Publication Details

Graham, L. J., Proctor, H. & Dixon, R. (2016). How schools avoid enrolling children with disabilities. The Conversation, 28 January 1-3.

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Children with disabilities are frequently discriminated against in Australian schools. It's an issue that has been ongoing for years, with reports showing that little has improved since 2002. Exclusion practices - dubbed as "gatekeeping" - include advising parents to send their child to another school that could better support them; only allowing a child to attend a school on the days that funding is available; and asking parents to pay extra money so the school can employ support staff or purchase equipment. Although this happens across all school types, it tends to be more prominent in, and easier for, non-government or private schools. As these schools compete for enrolments and top exam results, there is a disincentive for them to take any risk that might dilute those results. Unlike public schools, private schools are not required to run open enrolment processes. Their charter is to provide schooling of "choice", not to provide for everyone. Because of this, the exact size of the gatekeeping problem is unknown. While government schools receive some extra funding from the state to support children with learning difficulties and disabilities, private schools aren't entitled to this. This has led to the over-representation of students with a disability in government schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas where parents have fewer options. Over time this leads to a significant burden within some schools, adding to teacher stress and negatively affecting their wellbeing. The concentration of students with additional support needs also impacts other students. The less diversity there is within schools, the less opportunity there is for students to learn from one another. This is the case for abled and disabled students alike.