The director of a Canberra-based disability advocacy group is calling for more support to allow students with disabilities to be moved away from segregated classes and into mainstream classes.
Jan Kruger, the director of Imagine More, said segregated classes are setting disabled students up for failure, and urged for more funding to allow them to better integrate into mainstream classes with their peers.
"Schools need the right support so they're setting kids up for success rather than thinking they're better in a segregated setting," she said.
"It's better for students with disabilities to be together [with their peers], rather than waiting until they're 18 and learning how to be involved in the community."
A review is underway into funding arrangements for students with disabilities in ACT schools. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
The ACT Education Directorate is looking at submissions as part of a review into funding for students with disabilities in ACT public schools.
The review is part of a strategy to develop a new funding model for students with disabilities that will be implemented in 2018, as part of the ACT's commitment to the National Education Reform Agreement.
In her submission to the review, Ms Kruger said direct funding for students with disabilities should go to the schools themselves, rather than continue with segregated classes.More than 50 groups were consulted as part of the review and more than 800 individual surveys into current funding arrangements were completed.
"As long as there are segregated options, it unconsciously sends messages to the broader community," she said.
"There are lots of families out there wanting better education for their children and it's not happening where children aren't getting enough support on health, wellbeing and social connections."
The Education Directorate spends more than $77 million on students with disabilities in ACT public schools, according to figures from the 2016-17 budget.
An average of $67,757 is spent per student in a specialist school, while an average of $29,951 is spent per student in mainstream schools.
"The way funding gets used for schools is to employ a teacher's aide and is often allocated to a single child, even though it's not the best practice," Ms Kruger said.
"[The teacher's aide] is for the teacher and not for singling out a child, and as soon as an adult is sitting beside a child, other kids don't want to be around."
A spokeswoman for the Education Directorate said the review surrounding funding was only in its initial stages, with no date fixed for a report to be released.
"Next steps, including possible further consultation, future policy objectives and funding arrangements, will also be determined as the process continues," the spokeswoman said.
"The directorate will be guided by the research, consultation process and principles of needs-based funding."
Ms Kruger said the optimal result for the review would be funding for segregated classes gradually phased out of the ACT education system.
"They should be promoting education and doing it well, rather than promote new families with young children to enter a segregated setting right from kindergarten," she said.
Editorial: Sadly, things are never so simple.
The education needs of individual students are paramount in education settings. The learning gap between an autistic student and her/his peers in primary school may be relatively small, so placement, at least part-time, in a mainstream primary class may be appropriate if the student is learning enough to keep up.
SOfASD recommends that parents of autistic students carefully consider all the available options when their child starts school. And try to be as inclusive as is practical. Most autistic students are in mainstream classes, but special schools are available ... and Learning Support Units - Autism (LSUAs) in public schools, an option that was fought for and won by parents/families in the ACT, can offer an individual balance between mainstream and ASD-specific settings.
Part-time school attendance is rarely a appropriate. It should only be considered if the Education Directorate provides a private tutor to make up the time. SOfASD has never seen this happen.
Classes in mainstream schools are segregated routinely in lots of ways. Students are often segregated by age ... as surrogate for physical size and intellectual development.
In high school and college, students are segregated into "subject" classes based on their interests and aptitude.
There is little point in including a student who has not understood basic algebra in a class on calculus, or a "non-verbal" autistic student in an advanced class on Shakespeare. It is wasted opportunity for actual learning and just frustrating for everyone.
Just as a severely autistic student does not develop like a non-autistic student through the teen years, many teenage students will simply not understand a severely autistic in the teen years. The autistic student will spend her/his adult life associating with adults ... so it may be more beneficial for some autistic students to start learning how adult interactions work after leaving primary school.
Some autistic students are quite badly damaged through inclusion in mainstream settings in their teen years. It is irresponsible, immoral and cruel to persist with placing a student in a setting that is damaging for him/her.