Australian Bureau of Statistics
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2000
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/07/2000
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Participation in Education: Disability and schooling
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
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.
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).
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.
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%).
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%).
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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