Policy Submission: Activating Citizenship
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The Julia Farr Association ‘Parent’s Forum’ made this submission to the Social Inclusion Board on ‘Activating Citizenship’ addressing the need for innovative and accessible education for all students living with disability.
Parents attending the forum have had experiences with a range of primary and secondary school settings, from mainstream and link, to annex unit and special schools, within the public and private systems. For these parents the ‘Forum’ is about taking action, social networking and support. It offers opportunity for them to work together towards shared vision; for their children to lead inclusive lives with access to the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers.
The Julia Farr Association’s role is to provide a ‘voice’ on behalf of the ‘Forum’ and to represent the parents’ views on what needs to happen. They fervently campaign that educational settings for their children are not always accessible and inclusive and cannot emphasize enough the need for widespread reform across the sector. The parents have told of their relentless challenges when it comes to securing what should be their child’s natural rights. Regrettably, the hugest problems contended with are perhaps also those that are more masquerading; these are especially pertinent accessing curriculums that are inflexible to individual needs and uncreative in their approaches. Schools are ill-equipped with insufficient facilities, compelling parents and students with disability to contend with difficulties in accessing appropriate support, whilst some are even left to cope with its total absence. This is especially pertinent in terms of equipment/assistive technology and in the amount of School Service Officer (SSO) hours. There have been situations whereby special needs’ funding has been spent in the interests of the school community at large, rather than adhering to its designated use. Similarly, access to specialists (physios, occupational and speech therapists) is substantially limited. There is an absence or lack of understanding around disability amongst educational staff, influencing cultures of unwelcome within schools; a reality perpetuated by hugely inadequate practical training. This translates to children living with disability feeling socially and recreationally isolated from peers, experiencing bullying and hardship in forming friendships. Finally, these families have encountered prejudice and various forms of more explicit discrimination such as entry refusal to schools and no access to playgrounds.
The Parents Forum offered recommendations to address the following questions:
How can the current education system better help a student with disability or carer to achieve their study/education goals?
Can you provide examples of where a school or other learning institution has been successful in helping students with disability achieve positive outcomes? What made it successful?
What factors need to be considered when designing curriculum that is relevant for people with disability and their carers?
What can be done to make buildings, playgrounds and other facilities within educational settings more accessible?
What do our teachers and education staffs need to work more successfully with disability and carers?
How can we improve the education environment for teachers with disability?