Monday, 23 June 2008
This is from today's Courier Mail -
Call to abolish Special Schools
by Renee Viellaris in Canberra
A QUEENSLAND senator has called for special schools to be scrapped and disabled kids sent into mainstream education. Liberal Senator Sue Boyce, who has a daughter with Down syndrome, said it was time someone was "brave" and "crazy" enough to push for total integration of students. "We won't fix education until we abolish special schools," Senator Boyce told a Down Syndrome Association of Queensland fundraiser last week. "If mainstream schools had no option but to accept children with disabilities, they would concentrate on how to make it work, not how to avoid getting involved. "And if all the human and funding resources currently tied up in special schools were handed over to the mainstream system, it would be so much easier to make it work." Senator Boyce said her 24-year-old daughter had always gone to mainstream schools and is now a bakery assistant. "In the 60s and 70s, no one believed a child with Down syndrome could be educated," she said "Special anything is a way of excluding them from the community." She said she had yet to express her opinion to her Liberal Party counterparts because it was her "personal view". But Education Minister Julia Gillard said special schools had an important role in educating many Australian students. "The Rudd Labor Government has promised an education revolution to ensure no Australian kids miss out on a quality education," Ms Gillard said last week. "Unfortunately, it seems the Liberal Party's only plan for education is to shut down schools."
This is an interesting comment, particularly coming from someone on Senator's Boyce's side of politics. The fact that the Senator is the mother of a person with a disability adds credibility to her opinions. It also sounds like a comment straight from the heart - that in itself is unusual from any politician in these days of minders and spin.
Julia's Gillard's comment is simply a political response, and political responses have bedevilled this issue for years. This is not a political issue.
It is an issue about which I harbour strong opinions, as for a period (on and off for about eighteen years) I was a special school principal.
Special Schools exist simply because regular schools are not yet ready to support all students. Unless resourcing, support and training for teachers, and public attitudes change, I can't see their demise in my lifetime.
We've come a long way - when I started teaching, there were still children who were considered "unreceptive to education" . (This was a quote from an orthopaedic surgeon of my acquaintance who defined education in the most narrow of terms - generally what used to be called classical education).
To my way of thinking, the only child who can't learn is dead. The attitude so clearly expressed by my learned friend persists in many quarters, and particularly in many private school communities. This was emphasised over and over again by parents who would bring their child with a disability for enrolment at my Special School, bitter because they had been turned away from their private school of choice on the basis that "this school doesn't cater for your son/daughter". The fact that parent had the money, and was making a clear choice cut no ice at all.
I'd recommend that any private school that turns a student away on the basis of a presenting disability should have its public funding removed immediately. In the end, these schools run on taxpayers money, and many of these taxpayers are people with disabilities.
These wealthy schools could then spend the necessary funds on facilities for students with disabilities, and training and resourcing specialist teachers. Then they would be able to "cater".
Maybe a little less spending on facades and artwork and a little more on education for all would have a better national result.
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