Every child has a place at school

1 November 2017

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

In June, Queensland senator Pauline Hanson suggested that students with disabilities should be educated separately because of the burden it placed on teachers and other students. That comment sparked heated debate in the community. Parents of children with disabilities argued (very fairly) that their children also have a right to a mainstream education which promotes inclusivity and diversity.

The Disability Standards for Education (2005) states that all schools have an obligation to ensure that students with disabilities have the same opportunities and choices when it comes to their schooling experience as students without disabilities. Schools have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities that enable them to have a meaningful and dignified learning experience. Of course, that experience will look different for different learners. The Standards recognise that students with intellectual or behavioural needs can be well-supported in mainstream classrooms with the appropriate support.

Catering for the different needs of students in the one learning space requires us all – teachers and parents – is to think differently. Learning spaces that allow students to be working on different activities at different times under the guidance of multiple teachers ensures that all students are engaged in their learning and supported when they are not.

Inclusivity and tolerance are valuable lessons for students, teachers and the wider school community. By allowing students with disabilities to have the same access to the curriculum as all other students, we recognise that every child learns differently, that disability is no barrier to learning and that schools values each student equally.

Every child has the right to feel safe and engaged in their learning just as parents have the right to speak up if they have concerns. The work of teachers is to ensure that all students are progressing with their learning and often showing parents how this is happening can be assurance enough.

I recall once seeing the school motto ‘Play your part’ and it reminded me that we each play a part in supporting members of the school community – students, teachers and parents. Inclusive and diverse school communities reflect inclusive and diverse societies.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

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