Righting a Wrong – When an Award for Inclusive Education is Not for Inclusion

By Catia Malaquias

 “The language of inclusion is often deployed to shield the practice of exclusion” (Professor Roger Slee).

The Queensland Government presented its annual Showcase Awards for excellence in its public schools.

The surprise of the night being that Nambour Special School for students with disability won the Excellence in Inclusive Education Award.  The fact it was even a finalist had already raised eyebrows.

I am not saying that the staff at Nambour Special School are not dedicated and professional or that their literacy programme isn’t deserving of recognition. Literacy is an issue that affects students with and without disabilities.

But the glaring fact is that Nambour Special School does not by definition, including the Queensland Education Department’s definitions, practice “inclusive education”.

So what IS “inclusive education”?

The most authoritative international instrument on the subject, UN General Comment No. 4 to Article 24 (The Right to Inclusive Education) issued in 2016 by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD Committee) effectively defines “inclusion” as the education of students with disability in regular classrooms together with and amongst their same age non-disabled peers.

So what is NOT “inclusive education”?

By way of contrast, at the opposite end of the educational spectrum for students with disability, UN  General Comment No. 4 considers schools like Nambour Special School as practising “segregation”:

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]

Paragraph 39 of the UN General Comment No. 4 further states that:

“Progressive realization means that State parties have a specific and continuing obligation “to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible” towards the full realization of article 24.  This is not compatible with sustaining two systems of education: mainstream and special/segregated education systems.”

General Comment No. 4 also concludes:

“The [UN CRPD] Committee urges State parties [including Australia] to achieve a transfer of resources from segregated to inclusive environments.” [para 68]

So what does the Queensland Education Department say is “inclusive education”?

The Queensland Education Department’s own Inclusive Education Policy for Queensland’s public schools, which is based on General Comment No. 4 and about which we have previously written here, provides:

“Inclusive education means that students can access and fully participate in learning, along-side their similar-aged peers, supported by reasonable adjustments and teaching strategies tailored to meet their individual needs.  …

Inclusive education differs from the following approaches and practices in significant ways:

  • Segregation – students learn in separate environments, designed or used to respond to their particular needs or impairment, in isolation from other students.

… .”

Earlier this year at an Inclusive Education Forum held at Queensland University of Technology and themed Lessons Learned, Actions Needed, Queensland Education Department’s Assistant Director General, Deborah Dunstone (Diversity and Inclusion Branch), presented on the department’s new inclusive education policy.  She  highlighted the importance of conceptual clarity around inclusive education and the considerable work – “probably the best work I’ve done in my career” – stemming from the Deloitte Report, including widespread consultation, and deep inquiry into practices and understandings.

Notably, Ms Dunstone related a conversation with a Special School principal who invited her to see “inclusion” at their Special School and her reply that “you don’t do inclusion”.  She also emphasised that in developing Queensland’s new policy “having to define [inclusive education] and be really clear about it from a system point of view was critical”.

You can watch the video of Ms Dunstone’s presentation here.

So against the guidance of UN General Comment No. 4 and the Queensland Education Department’s own policy position on inclusive education, let’s watch two videos.

The first shows Nambour Special School’s “highly individualised” literacy program being taught effectively “one-on-one” in a segregated classroom.

The second video is a vignette of the inclusive schooling practices at Thuringowa State High School and the school’s journey in closing its segregated special education unit and transitioning its students with disability and learning difficulties into its regular classrooms with appropriate support.

To watch the Thuringowa SHS video click here


Although nominated, Thuringowa State High School did not even make the finals for the Queensland Government’s Showcase Award for Inclusive Education, but received a “commendation” on the way.

Here at SWJ, we wish to address this error in our own small way and, having regard to the Queensland Education Department’s own policies, name Thuringowa SHS the Legitimate Winner of the Showcase Award for Excellence in Inclusive Education.

Will the real winner of the Showcase Award for Excellence in Inclusive Education please stand up!

We sincerely hope that the Queensland Government will right this wrong from their end! It will  be most disappointing if Queensland’s recent important and nation-leading work in inclusive education is allowed to be undermined by a such a blatant example of segregation being misrepresented as best practice in “inclusive education”- completely compromising the conceptual clarity recognised by the Queensland Education Department as being so critical to realising inclusive education and its benefits for students with and without disability.

Footnote –  Although QUT, the Queensland University of Technology, sponsored the Showcase Award for Inclusive Education, we understand that QUT was not involved in the selection of finalists or the winner.

[Cover photo © Ben White]

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