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This document was added or updated on 07/08/2013.
CHILDREN AT SCHOOL WITH DISABILITY
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.
In Australia, there are a number of options available for the schooling of children with disability (see Box 1).
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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%).
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).
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.
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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