria all offer a range
of professional development opportunities for
educators generally.1167
The Commission also notes that a working party
will be established with the Catholic Education
Commission Victoria and Independent Schools
Victoria to identify opportunities for collaboration
and achievement of shared goals across the
three implementation plans.1171 Participants in this
research noted coordination and collaborations
between the government and Catholic systems and
the Independent school sector as a gap. While this
was mostly talked about at a school-to-school level,
the ongoing development of relationships between
the leadership of these systems and sectors is most
welcome.1172
1163School principal, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1164HASD 3.
1165Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1166Visiting teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1167A list of professional development for government
school teachers can be found at <http://www.
education.vic.gov.au/proflearning/teacher/default.
htm> at 10 July 2012. See also <http://www.education.
vic.gov.au/proflearning/sso/default.htm> at 10 July
2012 for details of professional development courses
for integration aides in government schools.
1168The Language Support Learning Program (LSLP)
provides assistance to teachers to develop ‘strong
language competency’ in children and young people.
It is divided into five learning modules: The Language
Support Program, language disorders and difficulties,
identifying and profiling students with language
difficulties, teaching strategies for students with
language difficulties and implementing a language
support program across the school. See <www.
education.vic.gov.au/studentlearning/programs/lsp/
default.htm> at 9 July 2012. For more information
about ABLES see <http://www.education.vic.gov.au/
healthwellbeing/wellbeing/ables.htm> at 9 July 2012.
1169<www.education.vic.gov.au/about/directions/vdei/
pl.htm#H2N101F7> at 10 July 2012.
1170Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23, 2.
1171Ibid 3.
1172HASD 5.
The key is individual learning for that
child, not just disability awareness.
Recent initiatives in professional
development and support
180 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Government school professional development
In the government school system, activities funded
under this initiative over the next two years include:
• assistive technology teacher training
Independent and Catholic school professional
development under the initiative
The Catholic Education Commission’s
implementation plan includes:
• teacher collaboration, coaching and access
to professional expertise and consultation on
autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome and
deaf education1173
• training on the use of assistive technology for
teachers and learning support officers
• professional learning and training courses,
including an online learning program on
learning difficulties and utilising the ABLES
assessment and curriculum materials
These teachers will become lead teachers in
schools to strengthen ‘teacher knowledge of
evidence-based interventions to establish effective
inclusive classrooms in the early years’.1180 As a
network, they will form a critical mass of expertise
within the Catholic system.
• training of 1,300 school staff on the Disability
Discrimination Act and Disability Standards for
Education
• extension of the existing two-year scholarships
for teachers in specialist schools to include
scholarships on ASD and deaf education for
teachers in mainstream schools1174
• support for school leadership to facilitate
professional learning on ‘effective and inclusive
practices for students with learning difficulties
and disabilities’1175
• development of resources and training around
responding to challenging and extreme
behaviour1176
• a trial of autism coaches in 15 mainstream
schools across all DEECD regions1177 and
complemented by website resources for all
schools, including curriculum materials and
other materials to assist the teaching of students
with ASD.1178
1173‘Through linkages with key groups including autism
Victoria, Down Syndrome Victoria and Victorian Deaf
Education Institute.’ Victoria and Commonwealth,
above n 23, 6.
1174Up to 95 scholarships are available with a number
reserved for studies in the specialist areas of autism
spectrum disorder and deaf education. The initiative
will extend the number of autism spectrum disorder
scholarships available by up to 40 in a new one year
course being developed by the Autism Teaching
Institute. The number of deaf scholarships has also
been increased. DEECD also funds scholarships to
undertake a Vocational Graduate Diploma in Autism
Teaching and a new scholarship focusing on mental
health and scholarships in positive behaviour and
learning. Information provided to the Commission by
Student Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD,
9 August 2012.
1175Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23, 4–7.
1176This initiative is being undertaken in partnership with
the Principals’ Association of Specialist Schools and
relates to the use of restraint. It is discussed in more
detail in Chapter 10.
1177Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23, 4–7
1178This content is being developed by ASPECT.
• 50 teachers to be released from school for
postgraduate learning.1179
The Independent school sector’s implementation
plan includes:
• collaborating with the International Centre for
Enhancement of Learning Potential (ICELP) to
establish ‘the first authorised training centre in
Australia for training teachers in Instrumental
Enrichment’,1181 which will ‘serve as a hub for
expertise in the educational needs of students
with disabilities and provide expert support
to schools. Experienced trainers will provide
training and ongoing support to teachers
and schools’.1182
• training teachers on the Junior Great Books
program1183
• delivering workshops on the two programs
to school leadership, and intensive training
courses and support on both learning
programs, to teachers.1184
1179Key informant interview, Catholic Education Office
Melbourne.
1180Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 23, 8–9, 12.
1181The Instrumental Enrichment program was selected
by Independent Schools Victoria due to ‘‘its proven
effectiveness for students with a wide range of
disabilities’. Independent Schools Victoria and
Commonwealth, above n 18, 3.
1182Ibid 5.
1183This ‘has been demonstrated to be particularly
effective for children suffering from vision
impairments, and from learning disabilities such as
dyslexia’. Ibid 3.
1184Independent Schools Victoria intends ‘over the
longer term, to offer training to all interested Victorian
Independent schools, with a long term, aspirational
goal of ensuring that at least two teachers in each of
Victoria’s 220 Independent school receive training in
at least one, if not both, of the professional learning
programs’. Ibid 4-6.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 181
Opportunities for improvement
Victoria needs a workforce of educators who
are better equipped to understand and meet the
learning and support needs of the all the students
in their classrooms.
To achieve this, university courses for teaching
qualifications need to include a stronger focus
on teaching students with disabilities, across the
full range of disabilities. Universities must not
only teach the theory of educating students with
disabilities, but also its practice in the classroom.
There was a strong consensus among participants
in the research that pre-service and in-service
teacher education and support must be increased
so that teachers are better able to meet the needs
of students with special needs.1185
Some participants made very specific
recommendations regarding teacher training
qualifications. For example, Autism Victoria
(Amaze) recommended that:
• all teacher training courses provide a minimum
of 120 hours teacher training in effective
teaching of students with disabilities
• all teacher training students have a minimum of
three weeks placement in a school identified as
having best practice approaches to inclusive
education
• to support the adoption of recommendations
above, DEECD advise all teacher training
institutions that preference for employment
will be given to those students who have
participated in and demonstrated compliance
with the 120-hour and three-week placement
conditions.1186
Quality ongoing professional learning for teachers
and support staff is also vital. While much
has been done through existing professional
development initiatives, more is needed if
educators are to effectively plan and make
teaching adjustments that deliver an education
experience free from discrimination for students
with disabilities. Our research suggests that
whole-of-school professional development,
supplementing individual learning opportunities, is
the best way to achieve this.
1185See e.g. Submission 5, Occupational Therapy
Australia, 4. This was also indentified in the review of
the Disability Standards for Education 2005, which
found ‘support for a review of pre-service teacher
education to enhance graduate teacher understanding
of the application of the Standards to early childhood
and school settings. It was suggested this could
include the introduction of a compulsory subject
on inclusion of students with disability’. Australian
Government, ‘Report on the review of the Disability
Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37, 6.
1186Submission 10, Autism Victoria (trading as Amaze) 2.
Some people felt that there should be a learning
support or special needs teacher in every school in
Victoria.1187 The Commission notes that this model
is now being rolled out in New South Wales using
funds provided under the More Support for Students
with Disabilities initiative. In that jurisdiction,
resources for support services are being
reorganised with the aim of ensuring a specialist
teacher presence in every mainstream school.1188
Recommendations
Noting the findings and recommendations of the
Report of the Review of Disability Standards for
Education 2005 and the Victorian Auditor-General’s
audit of programs for students with special
learning needs, that:
45.All undergraduate teacher courses provide a
core subject dedicated to disability awareness,
curriculum and pedagogy modifications
to maximise participation by students with
disability and legal obligations of teachers
under anti-discrimination laws.
46.Building on existing leading practice, that all
government schools be required to develop
and implement a whole-of-school professional
development program on disability awareness,
inclusive education and use of individual
learning plans as part of the Accountability
and Improvement Framework for Victorian
Government Schools. That all Catholic and
Independent schools develop similar whole-ofschool professional development programs.
47.The current roll-out of training to Victorian
government schools regarding legal obligations
under anti discrimination laws extend beyond
the existing two-year funding commitment, and
that this training specifically include making
adjustments across the entire curriculum,
including participation in camps, excursions
and other extra education activities. That similar
training also be provided to staff in Catholic and
Independent schools by the appropriate body.
1187See e.g. case study 9.
1188In order to do this, New South Wales will merge
various positions into one ‘Learning and Support
Teacher’ position. There will be 1814 learning and
support teachers and 96 assistant principals across
the state. In addition, they will retain itinerant support
teachers for early intervention, vision, hearing and
transition, similar to Victoria’s Visiting teachers.
Government of NSW, above n 1085, 33–34.
182 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Chapter 16: Leadership and accountability
Main findings
• The culture and resources of individual schools,
as well as the skills and attitudes of the principal
and teachers, are key factors in building
a school community that is inclusive and
supportive of students with disabilities.
• While school leaders, such as the principal, are
important in building an inclusive culture, one or
two champions are not enough. A ‘critical mass’
of support within the school is necessary to
bring about sustained change.
• Ensuring that teachers have the training,
information and support they need, as part
of a whole-of-school approach to students
with disabilities, is essential for strengthening
teaching practice and improving educational
outcomes for individual students.
• Many parents share a concern that
accountability for delivering positive educational
outcomes for students with disabilities rests at
the school level. A number of recommendations
were made to bolster external monitoring and
review mechanisms to audit the performance of
schools against identified benchmarks.
Leadership in schools
The importance of leadership in schools
was a major theme that emerged through the
Commission’s research. Parents and educators
gave examples of positive and negative
experiences and stressed that strong and
consistent leadership at a school is crucial to
ensuring students with disabilities are welcomed
and can fully participate:
The school has been very supportive ... they’ve
used PSD funds to build ramps etc ... the
teachers are aware of disability and modify sport
and excursions. Trust is the key ingredient. The
Principal and Deputy are both fantastic.1189
The culture of the school is about respect and
acceptance and this is reinforced from the top
down.1190
If the principal is not interested, the child has
no chance.1191
You can have all the funding in the world but
without good training and leadership, it is
useless.1192
Some educators responding to the survey who
had taught in a range of schools noted that
some schools are highly organised and show
good leadership, while others adopt a ‘slapdash’
approach to meetings and have no understanding
of their obligations.1193
Our research confirms that, while a lot of very
positive work is taking place in many schools
in Victoria, the experiences of students with
disabilities are inconsistent across the state.
This suggests that what makes a fundamental
difference for students with disabilities is the
individual school, its culture and resources, as
well as the skills and attitudes of the staff from
the principal down.
1189Phone-in 8. See also phone-in 1, 2, 7 and 28.
1190Parent of a student attending a government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
1191Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1192HASD 6.
1193Educator survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system 183
The principal makes a difference
Our research revealed a strong consensus about
the important role the school principal plays in
cultivating a culture of inclusion and acceptance
at the school.1194 When asked how to duplicate the
success of a particular school, one parent simply
answered by saying ‘clone the principal’:1195
We are lucky – our principal is great. He knows all
the kids by name. It amazes me how the principal
knows the kids. I admire his leadership and the
repertoire of skills he has developed.1196
It comes down to the principal and the priorities.
You will see a school with six assistants and
you wonder, what is it they’re doing? It’s nothing
to do with funding; it’s about priorities and
leadership.1197
He is a messy eater, one teacher suggested he
sit away from the other students, but the principal
said no – will work around including him. This was
great.1198
Others, however, had a less positive experience:
The view of the principal was that to meet the
needs of my son would mean treating him
differently to other children and then mean that he
was privileged and the principal did not want this
to happen.1199
Some parents also felt the school leadership was
closed to any feedback, despite the good efforts
of individual teachers:
The teacher levels at the school are brilliant, but
the heads of the departments and assistant
principals are completely oblivious to the
students’ needs and are more concerned about
keeping their own positions. The school is too
‘top heavy’ and needs a serious change of
management. There is no one to go to within the
school if you have a problem, as they all have
each other’s back.1200
1194The Commission notes and welcomes the inclusion
of additional school leadership support in the
DEECD and Catholic Education Commission Victoria
(CECV) implementation plans for the More Support
for Students with Disabilities Initiative. These are
discussed in Chapter 15.
1195HASD 14.
1196HASD 9.
1197HASD 6.
1198Phone-in 48.
1199Case study 38.
1200Parent of student attending a government specialist
school. Parent survey participant.
A number of parents also noted that when the
school principal changed, their experience and
that of their child changed dramatically:
When the new principal started, my son’s
behaviour quickly deteriorated. He was self
harming, harming others, angry, depressed.
His teacher was angry – she told me that the
principal refused to make allowances as ‘these
kids are here to integrate so they will integrate’.
His aide told me that the principal told her that
‘people won’t enrol their children here with so
many integration kids’. At the end of the year most
of the aides were either let go or resigned and a
number of teachers also left. I believe it was her
agenda to ‘get rid’ of the integration kids...1201
Initially, life at primary school was difficult, but with
a new principal and teacher and aide, he has
thrived. Next year he is off to a specialist school. I
believe that being at the small country school has
given him a great start to his learning.1202
Teacher attitudes1203
Whether the needs of some students are
addressed depends on the availability of
willing and interested staff to advocate for
the student.1203
Our research revealed gaps in knowledge about
the needs of students with disabilities and varying
levels of commitment to meeting those needs.
This inconsistency in attitudes, which leads to
inconsistency in the treatment of students and
in their educational outcomes, was one of the
strongest messages shared by students, parents
and educators alike.
1201Parent survey participant.
1202Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1203Visiting teacher of the deaf, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
184 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
We were given many positive examples of
educators taking extra effort to address the needs
of students with disabilities in spite of funding or
other constraints:1204
Generally the teachers are good, especially the
young ones. I feel that they do want to make a
difference.1205
The school environment is warm and the general
attitude of kids to teachers is inclusive and positive.
I hope my child continues to feel supported, liked
and included in the family-like environment.1206
Our research found that a lack of support, training
and information can lead to negative attitudes
among some staff, resulting in some students not
getting the support they need or staff ‘giving up’
on them.
However, other responses, including those
from educators, indicated that some staff can
be unsupportive and feel that it is not their
responsibility to address the needs of students
with disabilities, even if training and support is
available to them:
Some staff feel students should not be there.1207
Some teachers seem annoyed by the additional
work it takes to cater for these children.1208
A lot of staff think ‘That’s welfare, that’s not my
role’.1209
Parents also spoke about the negative attitudes
among some educators, including reluctance
from some to admit they need training, a lack of
interest in better understanding the needs of their
students or not knowing about or making the most
of existing resources at the school:
One of his teachers said to me, ‘You don’t think
he will ever be capable of going to TAFE do you?’
This is despite positive feedback from private
tutors. If teachers give up on kids this early, what
message does it send?1210
The majority of staff do not know how to use
existing assistive technology in their school and
many had an attitude that they have no special
needs training, they don’t know what to do so they
just don’t do anything.1211
1204See e.g. phone-in 2, 9 and 14.
1205Phone-in 28.
1206Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
1207 Educator survey participant.
1208Specialist support provider, government mainstream
school. Educator survey participant.
1209HASD 5.
1210Parent of student attending a mainstream government
mainstream school. Parent survey participant.
1211Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
Educators need support1212
We need an incentive program that lifts
the profile of special needs teachers ...
Financial incentives, public recognition of
good teachers and visible appreciation
... We need to change the culture to
appreciate what people do.1212
A lack of support for teachers – such as ensuring
information is conveyed across the school about
how to support children with disabilities and what
management systems are in place – also appears
to lead to frustration or a lack of commitment
among staff. As one educator responding to the
survey indicated:
Staff are expected to jump through hoops with no
support or time release ... the hoops are too high
and they’re not being leapt through.1213
Some parents said they had positive experiences
with teachers who made extra effort but that these
efforts sometimes could not be sustained due to
a lack of recognition and support from the school.
For example, one parent spoke of a particular
teacher who attended a professional development
session about Down syndrome but the teacher
was unable to show more than an ‘initial blush of
enthusiasm’.1214
Another parent identified a similar experience,
saying they had worked positively with the teacher
to identify opportunities for extra training but that
these had not been supported by the school.1215
A number of educators made comments about
poor planning and organisation, and a lack of
effective management strategies being responsible
for failures to address the needs of students
with disabilities. Specific comments in the survey
included:
There is a lack of coherent follow through
between management and staff.1216
[there is] poor management of funds and poor
leadership from the person in charge of the
disability program.1217
1212HASD 15.
1213Classroom teacher, Independent school. Educator
survey participant.
1214Parent survey participant.
1215Parent survey participant.
1216Classroom teacher, government specialist school.
Educator survey participant.
1217Classroom teacher, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 185
Other comments suggest that for some teachers,
at least, responsibility for inclusion rests primarily
with specialist staff such as special needs
coordinators. While these positions do have
particular responsibility, under federal and
Victorian laws all educators have legal obligations
to eliminate discrimination in the provision of
education to students with disabilities.
Implementation of policy, guidance and
support by schools is inconsistent
A number of parents and organisations stressed
that, despite a plethora of departmental policies
and guidance, change is not happening on the
ground. This is causing significant frustration.
What is clear is that the Department of Education
and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) is
investing heavily in developing materials, supports
and guidance for schools around disability and
education and that the department has the
expectation that schools will follow this. What
is less than clear however is that this actually
happens in all schools, and that this information
and guidance is applied for every student who
could benefit from it.
One submission claimed that the majority of
teachers are unlikely to have heard of the manuals
developed by the department to support the
teaching of students with disabilities.1218 Others
felt the DEECD policy and guidance itself was not
strong enough:
The DEECD disabilities guidelines seem to
be worded to promote maximum flexibility in
arrangements made between individual schools
and children. What actually ends up happening is
that without clear directives, schools seem to feel
free to ignore these rather vague suggestions. In
our case, all the staff seem massively ignorant
about autism and current intervention techniques,
but they don’t know how little they know ... so
they really come across as arrogant, and no-one
seems to have the authority to compel them to
improve their performance.1219
A number of parents were also concerned that
their school did not know about key resources
and supports that were available to them through
DEECD. A parent survey respondent said:
The DEECD have autism experts working in the
Student Wellbeing Department. Unfortunately
these experts are not ‘advertised’ to teachers or
principals at schools.
1218Submission 2, Julie Phillips, Disability Advocate, 5.
1219Parent of student attending a government school.
Parent survey participant.
Beyond champions to critical mass1220
Once the culture is embedded, a diverse
school becomes an attraction to all
parents, not just parents of kids with
disability. It shows all kids that disability is
not invisible. We need a critical mass.1220
Many people told us that developing a positive,
inclusive culture in a school requires more than one
or two champions in the school if the gains are to
be sustainable. Therefore, while the role of school
leaders is important, it is ‘critical mass’ that really
shifts attitudes and practice.1221
To achieve this, schools need resources, support
and guidance. However, they must also be
accountable to DEECD or, in the case of the
Catholic system, each diocese education office. As
noted by Vision Australia:
Educational institutions must be diligent in
allocating generic and disability specific funds
appropriately to cater for individual needs.
Policies and procedures must also promote the
sustainable capability of inclusive education
practices, through enabling staff skills training,
the upgrade and maintenance of physical access
to spaces and buildings, the investment of
technological and pedagogic support measures,
and to foster ongoing systemic cultural and
attitudinal change towards full inclusion.1222
Getting it right – it does happen, it just
needs to happen more often
Our survey of educators asked them to discuss
best practice approaches to supporting and
educating students with disabilities. Responses to
this question included broader comments about
attitudes, priorities and cultural change, along with
specific examples of what works when supporting
the needs of students with disabilities.
Respondents made comments about optimising
existing methods and structures to improve
the educational experience of students with
disabilities. These responses were similar to
suggestions educators made about opportunities
for improvement in other parts of the survey,
as well as suggestions from both parents and
educators about what would help students with
disabilities to participate.1223
1220HASD 1.
1221See e.g. HASD 1, 9, 13 and 14.
1222Submission 9, Vision Australia, supplementary
materials 16.
1223See Chapter 4.
186 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
These included:
• regular, effective use of student support groups
to facilitate clear and consistent communication
between parents and the school on how to
address individual students’ needs
• adapting programs and curriculum to meet the
students’ specific needs
• using available learning resources, adjustments,
aides, visual cues and technology and providing
information in accessible formats
Some educators also recognised the positive,
proactive approaches by dedicated staff, in spite
of budget, resourcing, or other constraints, as
examples of best practice. As one educator noted:
In my opinion, the main obstacle to best practice
is lack of funding and exclusion of needy children
from the disability program. The best practice
normally comes from staff who are dedicated to
these kids and have their best interests at heart
and work within and outside the system to try and
make the education experience a positive one
for them.1224
Strategies to address bullying and harassment
against students with disabilities are also
crucial in building inclusive school communities
and supporting students to achieve positive
educational outcomes. Almost two-thirds of
students and parents who responded to our
survey reported that they or their child had been
bullied at school, with Indigenous students and
students from culturally and linguistically diverse
backgrounds being particularly vulnerable.1225
While bullying has negative emotional, educational
and physical effects on all students, international
research indicates the impact on students with
disabilities is even more profound.1226 As part of
our study, educators provided information on an
impressive range of anti-bullying programs taking
place across Victoria, which were supported
by the whole school community. What was less
clear, however, was the implementation of specific
strategies and actions to prevent bullying based
on disability.
1224Integration aide, government mainstream school.
Educator survey participant.
1225See Chapter 7.
1226Young, Nieman and Gelser, above n 410, 1.
A commitment to including students with
disabilities and supporting them to achieve their
potential has an enormous impact on the school,
on the community and on the child’s future life:
This school saved his life. It is a mainstream
school but it caters for students that don’t tick the
box for regular schools. He has been there since
year seven and he was grounded and refocused
and his self esteem improved. The staff are
wonderful. They nurtured his strengths. He is now
able to do work experience, worked and his book
of poetry is being published this year.1227
Leadership by the department1228
Where is the leadership for the leadership?
Who sets targets for principals on students
with disabilities? Who makes it a priority
for schools ...?1228
Accountability in Victorian government
schools
The Commission’s study has found that while many
schools are doing a good job of providing an
accessible and quality education for students with
disabilities, others are not. This inconsistency must
be addressed if discrimination on the basis of
disability is to end.
For many who took part in our research, a
fundamental concern was that virtually all
accountability for progress towards this goal rested
at the school level.1229
Similar to other states and territories, Victoria
operates under a devolved structure that
maximises local decision making by schools.1230
This approach ‘emphasises that principals and
school communities are best placed to drive
improvement, as they understand their schools
within the context of their local area’.1231
1227Phone-in 51.
1228HASD 9.
1229See e.g. submission 4, Emmy Elbaum, Parent
Advocate, 3–4.
1230Devolution is the granting of power from a central
body (usually a federal or state government) to
a subsidiary body such as a local, department,
executive authority or school. In education, devolution
is also known as school/site-based decision making/
management, school/site-based autonomy, selfmanaging schools, autonomy for local schools and
decentralised/site-based management. See Australian
Education Union, Devolution and Education (2012) 2.
1231Hon Martin Dixon MP, Minister for Education ‘Victoria
as a Learning Community’ (Speech delivered at the
Melbourne Graduate School of Education, Melbourne,
29 November 2011).
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 187
The Accountability and Improvement Framework
for Victorian Government Schools
Under this policy, the school council is the
governing body and ‘school leaders are the key
drivers in promoting change and building the
collaborative relationships and accountability
necessary for improving student outcomes’.1232
The policy sets out the planning and evaluation
framework that all government schools must
implement in their individual settings. It is based
on an ‘effective schools model’ that includes eight
domains, including accountability, professional
leadership and high expectations of all learners.
It also sets out the process for a four-year cycle
of evaluation, review and planning, as well as an
annual cycle of implementation and reporting.1233
Under the Accountability and Improvement
Framework, each school must have a strategic
plan, which includes goals and targets for the
school to measure its achievements against. Each
school must have an annual plan. Underneath this
sits the principal’s performance and development
plan and individual performance development
plans for school staff.1234
Reviews of schools take place under the
Accountability and Improvement Framework.
Self-reviews are undertaken at a school level, and
include independent reviewers and ‘critical friends’
from the community to assist with assessing the
school’s goals and performance in three areas:
student learning, engagement and wellbeing, and
pathways and transitions.1235 In some schools,
reviews are undertaken by the DEECD regional
office. This reflects a graduated approach to the
level of review necessary to meet the needs of
the school.
1232State of Victoria, Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development, Accountability and
Improvement Framework for Victorian Government
Schools 2012 (2012) 4. <www.eduweb.vic.gov.
au/edulibrary/public/account/operate/saif2011/
aifguidelines3.pdf> at 31 July 2012.
1233Ibid 5–6.
1234Ibid 7–8.
1235State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, School Review Guidelines
(2012) 4. <www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/
account/operate/saif2011/srguidelines4.pdf> at 31
July 2012.
Departmental policy states that ‘independent
reviewers and critical friends are selected based
on their educational expertise and trained to
ensure they are familiar with the department’s
current policies, frameworks and priorities’.1236 It
then identifies the range of people who could act
as critical friends as including:
• ‘another principal or senior educator from
Victoria, interstate or overseas
• a consultant from education, organisational
health, leadership, financial management, etc
• academics and/or researchers
• staff members from relevant areas of the
department or its statutory authorities’.1237
No mention is made of including those with
specialist knowledge of disability or disability
advocates; however, the list in the guidelines
is not intended to be exhaustive. However, the
Commission understands that the reviewers,
as part of their contract must attend annual
training.1238
Reporting to the department
Each school principal is required to submit school
performance reports to DEECD. This includes data
gathered from annual surveys to parents, students
and staff, as well as assessment results (School
Level Reports).1239 The schools census also
includes specific data on the Program for Students
with Disabilities (PSD).1240
DEECD also provides schools with a School
Compliance Checklist, a ‘one-stop’ online selfassessment tool designed to assist them manage
and monitor their compliance with legislation
and department policy and to streamline and
consolidate reporting requirements.1241
1236Ibid.
1237Ibid 10.
1238‘The Disability and Additional Needs directorate
provides a session at this training. Some of the
reviewers have a background in disability, e.g. as a
principal of a specialist school’. Information provided
to the Commission by Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD 9 August 2012.
1239The parent survey includes, among other things a
number of questions regarding consultation with
parents, encouraging children to learn, the suitability
of education programs and the quality of transitions.
There is one question regarding the quality of
therapy services. There are no questions specific to
students with disabilities; however, there is a question
regarding the student’s program support group,
which may be a proxy for a student support group.
1240Principals are required to report on the number of
PSD students at their school, how many do not have
an individual learning plan and the percentage of
students the principal considers are meeting goals
within these plans.
1241<http://www.education.vic.gov.au/management/
schoolimprovement/checklist.htm> at 10 July 2012.
188 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Publication of school results to the community
Every government school is required to publish an
annual report and make this available to parents.
Government schools with more than 10 students
eligible for PSD funding must report on progress
of these students on their annual report to the
community. 1242
In addition, a Government School Performance
Summary for each school is published on the
website of the Victorian Qualifications and
Curriculum Authority (VRQA).
This performance summary provides aggregate
student results and information about how the
school compares with other government schools,
taking into account its student intake. Each
school also provides a ‘What Our School Is Doing’
statement, ‘which provides context for the data
contained in each school’s performance summary
and outlines the school’s achievements and plans
for the future’.1243
This summary does not necessarily contain
any information about how well students with
disabilities are doing at the school or what efforts
the school is making to ensure compliance with
the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (the
Standards).
Inspections to maintain registration as a school
All schools must currently be reviewed for
compliance with minimum standards, including
compliance with federal and state laws, at least
once every five years. Responsibility for conducting
these reviews rests with the VRQA, which has the
role of providing regulation that ensures quality
education.
Under the Education and Training Reform Act
2006, the VRQA has a formal arrangement with
DEECD to review the operation of government
schools. As part of this arrangement, DEECD
‘undertakes a regular cycle of school reviews and
reports annually to the VRQA on the compliance of
all Victorian government schools with the minimum
standards for registration’.1244 Similar arrangements
are in place with the Catholic Education
Commission of Victoria (CECV). Independent
schools are reviewed directly by the VRQA.
The Commission was unable to confirm whether
these reviews check that policy and guidance
on educating students with disabilities is being
followed; however, the Student Wellbeing and
1242State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, Guidelines for the 2011
Annual Report to the School Community 2012 (2012) 5.
1243<http://www.education.vic.gov.au/aboutschool/
schoolreports/default.htm> at 10 July 2012.
1244<http://www.vrqa.vic.gov.au> at 10 July 2012.
Engagement Division of DEECD does provide
advice to inform the review process in government
schools.1245
Local decision making and accountability for
outcomes for students with disabilities1246
schools appear to be ‘siloed’ in that they
are a world unto themselves. They are
also self-monitoring, and I would like to
see more external monitoring of schools
by education people.1248
Internationally there are significant differences
in how devolution operates but ‘there is general
consensus among advocates of such initiatives
that they will improve school effectiveness and
student learning outcomes by producing better
educational decision making; improving school
management and leadership; improving quality of
teaching; leading to a more responsive curriculum;
and producing more efficient use of resources’.1247
The Commission recognises the advantages of
local decision making by schools. However, it does
create challenges when system-wide change is
needed to ensure the full inclusion of students
with disabilities, especially in a climate of limited
resources and competing demands. Localised
accountability is also more challenging when so
much rests on the quality of educators who are
not always trained in the pedagogic and practice
changes necessary to teach to the full range of
disabilities that may be present in a classroom.
For example, in Victoria there is a heavy reliance
on individual learning plans (ILPs) to identify goals
for the student and to track their progress towards
these goals. Currently, the execution and evaluation
of these plans rests solely in the hands of the
school; there is no review for compliance by peers,
the region or DEECD. This would not be a problem
if every student who should have an ILP did have
one and if the quality of the ILP was consistent
across schools. However, our research and that the
Victorian Auditor-General, has found that this is not
always the case.1248
1245Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD, 9
August 2012.
1246Parent survey participant.
1247Australian Education Union, above n 1230, 2.
1248142 parents whose child received Program for
Students with Disabilities reported that an individual
learning plan was in place (75.5 per cent). Thirty-one
parents reported no plan was in place. Fifteen parents
did not know. For an analysis of ILPs see Victorian
Auditor-General’s Office, ‘Programs for Students with
Special Learning Needs’, above n 73, 26-27.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 189
Similarly, while there are financial audits of
funding delivered under the PSD, there does not
appear to be an accountability mechanism in
place to ensure that this funding is being used
to deliver appropriate adjustments for students
with disabilities and, therefore, support the
delivery of educational outcomes. As noted
by the Victorian Auditor-General in 2007, the
individualised and devolved characteristics of the
program ‘present a series of difficult challenges to
develop appropriate central, or whole-of-program,
accountability mechanisms, capable of reliably
informing Parliament, and the community, on the
aggregate effectiveness of the PSD’.1249
Now, some five years later, the program still does
not have any published key performance indicators
and the only tool to assess accountability for
outcomes under the PSD remains the ILP, with all
the limitations described above.
For those students with disabilities who are not
eligible for PSD funding, the Commission was
unable to identify any specific accountability
measures that schools must report on to the region
or DEECD, beyond financial controls.
Further, DEECD does not know how many students
with disabilities have been suspended or expelled
from schools.1250 It has no way of measuring how
many schools have active student support groups
in place, as required under departmental policy.1251
All this information is held at a school level and is
not published at an aggregate level for the region
or the state.
1249Victorian Auditor-General, above n 1077, 3.
1250Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD. Nor is this information
collected or reported on in the Catholic system or
Independent school sector. Key informant interview
Catholic Education Office Melbourne; key informant
interview Independent Schools Victoria.
1251Key informant interview, Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, DEECD.
Opportunities for improvement
The Review of Disability Standards for Education
2005 found that nationally ‘The obligations and
requirements under the Standards are not backed
up by strong accountability frameworks’.1252 Within
this context, and given the variance in experiences
of students with disabilities between schools
revealed in this research, it is unsurprising that a
number of parents and educators made suggestions
about how accountability might be improved. Some
of them called for fundamental reform, including
legislative, policy and structural changes.
It is foolish to think that an inclusive policy can be
implemented within the existing current education
system with minor changes. As inclusion is not
simply an add-on to the current operations of
a school or an educational system, significant
restructuring and re-culturing processes are
needed in the area of how teachers do their work,
how the Department meets policy objectives and
what would it take to be truly inclusive.1253
This parent called for reasonable adjustments
to be entrenched as a right under an ‘Inclusive
Education Act’.1254 Others thought greater clarity
around the existing law, including the Standards
was needed.
I feel until there is the development of compulsory
minimum standards with ‘best practice’ models
explaining how the DDA [Disability Discrimination
Act 1992] standards should work and be put
in place, most schools will continue failing
to understand how to comply with high level
disability standards. There needs to be real,
practical clarity around what indeed reasonable
adjustments may be; and positive duty – working
examples and templates should be developed.
There should be compulsory training for staff
– not discretionary as is now. ILPs should be a
legal requirement. Funding criteria should be
broadened and process improved. Principals
should have to account for how any disability
funding is spent – currently unaccounted for
taxpayer money. This is a whole area requiring
desperate scrutiny and review.1255
1252Australian Government, ‘Report on the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37,
viii.
1253Case study 11.
1254Case study 11.
1255Parent of student attending a government mainstream
school. Parent survey participant.
190 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Others suggested establishing ‘disability audits’ of
schools, alongside punitive measures for schools
that failed to meet their legal obligations under
anti-discrimination law, including the Standards.1256
Some recommended funding bonuses for schools
who met ‘inclusion targets’.1257 Others wanted
specific targets and compliance measures around
working with students with specific disabilities,
including autism spectrum disorder.1258
Several mentioned increasing the role of regional
DEECD staff to make sure departmental policies
are followed. Others said there should be an
independent oversight body because they did not
consider DEECD to be proactive enough.1259
More common was a call for using existing
accountability systems to include specific checks
on how schools are performing in relation to
students with disabilities. Many wanted to see
key performance indicators for principals around
educational outcomes of students with disabilities.
The Commission was not able to verify if any
schools currently include such measures in their
principal’s Performance and Development Plan,
however, we note that the departmental Guidelines
for Principal Class Performance and Development
are silent on disability.1260
On a similar theme, Autism Victoria (Amaze)
recommended that all principals be required to
develop and implement ‘an effective whole school
inclusion program for students with a disability and
this key performance indicator be directly linked to
wage and bonus payments’.1261
Recommendations
48.The Victorian Registration and Qualifications
Authority examine the following in school
registration reviews and inspections:
a) sample of individual learning plans and
student support group minutes
b) data on educational outcomes for students
with disabilities enrolled at the school
c) evidence of whole- of-school professional
development on compliance with the antidiscrimination laws, including the positive
duty to eliminate discrimination as far as
possible and in the case of government
schools, the Charter of Human Rights and
Responsibilities Act 2006
d) incident records regarding use of seclusion
and restraint
e) complaint data.
49.The inclusion of key performance indicators on
participation and outcomes for students with
disabilities in all school principals’ performance
development plans.
50.The School Review Guidelines be amended
to provide that where a government school
has students with disabilities enrolled that the
critical friends appointed to conduct a school
review must include a person with expertise in
relevant disabilities.
Several educators suggested that existing
inspections of schools, as required by VRQA,
be recalibrated to include a stronger focus on
deliverables for students with disabilities and as
means of ensuring schools are following policy and
guidance in the state or Catholic systems.1262 In
the case of Independent schools, schools should
have a policy and suite of practices in place to
support students with disabilities. This would offer
a cost-effective way to gain some whole-of-system
accountability using existing mechanisms.
1256Case study 4.
1257HASD 9, 12.
1258Submission 6, parent.
1259See e.g. Case study 11, HASD 1. See also
Submission 1, Disability Services Board regarding
their proposal for disability complaints regarding
education to be included in the jurisdiction of the
Disability Services Commissioner.
1260See <www.education.vic.gov.au/proflearning/
schoolleadership/principalpd.htm> at 9 August 2012.
The Commission notes that information has now been
incorporated into the principal’s induction toolkit,
including the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and
Disability Standards for Education 2005.
1261Submission 10, Autism Victoria (trading as Amaze) 2.
1262See e.g. HASD 3 and 12.
Part 4: Removing barriers in the system – building capacity 191
Part 5: Response from the
Pageheader of
- head
Department
Education and
Early Childhood Development
The Victorian government schooling
system includes 1,538 school
communities and a work force of around
40,000 staff who provide education
and care to over half a million students.
Our schools reflect the diversity and
richness of our State. The Victorian
Government is committed to improving
the learning outcomes of all students,
by acknowledging their diverse needs.
A key element of this commitment is
an emphasis on improving educational
outcomes for students with disabilities
and additional learning needs.
The Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development supports around 88,000 students
with disabilities through universal and targeted
policies, services and additional funding programs.
The Government provides an extensive range
of support for students with additional needs,
including specialist allied health staff, Student
Welfare Coordinators, Flexible Learning Options,
Primary Welfare Officers and the Language
Support Program.
The Government has also invested more than $170
million of additional funding into the Program for
Students with Disabilities and student transport
assistance, and made the largest single investment
in capital works in special and autistic schools in
more than a decade.
In 2012 and 2013, Victoria is providing an
additional $37 million to support students with
disabilities and their schools through the More
Support for Students with Disabilities National
Partnership.
The Department has a strong record of innovation
and support for students with disabilities, and the
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights
Commission report, Held back > The experiences
of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
provides an opportunity to consider if current
provisions and support may be strengthened and
improved. The Department, while acknowledging
the small size of the research sample, values the
voices of parents, children, young people and
school communities, and this report is one source
of information to inform future planning.
The Report does not contain an analysis of
the recent case law in relation to the education
of students with a disability in schools. As is
reflected in the recent decisions of the Courts in
discrimination litigation involving some Victorian
government schools, the Department is aware of,
and complying with, its obligations to students
under anti-discrimination law.
The Department remains committed to a vibrant
education system that values and celebrates
diversity and ensures that schools have the
necessary support and flexibility to deliver high
quality learning and wellbeing outcomes for their
students.
The Report makes reference to a number of
current and planned programs and initiatives that
will continue to build our systemic, leadership and
workforce capacity, provide national leadership
in curriculum and assessment for students with
disabilities, deliver greater flexibility to our schools
to make the resourcing and support decisions that
best meet the specific needs of their students and
increase local options and parent choice.
192 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Some examples of this work include:
• the Inclusion On Line professional learning
program, available to all schools, which provides
tutor led training for staff in specific disabilities
including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
dyslexia, speech and language and hearing
impairment
• the Autism, Planning a Successful Transition to
Primary and Secondary School programs for
schools and families with a child with an ASD
to ensure collaborative planning and smooth
transition for students with an ASD
• teacher scholarships for certified training
courses in hearing impairment, mental health
and ASD to build the qualifications and
expertise in our schools and workforce
• the establishment of Autism Coaches in every
Victorian school region to support schools in
providing autism friendly learning environments
and provide assistance to staff and leadership
to support groups or individual students with an
ASD
• amental health professional learning program
for school staff delivered in partnership with
Monash University
• fifteen ASD Inclusion Support Program
Coordinators in schools across Victoria to
strengthen a whole-school culture of inclusion,
identify and support the curriculum and
wellbeing needs of students, increase the skills
and knowledge of staff to support students with
an ASD, and provide additional support and
expertise to support the school community
• the Abilities Based Learning and Education
Support (ABLES) curriculum, assessment,
reporting and teaching strategies resource for
teachers working with students with intellectual
and learning disabilities
• access for school leaders and staff to visits,
resources and expertise from Down Syndrome
Victoria to support all children with Down
Syndrome starting their first year of school to
ensure a successful transition
• satellite Units that provide specialist facilities,
disability based expertise and special school
teachers in mainstream schools for students
with intellectual disabilities.
• Resources and expertise from Autism Victoria
(AMAZE) is available to schools to enhance their
support for students with an ASD
• the Victorian Deaf Education Institute (VDEI)
which is committed to improving educational
outcomes for deaf and hard of hearing
children and young people from birth to 18
years throughout Victoria, through professional
learning programs across the disciplines
involved in deaf education, research and
innovation into best practice and improving
access to learning through the latest technology
based solutions
• the Statewide Vision Resource Centre which
provides curriculum material in alternative
formats, a Support Skills Program and assistive
technology for students with vision impairments
• allied health professionals, including
psychologists, speech pathologists and social
workers who work in schools to deliver support
to students with disabilities, their families and
teachers. This support includes assessments,
education planning, direct consultation and
work with individual students
The Department will continue to work with
the Commission, other government and nongovernment agencies, people with disabilities,
peak groups and our school communities to
identify future partnership opportunities to improve
support for students with disabilities and their
schools.
Part 5: Response from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development 193
Pageheader
- head
Part
6: The Victorian
Education System
This part describes the legal basis for
the powers and obligations of Victorian
schools, educational authorities and
the Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development (DEECD).
These laws establish Victoria’s
education system and create obligations
to avoid discrimination against students
with disabilities and to respect and
promote human rights.
This part also describes the major policies that
relate to the education of students with disabilities
in Victorian government schools. Information
about Catholic and Independent schools is also
provided.
Schools in Victoria
There are 2,239 schools in Victoria, providing
education to 859,221 students.
The government school system is the largest
provider of education, with 1,538 schools
educating over half a million students and
employing 40,000 staff.1263 There are 76
government specialist schools.
An estimated 20 per cent of government school
students have difficulties learning.1264 Within this
student population, there is a subset that is eligible
for targeted funding through the Program for
Students with Disabilities (PSD).
1263There are 541,992 school students in government
schools in Victoria. Department of Education and
Early Childhood Development, ‘Summary Statistics for
Victorian Schools (March 2012)’, above n 13.
1264<www.audit.vic.gov.au/audits_in_progress/audits_
details.aspx#learning> at 5 July 2012.
In 2011, 20,883 students received PSD funding.
That is around 3.9 per cent of the government
school population.1265 Students approved for PSD
funding made up 2.17 per cent of the government
mainstream school student population in 2011.1266
Almost all students attending government
specialist schools have PSD funding.1267
The Catholic system educates 194,109 students in
486 schools. It is primarily a mainstream system,
with only seven Catholic specialist schools in
Victoria.
Approximately 8,200 Catholic school students
with disabilities receive targeted funding. This
represents around 4.2 per cent of the total Catholic
school student population. The Catholic Education
Commission Victoria estimates that another
10 per cent of students require adjustments
under anti-discrimination law but do not receive
targeted funding.1268
There are 215 Independent schools in Victoria
educating 123,121 students. Most Independent
schools are mainstream schools; however,
there are 11 specialist schools in this sector,
including small schools with a highly targeted
student population, such as the Mansfield Autism
Statewide Services: Mansfield Autism School and
Travelling Teacher Program.
1265Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Summary Statistics for Victorian
Schools (March 2012)’, above n 13.
1266That is 11,525 students out of 530,821 students in all
government mainstream schools. Ibid.
12679,385 out of 9,989 students in government specialist
schools. Ibid.
1268The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria is
the formal body established to receive Australian
Government and Victorian Government grants on
behalf of the Bishops of Victoria and all Catholic
schools in Victoria. Catholic Education Commission
Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 17.
194 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
In 2011, 171 Victorian Independent schools
received targeted funding from the Australian
Government to support 2,079 students with
disabilities.1269 This represents 1.7 per cent of the
total Independent school population in Victoria.
Laws regulating Victorian schools
The Education and Training Reform Act 2006 is the
legislative basis for Victoria’s education system.
It underpins the structure of government schools
and the processes for registering and monitoring
government and non-government schools.
Government schools
The Education and Training Reform Act confers
the power to establish and maintain government
schools.1270
The Act is the basis of free education in
government schools.1271 It makes enrolment and
full-time attendance at school compulsory for
students between six and 17 years of age.1272
Under the Act, a student is entitled to enrol at their
neighbourhood government school, unless it is
a special or distance education institution or has
approved special entry criteria.1273 The Act enables
the Minister for Education to provide additional
assistance to students with special needs.1274
1269Independent Schools Victoria and Commonwealth,
above n 18, 3.
1270Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.2.1.
1271For Australian students under the age of 20, in
specified learning areas: Education and Training
Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.2.4.
1272Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.1.1.
The Act also sets out reasonable excuses for nonattendance, including accident, illness, or because of
suspension or expulsion from school s 2.1.3.
1273Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s
2.2.13.
1274Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s
2.2.20.
The Act sets out the powers and functions of
school councils in government schools.1275
These provisions mean that schools can
operate autonomously, with the approval of their
school council.1276 School councils have broad
powers,including the ability to employ some
school staff1277 and to arrange improvements to
school buildings and grounds.1278 School councils
are obliged to submit four-year school plans to
DEECD.1279
Independent and Catholic Schools
The Education and Training Reform Act establishes
the Victorian Registration and Qualifications
Authority (VRQA), which registers government
and non-government schools.1280 The Authority
will not register a school, including Catholic and
Independent schools, unless it meets minimum
standards. This means that all schools must not
use corporal punishment, must have discipline
policies based on procedural fairness and must
meet minimum standards on learning outcomes,
curriculum, enrolment, governance and review.1281
The VRQA can review or evaluate any registered
school to ensure it continues to comply with these
minimum standards.1282 It reviews each individual
school’s compliance with registration standards
at least once every five years. While the VRQA
conducts these inspections of Independent
schools, it delegates these reviews to DEECD and
the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria
using powers under the Education and Training
Reform Act.1283
1275Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) Part
2.3.
1276At least one-third of school council members must be
parents, elected by the parents of students currently
enrolled at the school. The school principal is always
the executive officer of the school council, and up to
one-third of school council members can be DEECD
employees. Community representatives can also be
co-opted.
<www.education.vic.gov.au/management/governance/
spag/governance/councils/legalframework.htm> at 31
July 2012.
1277Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.3.8.
1278Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s
2.3.12.
1279Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s
2.3.24. Annual reports must be submitted to DEECD
on request.
1280Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) Part
4.2.
1281Schools must also have an anaphylaxis management
plan if they have a student at risk of anaphylaxis.
Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 4.3.1.
1282Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s
4.3.2–3.
1283See above n 1244.
Part 6: The Victorian education system 195
Other bodies
The Education and Training Reform Act also
establishes the Victorian Institute of Teaching,
which handles registration and discipline of
teachers.1284
The Act also establishes the Victorian
Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA).
The VCAA develops materials and policies on
curriculum and assessment and is responsible
for Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE)
and Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning
(VCAL) assessment.1285 In addition, the VCAA
has the power to modify assessments or exams
for students with disabilities who have special
educational needs or who are unable to sit the
assessment or exam.1286
Structure of the education system
DEECD is the state government department
responsible for school education. It provides
services directly through government schools and
indirectly through regulation of non-government
schools. It also provides some funding to nongovernment schools. However, the bulk of funding
for Catholic and Independent schools comes from
the Australian Government.
The School Education Group also includes the
Student Learning Outcomes Division, which
develops resources for curriculum design, delivery,
assessment and reporting. It also provides
programs for students with specific needs, including
Indigenous students and students with disabilities.1288
The Policy and Professional Practice Division
supports the performance and professional
development of school staff, including leaders and
principals, teachers and education support staff. It
also develops and implements school improvement
programs.
The Infrastructure and Finance Services Group
includes the transport unit. This unit makes policies
and procedures relating to student transport,
including the School Bus Program, the Conveyance
Allowance Program and the Students with
Disabilities Transport Program.
The Regional Support Group provides an
interface between regions and the central office.
This group includes the DEECD central office
complaints unit.
DEECD regions
DEECD central groups
DEECD has nine regions.1289 Each regional office
has a regional disability coordinator. All regions will
shortly have autism inclusion support coordinators,
using funding made available under the Australian
Government’s More Support for Students with
Disabilities initiative.
The head office of DEECD is made up of seven
central groups.1287 The following central groups are
the most relevant to this study.
By the end of 2012, all regions will also have a
regional Koori coordinator. In addition, each region
employs a pool of Koori engagement officers.
The School Education Group develops and
implements policy on the delivery of education in
government and non-government schools.
Visiting teachers for those with hearing impairment,
vision impairment and physical disability are
employed by each region.
This group includes the Student Wellbeing and
Engagement Division, which among other things
delivers and develops policy and programs
relating to students with disabilities. This division
administers the PSD, as well as the Student
Support Services program and the Language
Support Program. It also develops curriculum
initiatives and workforce capacity initiatives.
A Catholic Education Office in each diocese
supports Catholic schools, similar to the way
DEECD regional offices support government
schools; however, the diocese does not have
specific disability coordinators.1290 There is no
equivalent in the Independent sector because
each school is its own entity.1291
Structure of the department
1284Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) Part
2.6.
1285Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.5.3.
1286Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s
2.5.11.
1287<http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/structure/
offices.htm#2> at 31 July 2012.
1288See Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘About Wannik’, above n 189.
1289Barwon South Western, Grampians, Gippsland,
Hume, Loddon Mallee, Eastern Metropolitan, Northern
Metropolitan, Southern Metropolitan and Western
Metropolitan.
1290The Catholic Education Office Melbourne employs
an assistant director, student services who provides
specialist expertise around disability and who was a
key informant in this research.
1291The peak body for Independent schools is
Independent Schools Victoria. This is a membership
body and cannot make binding policy on individual
schools.
196 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
School networks
Every government school sits within a region;
however, they are also clustered into groups
of around 25 schools, called school networks.
These are led by school principals and include
mainstream, specialist, primary and secondary
schools.
Student support staff – such as physiotherapists,
speech therapists, social workers and
psychologists – are employed by these school
networks and service the clusters of schools.
Schools
While accountable to DEECD, governance of
schools primarily rests with principal working with
the school council.1292 ‘The overarching objective
of a school council is to assist in the efficient
governance of the school or group of schools for
which it is constituted.’1293
Schools are responsible for establishing a student
support group for all students funded under the
PSD and are ‘strongly encouraged to establish this
for any student with additional needs’.1295 They are
also responsible for developing and implementing
an individual learning plan for each student eligible
for PSD funding.1296
In addition to their general registration
requirements with the VRQA, all government
schools must comply with the DEECD
Accountability and Improvement Framework.1297
Each school principal is required to submit school
performance reports to DEECD. This includes data
gathered from annual surveys to parents, students
and staff, as well as assessment results.
In common with Catholic and Independent schools,
government schools must also publish an annual
report to the community and a School Performance
Summary published on the website of the VRQA.
The school employs staff, such as integration
aides, and determines the curriculum, professional
development and other interventions that can
support a student with disability to reach their
educational potential.
Decisions regarding reasonable adjustments
for students with disabilities are made at the
school level.1294 It is also the school principal
on behalf of the student support group, who
makes the application for PSD funding and, if
successful, determines how the funding will be
spent. Decisions regarding the use of integration
aides, student support staff, equipment and
assistive devices, physical environment, access to
extracurricular activities and other adjustments are
all made at the school level.
1292Details of the objectives, functions, powers and
duties of a school council are set out in sections
2.3.4 to 2.3.32 of the Education and Training Reform
Act 2006 (Vic). See also Education and Training
Reform Regulations 2007 (Vic). A ministerial order
made under section 2.3.2 of the Act constitutes a
school council as a body corporate and specifies the
functions of the council and the powers it requires
to perform its functions. Council members are the
governing body of the body corporate.
1293Above n 1276.
1294However, if a complaint of discrimination is made
against the school, the DEECD will also be a
respondent to the complaint. This is because the
DEECD is an education authority.
1295Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines’, above n 456, 9.
1296All Aboriginal students must have an individual
learning plan.
1297The Catholic system has similar planning and
accountability frameworks. See e.g. Catholic
Education Office Melbourne School Improvement
Framework. <http://www.ceomelb.catholic.edu.au/ourschools/SIF> at 31 July 2012.
Part 6: The Victorian education system 197
State education policy and students
with disabilities
Programs, services and support for students
with disabilities in Victorian government
schools
Victorian government schools operate under the
principle of inclusive education. This means that
all government schools are expected to maximise
the participation and educational outcomes of
students with disabilities using:
• the general school budget (called the student
resource package)
• funding under the Language Support Program,
which totals around $30 million each year.
Students who are not eligible for PSD funding
can be assisted by this program. They do not
have to meet specific criteria, and the use of
this funding is determined by the school, which
receives this funding as part of its student
resource package1298
• teaching and curriculum supports to promote
learning outcomes for students with disabilities,
such as the Abilities Based Learning and
Education Support (ABLES)1299
• web-based resources, including the Autism
Friendly Learning website1300
• professional development programs for staff,
including training on specific disabilities, for
example through the Victorian Deaf Education
Institute
• teacher scholarships in autism, vision, hearing
and special education1301
• workforce support, including primary welfare
officers and student welfare coordinators.
In many cases, teachers can provide an effective
education to students with disabilities through
adjusting teaching methods and focusing on an
individual approach to learning. However, some
1298This program provides assistance to teachers to
develop ‘strong language competency’ in children
and young people. It is divided into five learning
modules: The Language Support Program, language
disorders and difficulties, identifying and profiling
students with language difficulties, teaching
strategies for students with language difficulties
and implementing a language support program
across the school. See <www.education.vic.gov.au/
studentlearning/programs/lsp/default.htm> at 9 July
2012.
1299See Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘ABLES: an introductory guide for
Victorian Government schools’, above n 233.
1300<www.education.vic.gov.au/about/directions/autism/
default.htm> at 31 July 2012.
1301The Victorian Deaf Education Institute.
students need significant adjustments or intensive
support to access education. For this reason, there
are a range of targeted initiatives and programs
that schools can access in order to make the
necessary adjustments to facilitate participation for
students with disabilities.
Workforce support available to government
schools includes:
• student support officers, including allied health
professionals and visiting teachers. There are
520 student support officers employed across
the government school system.1302
• autism teacher coaches
• education support officers (integration aides).
Services available to government schools
include:
• the Statewide Vision Resource Centre
• the Education Vision Assessment Clinic
• school transport
• free assessment service for some PSD
applicants1303
• government specialist schools, including three
deaf schools, five autism schools and four
schools for students with physical disabilities;
the remaining 64 government specialist schools
are targeted to students with intellectual
disability1304
• specialist support options in mainstream
schools, including satellite units and Inclusion
Support Programs (autism)1305
• the Medical Intervention Support and the
Schoolcare Program, for students requiring
regular, complex medical care at school
• the Home Based Educational Support Program,
for students unable to attend school due to the
nature of their disability
• equipment grants to schools for students with
vision impairments who are not eligible for
the PSD.
1302Full-time equivalent.
1303These are available for PSD applicants in the categories
of intellectual disability and severe language disorder
with critical educational needs. Information provided
to the Commission by Student Engagement and
Wellbeing Division, DEECD 21 November 2011.
1304To attend a specialist school on the basis of intellectual
disability the student must have an IQ of less than 70.
1305This supports students with autism spectrum disorder.
Following a trial in six schools in 2011, each region
will have an autism spectrum disorder coordinator that
is a teacher with specific knowledge and expertise.
See above n 1300.
198 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Targeted funding to facilitate participation of
students with disabilities
Government schools
With an annual budget in the order of $500 million,
the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD)
is targeted to students with moderate-to-severe
disability in specific categories of disability.1306 Not
all students with disabilities protected by antidiscrimination laws are eligible for this funding.
If eligible, the level of funding is determined by
the Educational Needs Questionnaire, based on
evidence and reports from relevant professionals.
There are six levels of funding, ranging from
$5,894 to $44,991 per annum.
The student’s PSD funding allocation goes to the
school and forms part of the school resource
package. A school may choose to pool PSD
funding to support a number of students with a
shared support, for example, when an integration
aide works with a number of students. Eligibility
and other procedural aspects of the PSD are
discussed in detail in Chapter 14.
Catholic schools
The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria
distributes additional funding to students with
disabilities who are eligible for this additional
support. The eligibility criteria is broadly similar to
that for the PSD.
There are three levels of targeted disability funding
in the Catholic school scheme.1307
Independent schools
There are three levels of funding, ranging from
$1,700 to $3,900 per annum.1309 Similar to the PSD
and Catholic school funding, this can be used to
provide support teachers, aides, counsellors and
resources. It is generally ongoing for four years.1310
Policy and guidance on students with
disabilities in government schools
Government schools are expected to follow DEECD
guidelines and policies. They are supported by
their DEECD regional office and DEECD central
groups to do so; however, the implementation most
policy and procedure can be determined by the
school. This is consistent with the DEECD ethos of
local decision making by schools.
The major policies and guidelines relating to
students with disabilities identified in this research
are set out below.
The School Policy and Advisory Guide is a central
source of operational policies and advice.1311 Many
DEECD policies and procedures sit within this
guide.
Building respectful and safe schools: a resource
for school communities deals with bullying in
schools.1312 This policy is discussed in Chapter 7.
The Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines1313 sets out the eligibility criteria for this
funding program and includes the procedures that
schools must follow when making an application or
appeal regarding PSD funding. These guidelines
also set mandatory requirements, such as having
an individual learning plan and a student support
group for each student eligible for PSD funding.
The PSD is described in detail in Chapter 14.
Funding for students with disabilities attending
Independent schools is available through targeted
Australian Government programs. To apply for
funding, the school submits an application to
Independent Schools Victoria.
To be eligible for this funding, the student must
be assessed as having a disability under at least
one of seven categories of disability and have
‘demonstrated education needs’.1308
1306Information provided to the Commission by Student
Wellbeing and Engagement Division, DEECD, 21
November 2011.
1307Key informant interview, Catholic Education Office
Melbourne.
1308The categories are intellectual disability, severe
language disorder, severe emotional disorder, autism
spectrum disorder; physical disability – chronic
health impairment, vision impairment and hearing
impairment. Independent Schools Victoria, Students
with Disabilities Handbook 2013 (2012) 6.
1309Level 4 funding is for students attending one of the
11 Independent specialist schools in the state. Key
informant interview Independent Schools Victoria.
1310Independent Schools Victoria, Independent Schools
Victoria, above n 323, 6–7.
1311See above n 1276.
1312This replaced the Safe Schools are Effective Schools
anti bullying guidelines released in 2006. See
<http://www.education.vic.gov.au/healthwellbeing/
respectfulsafe/default.htm> at 31 July 2012.
1313Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ’Program for Students with Disabilities
Guidelines’, above n 456.
Part 6: The Victorian education system 199
The PSD guidelines are complemented by the
student support group Guidelines, which provide
guidance to schools on how to establish and run
a student support group. They also describe how
to develop and implement an individual learning
plan.1314 The operation of student support groups
and the use of individual learning plans are
discussed in Chapter 8.
The Accountability and Improvement Framework
for Victorian Government Schools sets out three
outcomes that government schools strive to achieve;
that is, ‘improved student learning, enhanced
student engagement and wellbeing, and successful
transitions and pathways’.1319 Accountability
measures are discussed in Chapter 16.
The Effective Schools and Engaging Schools:
Student Engagement Policy Guidelines cover
a wide range of policies that seek to maximise
student engagement with school. They also contain
the policies and procedures relating to suspension
and expulsions from government schools.1315 These
are discussed in Chapter 9.
Federal education policy
The Restraint of Student Policy forms part of
the School Policy and Advisory Guide and deals
specifically with physical restraint of students.1316
This policy is described in detail in Chapter 10.
DEECD has developed various transport policies,
including the Procedural Guidelines Conveyance
Allowance Program in Rural and Regional Victoria
and the Transport for students attending specialist
school procedural guidelines.1317 Transport
eligibility and policy is discussed in Chapter 11.
The Addressing parents’ concerns and complaints
effectively policy and guides1318 require all
government schools to develop a complaints policy
and provide guidance on how that policy should
operate. The policy explains that complaints are
expected to be dealt with by schools in the first
instance before they can be escalated to the
regional office or the DEECD deputy secretary.
More detail on the DEECD complaints process is
provided in Chapter 13.
1314Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Student Support Group Guidelines’,
above n 457.
1315Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘School Policy and Advisory Guide:
student participation’, above n 552. See also
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Ministerial Order no. 184’, above n 578.
1316Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘School Policy and Advisory Guide: safety
response- restraint’, above n 695. See also Education
and Training Reform Regulations 2007 reg 15.
1317Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Conveyance Allowance Guidelines’,
above n 762; Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, ’Transport for specialist
schools guidelines’, above n 768.
1318Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Addressing parents’ concerns and
complaints effectively’, above n 868.
Commonwealth review of school funding
In April 2010 the Australian Government initiated a
comprehensive review of funding arrangements for
Australian schools (the Gonski Review).
The aim of the review was to examine funding and
its impact on school outcomes for students, across
the government and Catholic systems and the
Independent school sector. A further aim was to
address inequities in educational outcomes among
disadvantaged students, including those with
disabilities.
The Review Panel delivered its final report
in December 2011.1320 It found that there are
significant inconsistencies in the way schools are
funded. There is a lack of consistency in funding
levels provided by state and territory governments;
a lack of clarity in their funding roles and
differences in the way students with educational
disadvantage are supported; and a lack of
coordination.
The report confirms that funding is required
across all school sectors, with the greatest funding
need currently experienced by the government
sector. This is because more disadvantaged
students attend government schools.1321 The report
estimated that, nationally, 78 per cent of students
with disadvantage in government schools were
students with disabilities.1322
The panel recommended a new funding framework
called the Schooling Resource Standard. This
would be used in recurrent funding for all schools
and would consist of separate standard amounts
per student.
1319Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, ‘Accountability and Improvement
Framework’, above n 1232. State of Victoria,
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, Accountability and Improvement
Framework for Victorian Government Schools 2012
(2012). See also Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, School Review Guidelines,
above n 1235.
1320Australian Government, ‘Final Report of the Review of
School Funding’ above n 27.
1321Ibid 13.
1322Ibid 10.
200 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Secondly, it recommended that disadvantage be
addressed through a series of loadings targeted
at socioeconomic background, disability, English
language proficiency, needs of Indigenous
students, school size and school location.
The report recommends that government move
away from targeted funding programs for students
with disabilities like the PSD. Rather, it argues
that the additional costs of supporting students
with disabilities should be included as a loading
in the Schooling Resource Standard once
nationally consistent data on student numbers and
adjustment levels becomes available.
This loading for students with disabilities would be
fully publicly funded.
Further recommendations include setting up an
independent national schools resourcing body,
which will index and review the School Resource
Standard. The report also recommends that
the National Schools Resourcing Body consult
with state and territory governments to develop
an ‘initial range for students with disabilities
entitlement’.1323
Following the Gonski review, the Council of Australian
Governments is now developing a nationally
consistent reporting tool on adjustments made for
students with disabilities, bringing the definition of
disability into line with the Disability Discrimination
Act 1992.1324 This work recognises that states and
territories have inconsistent definitions of disability
and are not keeping consistent data.1325
State and territory bilateral agreements, which
reflect state and territory funding needs, would be
implemented under the review. Consultations are
to occur between state and territory governments.
It is anticipated that legislation to enshrine
the principles of the Australian Government’s
implementation of the Gonski review will be
introduced into Parliament in late 2012, and initial
funding to roll out from 2014.
The More Support for Students with
Disabilities initiative
As the Gonksi reforms are some time away, in 2011
the Australian Government announced a two-year
initiative to provide additional funding to support
students with disabilities.
An additional $47.8 million in funding has been
allocated to Victoria. Of this, $37.2 million will go to
the government school system, $8.1 million will
1323Ibid xxvi.
1324<http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/Programs/Pages/
swdtrial.aspx> at 11 July 2011.
1325From May to July 2011, the new reporting tool was
trialled in 150 schools across Australia.
go to the Catholic system and $2.5 million will go to
Independent schools.1326
The Victorian Government, the Catholic Education
Commission of Victoria and Independent Schools
Victoria have now agreed action plans with the
Commonwealth.1327
The main elements of the Victorian Government’s
plan are:
• provision of vision-assistive technology and
teacher training on its use
• a trial of deaf captioning
• providing training for all school staff on
understanding their obligations under the
Disability Standards for Education 2005, using
an online learning program
• developing support centres of expertise in the
educational needs of students with disabilities,
which can be accessed by other schools that
may not have this expertise
• providing specialist training to all school
principals and all school leaders on the needs
of students with disabilities
• expert consultation on Down syndrome, through
Down Syndrome Victoria, and deaf education,
through the Victorian Deaf Education Institute
• expert consultation on autism spectrum disorder
through autism Victoria
• autism teacher coaches and school supports
• autism inclusion support coordinators in each
region
• additional teacher specialisation scholarships
in deaf education and in teaching students with
autism spectrum disorder
• the Inclusion Online learning portal for teachers
on disability specific knowledge, teaching,
assessment, classroom support and learning
plans for students with disabilities and learning
difficulties
• professional learning for specialist schools,
including in preventing and managing extreme
and challenging behaviour, in partnership with
the Principals’ Association of Specialist Schools
• the Learning Difficulties School Support
Program, which includes $14 million for schools
to access a range of supports to identify
learning approaches tailored to individual needs
1326See above n 25.
1327Catholic Education Commission Victoria and
Commonwealth, above n 17; Independent Schools
Victoria and Commonwealth, above n 18; Victoria and
Commonwealth, above n 23.
Part 6: The Victorian education system 201
• further professional development on the use of
ABLES resources.1328
The main elements of the Catholic system’s plan
are:
Legal obligations
Two regimes of anti-discrimination law operate
in Victoria, established by Victorian and
Commonwealth legislation. These laws are the:
• provision of assistive technology, such as
software and communication tools, to students
with sensory disabilities
• Equal Opportunity Act 2010
• training for teachers and learning support
staff on the range of assistive technology tools
available and the factors in selecting and using
these tools
• Disability Standards for Education 2005.
• postgraduate training for lead teachers from
50 schools, with a focus on physical, social/
emotional/behavioural, intellectual and language
disability
• funding for these 50 teachers to coordinate early
years intervention programs at their schools
and establish networks to share this knowledge
beyond these sites
• a best practice transition-planning guide for
Grade 5 and 6 to Year 7 transitions, focusing
on individual learning, health support, complex
care needs and behaviour support planning
• an audit of successful practice around transition
from school to post-school options.1329
The main elements of the Independent sector’s
plan are:
• an authorised training centre to train teachers
and support schools to deliver two professional
development programs: Instrumental
Enrichment and Junior Great Books1330
• to train approximately two teachers from half of
all Independent schools in these programs.1331
• Disability Discrimination Act 1992
Both Victorian and Commonwealth regimes apply
to Victorian educational authorities and schools.
This means that schools have obligations to avoid
discriminating against students with disabilities
under both Victorian and Commonwealth law.
Victorian laws
Equal Opportunity Act
The Equal Opportunity Act makes it against the
law to discriminate against someone because
of a range of personal characteristics, including
disability and age. Disability is broadly defined
and includes physical, intellectual, learning and
sensory disabilities, mental illnesses, medical
conditions and diseases. The protection from
discrimination extends across many areas of
public life, including in education. This means that
schools and other educational authorities have
obligations not to discriminate against students
with disabilities.
Discrimination against students can be direct
or indirect. Direct discrimination occurs if a
school treats, or proposes to treat, a student
unfavourably because of their disability.1332 Indirect
discrimination occurs when a student has to
comply with an unreasonable requirement or
condition that disadvantages them because of
their disability.1333
Examples of unlawful discrimination could include:
• refusing a student’s application for enrolment
because of their disability
• suspending a student because of behaviour
associated with their disability
• not providing adequate support, such as aide
time, to a student with disability
1328For a full list of the initiatives being implemented in
Victorian government schools, see above n 318.
1329Catholic Education Commission Victoria and
Commonwealth, above n 17.
1330Instrumental enrichment professional development
is a program of strategies to enhance an individual’s
skills to learn, through social and cognitive
adaptability. Junior Great Books is an educational
method that promotes discussion and critical thinking
around books and literature.
1331Independent Schools Victoria and Commonwealth,
above n 18.
• not providing adequate adjustments in exams
• allowing a student to be bullied or isolated
because of their disability.
1332Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 8(1).
1333Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 9(1)(b).
202 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
It is important to note that the Equal Opportunity
Act contains a number of exceptions. This means
that schools may be able to discriminate in certain
circumstances. For example:
• schools are able to discriminate if it is
necessary to protect the health or safety of any
person1334
• schools for students with a particular disability
are able to refuse enrolment applications
from students who do not have that particular
disability.1335
In some limited circumstances, the Victorian
Civil and Administrative Tribunal can grant a
temporary exemption from part of the Equal
Opportunity Act.1336
Obligation to make reasonable adjustments
The Equal Opportunity Act requires schools to
make reasonable adjustments where needed so
that students with disabilities can participate in
and derive substantial benefit from educational
programs. This applies unless the student could
not participate or derive benefit from the program
even with the adjustments. The Act sets out what
schools should consider when thinking about
whether or not an adjustment is reasonable.1337
These include the effect on the person’s ability
to achieve learning outcomes and to participate
in courses or programs, the financial impact of
making the adjustment and the consequence of
not making the adjustment.1338
Protection of parents and people who make
complaints
Students who experience discrimination can make
a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity
and Human Rights Commission (the Commission).
Parents can also make complaints on behalf of
their children. Some parents or students may
choose to raise their complaint with their school
or through the DEECD complaints process. In all
cases, students and their parents should not be
victimised for making a complaint. For example,
it is unlawful to isolate a parent because they
have made a complaint on behalf of their child
with a disability.1339
1334Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 86(1)(b).
1335Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 39.
1336Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 89. The factors
that the tribunal must consider are set out in section
90.
1337Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 40.
1338Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 40(3).
1339Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) ss 103–4, Disability
Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) s 42.
The Equal Opportunity Act also prohibits
discrimination in goods and services. Courts
have found education to be a service.1340 If
schools provide services to parents, they must
not discriminate against parents either because
of their association with a child with disability or
because of any other protected characteristic.
Positive duty to eliminate discrimination
The Equal Opportunity Act requires all schools in
Victoria to take a proactive approach to preventing
discrimination. Educational authorities, such as
DEECD and diocese Catholic education offices,
also have this positive duty to take reasonable and
proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination
as far as possible.1341
This includes taking steps to address the structural
barriers children with disabilities face in accessing
education and participating in all aspects of
schooling on an equal basis with other students.
It also requires schools and education authorities
to pay regard to particularly vulnerable groups
who may face multiple disadvantages, such as
Indigenous students with disabilities.
Commonwealth laws
Disability Discrimination Act
The Disability Discrimination Act applies in all
Australian jurisdictions. Like the Equal Opportunity
Act, it makes it against the law to discriminate
against a student with a disability in all Victorian
schools.
The definition of disability in the Disability
Discrimination Act is different to the definition in the
Equal Opportunity Act. However, both definitions
are broad and inclusive.
Both Acts define disability to include past,
present and future disabilities, as well as imputed
disabilities.1342 It also includes behaviour that is a
symptom or manifestation of a disability.1343
1340Sian Grahl v The State of New South Wales (NSW
Department of Education) and Houston (2000) EOC
93-095.
1341Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 15.
1342That is, where a person is assumed to have a
disability.
1343Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) s 4, Disability
Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) s 4.
Part 6: The Victorian education system 203
Similarly to the Equal Opportunity Act, the Disability
Discrimination Act makes both direct and indirect
disability discrimination against the law.1344 A failure
to make reasonable adjustments for a student with
disability will also constitute discrimination.1345
Some exemptions apply that make it lawful to
discriminate in certain circumstances and the
Australian Human Rights Commission has the
power to grant specific temporary exemptions.1346
It is an offence to victimise someone for making or
being involved in a complaint under the Disability
Discrimination Act.1347
Disability Standards for Education
The Disability Standards for Education 2005 (the
Standards) are laws made under the Disability
Discrimination Act. They are designed to spell
out in detail the rights and obligations under
the Disability Discrimination Act. It is unlawful to
contravene a disability standard.1348
The Standards clarify the obligations of schools to
ensure that students with disabilities can access
education on the same basis as other students.
They cover:
• enrolment
• participation
• curriculum development, accreditation and
delivery
• student support services
• elimination of harassment and victimisation.
The Standards also require education providers
to establish strategies to ensure students
can be educated in an environment free from
discrimination. This includes preventing and
responding to harassment and victimisation
directed at students with disabilities.1349
When considering whether an adjustment is
reasonable, schools should take into account the
student’s learning needs and balance the interests
of the student with disability, the education
provider, staff and other students.1350 Schools do
not need to make unreasonable adjustments.
However, even for those adjustments that are
reasonable under the Standards, changes do not
have to be made if this would impose unjustifiable
hardship on the education provider. All relevant
circumstances are to be taken into account when
assessing unjustifiable hardship, including the
benefit or detriment to any people concerned,
the disability of the prospective student and
the financial circumstances of the education
provider.1351
The Standards require that the Australian Minister
for Education review whether the Standards are
effective at meeting their aims, and whether they
should be amended.1352 The report on the first ‘fiveyear review’ of the Standards was published by the
Australian Department of Education, Employment
and Workplace Relations in June 2012. The Review
was based on submissions from and stakeholder
discussions with education providers, students and
families and disability organisations.1353
Each part of the Standards sets out the rights
of students with disabilities, the obligations of
education providers and compliance measures.
This includes the right to reasonable adjustments
that are necessary to ensure that students
with disabilities can access and participate in
education on the same basis as students without
disabilities. ‘On the same basis’ means that a
student with disability must have opportunities and
choices which are comparable with those offered
to students without disability.
1344Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) ss 5–6.
There are differences in the legislative tests for
discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act
and under the Equal Opportunity Act. For example,
to show direct discrimination under the Disability
Discrimination Act a person must show that they
have been treated less favourably than another
person in similar circumstances, but under the Equal
Opportunity Act there is no need for a ‘comparator’.
1345Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) ss 5(2) and
6(2).
1346Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) s 55.
1347Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) s 42.
1348Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) ss 31–32.
1349Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 8.3.
1350Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 3.4.
1351Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth) s 10.2.
1352Disability Standards for Education 2010 (Cth) 11.1.
The Review must be conducted within five years of
the commencement of the Standards, with further
reviews at no more than five-year intervals.
1353Australian Government, ‘Report on the review of the
Disability Standards for Education 2005’, above n 37,
2-3.
204 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
The Review considered whether, within a
contemporary education context, the Standards
were assisting to clarify obligations for education
providers, students and families, to enable
students to access and participate in education,
and to eliminate discrimination against students
with disability.1354 The Report included observations
of inconsistent awareness of the Standards,
barriers caused by discrimination and bullying,
and the impact of lack of resources to implement
the Standards.1355 The Report recommended a
number of changes to the Standards, as well
as measures to promote the Standards, provide
practical and targeted information and guidance
materials and to incorporate the Standards into
other Commonwealth policy and regulatory
frameworks (such as the National Assessment
Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and
the National Professional Standards for teachers
and principals).1356
The Australian Government accepted the
recommendations including to:
• work with agencies to add information about the
Standards to existing resources, and to produce
additional information and guidance material
Obligations under human rights law
Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities
The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities
Act 2006 sets out the rights, freedoms and
responsibilities of all people in Victoria,
including children.
In Victoria, all new laws must be consistent with
the rights in the Charter.1359 This includes when
the government is making legislation, including
Acts and regulations.1360 The Charter must also be
taken into account when government is developing
policies and guidance.
In Victoria, public authorities are obliged to protect
and promote the rights set out in the Charter1361
A public authority includes the DEECD and all
government schools. The VCAA and VRQA are also
public authorities. Each of these organisations,
government school staff and school councils
are legally obliged to observe the human rights
of children and families with whom they have
contact.1362 Failure to do so is unlawful.
• discuss the feasibility of an awareness-raising
campaign (subject to resources), and
• investigate ways to develop national consistency
in the format and use of individual education
plans.1357
While they also gave support in principle to
recommendations around changing the Standards,
they deferred any amendments until after they had
clarified the project to consolidate Commonwealth
anti-discrimination laws. This project is currently
underway.1358
1354Ibid 2.
1355Ibid 5, 21, 34-35.
1356Ibid ix-xi.
1357Australian Government, ‘Response to the review of the
Disability Standards 2005’, above n 39, 4-7.
1358Ibid 3.
1359Unless the Victorian Parliament expressly makes an
override declaration under section 31 of the Charter.
This provision has never been used by the Parliament.
1360This includes the requirement to prepare a Human
Rights Certificate for any subordinate legislation
(regulations). Subordinate Legislation Act 1994 (Vic)
s 12A, Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities
Act 2006 (Vic) s 30. The Commission notes that
the Human Rights Certificate for the Education and
Training Reform Regulations 2007 (Vic) [regulation 15,
regarding the use of restraint in schools] considered
the right to freedom of movement but did not consider
rights to equality before the law, protection from
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, protection of
children, or right to liberty and security of the person.
1361Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006 (Vic)s 38(1). However, this does not apply if,
as a result of a Commonwealth or state statutory
provision or otherwise under law, the public authority
could not reasonably have acted differently or made
a different decision. Charter of Human Rights and
Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) s 38(2).
1362Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006 (Vic) s 38(1). However, this provision does not
apply if, as a result of a Commonwealth or state
statutory provision or otherwise under law, the public
authority could not reasonably have acted differently
or made a different decision. Charter of Human
Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) s 38(2).
Part 6: The Victorian education system 205
Catholic and Independent schools are not public
authorities and so are not bound by the Charter.
However, the Charter still applies indirectly to
their work. This is because the Charter affects
the interpretation of legislation, regulations and
government policies that apply to non-government
schools. The Charter contains 20 rights that reflect
the principles of freedom, respect, equality and
dignity. A public authority, including a government
school, can only limit a person’s rights where
the limit is reasonable and can be demonstrably
justified.1363 The following rights may be particularly
relevant to students with disabilities.
Recognition and equality before the law: All
Victorians have the right to enjoy their human
rights free from discrimination. This right is relevant
to all aspects of a student’s education when
schools consider adjustments so that students with
disabilities can access education.1364
Protection of children and families: This includes
the right of children, without discrimination, to
protection of their best interests.1365 This right is
relevant to school decisions that affect students
who are under 18 years and decisions that affect
families.1366
Protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading
treatment:1367 This right has particular significance
with regard to the use of restraint and seclusion
in schools. Other rights relevant to restrictive
interventions include equality before the law,
freedom of movement, protection of children, and
liberty and security of the person.1368
Right to privacy and reputation: This includes
protection from arbitrary interference with personal
information, physical and psychological integrity,
dignity and the social identity of a person. This
right could be relevant to how schools collect and
share information about students with disabilities,
as well as being relevant to the use of restraint and
seclusion.
Right to life: This includes a positive duty
to protect the lives of vulnerable children in
government schools.1369
1363Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006 (Vic) s 7(2).
1364Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006 (Vic) s 8.
1365Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006 s (Vic) 17(2).
1366Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006 (Vic) s 17.
1367Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006 (Vic) s 10.
1368See Chapter 10.
1369Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006 (Vic) s 9.
International obligations
Students with disabilities also have rights under
international law. These include the rights
contained in the Convention on the Rights of the
Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities.1370 Australia’s ratification of these
treaties creates a positive legal obligation to ensure
adherence to these rights and principles within our
laws, policies and practices.
The Charter is based on international human
rights standards and contains a provision whereby
international law may be considered when a
statutory provision is interpreted.1371 Thus, the
courts and government departments may consider
rights contained in these conventions when
interpreting the Education and Training Reform Act
and any other Victorian laws relating to education.
Both the Convention on the Rights of the Child
and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities make it clear that the best interests of
the child should be a primary consideration in all
government decisions that affect children.1372
Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
all children have a right to education. State parties,
including Australia, are obliged to take measures
to achieve the right to education for all children,
progressively, and based on equal opportunity.
This includes taking measures to promote regular
attendance at school and to ensure that school
discipline is dignified and consistent with children’s
rights.1373 The convention also contains specific
rights for children with disabilities. It recognises
that children with disabilities should be able to live
a full life, with dignity and active participation in
the community. Under the convention, state parties
should ensure that children with disabilities receive
assistance, where necessary, to provide effective
access to education.1374
1370Other relevant human rights treaties include the
International Convention on Civil and Political Rights
and the International Convention on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights.
1371Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006 (Vic) s 32(2).
1372Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
opened for signature 3 March 2007, A/RES/61/106,
art 7 (entered into force 3 May 2008); Convention
on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature 20
November 1989, 3 UNTS 1577, art 3 (entered into
force 2 September 1990).
1373Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for
signature 20 November 1989, 3 UNTS 1577, art 28
(entered into force 2 September 1990).
1374Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for
signature 20 November 1989, 3 UNTS 1577, art 23
(entered into force 2 September 1990)..
206 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities also makes it clear that state parties
have obligations to build an inclusive education
system. This includes ensuring that students
with disabilities have support to effectively
access education. In order to deliver inclusive
education, state parties must ensure that teachers
and staff are trained in disability awareness
and in the use of technology, communication,
educational techniques and materials to support
students with disabilities.1375 In addition, state
parties have obligations to promote rights,
eliminate discrimination, and to work towards
making transport, public services, information
and communication accessible for people with
disabilities.1376
1375Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
opened for signature 3 March 2007, A/RES/61/106, art
24 (entered into force 3 May 2008).
1376Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
opened for signature 3 March 2007, A/RES/61/106,
arts 4, 5 and 9 (entered into force 3 May 2008).
In addition to these general obligations,
international human rights protections also apply
to the use of restrictive interventions such as
restraint and seclusion. These include protections
contained in the following international laws:
• International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights1377
• International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights1378
• Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities1379
• Convention on the Rights of the Child1380
• Convention against Torture and Other
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment.1381
1377International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
opened for signature on 19 December 1966, 999
UNTS 171, arts 7, 9, 10, 12, 24, 26 (entered into force
23 March 1976).
1378International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, opened for signature on 19 December
1966, 999 UNTS 3, Arts 12, 13 (entered into force 3
January 1976).
1379Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
opened for signature 30 March 2007, A/RES/61/106,
arts 4, 7, 14, 15, 16, 24 (entered into force 3 May
2008).
1380Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for
signature 20 November 1989, 3 UNTS 1577, arts 3,
12, 19, 25, 37 (entered into force 2 September 1990).
1381Under this Convention, state parties are obliged
to prevent acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment; ensure that education and
information regarding the prohibition against torture
and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment are included in the training persons that
are involved in the arrest, custody and interrogation,
detention or imprisonment of any individual; and
implement mechanisms to regularly review this.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, opened for
signature 10 December 1984, 9 UNTS 1465 (entered
into force 26 June 1987).
Part 6: The Victorian education system 207
Pageheader - head
Appendices
Appendix 1: Participant profile
Educators
The main contact point for educators was the
online survey, with 883 educators taking part.
A total of 23 educators attended ‘have a say’ days
organised by the Commission, these included
teachers, school principals, integration aides and
workers from transition to work programs.
Nine educators provided case studies. Five were
from specialist support providers, two were from
government school principals and one was from a
classroom teacher. A school council member from
a government school provided the other
case study.
Three educators participated in the Commission’s
phone-in; two were classroom teachers and one
was an integration aide. All worked in state
primary schools.
Almost all educators (96 per cent) were from
government schools, with almost three-quarters
(639) working in government mainstream schools
and 205 (23.4 per cent) working in government
specialist schools. Sixteen educators from
Independent schools and 15 educators from
Catholic schools participated in the survey.
Length of time as an educator
Most participants were very experienced
educators, with 43 per cent having more than
20 years experience.
Figure 17: Experience as an educator
10 – 20 years
22%
5 – 10 years
21%
Educator survey participants
Most of the educator survey participants were
classroom teachers, followed by integration aides
and school principals.
Less than
5 years
14%
• 399 (45.7 per cent) participants were classroom
teachers.
• 185 (21.7 per cent) participants worked as
integration aides.
• 105 (12 per cent) participants were school
principals.
• 76 (8.7 per cent) participants were specialist
support providers (such as occupational or
speech therapists).
20 years plus
43%
• The remaining 109 (12.5 per cent) participants
identified as ‘other’. These included teachers
specialising in sensory disabilities, integration
aides and assistant principles.
208 Held
Heldback:
back:The
Theexperiences
experiencesof
of students
studentswith
withdisabilities
disabilitiesin
inVictorian
Victorianschools
schools
Length of experience among participants was
not limited to principals. Of the 398 classroom
teachers who told us the number of years they had
been an educator, 166 (41.7 per cent) had been an
educator for more than 20 years.
Parents and carers
Working with students with disabilities
Twenty-four case studies were submitted by
parents and carers, of which one was from a
grandparent.1384 Eight of these case studies
regarded a child with autism spectrum disorder,
three related to children with intellectual disability,
one involved a child with a physical disability and
another related to child with a sensory disability.
Six related to children with multiple disabilities.1385
Two related to more than one child with disability in
the same family.
The most frequent mode of participation by
parents and carers (617) was through the survey.
In addition, 90 parents and carers participated in
‘have a say’ days.
Nine out of 10 respondents worked directly
with students with disabilities at their school.1382
When asked about the number and proportion
of students with disabilities at their school, the
responses varied considerably across
mainstream schools.1383
Educators were asked about the range of
disabilities present in the student population of
their current school. Participants were able to
report more than one disability.
• The most common disabilities identified by
all educators were autism spectrum disorder,
cognitive impairment or intellectual disability,
and behaviour-related disabilities. A significant
number of educators identified students with
multiple disabilities.
Figure 18: Types of disability in school population reported by educators
Autism spectrum disorder
778
Cognitive/intellectual
disability
702
Behaviour-related
disability
655
Learning disability
547
Language disorders
511
Sensory disability
508
494
Physical disability
Combination
of disabilities
480
Illnesses or medical
conditions
459
Mental health disability
340
Acquired brain injury
Other (which mostly
include cerebral palsy and
Down syndrome
205
46
100
200
1382Ninety-two per cent.
1383Specialist schools by their nature have a 100 per cent
student with disability enrolment rate.
300
400
500
600
700
800
1384A total of 39 case studies were submitted.
1385The remaining five case studies did not disclose the
nature of their child’s disability.
Appendices 209
Forty-five parents and carers participated in the
phone-in, of which two were grandparents.1386
Almost half (20) reported that their child had
multiple disabilities, most typically intellectual
disability and autism spectrum disorder. A further
12 had a child with autism spectrum disorder at
school and five described their child’s disability as
intellectual disability, including Down syndrome.
One case related to foetal alcohol syndrome, one
to mental health disability and one to sensory
disability.
Of the 40 parents in the phone-in who reported
the type of school their child attended, 22 children
attended a government mainstream school and 14
attended a government specialist school. Three had
children in an Independent or Catholic mainstream
school. One was home-schooling their child. Most
of these students were in Prep to Year 6.
Parent survey participants
Demographic characteristics of the children
Of the parents who indicated the gender of their
child in the survey, 427 (70.8 per cent) responses
involved male students and 176 (29.2 per cent)
referred to female students.
Twenty-three survey respondents identified their
child as being from a culturally and linguistically
diverse background. Eleven identified their child as
being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
• 346 reported autism spectrum disorder
• 160 reported intellectual disability
• 119 reported learning disability
• 97 reported behavioural related disability
• 90 reported sensory disability
• 84 reported physical disability
• 74 reported language disorder
• 66 reported multiple disabilities
• 64 reported illness or medical condition
• 40 reported mental health disability
• 13 reported acquired brain injury.
Fifty-two parents reported ‘other’ disabilities, with
most identifying Down syndrome, dissociative
disorders, speech delays and auditory processing
disorders.
The most common disabilities reported by parents
were similar to those identified by educators.
Significantly, both parents and educators
participating in this survey reported autism
spectrum disorder most frequently, followed by
intellectual disability.
However, the reporting levels of behavioural
related disabilities were higher among educators.
This may be because parents have more detailed
knowledge of their child’s disability and use a
formal diagnosis rather than a global term about
behaviour.
Parents were also asked about their child’s
disability, and were able to report more than
one disability.1387 Of the 617 parents and carers
surveyed:
1386The number of grandparents within the survey cohort
is not known. The total number of participants in the
phone-in was 59.
1387However, the range of disabilities listed suggests that
at least some of those who did not select multiple
disabilities as an answer may parent or care for
children who have a combination of disabilities.
210 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Figure 19: Type of disability reported by parents compared to type of disability reported by educators
Parents and carers
Physical disability
84
Sensory disability (e.g.
hearing or sight impairment)
90
Cognitive impairment/
intellectual disability
Acquired Brain Injury
160
13
Behavioural related
disability (including ADHD)
97
Autism spectrum disorder
346
Mental health disability
(e.g. depression)
40
Learning disability
(e.g. dyslexia)
119
Language disorder
74
Illness or medical condition
(e.g. diabetes, epilepsy)
64
Combination of disabilities
66
52
Other
50
100
150
200
250
300
350
400
Responses
Educators
Physical disability
494
Sensory disability (e.g.
hearing or sight impairment)
508
Cognitive impairment/
intellectual disability
702
Acquired Brain Injury
205
Behavioural related
disability (including ADHD)
655
Autism spectrum disorder
778
Mental health disability (e.g.
depression)
340
Learning disability
(e.g. dyslexia)
547
Language disorder
511
Illness or medical condition
(e.g. diabetes, epilepsy)
459
Combination of disabilities
Other
480
46
100
200
300
400
500
600
700
800
Responses
Appendices 211
When asked what type of school their child
attended, 368 parents (60.3 per cent of
respondents) had a child in a government
mainstream school, while 105 (17.2 per cent) had
enrolled their child in a government specialist
school.
Figure 21: Stage of schooling
Year 11 – 12
12%
Prep – year 6
61%
Year 7 – 10
27%
Fifty-two parents (8.5 per cent) had their child in an
Independent mainstream school, while 12 (2.1 per
cent) had their child in an Independent specialist
school. Ten per cent of parents (60 parents and
carers) had a child with disability in the Catholic
sector, all of whom were in mainstream schools.1388
Seven parents were home-schooling their child
and five parents had children using distance
education.1389
Figure 20: Type of school
Government
specialist
school
17%
Independent
special school
2%
Home
schooling
1%
Distance
education
1%
Geographic location of schools
The survey enjoyed participation from across
Victoria, with just under 40 per cent of parents
reporting their child’s school being located outside
metropolitan Melbourne.
Of the 554 parents who identified the area where
their child’s school was located:
Catholic
school
10%
• 346 (62.5 per cent) were in metropolitan
Melbourne
• 38 (6.9 per cent) were in Gippsland
• 35 (6.3 per cent) were in the Central Highlands
Region
• 29 (5.2 per cent) were in the Goulburn region
Independent
school
9%
Government
mainstream school
60%
Most parents (61 per cent of respondents) had
children in Prep to Year 6. However, there was
a good representation from parents of children
with disabilities in high schools, including Years 11
and 12.
138861 out of 612 participants (9.96 per cent). This is
significantly lower than the whole school population.
In Victoria 22.5 per cent of students are educated in
Catholic schools.
1389Less than 2 per cent of participants.
• 27 (4.9 per cent) were in the Barwon region
• 24 (4.3 per cent) were in the East Gippsland
region
The remaining 10 per cent were in the Ovens,
Wimmera, Western Districts, Loddon and Mallee
regions.1390
1390Eighteen parents were from the Ovens region, 15 from
Wimmera, 11 from Western District, 10 from Loddon
and one parent was from the Mallee region.
212 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Students
School type
Sixty students took part in the online survey.
Ten students participated in the ‘have a say’ days.
Just under half of the students surveyed attend
a government school.1394 Of the 59 students who
answered this question:
No case studies were received from students.
• 29 attend a government mainstream school
Student survey
• 12 attend a state specialist school
Among students participating in the survey:
• 36 were female
• eight attend a Catholic mainstream school
• six attend an Independent mainstream school
• two students attend multiple schools (dual
enrolment).
• 24 were male
• 12 students identified as being from a cultural or
linguistically diverse background
• One student identified as Aboriginal or Torres
Strait Islander.1391
Students were asked to self-identify their disability
and could select more than one disability. The
most common disabilities identified by students
were physical disability, sensory disability, autism
spectrum disorder and learning disabilities. This is
quite different to the disability profile in the parent
and educator surveys where autism spectrum
disorder and intellectual disability were more
frequently mentioned.1392
Students identified:
• sensory disabilities (29 times)
• physical disabilities (23 times)
• autism spectrum disorder (14 times)
• learning disabilities (nine times)
• illness or medical conditions (six times)
• mental health disability (four times)
• language disorders (four times)
• acquired brain injury (three times)
• intellectual disability (twice)
• behavioural related disabilities (twice).1393
1391Sixty per cent were female, the inverse of the gender
balance in the parents survey, where 70 per cent
of parents were reporting the experiences of male
students with disability.
1392The low participation rate of students with intellectual
disability was expected due to ethical considerations
of consent and capacity.
1393Three instances of multiple disabilities were reported.
However, the range of disabilities listed suggests
that at least some of the students who did not
select multiple disabilities as an answer may have a
combination of disabilities.
1394No student participating in the survey attended
Independent or Catholic specialist schools. Nor
were any home schooled or engaged in distance
education. Two students did not know which type of
school they attended.
Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian
Appendices
schools 213
Appendix 2: ‘Have a Say’ day locations
No
‘Have a say’ day location
Date
1
Intellectual Disability – parents and students
11 February 2012
2
Bendigo – parents
22 February 2012
3
Bendigo – educators
22 February 2012
4
Traralgon – parents
27 February 2012
5
Traralgon – educators
27 February 2012
6
Ballarat – parents
29 February 2012
7
Ballarat – deaf students and parents
21 March 2012
8
Ballarat – educators
29 February 2012
9
Shepparton – parents
1 March 2012
10
Shepparton – post-school program
1 March 2012
11
Shepparton – Rumbalara Family Services
1 March 2012
12
Geelong – parents
16 March 2012
13
Geelong – educators
16 March 2012
14
School Council, Emerson Specialist School Dandenong
27 March 2012
15
Victorian College for the Deaf – parents, students and one teacher
29 March 2012
16
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) critical friends group
28 March 2012
17
Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network critical friends group
3 April 2012
214 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Appendix 3: Key informant interviews
No
Organisation
Date
1
Catholic Education Office Melbourne
4 June 2012
2
Disability Services Commission
6 June 2012
3
Independent Schools Victoria
6 June 2012
4
Office of the Senior Practitioner, Department of Human Services
18 June 2012
5
Student Wellbeing and Engagement Division,
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
19 and 25 June 2012
In addition, written responses to questions from the Commission were received from the Infrastructure and
Finances Services Group (Transport), and the Operational Support Unit, Regional Support Division of the
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Appendices 215
Appendix 4: S ubmissions
No.
Organisation
1
Disability Services Board
2
Julie Philips – Disability Advocate
3
Down Syndrome Victoria
4
Emmy Elbaum – Parent Advocate
5
Occupational Therapy
6
Parent
7
Disability Discrimination Legal Service
8
Mark Glascodine
9
Vision Australia
10
Autism Victoria (Amaze)
11
Speech Pathology Australia
216 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Pageheader - head
Glossary
ABLES
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Refers to the Abilities Based Learning and Support
curriculum and teaching resource developed by
the Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development. ABLES is used to identify where
a student is working at a level equivalent to the
Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) and
to plan an appropriate curriculum for that student.
It includes an online tool for assessing the learning
needs of students with disabilities and links this
to the development of an individual learning plan
for the student, to be developed in partnership
with the student support group. ABLES can also
be used to monitor the student’s progress and to
generate specific teaching and learning strategies
for the classroom.
A group of developmental disorders with a
similar pattern of behaviour in three key areas –
communication, social interaction and imaginative
thought. Includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome
and Pervasive Developmental Delay – Not
Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). ASD may also
coexist with other disabilities, including intellectual
disability, speech and language disorders.
Acquired brain injury (ABI)
An acquired brain injury, or ABI, is an injury
to the brain that occurs after birth resulting in
deterioration of a person’s cognitive, physical,
emotional or independent functioning.
Asperger’s syndrome
People with Asperger’s syndrome experience
difficulty understanding and expressing emotions,
have restricted interests and show repetitive
behaviours. People with Asperger’s syndrome
usually have intelligence within the normal range.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD)
A conditioned characterised by inability to regulate
and maintain behaviour, often involving over activity
and poor concentration. This can affect social
relationships and academic work.
CALD
Culturally and linguistically diverse.
Cerebral palsy
The term cerebral palsy describes a range of
conditions that affect muscle control, movement
and posture. Cerebral palsy is caused by damage
to the developing brain.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Service (CAMHS)
A service to provide assessment and treatment
for children and adolescents up to 18 years who
are experiencing significant psychological distress
and/or mental illness.
Cognitive impairment
The term cognitive impairment describes a wide
variety of impaired brain function relating to the
ability of a person to think, concentrate, react to
emotions, formulate ideas, problem solve, reason
and remember. Cognitive impairment can be
associated with many disabilities and disorders
that can be present at birth or acquired later in life.
Glossary 217
Discrimination
Dyslexia
Discrimination is treating, or proposing to treat,
someone unfavourably because of a personal
characteristic protected by law. In Victoria, a range
of personal characteristics are covered by the law,
including disability. Discrimination also includes
imposing unreasonable requirements, conditions
and practices that disadvantage, or could
disadvantage, people with a particular personal
characteristic, and failing to make reasonable
adjustments in education, employment and the
delivery of goods and services.
Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability.
Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which
result in people having difficulties with specific
language skills, particularly reading. Students
with dyslexia may experience difficulties in other
language skills such as spelling, writing, and
speaking.
Early Childhood Intervention Service
(ECIS)
Department of Education and Early Childhood
Development, State Government of Victoria
A service for children under the age of six with
disability or developmental delay, administered by
DEECD. ECIS includes flexible support packages
for children with high support needs, parental
support and education programs.
Disability Standards for Education 2005
Educational authority
The Commonwealth Disability Standards for
Education 2005 clarify and make more explicit the
obligations on schools and the rights of students
under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
The Standards cover enrolment; participation;
curriculum development, accreditation and
delivery; student support services and the
elimination of harassment and victimisation.
An educational authority means a body or person
administering an educational institution.
Distance education
Education provider
Distance education refers to education that is
not based in a physical classroom. Teaching and
learning programs can be delivered in many ways,
including online, via disk or print. Contact methods
can include phone, email, chat, bulletins or post.
An education provider is a broad term used in
the Disability Discrimination Act which means an
educational authority, an educational institution, or
an organisation whose purpose is to develop or
accredit curricula or training courses used by other
education providers.
DEECD
Down syndrome
A genetic condition resulting from an extra
chromosome, Down syndrome involves a range
of physical characteristics, effects on health
and development, and some level of intellectual
disability.
Dual enrolment
Some children enrol at both a local primary school
and a nearby specialist school and spend part of
the week at each. This is known as dual enrolment.
Some parents choose dual enrolment so that their
child can benefit from the different experiences
and resources that mainstream and specialist
schools have to offer.
Educational institution
An educational institution means a school, college,
university or other institution at which education or
training is provided.
Education support officers / integration
aide
Education support officers (referred to as
integration aides in this report) assist teaching
staff in kindergarten, primary and secondary
schools in the preparation of teaching materials,
general classroom non-teaching duties and
providing support and assistance to students to
meet their educational needs.
Educator
In this report, the term educator refers to school
principals, assistant principals, classroom
teachers, specialist staff such as physiotherapists
and speech therapists, and education support
staff such as integration aides.
218 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
Facilitated communication
Mainstream school
Facilitated communication is a hands-on
training technique, which aims to give people
with a communication disability the skills to
use communication aids effectively. Facilitated
communication involves a person physically
supporting the hand, wrist or arm of a person with a
communication disability while the person spells out
words on a communication device with their hand.
A government or private school where
accommodations and adjustments can be
made for children with disabilities throughout
the educational program but are not considered
specialist.
Independent school
Independent schools are both independent in
their finances and governance. Many Independent
schools provide a religious- or values-based
education, while others promote a particular
education philosophy or interpretation of
mainstream education.
Individual learning plan (ILP)
An individual learning plan is a plan created by
various stakeholders which takes in to account
the curriculum level at which a child is ready
to learn at, coupled with teaching and learning
strategies that can be modified by teachers to suit
individual student needs. The individual learning
plan outlines what needs to be taught, priorities
for the content to be taught, goals and appropriate
pedagogies.
Language disorder
Commonly referred to as ‘severe language
disorder’ (SLD) and also referred to as severe
language impairment or severe language
disability. It is defined as difficulty in acquiring
the skills involved in understanding, processing,
or expressing language to the extent that one
is unable to participate fully, without special
assistance, in the social and educational life
of the school.
Learning disability
A disorder or malfunction which results in the
person learning differently from a person without
the disorder or malfunction.
Mental health disability
Also known as a mental disorder or illness, is
a health condition characterised by significant
dysfunction in an individual’s cognitions, emotions,
or behaviours that reflect a disturbance in the
psychological, biological, or developmental
processes underlying mental functioning.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder
A severe anxiety disorder involving persistent
intrusive thoughts or images (obsessions)
and repetitive behaviour that is excessive and
distressing (compulsions).
Pedagogy
Instructional ideas, strategies, skills and practices
used to improve student outcomes.
Physical disability
A physical disability relates to the total or partial
loss of a person’s bodily functions and/or the total
or partial loss of a part of the body.
Positive duty
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 introduced a
positive duty requiring all organisations covered
by the law – including education providers – to
take reasonable and proportionate measures
to eliminate discrimination. Instead of allowing
schools to react to complaints of discrimination
when they happen, the Act requires them to be
proactive about discrimination and take steps to
prevent discriminatory practices.
Program for Students with Disabilities
(PSD)
The Program for Students with Disabilities is a
Victorian Government funding program targeted
to a defined student population with moderate
to severe disabilities. Funds are provided to
government schools.
Glossary 219
Reasonable adjustments
Student support group
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 requires schools
to make reasonable adjustments, so that students
with disabilities can participate in and derive
substantial benefit from educational programs.
The Act sets out that all relevant facts and
circumstances should be taken in to account,
as well as a test, regarding what schools should
consider when thinking about whether or not
an adjustment is reasonable. These include the
effect on the person’s ability to achieve learning
outcomes and to participate in courses or
programs, the financial impact of making the
adjustment and the consequence of not making
the adjustment.
A studentsupport group is a cooperative
partnership between the parent/guardian/carer(s),
school representatives and professionals to ensure
coordinated support for the student with disability
and their educational needs. The student support
group is central to making an application under
the Program for Students with Disabilities and is
mandatory for students in the Program for Students
with Disabilities. A student support group is
strongly encouraged for any student with additional
needs.
Sensory disability
An impairment of one or more of the five senses
often referred to in the context of a sight or hearing
impairment, also inclusive of taste, smell and touch.
Specialist school
Specialist schools cater for children with a
particular disability or specialise in different
groups or types of disabilities. Specialist schools in
Victoria cater for students with physical disabilities,
autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability or
hearing impairments.
States parties
A state party is a state that has expressed its
consent to be bound by an international treaty
by an act of ratification, acceptance or approval,
where that treaty has entered into force for that
particular state. When we talk about states in this
context we mean countries like Australia. This
means that the treaty, under international law, binds
the state. For example, when Australia ratifies
an international human rights treaty such as the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is a ‘state
party’ with obligations under that treaty.
Unjustifiable hardship
Section 11 of the Disability Discrimination Act
provides that ‘in determining what constitutes
unjustifiable hardship, all relevant circumstances
of the particular case are to be taken into account’.
An education provider may not have to carry out
an obligation under the Disability Standards for
Education 2005 if that obligation would cause it
unjustifiable hardship. The unjustifiable hardship
terminology is not used in the Equal Opportunity
Act. Instead, there is guidance on what to take
into account to work out whether a measure is
reasonable.
Victorian Essential Learning Standards
(VELS)
The Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS)
outlines what is essential for all Victorian students
to learn during their time at school from Prep to
Year 10. They provide a set of common statewide standards which schools use to plan student
learning programs, assess student progress and
report to parents.
220 Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools
List of figures used in report
Figure details
Page
Figure 1: Number of students eligible for PSD funding by disability type 2008–12
20
Figure 2: Adjustments requested by parents, ranked from most frequently requested to least
38
Figure 3: Type of assessments where adjustments were requested
54
Figure 4: Types of bullying or harassment reported by parents
74
Figure 5: Parents’ views on how well the school responded to bullying
77
Figure 6: DEECD data on travel times on specialist school buses
130
Figure 7: Concerns and complaints management process
143
Figure 8: Bodies to which parents make complaints about disability discrimination in schools
144
Figure 9: Reasons for not making a complaint
146
Figure 10: Students in the Victorian Independent sector who received funding in 2011 under Australian Government targeted programs for students with disabilities
154
Figure 11: The PSD application process
156
Figure 12: Proportion of total PSD funding by category of disability, 2012
157
Figure 13: PSD funding levels 2012
157
Figure 14: Number of PSD students by level of funding 2008–2011
157
Figure 15: Outcomes of PSD applications by disability category type 2012
158
Figure 16: Disability awareness education in teacher training curricula in Victorian universities 176
(excludes specialist education specialisations/degrees)
Figure 17: Experience as an educator
208
Figure 18: Types of disability in school population reported by educators
209
Figure 19: Type of disability reported by parents compared to type of disability reported
by educators
211
Figure 20: Type of school
212
Figure 21: Stage of schooling
212
List of figures used in report 221
Contact us
Enquiry Line 1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583
Fax
1300 891 858
Hearing impaired (TTY) 1300 289 621
Interpreters
1300 152 494
[email protected]
Websitehumanrightscommission.vic.gov.au
humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au
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