Why are special schools still on the menu?

In this post, Dr Glenys Mann discusses parental choice and the provision of special schools as an option for students with disability.


School choice is a defining feature of Australian education for many families but when it comes to choosing a school for children with disability, should segregated schools be on the menu?

The decision to maintain both mainstream and special schooling options is inconsistent with research evidence on outcomes for students with disability and for their peers, which is clear that inclusion is superior. The decision is also contradictory to Australia’s obligation to move “as expeditiously and effectively as possible” towards the full realisation of the legal right of students with disability to an inclusive education. General Comment No. 4 clearly stipulates that this obligation:

…is not compatible with sustaining two systems of education: mainstream and special/segregated education.

It is worrying that in the 21st Century, special schools continue to exist.

One justification that is often touted for the continuation of special schools is the rhetoric of parental choice. However, at this time of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, the question must be asked as to why parents would be offered or willingly choose an educational option that is contrary to policy, legislation, international conventions and a growing evidence bank about best educational practice for students with disability.

Testimony from the first hearing of the Disability Royal Commission suggests that one answer to that question lies in the need for parents to escape or avoid the rejection, stress, and educational neglect that is possible in mainstream schools that are unprepared for students with disability.

It is understandable that parents want a school where their children are welcome and safe, and it is taken for granted that special schools fill this need.

But do special schools protect children from harm or does the choice between mainstream and special schooling leave parents caught between a rock and a hard place?

Some children with disabilities and their families are clearly bearing the consequences of systemic failures in the mainstream but parents’ experience tells us that special schools can also fall far short of providing the academic achievement, friendship and preparation for life that families want and expect for their children.

By their very nature, special schools are incongruent with current understandings of optimal education for students with disability, however, it has been suggested that they provide a pressure valve both for families and for schools. Students with disability and their parents look for reprieve there when enrolment in a hostile mainstream environment becomes too difficult to sustain, and teachers gain reprieve from the challenges of inclusive change when students with disability are no longer their responsibility.

This view of how to respond to the trials of inclusive reform loses sight of the devastating impact of segregation on people’s lives. History is forever stained by the extent of abuse and neglect experienced by people with disability in institutionalised settings and we are horrified that practices such as those recorded in Christmas in Purgatory could have ever been condoned. Yet condoned they were, and even rationalised by professionals who sought to maintain the status quo. How will our justification of ongoing segregated schooling, in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary, be judged by citizens of the future?

Deinstitutionalisation reform was well underway by the end of the 20th Century. It is a matter of shame that one of the last remaining champions of institutionalised thinking is the education system.

Neither mainstream nor special schools currently offer an acceptable choice for parents

Mainstream schools as they currently exist can struggle to consistently provide what parents want. But special schools do not and cannot offer an acceptable alternative. Our current focus on maintaining a dual system (ostensibly to keep all parents happy) dilutes our efforts for real change and distracts us from the critical work of making an authentic difference in the lives of students with disability.

For many years now we have recognised that a dual system ties up much needed resources and keeps the expertise of our special educators from where they are needed the most – facilitating the meaningful and valued participation of students with disability alongside their brothers and sisters and neighbourhood friends. More importantly, while special schools exist, we keep the message alive and well that someone needs to go there, that there are places where students with disability belong.

Such a vision of how to fulfil our obligations to these the most vulnerable of our students is short-sighted and reactive and explains the recent plethora of reviews into education for students with disabilities and their predictable findings. An unwillingness to overhaul an outdated, dual education system ties us to an endless cycle of review and impotent response, and dooms students with disability to be forever in a no-man’s land whether they be in mainstream or special schools.

When it comes to avoiding harm and making a positive difference in the lives of children with disability and their future adult selves, our eyes must be firmly on the creation of inclusive schools. Our hope lies with educational leaders who have the vision, creativity and courage to close segregated settings, embrace the inevitable challenges of systemic transformation, and boldly re-imagine schools where all students belong.

We know which way to go from here

Segregated schooling no longer has a place and mainstream schools as they currently exist are not enough. We have the lessons from history that tell us that we need to do something different and we have increasing evidence for the direction we must take. We have school leaders who are already taking us there.

It is time we all step bravely away from the special/mainstream dichotomy and stop laying the consequences of educational inertia on the already weary shoulders of parents of children with disability. This is not a choice they should continually be asked to make.


Dr Glenys Mann is Co-Leader of C4IE’s Inclusion and Exclusion Program and a lecturer in the school of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education at QUT. Her background is in primary teaching, but she has also worked in advocacy and community organisations, and in early childhood and secondary settings supporting the inclusion of students with Down syndrome. Glenys’ research interests include the role of parents in an inclusive education context, the relationship between parents and teachers, and the inclusion of students with intellectual impairment.


  • Antonia Hannah

    We’ve tried segregated settings – a school , a unit – , , mainstream ( what I call non inclusive ) and then inclusive . Inclusive is by far the best .

  • senior high school strands

    Your website is really cool and this is a great inspiring article. Thank you for sharing. Keep posting.

  • Anon

    I absolutely agree with this message, just today I have toured a special school and our local mainstream school as I desperately need to move my son from his current school which has a support unit attached to a mainstream school. It is clear to me that my choice is to continue advocating (read: arguing) with his school that he is capable of being in a mainstream setting with adjusted work or give him a place where he is supported and shown respect (special school).
    My son’s current mainstream/support unit school, which is advertised to parents as being the best of both worlds is actually the worst of both worlds and it is stemming from the principal down to the teachers and through to the SLSO’s. This school, although ‘equipped’ on paper to ‘handle’ children with special needs and disabilites it has been extremely damaging to my sons development and behaviour as the staff are not able to meet his needs emotionally and academically and the whole process has caused our family great stress.
    If change is to happen and special schools be abolished and all students of all needs are to learn together (IDEAL) it would need to start with teaching degrees to include the extra study of working with children with disabilities as mandatory, school campuses would need to be re-built and principals would need to replaced or retrained. I think it is very important for advocacy programs to take the onus off parents to be their childs advocate within mainstream schools and almost act like the gunie pig in mainstream education (maybe some mainstream schools are great) but why should I have to constantly fight with our school and why should my child have to be uncomfortable and told he is naughty, and generally treated badly by staff with no education on what his needs are. It’s unfair to load this onto parents and this needs to be a fundamental change made by government. Which is absolutley possible, but I am one parent advocate who is too tired of fighting, too tired of crying in my car after drop off. I am choosing to move my child to the well resourced, focused, tailored special school with highly educated staff, where he can feel confident with his abilities rather than to be made to feel like a failure.

  • Ainsley Robertson

    Thank you Glenys. Articles like yours along with the strong advocacy and guidance provided by Professor Linda Graham, Catia Malaquias, Loren Swancutt and many others are, I am sure adding much needed fuel to the ‘inclusion fire’. Your words and actions also provide a lighthouse for families like mine. We know the research, we see the gains our children make when they are included and we see the hope in our children’s eyes. It can be exhausting as we keep working through the many barriers that the continued investment in the dual system keeps presenting our children with. Lack of knowledge amongst educators regarding the research and evidence, along with unfamiliarity in regards to social and curriculum inclusion are some of the biggest hurdles our children face. However, we can’t press pause on our children’s lives and wait for the education system to play catch up. We have to do the best with what we have now and keep advocating for better. We certainly need you and others to keep shining the light on these key issues. While you do this us parents will keep advocating for better and hopefully this will all lead us to getting true Inclusion happening in our schools before yet another generation misses out.

  • Sue Tape

    As a parent of a child with disability, I am grateful for writing like this. It challenges some of the more entrenched attitudes. It highlights key research that supports parents like myself to advocate for our children. It also strengthens us as we advocate for our politicians and policy makers to do better for our children. It feels at times that parents, bureaucrats and teachers are challenged to see beyond their own beliefs and insecurities and need to be reminded of our children’s rights.

  • Judith Smith

    As a Head of over 16 years within the special school sector in the UK, I have mixed feelings about the article as without fundamental change to our curriculum offer and societies reflection on what constitutes success, we cannot ever hope to develop and put in place a single school system. All our pupils are part of a continuum of learning, they are all learners and require a teaching style which meets there needs, regardless of their perceived disability. Is SEND in the eye of the beholder ? Whats considered SEN in one setting, doesn’t even break the surface in another and this links back to attitude, capacity and confidence of the establishment in meeting that need. There are many skilled and talented teachers willing and able to meet the needs of an increasingly complex population, but unless leaders share the same drive and determination to use their resources, curriculum and vision to create innovative and engaging learning, no physical changes will work. Governments and monitoring bodies such as Ofsted, need to address at source, those perverse incentives which celebrate success within very narrow bands, such as qualifications and points scored, which are a direct barrier to inclusion and the perceived success of schools and their learners. As a society what do we value? What does success look like for all learners, from those achieving A* at A level to those with complex learning needs such as PMLD’s? Removing buildings and forcing inclusion will not address the fundamental lack of clarity over educational policy and the value we place on all our pupils achievements.

  • Carly

    Interesting read. But I have to disagree entirely. Having worked in mainstream, support units and special schools for behaviour and also multiple disabilities. If my child had a severe disability or mental health disorder i would 100% send them to a special school. I believe if special schools did not exist it would be to the detriment of our students.

  • Jo

    Both my children have autism with pathological demand avoidance. They are bright, as verbal as other kids their age and incredibly physically active.
    But they have violent and challenging behaviour. Mainstream kids were scared of my children because their anxiety was unpredictable and they would erupt over the smallest thing.
    How would inclusion ever work for my children? Now they are in schools with tiny class sizes, and lots of staff. They are in with other kids who behave the same way and aren’t scared of them. They now have friends.
    Inclusion would simply mean my kids wouldn’t have a school to go to. An autism special school had to kick my son out after two years (and they do everything they can to avoid this) because the other kids were terrified of him. He would get upset with one child and target them over and over for verbal and physical abuse whenever he could. They were put in a different class but my son is clever and figured out which room it was and hurled abuse every time he walked past. Staff had to radio down in advance every time they wanted to walk my son to a different part of the school to make sure the corridors were clear.

    Some kids need a very specific type of school that caters to their specific needs in order to thrive. And that’s just not going to work if we have enforced inclusion.

  • Karli Rutherfoord

    I am so grateful for this article. For years I have advocated for children to attend mainstream school, whilst trying to support parents decisions, and understanding that mainstream teachers and school are not equipped. Over the past 2 years in particular, I have become increasingly discouraged that neither system is working, and I feel that regardless of which “system” they attend, the children are not reaching their potential. I would love to know how you think we can make schools more inclusive. And I’d love to play a part in this in my local community.

  • Jo Stephens

    Such a beautifully considered and written article Glenys. Thank you! I am so grateful our son was able to access an inclusive education. He has thrived in an inclusive environment. Although it hasn’t been easy, it has been worth the effort from all concerned. Thanks to you and your team for continuing the conversations that must be had. They are difficult and painful for many people.

  • Dianne Samuels

    Excellent article Glenys, thank you for writing this. A parent of four children, I have watched for close to two decades, the damage that a dual system causes to many. It is a loss to those segregated and also to those missing the opportunity to go to school with children and young people with disability. Attending the regular mainstream settings from preschool, into primary and now Year 10 high school, my youngest daughter has learnt so much and in the process has taught her teachers and peers about diversity and inclusiveness. It hasn’t been easy because a lot of the time she has experienced integration and sometimes even exclusion, but when she experiences inclusion, which she does, it’s clear that its worth every bit of effort and anxt. It’s definitely time to get on with the job of transforming our education system into one so that opportunity can be reached by all students learning together, building the society we need to be.

  • Lisa Bridle

    Thank you Glenys for a wise and insightful argument. This topic stirs such strong emotions – but I appreciate your identification of the task ahead of us to ensure that the needs of very student with disability are met. I have also pondered how we can continue to cling to models of education which are lacking in evidence of their efficacy and I agree completely that this challenge of school reform is not helped when we have “special places” sending such a strong message about where people with disability belong. As a parent who has persevered in the regular school system despite overwhelming pressure to go somewhere else, I know a different part of what isn’t working in the regular school system (from others who have commented). What I have seen is what happens when there is a lack of will to make a place for everyone. It was damaging (at times) for my son to not be treated as a full member of that school community and very painful as his parents – but I am 100% convinced that the problem was not “inclusion” but the lack of it – and that my son’s experience would have been vastly improved if those around him did not have that option of the “special place” so firmly in their minds. As you acknowledge, we are far from where we need to be, but I thank you for such a balanced and sensitive attempt to move us forward. Keep up this wonderful work!

  • Gina Wilson-Burns

    Thank you Dr Mann for this article.
    I can hear the fear and worry in so many parents voice when they feel that the choices they made are being challenged. The thing being missed, and what I want them to know from your article, is that they weren’t fair or just choices they were asked to make. The education systems around our country are experts at gatekeeping, maintaining the status quo and promoting segregation.

    Neither mainstream nor special are up to par and ‘mainstream’ should never be confused with ‘inclusive’ – they are very different.

    My son started school in a NSW primary school in 2009. He was then described by NSWDET as “the most disabled child ever to be mainstreamed”. He had a very successful primary experience – it took a lot of work by us, with a receptive school, to make it the success. Shift to a high school three km down the road – and, for the first few years it was atrocious – no funding had changed (in fact it increased) but attitudes had. He was not welcome, he was in an environment hostile to people with disabilities because they thought he should be “somewhere else” ie segregated. His school has come a long way in the last 5 years and there’s still plenty of room for improvement. BUT, he remains part of his local community & school, continues to challenge attitudes, is visible and, as a result, much safer for the long term. He’s still not back face to face due to covid, but he’s being checked on by peers and he’s missed.

    If there was the political and educational will by those in power we could move to an inclusive schooling model to the benefit of EVERYONE (teachers included). It wouldn’t need to cost more because the resources and good operators currently in the special sector would be deployed into the new inclusive model.

    While ever there is a dual system in place it is a breeding ground for ableism, bigotry, othering and ignorance. Special schools and segregated settings become feeders for sheltered workshops, disability enterprises and day programs instead of disabled students enjoying the same opportunities and being given the same sorts of choice and control in their lives any typical young adult gets.

    It is well past time we saw a total paradigm shift in education. We know schools are capable, look how quickly they changed to remote learning due to covid.

    It’s time for our schools to emulate the society we want. inclusive, fair, safe and just.

  • Jo

    Main stream schooling has let down both of my special needs children. One now has PSTD from the abuse from mainstream schooling that’s including abuse from some of his teacher.
    My second child was so low that he need a special school but again Education Qld believed they new better then all of his specialists and he spent 1 year in main stream were he was left out in the play ground most of the time he stopped eating and lost a large amount of weight which he was already a thin child. He was constantly put in detention because he couldn’t understand what it was being said to him as he needed visual aids which they wouldn’t use in a mainstream school. It took a year of fighting with Education Qld but we won and he is now of a special school and he is thriving and he has friends and is except among is peers. And most of his night mates have stop he now wants to go to school.
    I just wish I could have the same result for my older boy as he stills gets pick on for been different.

  • Catia Malaquias

    This is an excellent article, thank you Glenys Mann – it is a topic of discussion that is challenging for many people but which is incredibly important. It seems that some people are missing the point – this is not an argument about which of the current “offerings” of the existing “dual system” is best, since either/both “special” segregated settings and “mainstream” settings are failing students and their families, who are caught between a rock and a hard place having to “choose” (and I use inverted commas because that is definitely a contested term in this context – it is Hobson’s choice, no choice at all) between a low outcomes segregated setting (as demonstrated by decades of research evidence) or a mainstream setting that fails to welcome and accommodate many children with disabilities. The fundamental human right of every child with disabilities to an inclusive education, recognised in the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities which was drafted by people with disabilities about their human rights, is the right to learn in a universally, accessible, quality inclusive education system. As long as people keep defending the current dual structure with a system that doesn’t accommodate the diverse functional needs of some children and a system that may accommodate functional needs those BUT segregates them away from the rest of society depriving them of critical rights and opportunities, we can never build a single system that accommodates WITHOUT segregating – a genuinely inclusive education system. All students – with and without disabilities – have the right to have their functional needs accommodated by the general education system and we also know that many children who don’t have disabilities experience these same issues in the current “mainstream” and also deserve better. We also know there are schools around the world that are succeeding in providing a genuine inclusive education to all students, so we have no justification for not transitioning to an inclusive model for everyone, just lots of excuses, lost of vested interests defending the status quo that privileges them at the expense of the basic human rights of children. The current failure of our system is not a function of students disabilities or functional needs – it is a function of existing structures, policies and practices, rooted in attitudes that deny rights and restrict opportunities for some students. Let’s not waste any time in defending it because all of our children deserve so much more.

  • Hazel Lloyd

    Thank you for your clarity Glenys (though it seems many are missing your point ?‍♀️).
    Our kids need voices like yours, and Loren’s and Linda’s on their side. Us parents need it too because we are getting very tired and frustrated with how slow change is happening. It is particularly disappointing in current times when we see how responsive the Education system can be to change (due to COVID19) when required, but the response to our kids needs and human rights is so very slow. Their (the Ed Dept) actions speak a lot louder than their words (ie the QLD Inclusive Ed policy) and show how much they really do not value our kids. The govt needs to stop funneling $$ into a 2 track system. We need one great educational setting for ALL kids!

  • Dr Glenys Mann

    Many thanks to everyone for your thoughts. It is helpful to read the diverse experiences and points of view, so thank-you for taking the time to post a comment. Conversations about the closure of special schools are always difficult, and there are always many different views, but these are the conversations we have to have if we are to see real changes in the lives of individuals with disability.
    As many of you have described, mainstream schools, as they exist now, do not always serve students with disability well. Some of the experiences described here are powerful examples of that. They also point to the work that needs to be done so that all children, regardless of diagnoses, can live and learn together. Reimagining schools for all will not be an easy task, but, as I say here (and as others have confirmed in their posts) we are already underway. A dual system is holding us back.
    What can help us keep moving in that direction? Some useful comments posted above … 1] listen to parents who know so much about their children and what works to support them to do well 2] use the skills and experience of our specialist teachers who know so much about supporting students with disability 3] support students as individuals, not with one-size-fits-all approaches.

    What is happening in most schools now is NOT inclusion, and yes, parents and students are hurt when schools are not prepared for, and welcoming of, diversity.
    But I stand by my conclusion. Segregation is NEVER the answer … it is too damaging to people with disability to be considered as an alternative.
    So what IS the answer? We need to imagine more than these two options, neither of which serve students well … we need to think differently. How might it be possible for schools to be places where all students belong? What would it take? How do we support each other to keep moving in that direction and to embrace the challenges of this transformation?
    That’s the sort of conversation we need to be having now.

  • Loren Swancutt

    I think one of the biggest things being missed here in the comments/reactions is that inclusion is not mainstream (as Linda has explained in detail above). The two terms are incompatible. Placing a student into a mainstream class that was not (and most likely still isn’t) designed for them to be there is not inclusion. It’s integration at best. It’s highly likely the negative experiences and opinions shared here are actually about integration. We’re not wanting integration, we’re wanting inclusion – by its authentic definition, not the bad name it’s been plastered with by mistake of integration. I have been fortunate to both witness and teach in a range of genuine inclusive environments (including students with multiple and complex disabilities). I have also taught in segregated settings. The two are starkly contrasted. The access, participation, engagement and learning in truely inclusive environments is unmatched, but more than that, so has been the student voice. Students who were segregated and then had the opportunity to transition to genuine inclusion have made it very clear there is no way they wish to go back. And the voices of their peers without disability are just as powerful. The huge leap in academic achievement and extra curricular involvement has also been miles a part. There are solutions to the challenges that moving from a mindset and practice of ‘mainstream’ to inclusive education pose – we don’t have to remain fearful and ignorant. With the right investment in the will, skill and confidence, students, teachers and schools can achieve it – I see it daily. I currently personally teach a Year 7 science class that has two students with an intellectual disability, two students with Autism, a student with a hearing impairment, a student with a physical disability, 50% Aboriginal and/or Torres straight Islander, three who are EAL/D, and a wide range of general literacy and language capabilities. All attend my class full time, all fully engage and participate all lesson, every lesson, and all are at least achieving a C. I also know many colleagues across a range of schools who can share same/similar experiences and outcomes. I can fill a book with examples of students whose entire lives have been changed by inclusive education, including amazing extra-curricular involvement, senior schooling outcomes and post-school pathways. Seeing such impact is hard to turn away from. I can no longer concede to something other, something less.

  • Susan Hoffmann

    Thank you Dr Mann for your wise and well-researched words. It is time for segregated educational settings to be defunded and the resources poured into providing inclusive education for all students. Like marriage, special school is a wonderful institution – but who wants to live (& learn) in an institution?


    Having worked in both settings I can tell you that special schools most definitely have a place for children with severe ans multiple disabilities. The problem with both settings is the lack of funding not the model. As for segregation if you are the only child in a class who has a cognitive age way below your peers you are apart just by the rest of the class being at a different maturity level. How is it inclusion if the work in the class is something you understand nothing of. Special schools do a wondeful job of catering to students who do not fit the mainstream model. We have kids who can’t sit down for more than 2 minutes how would that work in a mainstream setting with a student ripping everything of the walls shredding all paper around. Students are not philosophies. Teachers are not magicians. Each student is unique and requires something different to support them. It should be what is the best setting for the child to achieve. Sometimes that is special school sometimes that is mainstream. There is no blanket rule. FOR SOME STUDENTS WITH SEVERE AUTISM AND INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY MAINSTREAM WOULD BE TORTURE. THINK ABOUT THE STUDENTS NOT THE IDEOLOGY. Can a mainstream school provide a class of only a small number of students and a classroom free of tempting paper to shred. It’s not fair to that student or the others or the teacher. No learning would happen in a mainstream school. In a special school with specially trained staff and children like themselves these students thrive. I am tired of people making decisions who have never been in the setting. If Education is for all then it needs to offer settings for all students.

  • Professor Linda Graham

    It concerns me that Glenys’ central point is being missed here due to the conflation of ‘inclusive education’ with ‘mainstream’. Glenys has stated that parents are being forced to choose segregated settings precisely because the mainstream is not inclusive. She is not advocating that students with complex learning profiles be sent to unreconstructed mainstream settings — that’s integration and not inclusion. Rather she is advocating for inclusive school reform. There’s a difference.

    This distinction between ‘mainstream’ and ‘inclusive’ was one of the very first points I made in Chapter 1 of “Inclusive Education in the 21st Century” and the reason that distinction was made early is because of emotive debates with ‘sides’ that are not on the same page. A short excerpt is below:

    “The Mainstream: If we are ever to realise inclusive education, there are some things that we must get straight. Language is one of them. Too often, the terms inclusive and mainstream are used interchangeably, when they are―in fact―mutually incompatible. Let us turn to recent events in Australia for a helpful example. In 2017, right-wing Senator Pauline Hanson decided to juggle a metaphorical can of petrol while holding a lighted match by suggesting to the media that students with disability, and especially those on the autism spectrum, should be removed from mainstream schools (Norman & Borrello, 2017). Ms Hanson claimed to represent the voice of teachers and argued that these students would be better served in special classes and that their presence in ‘the mainstream’ negatively affects classroom teachers and other children. People with disability, advocates, parents of children with a disability and inclusive education experts lined up to condemn Ms Hanson’s comments. Many cited the empirical evidence showing superior outcomes of inclusive education for students both with and without disability (Graham, & de Bruin, 2017); evidence that Kate de Bruin examines in Chapter 3 of this book. What they did not do, because they knew the nuance would be lost in the throes of ill-informed public debate, was say:
    “Well yeah, students with a disability and especially those on the autism spectrum should not be included in ‘the mainstream’. That’s because it was built for most, not all and its very existence depends on the co-existence of a parallel special education system into which students who do not fit a system that was never designed for them can be directed. The truth is that ‘the mainstream’ is not inclusive and it is of no surprise whatsoever that students with a disability (and many others) do not thrive there”.
    Conflating the concept of inclusive education with the concept of a mainstream creates many problems going forward. Most frustrating is the associated claim that ‘inclusion doesn’t work’ and the inside thought of many inclusive experts is again:
    “Well, no, if inclusion is interpreted to mean placing students with a disability into unreconstructed ‘mainstream’ schools—schools that we know were designed with the ‘average’ student in mind—then of course it doesn’t work. But ‘it’, in this case, isn’t inclusion—‘it’ is integration and we abandoned that in the 1990s because we learned all the way back then that ‘it’ doesn’t work”.
    It is therefore critical that everyone involved with inclusive education uses precise terminology going forward. For much of the last 25 years, inclusive education stakeholders have been grappling with the problem of how to make inclusion happen, when so few key stakeholders understand what it really is. There are several aspects to this problem, which has made it difficult to solve. Aspect 1 is an artefact of what Donald Rumsfeld once referred to as “unknown unknowns” (Launer, 2010, p. 628), which is an extension of Bradley’s (1997) concept of unconscious incompetence. In other words, it is easy to believe a school is inclusive when a common definition of inclusive education is lacking and impossible to make that school inclusive if a flawed definition is applied, as this will result in the belief that inclusion has already been achieved. Aspect 2 is the gradual appropriation of both the concept and language of inclusion by special education (Walton, 2015). This appropriation started in the early 2000s as a response to policies that promoted inclusive education, threatening the careers and professional status of all those wedded to the paradigm it sought to replace. This appropriation has fuelled Aspect 1 by muddying the waters and confusing educators, who have applied exclusionary practices in the genuine belief that they were being inclusive. Cátia Malaquias―founder of the advocacy organisation ‘Starting with Julius’, and co-founder of All Means All, Australian Alliance for Inclusive Education―calls this ‘fauxclusion’. It is an apt term for the rebadging that has so far thwarted the genuine development of inclusive education.”

    The book is available at: https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/academic-professional/education/Inclusive-Education-for-the-21st-Century-Edited-by-Linda-J-Graham-9781760527099

    It explains the evidence for, human rights to, legislation underpinning, and best approaches to including all students with disabilities — including those with complex learning profiles. We can do better for all students but only if reform occurs and is genuine.

  • Dani Kent

    For whom is “inclusion in mainstream schools” the best choice? I have a child who was TOO SMART to go to the special school – his IQ is just too high. I have watched him fall further and further behind, because someone decided that the way mathematics has been done for decades no longer worked and all of a sudden NOONE could help him with the best subject he had. Because the teachers didn’t know what they were looking for, no one realised until halfway through grade 6 that he didn’t hate writing because it was boring, he hated it because it was painful.

    He should be halfway through year 11 this year. Instead, we have to go and I have to watch him stress out over another test that he “cannot fail” (yeah that’s what they said about NAPLAN) in order to get him the education that some bright spark decided that he needs now, because in order to get a first year carpentry apprenticeship they want all applicants to have a LICENCE.

    We don’t have a choice. The burden is always going to be on the shoulders of parents of kids with disabilities, because we are the ones who have to fight so our kids don’t fall through the cracks.

  • S. Jacob

    What may work for children with Downs Syndrome and children who are capable of being in a mainstream setting cannot be extrapolated to all children with disabilities – especially those with severe disabilities that need specialist care. I am also a teacher with experience in both mainstream and special school settings. I chose a special school for my son because if I had not had that option, I would have had to keep him at home. There is no way he could have thrived in a mainstream setting and with the severity of his disabilities, he would not have been safe. In the same way that you cannot learn a language or learn to be a flight instructor without specialist teachers and immersive teaching and resources, specialist teachers and resources and time were needed for my child. What you are espousing takes away choice and opportunities for children like mine. It is utterly discriminatory and makes me so angry every time I see articles like this. You do not speak for me or my son.

  • Judy Modra

    Well said. BUT we are in this process today. Our boy is now out of a special unit and not finding it at all successful in mainstream school. The principal agrees that he doesn’t belong in the unit but they haven’t go the solution for him yet. Poor boy has more meltdowns with their ‘let’s try this and see if it works ‘. So sad and frustrating to observe. He’s only at school 1hr a day and they can’t even manage that some days. We manage him in the community. Restraunts, shopping, out and about and many therapies are successful. So what do we do now????

  • Evelyn

    My son,who has Autism and an intellectual disability, has attended a number of different schools. It was my dream that with lots of early intervention therapies and one on one learning before the age of 6 that he would be able to attend a mainstream school. I eventually learned it would be impossible for my child to learn and thrive In a mainstream school. Mainstream schooling is really only an option for quite high functioning special needs children and even they struggle. A mainstream school is unable to cater for the very individual needs and learning styles of many special needs children. I am so thankful for the special needs school my son now attends where is learning and thriving. I therefore totally disagree with your opinion as regards special schooling

  • Michelle Bridge

    Don’t bag it until you have lived it. There is no way the system we have could ever cater for my child’s needs. Even then I very much doubt it. He is a 15 yr old ASD level 3, intellectual impairment, and has severe anxiety. If your not sure how they are being treated or how they operate when your child can’t tell you. Find out for yourself. I did! I ended up working at my child’s special school. I can see with my own eyes how they are treated, and how much the staff care about their students. This seems to be a biased news piece looking at one side of the issue. Inclusion in mainstream should always be a choice. But a choice it should always be as to what is right for each individual child. They are all unique, and one size doesn’t fit all.

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