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We must be inclusive for all pupils

October 1, 2023 — 8.00pm

Megan Herbert

Megan HerbertCredit: .

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We must end segregation in education and afford all students with disability an inclusive education (″⁣Probe split on future of special schools″⁣, 29/9). I have advocated for more than 20 years for this as a professional disability advocate and a mother. Direct experience and an overwhelming body of research has demonstrated that inclusive education provides the most benefits for students with and without disability, teachers and the wider community in regard to academic, social and a range of other outcomes.
We must close special schools. About 90 per cent of students attend mainstream schools and they typically experience profound discrimination on many fronts. Many are bullied, excluded and abused. Poor educational experiences and outcomes are the norm for most students with disability. My son, now aged 23, is an example of a person who it was assumed by most should go to special school due to his extremely high communication support needs, autism and intellectual disability. Vigilant advocacy, expertise, great school leadership and adequate resourcing meant he received an inclusive education. He now has a post-school life where he is an active citizen who meaningfully contributes to the community. This must be the new norm for every person with disability.
Stephanie Gotlib, Collingwood

The delight of gaining a special school place
Alistair McEwin, a commissioner with the disability royal commission, says he has never met a parent who wants to have a child attend a special school. Having worked in Victorian special schools I can assure him that the parents I have been involved with are delighted when their child gains a place. Perhaps he might have a look at the media coverage of the recent fire at Heatherwood Special School, where parents were devastated at the loss and spoke enthusiastically about the staff and programs. The parents have chosen the path they feel is best for their child.
Max Woolcock, former assistant principal, Heatherwood Special School

Happier and better adjusted
I worked for about 14 years for an NGO that cared for children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities. The residents all attended special schools or special developmental schools. The unit in which I worked held five or six girls between the ages of 16 and 18. These girls were of an intellectual level which would, it was hoped, allow them to live independently when they left us. Nearly every girl had additional emotional problems stemming from their childhood experiences.
We had a program of living skills training: cooking, shopping, banking, travel training in addition to their schooling. Most of the residents in the unit in which I worked attended a special school which also taught practical skills as well as an adjusted curriculum. The teachers at this school were highly skilled and trained in their particular field, able to cope with all students as individuals. They also worked with the psychologists with whom we had linked our residents as necessary.
We often received new residents who were still at normal high schools. Where possible, they went to the school we used. Sometimes I couldn’t wait to transfer them. I remember a girl also still at her first school. I asked her one day what she’d done at lunchtime. ″⁣I sat on a seat and ate my lunch.″⁣ ″⁣Did you talk to anybody or play games?″⁣ ″⁣No. People don’t talk to me.″⁣ Still another girl, another school, this time one with quite a large cohort of students with disabilities, reported that the boys in year 11 drew a line in the ground and said, ″⁣You special-ed kids aren’t allowed to cross that line,″⁣ and they didn’t.
I can understand why parents want their children to go to normal schools, but in my experience the students at special schools are happier, better adjusted and able to make real progress socially under the care of teachers who are experienced in dealing with students with disabilities and have the resources to handle them as individuals.
Margaret Ady, Avondale Heights


Bring refugees here
Australia’s refugee policy of off-shore processing was cold, calculated cruelty, now mired in corruption (″⁣Refugees in PNG face eviction as dollars dry up″⁣, 1/10). We have ill-treated and now abandoned refugees for political reasons because they arrived by boat 10 years ago. Funds we sent to supposedly support them have disappeared. Dealing with appalling corruption is one thing but we have a moral obligation to now act with humanity towards these refugees. Bring them here.
Anne Sgro, Coburg North

Where is the money?
Where have the millions of dollars gone that were meant to fund care for the asylum seekers still stranded in PNG? The Department of Home Affairs has washed its hands of the problem, claiming responsibility for the refugees was handed to the PNG government in a bilateral agreement finalised towards the end of 2021.
On Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, PNG ranks among the most corrupt states in the world. It also has many of the attributes of a failed state. To leave asylum seekers in the “care” of such a misgoverned state is unconscionable.
The Albanese government should immediately bring all remaining asylum seekers in PNG to Australia and provide them with the mental and physical health care they urgently need.
Allan Patience, Newport

Teacher workload
Teachers are under enormous pressure to address individual needs of students in mainstream classrooms: behavioural, academic, social and emotional. To introduce a greater range of individual needs (″⁣Probe split on future of special schools″⁣, 29/9) into these classrooms would create a greater workload and increase pressure on education staff. Certainly teachers will need better training in supporting students with special needs.
Also the functioning of mainstream schools would need to change to include less transitions between classrooms, establish and maintain play-based or child-centred learning alongside teacher-directed learning, introduce more aides in each class, and possibly have smaller class sizes to improve behaviour management, include more physical resources and communication requirements. These would be significant changes amid a problematic climate of pedagogical issues.
A major example is whole language reading instruction versus the evidence-based synthetic phonics approach. Many students struggle with reading because they are being taught ineffective reading strategies with inappropriate texts. This leads to student frustration and disengagement.
I hope the royal commission understands mainstream schools are complex, stressful environments for many students as well as staff.
Catherine Witteveen,
literacy aide, Mitcham

Don’t remove choice
Choice of school for a child with special needs is not a binary argument (30/9). It is not segregation v inclusion. Special schools are a welcoming, inclusive community, and one many parents choose to educate their child. Staff in these schools are highly skilled in improving outcomes for children with disabilities. To remove this choice from parents would be a grave mistake.
Rosslyn Jennings, North Melbourne

Fund support staff
The proposal to move those with disabilities from their special schools to the mainstream comes with an extra problem and that is of the availability of support staff for each child, when there is already a shortage of staff across all sectors from nursing to aged care and others.
Even those enrolled into private schools do not necessarily have ongoing support staff and teaching staff have the ongoing stress of providing for all students in their classrooms, beyond what has been required in the past.
Unless there is provision for the employment of adequate numbers of qualified support staff there may be a further exodus of teachers from the classroom for less stressful occupations. There needs to be solutions as well as proposals to the problems that are highlighted by the current report.
Loucille McGinley,
Brighton East

Enigmatic Andrews
Neil Mitchell and Kerrie O’Brien (Comments, 30/9) in presenting their opposing views about Daniel Andrews together with the Insight article ″⁣Inside Dan″⁣ highlight the enigma that is Daniel Andrews.
Lauded by his supporters for his infrastructure investments, social reforms, strong leadership and an aggressive agenda aimed at improving the lot of Victorians while at the same time pilloried by his opponents for the state’s debt level, changes in social policies and his leadership style.
The simple question is whether Victoria is a better place for having had Andrews as premier. The answer in my opinion has to be an unambiguous yes.
David Brophy, Beaumaris

Toss of a coin
As an undecided voter at the coming referendum on the Voice to parliament, I have, in effect, turned off listening to the debate. My head is starting to hurt from the constant media bombardment and hatred it has generated.
According to the Yes campaigners, if I vote for No I’m a racist, stupid and a right-winger. The No campaigners say if I vote Yes I’m a communist, an inner city trendy and segregationist. I am none of these.
The case put up for Yes is that it is the right thing to do and for No it is divisive and has unknown consequences for the country.
Too much of the debate has been to look at the rights and wrongs of the past, all races have suffered from dispossession and cruelty, whether you are descendants of First Nations people, convicts or refugees. Constitutional change should be about looking to the future, as one people, for all Australians.
When it comes to polling day, I have two choices: to leave the ballot paper blank or toss a coin.
Paul Terrett, Devon Hills, Tas

Voice for healing
I have heard people agreeing with the concept of self-determination, the right of a people or culture to exercise control over their destiny. Yet when we have a chance to allow that for Indigenous peoples we get panicky about it.
Why do we insist on more detail in a Constitution that never provides fine detail? That’s what legislation is for, and can allow any government to step in if it needs to.
Let’s just think about what we stand to gain by saying Yes on October 14.
First Nations people will feel acknowledged, respected and trusted to make suggestions on how best to improve their lives.
It gives them a chance to heal. Yes, they will be treated differently if a Voice is granted, because they need to be. It is not the Voice that divides Australians. It is poverty and generational trauma. The Voice is simply a mechanism to allow a dispossessed people a chance to reverse that.
Teresa Dowding,
Hoppers Crossing

Back to the future
Letter to the Colonial Office, London, October 1788
Dear Sirs,
The Indigenous inhabitants here have been asking for more detail on how the ″⁣Colonisation Program″⁣ will impact their lives, traditions, ownership and human dignity.
Of concern is the possibility into the future, of introduced diseases, murders, rapes, massacres, child-stealing, alcoholism, poverty, deaths in custody and dispossession from their traditional lands of which they claim ownership going back several thousands of years.
They are having trouble saying Yes to all of this, and that not having a ″⁣Voice″⁣ might play out badly into the future.
Their fears, I feel, may be well-founded.
Please advise.
Your humble servant,
Phillip, Governor, Sydney
Ian Hill, Blackburn South

A grand spectacle
This year’s AFL grand final showcased the skills of the sporting code in a way rarely seen.
I watched the game with some recent arrivals from Africa – lovers of the round ball in their country – and, judging from their reactions, they will probably become devotees of our national sport, for life.
Both Collingwood and the Brisbane Lions are to be congratulated for the spectacle they provided.
Michael Gamble, Belmont

Umpires rule
While the coaches alone know the roles that their players have been asked to do, who else do we think are able to objectively award votes for the best players?
Let’s leave the Brownlow voting in the hands of those without bias. Go umpires!
Paul Gooley, Ringwood East

The game is the thing
Yes Kiss were sort of OK as the pregame entertainment but AFL please note: It’s all about the game and not one of the 100,000 fans would have turned around and gone home if Kiss had cancelled at the last minute.
And the fact that the pyrotechnics might have looked better in the dark is no justification for a night grand final – ever.
Ross Bardin,

Kiss guitar goodbye
I enjoyed watching the lead-in to the AFL grand final. Kiss were great, but why did the guitar have to be broken?
It sends the wrong message to young kids saving up for their first precious instrument, and could have been raffled for charity for many useful dollars. A disappointing outcome.
Judithe Hall, Bowral, NSW

Good moon rising?
I see a new moon rises on October 15. Could that be prophetic for the Voice vote the day before?
Jane Ross, San Remo


My Pies never fail to excite; and Bobby Hill was electrifying. Oh, and the 16th premiership was a bonus.
Jenny Bone, Surrey Hills

Bobby Hill, Norm Smith Medal; Just say Yes.
Wayne Dean, Sunbury

The magpies on our bush block are all singing joyfully and there is not a lion to be seen.
Alan West, Research

What better way to wake up on Sunday morning to the sound of magpies singing outside the bedroom window? Thank you, Craig McRae and Go Pies!
George Djoneff, Mitcham

″⁣For the premiership’s a cakewalk″⁣ – from Collingwobbles to Collingwarbles!
Garry Adams, Corio

Unfortunately, only some of the fans can be happy after a grand final.
Malcolm McDonald, Burwood

Who would have thought the sun would still rise after a Collingwood victory? It seems miracles do happen.
Joel Feren, Caulfield

Hard to imagine anyone ranting about “Chairperson Jacinta″⁣.
Bernd Rieve, Brighton

Neil Mitchell ... new adviser to Jacinta Allan?
Marie Nash, Balwyn

The Andrews COVID press conferences, where he answered all questions regardless of time, should be the norm for politicians.
Gerry O’Reilly, Camberwell

Will those saying vote No come up with a more realistic statement? If this one fails you won’t have a chance for years.
Bruce Dudon, Woodend

With farmers already facing feed shortages and drought in the face of a looming El Nino, it beggars belief that the resumption of hay exports to China is being lauded.
Howard Connor, Sale