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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2000  
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Contents >> Education >> Participation in Education: Disability and schooling

Participation in Education: Disability and schooling

In 1998, 277,400 children aged 5-17 years (8% of all children in that age group) had a disability.

Most of these children attended regular schools, however many of those with learning restrictions attended special classes or special schools.

Defining disability
The information presented in this review is based on data from the 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.

The survey recognised that the term ‘disability’ can include a wide range of disorders with considerable variation in degree and collected information to differentiate between people in terms of the type and severity of the disorder. This review focuses on children aged 5-17 years whose disability involves a specific restriction. Children with a disorder but no specific restriction have been grouped with those with no disorder.

The specific restrictions used to identify the group of children of interest included a restriction (mild to profound) in communication, mobility or self-care, a schooling restriction or an employment restriction. All of these restrictions may exist by themselves or in conjunction with one another. Thus a child may, for example, have had a communication restriction but not a schooling restriction.

A schooling restriction for a child was determined if, because of their disability, they had difficulty at school, attended a special school, attended special classes at an ordinary school, needed at least one day a week off school on average or were unable to attend school at all. For further details of the criteria used to identify the presence of other specific restrictions, such as those associated with communication, mobility or self-care, refer to ABS, Disability, Ageing and Carers 1998 User Guide (cat. no. 4431.0).


Through the mid 1980s to the early 1990s the Commonwealth and each of the State and Territory governments enacted legislation seeking to enhance the well-being of people with disabilities. The legislation addressed issues such as equal opportunity, the provision of services in the community and social justice.
1 This legislation (amendments to Education Acts in some States) included specific provisions for protecting the rights of people with disabilities to access educational services. The general aim was to enhance their educational opportunities and outcomes.

Within this context much attention has been given to integrating students into regular schools. While this has led to an increase in the number of students with disabilities in regular educational settings, there has been parallel recognition that some students are still best catered for in a special facility.1

DISABILITY(a) AND SCHOOLING STATUS OF CHILDREN AGED 5-17 YEARS, 1998

Children with disabilities attending school

School participation rate
Type of school/class


Proportion of children with disabilities
With
disabilities
Without
disabilities
Ordinary class/ regular school
Special class/
regular school
Special
schools
Total
Percent of all
school children
Age group
%
%
%
'000
'000
'000
'000
%

5-12
8.8
97.2
98.1
118.6
46.0
14.9
179.5
8.7
13-15
6.9
92.6
97.9
26.2
18.1
7.9
52.2
6.6
16-17
6.9
60.8
72.5
18.6
**2.3
**1.2
22.1
5.8
Total
8.0
91.5
94.1
163.5
66.3
24.0
253.8
7.8

a) Children with disabilities refers to those with a specified activity restriction (see box).

Source: Unpublished data, 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.


Participation in schooling
In 1998 there were 277,400 children aged 5-17 years (8% of all children in this age group) with a disability that involved a specific restriction (see box). Of these children, 229,800 (83%) attended a regular school and 24,000 (9%) attended a special school. A further 23,600 (8%) did not attend school. Of those attending regular schools, 66,300 (29%) attended special classes for some or all of their learning.

For those able to attend, schooling is compulsory for children aged 5-15 years in most States and Territories. School participation rates were only a little lower for children with a disability than for those without a disability at the compulsory (primary and secondary) school levels (indicated by age groups 5-12 years and 13-15 years respectively). However, the difference was much greater among children aged 16-17 years, the ages associated with post-compulsory secondary school. Only 61% of children aged 16-17 years with a disability attended school compared to 72% of those without a disability.

Main disabling condition
People with disabilities often have more than one problem condition (multiple disability). The main condition is that long-term condition identified as the one causing the most problems. In this review, main conditions have been presented separately and in the following grouped categories, which have been specifically determined for this study:

Sensory and physical disorders include speech, hearing and vision disorders, as well as those associated with body malformation or dysfunction.
Intellectual and developmental disorders include ‘central nervous system disorders’ such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy, and a range of disorders that affect intellectual development and learning ability. The miscellany of specific developmental disorders (such as autism) often with neurological associations that produce failure in specific or isolated learning tasks, have been grouped together. Some of these, such as dyslexia, are very specific, while others may be just slowness to learn certain specific skills. Intellectual and developmental disorders which have not been given a more specific diagnosis have been listed separately.

Other mental and behavioural disorders include psychoses in childhood and adolescence, and major anxiety, tension or phobias etc. It also includes attention deficit/hyperactive disorder which has also been listed separately because it is an outstandingly large group for such a specifically defined disorder.


Schooling arrangements
As a result of their disability, children may have a learning restriction which affects their ability to be integrated into regular classes.

High proportions of children with a sensory or physical disability (83%) attended ordinary classes, probably because relatively few had a learning restriction (17%). In contrast, children with intellectual, mental and behavioural disorders (a high proportion of whom had learning restrictions) were much less likely to be fully integrated into regular classes. Contrary to this general pattern, while a high proportion of the 40,100 children whose main condition was an attention deficit/hyperactive disorder had a learning restriction (86%), a relatively high proportion (73%) attended ordinary classes.

Children with certain types of disabilities tend to participate in particular schooling arrangements. This results in different profiles of students in the various types of arrangements. Students with disabilities who attended special schools, and special classes in ordinary schools were generally more likely to have intellectual, developmental, mental or behavioural disorders than those with disabilities attending ordinary classes (83% and 78% compared to 42% respectively).

STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES(a) BY MAIN CONDITION AND TYPE OF SCHOOLING

Total with a disability
Type of school/class attended


Number
With learning restriction
Special school
Special class/
regular school
Ordinary class/ regular school

Main condition/type of disorder
'000
%
'000
'000
'000
%

Sensory and physical
113.9
17.3
*4.3
14.7
94.9
83.3
Physical
84.3
16.6
**3.1
12.1
69.1
82.0
Speech, hearing, vision
29.6
19.3
**1.2
**2.5
25.8
87.3
Intellectual and developmental
78.3
85.7
14.3
34.7
29.4
37.5
Central nervous system
16.9
47.5
**3.8
**3.1
10.0
59.3
Developmental learning(b)
28.7
95.3
*4.8
15.0
8.8
30.6
Intellectual
11.1
100.0
*4.8
*4.3
**2.0
*18.2
Other developmental
21.7
95.5
**0.9
12.2
8.6
39.6
Other mental and behavioural
61.6
81.6
*5.5
17.0
39.2
63.6
Attention deficit/hyperactive
40.1
86.0
**2.1
8.5
29.4
73.4
Other disorders
21.6
73.5
**3.3
8.5
9.8
45.3
Total
253.8
54.0
24.0
66.3
163.5
64.4

(a) Those with specific restrictions only.
(b) Includes autism.

Source: Unpublished data, 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.


Schooling difficulties

Some parents and students experience discrimination in regard to schooling, including a refusal of enrolment, failure of schools to sufficiently address harassment and bullying of students with a disability, and denial of, or limited access to, school services, facilities and programmes.2 Experience of these difficulties is related to the type of main condition. For example, some research has shown that those with emotional disorders are the least accepted and the least welcome in the regular school system.3

In 1998, 68% of the school students with a disability who attended a regular school had some difficulty, at least, above the usual, in accommodating the requirements of their school environment. Those whose main condition was an intellectual or developmental disorder or another mental or behavioural disorder were much more likely to experience difficulties than those whose main condition was a physical disorder (76% and 84% compared to 55% respectively).

The most common difficulties were marked learning difficulties (43%) followed by difficulties fitting in socially (27%). The groups experiencing the most difficulty fitting in socially were those whose main condition was a mental or behavioural disorder (43%) and those with an intellectual or developmental disorder (32%). A smaller proportion (16%) of those whose main condition was sensory or physical experienced difficulties fitting in socially. On the other hand, those whose main condition was a sensory or physical disability had more difficulties with sports. In line with the probable reason for their placement, children in special classes were generally more likely to have difficulties than those in ordinary classes.

PROPORTION OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES(a) ATTENDING REGULAR SCHOOLS WHO EXPERIENCED EDUCATION/SCHOOLING DIFFICULTIES

Type of main condition
Type of class


Sensory and physical
disorders
Intellectual and
developmental disorders
Mental
and behavioural disorders
Ordinary
Special
Kinds of difficulties
%
%
%
%
%

    Sitting
*3.6
*3.9
*9.1
*5.3
4.2
    Hearing/sight
10.7
*6.4
*4.2
8.0
7.7
    Communication
11.9
27.5
25.8
18.0
23.6
    Learning/Intellectual
17.1
66.8
67.0
33.7
66.5
    Fitting in socially
15.5
31.8
42.9
23.4
35.0
    Sports participation
20.2
*10.7
*11.7
16.6
12.6
    Other
11.7
*7.5
*11.8
11.0
9.4
Total with difficulty(b)
54.9
75.8
84.4
66.2
72.3

(a) Those with specific restrictions only.
(b) Total may be less than the sum of the components as people may have more than one kind of difficulty.

Source: Unpublished data, 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.


Support at educational institutions

In 1998, 45% of students with a disability attending a regular school received some additional form of assistance, special arrangement or support service at their school beyond the usual provision of the class in which they were placed. Special tuition (30%) or the provision of a counsellor or disability support person (13%) were the most commonly given. The provision of special equipment (2%) was among the least common.

The receipt of extra assistance was related to the type of main condition. Those whose main condition was within the intellectual or developmental disorders group were much more likely to receive support (69%) than those whose main condition was a mental or behavioural disorder (45%) or a sensory or physical disorder (32%).

Integration or mainstreaming
Integration, or ‘mainstreaming’, refers to placing pupils with disabilities in regular schools and in regular classes set up for children without disabilities. Positive aspects of mainstreaming are said to include the opportunities for children with a disability to mix with, and learn from, their non-disabled peers (both in the classroom and on the playground) and to participate in regular academic programs at a local school. On the negative side, there have been concerns that classroom personnel in regular classes do not necessarily have the training to deal with a specific student’s disability and that the learning programs may not be as suitable as those available in special classes or schools.1,4 Among other concerns that have been expressed are problems of social isolation and loneliness that may be experienced by the children with disabilities.5

Reliable information on the extent to which there may have been changes over time in the proportion of children with disabilities integrated into ordinary classes, or changes in proportions in other types of schooling arrangements is not readily available. However, national school statistics show that the proportion of all schools that are special schools declined from 5% in 1988 to 4% in 1998.6

EXTRA SUPPORT PROVIDED TO STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES(a) WHO ATTENDED REGULAR SCHOOLS

'000
%

Type of support received
Special equipment
*3.9
*1.7
Special tuition
68.0
29.6
Special assessment procedures
22.2
9.6
Counsellor or disability support person
29.6
12.9
Special access arrangements
*3.6
*1.6
Special transport
*4.1
*1.8
Other(b)
18.0
7.8
Total receiving one or more support services(c)
103.0
44.8
Type of main condition of children receiving extra support
Sensory and physical disorders
33.6
30.6
Intellectual and developmental disorders
44.1
69.0
Other mental and behavioural disorders
56.2
45.0
Total receiving one or more support services(c)
103.0
44.8

(a) Those with specific restrictions only.
(b) Includes signing interpreter.
(c) Students may have more than one type of support, therefore components may not add to total.

Source: Unpublished data, 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.


Area of residence

According to a government-initiated report, under-resourcing for special education professionals, services and equipment is a particular problem for schools in rural areas.4

In 1998, there were 23,800 school students aged 5-17 years with a restricting disability living in rural areas, 145,000 in major urban centres (i.e. centres with more than 100,000 people) and 85,000 in smaller urban centres (500 to 100,000 people). In relative terms, students with a restricting disability made up 6.5% of the school population in rural areas compared to 7.3% of students in major urban areas and 9.5% in other urban areas.

Partly reflecting the greater availability of specialist services in urban centres, students with disabilities who lived in rural areas were more likely to attend an ordinary class at a regular school (78%) than those in urban areas (62% of those in major urban areas and 64% of those in other urban areas). However, students attending school in rural areas were less likely (59%), to report having difficulties (with learning, socialising, and so forth) than those in major urban (72%) and other urban areas (66%).

Students with a disability who lived in rural areas were also less likely to receive some form of extra assistance, special arrangement or support service from their school (39%) than school students in major urban areas (51%) and other urban areas (46%). The proportion receiving special tuition was only slightly lower (27%) in rural areas than in urban areas (about 33%).

STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES(a) BY AREA OF RESIDENCE

Major urban
Other urban
Rural
Selected characteristics
%
%
%

With education/schooling difficulties
72.5
65.5
58.9
Type of schooling
    In regular school/ordinary classes
62.4
64.1
77.8
    In regular school/special classes
26.3
30.1
10.8
    In special schools
11.3
5.9
11.4
Level of schooling
    Attending primary level
66.7
61.2
73.7
    Attending secondary level
33.3
38.8
26.3
Receipt of extra support at school
    Receiving one or more support services
51.2
45.6
38.9
    Receiving special tuition
33.7
31.8
26.7
'000
'000
'000
Total students
145.0
85.0
23.8

(a) Those with specific restrictions only.

Source: Unpublished data, 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.


Endnotes

1 de Lemos, M.M. 1994, Schooling for Students with Disabilities, supported by the Department of Employment, Education and Training, AGPS, Canberra.

2 Flynn, C. 1997, Disability Discrimination in Schools: Students and Parents Speak Out, National Children’s Youth and Law Centre, Sydney.

3 Dempsey, I. and Foreman, P. 1997, 'Trends in Educational Placement of Students with Disabilities in New South Wales', International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 207-216.

4 Rush Social Research Agency 1998, Disability Issues: Report of Research into Community Attitudes, Department of Family and Community Services, Canberra.

5 Jenkinson, J.C. 1998, 'Parent Choice in the Education of Students with Disabilities', International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 189-202.

6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Schools Australia, 1998, cat. no. 4221.0, ABS, Canberra.


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