Both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Endnote 4) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (Endnote 5) recognise the importance of education in a child’s development, regardless of the diversity of their circumstances.
As a signatory to both these conventions, the Commonwealth and all State and Territory governments signed an intergovernmental agreement in 2012 (National Partnership Agreement for More Support for Students with Disabilities, 2012) with the aim of working together to improve educational outcomes for students with disability (Endnote 6).
Education plays a major role in the lives of children between the ages of 5-17 years. In 2012 there were approximately 295,000 children with disability in this age group attending school in Australia. Of these, the vast majority (86%) attended mainstream schools while the remainder attended special schools (schools specially designed to cater for the high needs of students with disability).
A large number of children with profound/severe core activity limitation were amongst those attending mainstream schools (114,000 or 78% of all children with profound/severe disability attending school). This was a significant number of children given that their need for special support would have been particularly high.
TYPE OF DIFFICULTY EXPERIENCED AT SCHOOL
Questions about the types of difficulty experienced at school were only asked of children with disability. These children, regardless of the type of school attended, were most likely to have learning difficulties (43%) while more than a third (35%) had trouble fitting in socially.
A large proportion of children in special schools had profound or severe core-activity limitation (82%). The majority of children however, with a profound or severe core activity limitation (78%) were attending mainstream schools.
Children with this level of disability experienced similar types of difficulties regardless of the type of school attended (Graph 4). For example, there was no significant difference between children in special schools or mainstream schools when it came to experiencing learning difficulties or fitting in socially. For those difficulties where there is a significant difference (e.g. communication difficulties), the differences may be due to the impacts of the child’s disability and be the driver behind them being placed in a special school rather than the mainstream school.
TYPE OF SUPPORT PROVIDED BY SCHOOL
Data from the 2012 SDAC indicates that children with severe/profound disability in mainstream schools were receiving significantly less support than children with the same level of disability in special schools in all areas where support might be targeted (Graph 5).
A number of children with profound/severe core-activity limitation did not receive any support at all at school. For example, of all children with profound/severe core-activity limitation in mainstream schools, 33% were not provided with any special arrangements or support services at all compared with 11% in special schools.