Children with Disability Australia chief executive: Better support and reforms are needed

Disability groups have backed calls for a broad inquiry into the education of children with a disability, following revelations an autistic Canberra school student was confined in a cage-like structure.

Graeme Innes, who served as the nation’s disability discrimination commissioner from 2005 until last year, has called for such an inquiry, warning the ACT case was not an isolated incident and schools across the country lacked adequate resources to support students with disability.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten immediately backed Mr Innes’ call, declaring: “We cannot assume this is a one-off case.”

Children with Disability Australia chief executive Stephanie Gotlib said progress on better supporting students with a disability had stalled, and a broad range of reforms were needed.

“If that requires an inquiry which highlights the depth and breadth of issues that are faced by students with disabilities, then bring it on,” she said.

Ms Gotlib said such an inquiry needed to range beyond the issue of abuse to examine educational outcomes for students with disabilities.

“We’ve been saying for years that the present education system just isn’t adequately meeting the needs of kids with disability,” she said.

Fiona Forbes, the president of the Australian Special Education Principals’ Association said: “I think that anything that puts the spotlight on practice and policy can only be a good thing. It can only be better for the young people that we work with.”

Ms Forbes said many schools did not have the resources to meet the needs of students with challenging behaviours.

“Some students need one to one (attention), and I mean one to one all the time,” she said.

She said as more students with special needs were taught in mainstream schools, teachers were being asked “to do things they’re really not equipped to do”.

Ms Forbes said any inquiry should aim to spread good practice.

“It’s those best things that we want to grow and develop,” she said.

“It’s not a bashing of teachers, or a bashing of schools, it’s about how can we make this better?”

The ACT government has ordered an independent investigation into the Canberra case, as well as a separate review of disability practices in ACT schools.

The Abbott government has so far brushed off calls for a broader national inquiry as proposed by Mr Innes.

The Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield, who has responsibility for disabilities, said last month the government had supported the establishment of a Senate inquiry into the mistreatment of people with disability. The inquiry’s terms of reference include both schools and restrictive practices.

“There will no doubt be lessons from the inquiry for state government arrangements to protect students with disability in their schools.

The federal government will also closely consider the work of the inquiry as we development a national safeguards and quality framework for the full NDIS.”

A spokesman for Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said that the operation of schools was a matter for state and territory governments.

The spokesman said the Commonwealth was providing record funding for students with a disability, which states and territories were free to spend as they saw fit.

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