Inclusive education: IEU advocates at inquiry

On 26 March, the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch was invited to give evidence at the first Portfolio Education Committee Inquiry into children and young people with disability in NSW educational settings.

I represented our members who work in a range of roles across non-government schools. I emphasised the importance of addressing the nuanced realities within educational contexts and the need for ‘choice and control’.

For many years now, the IEU has actively engaged in issues of disability discrimination and played a role in the development and review of the Disability Standards for Education (DSE). These standards aim to ensure equal access to education for students with disabilities. With about 20 per cent of students in Catholic systemic and independent schools in NSW identified as having a disability, the IEU recognises the significance of inclusive education practices.

One concern the IEU highlighted at the inquiry was the definition of “reasonable adjustments”, particularly in the context of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD) and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The union supports individualised education plans tailored to students’ needs, but emphasises the need to streamline documentation processes to prioritise direct support for students.

To address challenges such as workload intensification and inadequate staffing, the IEU has collaborated with education departments, both state and federal, to develop guidelines and resources for non-government schools. These efforts aim to optimise teacher and support staff engagement with students rather than excessive paperwork.

At the inquiry, the IEU recommended the establishment of a centralised repository of resources to support educators in addressing specific learning needs and adjustments. The union also advocated for increased support for special education teachers and staff, adequate infrastructure and facilities, and access to allied health professionals, particularly in remote and regional areas.

Inclusive education encompasses small class sizes, individualised attention, and a focus on belonging rather than physical location. While mainstreaming is common in Catholic schools, the IEU acknowledges the value of specialist settings and rejects the pejorative language of “segregation” used in some contexts.

Parental collaboration is essential in addressing the needs of students with disabilities, with a focus on providing support and information during the enrolment process.

At the inquiry, the IEU called for increased funding and resources to support inclusive educational outcomes and emphasised the importance of ‘choice and control’ for parents in selecting appropriate educational settings for their children.

Ultimately, the IEU advocates for a comprehensive approach to inclusive education that prioritises our members and supports the needs and rights of students with disabilities while recognising the diverse contexts and challenges non-government schools face.

Through collaboration and advocacy, the IEU aims to ensure all students have access to quality education and support services and our members are supported with appropriate resourcing and time.