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4429.0 - Profiles of Disability, Australia, 2009  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/06/2012  First Issue
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This document was added 08/07/2013.



CHILDREN AT SCHOOL WITH DISABILITY


INTRODUCTION

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that people with disability should be guaranteed the right to inclusive education at all levels, and that children with disability should not be excluded from free and compulsory primary education or from secondary education (Endnote 1).

This article examines the prevalence of disability amongst children aged 5-20 years in Australian schools, their participation in different types of schools, the impact of disability severity on their schooling, difficulties commonly experienced at school and assistance provided. Children from both primary and secondary schools are included in the analysis. The information from this work can assist in understanding the support that children with disability are currently receiving to gain their education, and contribute to discussions about supporting children to reach their full potential.

In 2009, there were an estimated 292,600 children with disability attending school in Australia. These children were aged between 5-20 years and represented 8.3% (approximately one in twelve) of all Australian children attending school in this age group.


SCHOOL ATTENDANCE

In 2009, children with disability had significantly higher rates of participation in school compared to children without disability (82.1% and 77.0% respectively). The higher participation rate was due to a higher proportion of children with disability staying in school longer. As can be seen from Table 1, there were similar attendance rates for the children aged 5 to 14 years with and without disability.

Almost one in ten boys at school (186,000 boys) had a disability, compared with one in sixteen girls (106,600 girls), and a greater proportion of primary school children had a disability (9.1%) compared to secondary school children (7.4%). This was consistent with a statistically significant drop in disability prevalence between all children aged 5-12 years (8.8%) and those aged 13-20 years (7.0%).

Around half of all children with disability in schools had a profound or severe core-activity limitation (Graph 1). For more information on the categories of disability status, see the Glossary contained within Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2009 (Endnote 2).

Graph- 1. CHILDREN WITH A DISABILITY AT SCHOOL (5-20 YEARS), by Disability Status, 2009



The prevalence of children with disability in school varied between states and territories, from 7.4% in Queensland to 11.7% in Tasmania (Graph 2). This was consistent with variations in disability prevalence between state and territories amongst school-age children.




EDUCATION OPTIONS

In Australia, there are a number of options available for the schooling of children with disability (see Box 1).


          Box 1: Schooling Options for children with disability

          Special schools

          A special school satisfies the definition of a school and requires one or more of the following characteristics to be exhibited by the student before enrolment is allowed:

          • mental or physical disability or impairment
          • slow learning ability
          • social or emotional problems; and/or
          • in custody, on remand or in hospital.

          Special schools include Special Assistance Schools, as defined under the Schools Assistance Act 2008. These are non-government schools that are likely to be recognised by the State Minister as a special assistance school; and primarily cater for students with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties.

          Special classes are classes that exist within mainstream primary and secondary schools specifically to support children with special needs.

          Mainstream schools refer to regular primary and secondary schools (whether government or non-government).


In 2009, most children with disability who attended school, attended regular classes in mainstream schools (65.9%). The remainder attended special classes within mainstream schools (24.3%) or special schools (9.9%). This pattern was consistent regardless of the severity of the disability (Graph 3).





The learning environment for children with disability varied across states and territories. For example, 37.3% of children with disability at school in Queensland were attending special classes compared to 13.3% of children with disability at school in Western Australia (Graph 4).

Graph- 4. CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY AT SCHOOL, by Type of schooling and State and Territory, 2009



School attendance and severity of disability

The level of disability experienced by children in each school setting is of particular interest as severity may indicate how much support a child needs to be able to complete their education.

Special schools

The majority of children in special schools had the most severe forms of disability which is to be expected as these environments are specifically set up to cater for children with special needs (Graph 5).

Graph-5. DISABILITY STATUS OF CHILDREN IN SCHOOL, by Type of school attended



Of the 28,900 children with disability attending special schools, 69.0% had a profound core-activity limitation and 16.4% had a severe core-activity limitation (Graph 6). This meant that 85.4% of the entire school population in special schools needed assistance either all the time or some of the time, with at least one core activity area (self-care, mobility or communication).

Graph 6. NUMBER OF CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY AT SCHOOL, by Type of school attended and Disability Status


Special classes in mainstream schools

Of the 71,000 children with disability attending special classes in mainstream schools, 64.7% had a profound or severe core-activity limitation.

Mainstream classes only

Of particular note was that 52.1% of the children at school with a profound or severe core activity limitation were attending mainstream classes only. Of the 192,800 children with disability attending mainstream classes 76,700 children (39.8%) had a profound or severe core-activity limitation.

School attendance and core-activity limitation

With the progressive move to incorporate children with disability into the mainstream education system since the 1970s, it is of interest to examine whether children with certain specific limitations are more likely to be attending particular school settings.

Of all children with disability attending schools, over half (57.8%) had mobility limitations, followed by communication limitations (41.4%), and self-care limitations (29.5%).

Children with disability were more likely to be participating in mainstream classes only, regardless of the type of activity limitation they experienced. Approximately 47.3% of children with communication limitations , 55.6% of children with mobility limitations and 45.9% of children with self-care limitations attended mainstream classes only (Graph 7).

For more information on core-activity limitation, see the Glossary (Endnote 2).




School attendance and disability groups

The type of disability experienced by the child will impact on the level of support the child needs to be able to participate in their education, and can therefore strongly the influence the type of school they are likely to attend.

Around 59.5% of children at school with a disability had an intellectual disability, while 34.0% of children at school with disability had a sensory disability, 30.3% had a physical disability and 17.5% had a psychological disability. See the Glossary for information on these disability groups (Endnote 2).

Children with a disability as a result of head injury, stroke or brain damage were more likely to attend special schools.

Children with sensory/speech, intellectual and psychological restrictions were more than twice as likely to be attending mainstream classes only compared with attending special schools.

Children with physical restrictions were over five times as likely to be attending mainstream classes only (70%) compared with special schools (12.7%) (Graph 8).

Graph- 8. DISABILITY TYPE BY TYPE OF SCHOOL ATTENDED, All with disability (5-20 years), 2009



DIFFICULTIES AT SCHOOL

Life at school can be challenging for many children with disability with 61.4% (179,700 children) reporting that they experienced difficulty at school in 2009.

The most commonly reported problems were learning difficulties (45.1%), communication difficulties (26.5%) and fitting in socially (26.5%) (Graph 9).

Graph- 9. CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY (5-20 YEARS), by Type of difficulty experienced at school, 2009



Difficulty at school and type of school attended

Children attending special classes in mainstream schools were more likely to report experiencing difficulty (83.7%) than children attending special schools (65.4%) or those attending mainstream classes only (52.5%) (Graph 10).

Graph-10. CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY EXPERIENCING DIFFICULTY AT SCHOOL, by Type of school attended, 2009



Difficulty at school and severity of disability

Children with greater levels of disability were more likely to experience difficulty at school. In 2009, 77.5% of children with profound/severe core limitation attending school indicated that they had difficulty at school - the most commonly reported problems being with learning, communication and fitting in socially (Graph 11).

Graph- 11. CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY AT SCHOOL, Type of difficulty by Disability Status, 2009



Difficulty at school and disability groups

Difficulty at school also related to the type of disability experienced by a child. For example, 82.5% of children with a psychological disability reported experiencing difficulties compared with 78.0% of children with an intellectual disability, 63.1% of children with sensory or speech disabilities and 50.6% of children with a physical disability (Graph 12).

Graph- 12. CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY EXPERIENCING DIFFICULTY AT SCHOOL, by Disability group, 2009



ASSISTANCE PROVIDED TO CHILDREN WITH A DISABILITY AT SCHOOL

There are some forms of assistance provided to children with disability attending school regardless of whether they are in special schools, support classes in mainstream schools or regular classes in mainstream schools. These include provision of special equipment, special tuition, special assessment procedures, access to a counsellor or disability support person, special access arrangements, special transport arrangements and other support.

In 2009, just over half of all children with disability at school (54.3%) received assistance regardless of the classroom setting.

The most common form of assistance was special tuition (39.4%) followed by access to counsellors or disability support workers (21.9%) (Graph 13).

Graph- 13. CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY AT SCHOOL, by Types of school support received, 2009



Rates of access to support at school varied depending on the State or Territory of residence. In Western Australia, 43.1% of children with disability in schools were accessing some form of assistance compared with 56.9% of children with disability in New South Wales (Graph 14).

Graph- 14. RATES OF ACCESS TO SUPPORT IN SCHOOL, by State and Territory, 2009



Assistance at school and type of school attended

The likelihood of receiving assistance at school increased if a child attended special classes in mainstream schools. In 2009, 80.2% of children with disability attending special schools, 88.8% of those attending special classes and 37.7% of those attending regular classes in mainstream schools, received assistance.

However, the type of assistance received varied within each type of school setting. Children attending special schools generally received more of every type of assistance than those in special classes or mainstream classes only, with the exception of special tuition where children attending special classes received more assistance (Graph 15).

Graph 15. TYPE OF SCHOOL ATTENDED, BY TYPE OF SUPPORT RECEIVED, All with disability (5-20 years), 2009



Assistance at school and severity of disability

Proportionally more children with profound or severe core-activity limitations received more of every type of assistance compared to those with milder forms of disability (Graph 16).

Graph- 16. TYPE OF SCHOOL SUPPORT RECEIVED, by Disability status (5-20 years), 2009



Assistance at school and disability group

The receipt of assistance was also related to disability group (Graph 17). Children with head injury, stroke or brain damage were more likely to receive assistance (76%) than those with intellectual disability (71.3%), psychological disability (68.9%), sensory disability (65.6%) or physical disability (47.3%).

Graph- 17. CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY RECEIVING SCHOOL SUPPORT, by Disability group, 2009



Assistance at school and core-activity limitation

A greater proportion of children with self-care and/or communication limitations received more assistance (75.2% and 74.2% respectively) compared to children with mobility limitations (64.1%) (Graph 18).

Graph- 18. CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY RECEIVING SCHOOL SUPPORT, by Core-activity limitation, 2009



NEED FOR MORE ASSISTANCE AT SCHOOL

SDAC does not directly ask whether children with disability need more assistance at school. However, data from the 2009 SDAC suggests some children with disability needed more help than they were receiving at the time of the survey. For example, a significant proportion of children with a profound or severe core activity limitation did not receive assistance (28.5%). Given that assistance with core activities is likely to be required at some stage during the school day, it would seem reasonable to conclude that these children were likely to need more assistance with activities such as understanding, movement, and self-care.


          Technical Note:

          The data source for this article is the household component of the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). The data were self-reported by survey respondents and collected by trained interviewers who conducted computer assisted personal interviews. Proxy interviews were conducted for children under the age of 15 years, those aged 15 to 17 years whose parents did not permit them to be personally interviewed, and those with a disability that prevented them from having a personal interview.

          A small number of children were excluded from this analysis either because they lived in establishments and were not asked questions about schooling or because they were 4 years old at the time of the survey. Also excluded were children who did not attend school because they had finished school, were being home-schooled, or were prevented from attending school because of their condition at the time of the survey.


ENDNOTES:


1. United Nations, 2006, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, viewed on 11 June 2013, <www.un.org>
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability, Ageing and Careers, Summary of Findings, 2009 (cat. no. 4430.0)


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