10 May 2019
By Catia Malaquias
Ten days out from the federal election the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has announced its policy initiatives for students with disabilities and learning difficulties, in a speech delivered by Andrew Giles MP, Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools, in Tasmania on 8 May.
In addition to a range of initiatives to provide additional funding, support educators and improve inclusive practices in Australian classrooms, the ALP’s announcement also includes broader commitment to systemic reform through the development of a National Inclusive Education Strategy in collaboration with the States and Territories to meet Australia’s obligations under the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child:
[A] Shorten Labor Government will collaborate with states and territories to develop an inclusive education strategy, including for students with learning difficulties.
This is a longer-term process, of course, but of the most fundamental importance if we are make tangible our commitments as a nation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – as well as our societal obligation to ensure that every Australian child gets the support they need at school.
We are also concerned that students with learning difficulties which are not recognised as disabilities get the supports they deserve, too.
This strategy should not just be a matter for governments, or school systems, it has to involve all those affected, in particular students with disability and their families.
This statement by the ALP echoes one of the most significant recommendations in the January 2016 report by the Education and Employment References Committee of the Australian Senate into levels of access and attainment for students with disability in the school system (“ Access to real learning: the impact of policy, funding and culture on students with disability”) which was not adopted by the current Government, as well as the strong call by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in its August 2016 guidance documents about the right to education for students with disabilities (General Comment No. 4: The Right to Inclusive Education) for all State Parties to the Convention (including Australia) to adopt and implement a national inclusive education strategy:
States parties must adopt and implement a national educational strategy which includes provision of education at all levels for all learners, on the basis of inclusion and equality of opportunity.
In his speech Andrew Giles MP also recognised the critical importance of engaging with stakeholders in the education of students with disabilities in charting the way forward towards an inclusive education system, including in particular students themselves:
[D]ecision-makers can all too easily deny agency to these students in a debate which has to be all about them, and which has to recognise and respond to their lived experiences.
This is a debate about real people, and their lives. About whether, and how, we can meet our obligations, through the transformative power of education, to ensure that every Australian really counts.
And we have to put students with disability at the very centre of this – every child should be asked, regularly, what they want from their education, and their answers have to be listened to by policy makers.
Other notable aspects of the ALP’s policy for students with disabilities mentioned in the announcement include:
- an additional $300 million funding over the first three years of a Shorten Labor Government and a broader commitment to restore $14 billion of cuts imposed by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government that have disproportionately affected public schools, where a large majority of students with disabilities are educated;
- review of the processes related to the National Consistent Collection of Data and the “Students With Disabilities” loading;
- a proposal for new Initial Teacher Education Standards with emphasis on inclusive education and supporting students with disabilities;
- ongoing professional development for teachers and principals;
- increased training and support for learning support staff to ensure that they are contributing effectively to learning outcomes of students with disabilities, including the creation of Australian Professional Standards for learning support staff;
- a National Evidence Institute for Schools, which will also conduct a “review of the efficacy and most effective use of learning support staff, including guidance for principals and schools on how learning support staff can be best utilised in our classrooms”.
Starting With Julius welcomes the ALP’s policy framework for education of students with disabilities underpinned by a commitment to best evidence and a human rights based approach, and which has the potential to break new ground towards the implementation of a universally accessible and genuinely inclusive education system for ALL learners.
You can read more about Andrew Giles MP’s speech in full here.
[Cover photo © ]