NSW – The Business of Upselling Segregation As Inclusion

By Catia Malaquias

Queensland recently adopted a new inclusive education policy based on General Comment No. 4 (the Right to Inclusive Education), issued in August 2016 by the United Nations to clarify the obligations of signatory countries (like Australia) in relation to the education of students with disability.   General Comment No. 4 – the guidance document for Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which, together with that Article, represents the most authoritative global statement on the right to inclusive education – states:

Segregation occurs when the education of students with disabilities is provided in separate environments designed or used to respond to a particular or various impairments, in isolation from students without disabilities.” [para 11]

Significantly, UN General Comment No. 4, and the new Queensland inclusive education policy based upon it, recognise that the placement of students with disabilities in schools, units or classrooms separate from their same-age non-disabled peers is “segregation” and not “inclusion”.

On the other hand, earlier this year Australia’s most populous State, New South Wales, making no mention of General Comment No. 4, indicated only luke-warm support for the idea that students with disability should be educated in an inclusive mainstream setting while committing to increasing segregated classrooms in NSW schools, the majority to be within mainstream schools. Rather, against the human-rights position and evidence-based research, the NSW Government preferred the voices of the incumbent stake-holders and vested interests in adopting a policy-setting geared to accelerating investment in segregated classes and settings.

In delegating its responsibilities to deliver inclusive education to the status of a decision for parents (again against the human rights position that it is in fact the right of the child), NSW did at least recognise the need for the decision to be made with full information:

“Enrolment [as to setting] should primarily be a matter of well-informed parental choice.”

Unfortunately, and not unexpectedly, the misrepresentation by NSW of segregated education as being “inclusive” has tainted its delivery of information to parents, staff within its education system and the community generally.  In announcing a new special school for Queanbeyan, the NSW Government did little to address the evidence of academic, social and independence limitations of receiving a segregated education:

“Local families with children who need specialised support will benefit from an educational environment that assists student’s individual learning requirements.

The new facility will provide students with a top-quality learning environment, allowing them to grow, learn and have fun while getting a first-class education.”

The distorted use  of “inclusion” in NSW is starkly reflected in a presentation currently being aimed at principals, school leaders and teachers entitled “Inclusion, Getting it Right” which is being presented next month by a dedicated behaviour-management school – a completely segregated setting for the purposes of General Comment No. 4 and the right to inclusive education.

The legacy of capital investment in segregated school infrastructure is not short-term.  The implications for students with disability of NSW’s use of the notion of “inclusive education” to effectively priorities segregation – in essence a misappropriation of the term that does not accord with the internationally recognised meaning – will also be long-term.

[Cover photo © Michal Parzuch]

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