Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
Recently, Senator Pauline Hanson suggested that children with disabilities, including children with autism, should be removed from mainstream classrooms because they are holding their classmates back. Some people chose to defend the comments as an attempt at highlighting the need for more resourcing and support for those who teach students with additional needs and disabilities. Our commitment to every child means that we need to do most for students with the greatest need. The purpose of schools is to educate all young people regardless of who they are, where they live or what their needs are.
Throughout history, people have crossed oceans, walked miles and even risked their lives for the right to an education. Education matters as much to a child with autism as it does to a student who has been identified as ‘gifted and talented’. The right to an education is a fundamental human right. In supporting that, we need to recognise that integration not segregation is the cornerstone of a modern education system. To leave some children out simply because they don’t represent the norm does not promote tolerance for difference or celebrate diversity.
Great schools have a culture where learning is a joyful experience. They value every learner. They are safe places where everyone belongs and is needed. Students begin to realise just how much they are capable of. Friendships develop, kids become more resilient, and they thrive.
We need schools that provide support where it is needed most, and that invest in the skills and knowledge of their teachers so that they are able to ‘do the work’. We need schools where all young people grow through having a great education. What we don’t need is our elected representatives making ill-considered comments that make some young people feel less worthy of their place in their school community.
Our national anthem calls us all to combine with courage to ‘Advance Australia Fair’. There is nothing fair in comments or policies that advance the lives of some at the expense of others. As Winston Churchill said, courage is about standing up and speaking but also sitting down and listening. The courageous politicians are the ones who have been prepared to do less talking and more listening to the parents and teachers who are committed to supporting children with highly specialised needs/disabilities. And while we’re at it, we should also be listening to the students themselves because their voices are the most important of all in this conversation.
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta