We welcome the release of the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability and acknowledge the immense contribution the Commission has made by clearly asserting the right of people with disabilities to respect, inclusion, safety, opportunity, and freedom from discrimination.
Specifically, we applaud the focus on education for people with a disability. We support every child's right to a high-quality education that helps them reach their personal potential.
We support the Commission’s call to create systems and structures that are inclusive for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who are blind or have low vision by removing barriers to their participation in education and society more generally.
In education, this requires an individualised response that considers the educational needs of each child rather than focusing on where they need to be educated. Children and their families have a right to an educational setting that best meets their needs and a right to choose what that educational setting and support should be.
The range of educational responses required to meet individual needs is reflected within our diverse education programs which include: community preschools where children learn alongside their hearing and sighted peers; a school support program where our specialised teachers work with students in mainstream schools who have hearing and vision loss, and their teachers, to support learning and life outcomes; and our onsite specialised primary school with different streams (sign bilingual, spoken language and blind/deafblind) to support children’s early learning ahead of their ongoing engagement in the educational mainstream.
For our primary education students at NextSense School, our programs put the building blocks in place to help children transition to mainstream education through highly specialised teaching and an expanded core curriculum.
This environment gives deaf children the extraordinarily valuable opportunity during their formative years to explore spoken language communication and/or Auslan, and to be part of the Deaf community and develop their language with their peers. It also gives families critical wraparound support beyond the classroom, helping them access therapies to set them up for the future such as speech pathology, audiology, occupational therapy, and psychology.
We recognise, and are actively responding to, the need to evolve models of inclusive education and to build the evidence base for new approaches. This includes considering how to transform mainstream education to be more inclusive and how to ensure we can continue to provide a learning community for children who identify linguistically and culturally with the Deaf community.
A focus of our new centre for innovation, which is about to open at Macquarie University, will be exactly this. We will build on our existing expertise and work with others to advance understanding of what best practice in education for children with sensory disabilities should look like in the future.
This means thinking differently about education models beyond a binary of mainstream vs alternative education so that all students and their communities can benefit. It could mean a mix of approaches, where students spend some time in mainstream education and also have access to specialised education, in or out of the mainstream, for specific purposes. It could also mean school models with a specialised education focus that welcome mainstream students in person or virtually into our programs.
This issue is complex, which the Commission has acknowledged in publishing differing views from commissioners on a possible way forward.
We look forward to Federal, State and Territory Government responses to the recommendations.