The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Disability Royal Commission) held its first hearing in Townsville from 4-7 November, 2019. The topic of the hearing was education, with a particular focus on the theme of inclusive education policy and practice in Queensland State Schools.

Loren Swancutt, substantive Head of Inclusive Schooling at Thuringowa State High School (and National Convenor of the School Inclusion Network for Educators and developer of the School Inclusion – From Theory to Practice website), along with her Principal and colleagues in two other State High Schools were served notice to provide information and to attend as witnesses at the hearing. They took the stand on Day 3 of the hearing.

The three State High Schools were selected for their history and experience in inclusive school reform, and provided testimony on what inclusive education looks like and how it can be achieved. The witnesses provided valuable evidence about leadership, culture, use of resourcing, staff capability and practice, challenges of practice in the high school setting, and the impact inclusive education continues to have on the outcomes of students. The schools demonstrated that inclusive education within the current limitations of the education system is not only possible, but is happening.

The witnesses were provided opportunity to share their thoughts on what more is needed to further strengthen the fidelity of inclusive education in Queensland State Schools. Loren provided these reflections:

  • Resourcing schools with additional teaching allocations to provide teachers with the time and opportunity to engage in collaborative planning, instructional coaching and responsive professional learning.
  • Access to a data monitoring tool that can be used to disaggregate student data across priority areas, and that can be aggregated across cohorts, categories of disability and levels of adjustment.
  • Needs-based funding to schools that reflects the data gathered in the NCCD process.
  • Considering the demands on high schools to collect, collate and make decisions about levels of adjustments across multiple teachers.
  • Considering the demands on high school teachers to identify, plan, implement and document adjustments for a much larger number of students taught across a week in comparison to primary school colleagues.
  • Rigorous moderation around the choice and appropriateness of adjustments recorded in the NCCD, and removal of ambiguity in the interpretation of adjustment tiers to ensure greater consistency across schools.
  • Strict accountability around the use of resourcing in schools – is resourcing being used appropriately and effectively? How do we know?
  • Overhaul of the roles and capacity of Heads of Special Education Services and Special Education Teachers – current role descriptions are not valued and reflective of the work needed to advance inclusive education.
  • Investing in the professional knowledge and skill of existing Special Education staff to think and work in ways that reflect inclusive education – acknowledging that special education practices do not automatically equate to inclusive education practices.
  • Objectively considering all practices in schools and within the system to identify bias and discrimination that can by hiding in plain sight. Some practices are continuing to perpetuate the segregation and exclusion of students with disability in all of their micro, macro and rebranding forms.

Loren then went on to provide closing testimony about what she would like to see come of the Disability Royal Commission in relation to the education of students with disability:

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Dr Mellifont QC provided a strong closing address at the final day of the hearing. She called out the devaluation and intolerable ignorance that can be present in society and our school systems, and called for greater emphasis on valuing and upholding the rights of persons with disability. She went on to state;

(The hearing) has highlighted the critical importance of the opening of the eyes of the Australian people to the profound and demonstrated benefits of equitable education for all students, and a genuinely inclusive culture, not just on paper but in the hearts 15 and minds of our governments, our educators, and our community.

To conclude, Dr Mellifont referenced words from Loren’s statement;

We can’t possibly be happy with what we are currently doing because history has reminded us time and again that the segregation and othering of diverse groups of our own human kind results in the most horrific outcomes which linger for many decades and transcend generations. We have known better for an awfully long time. We must act with urgency and do better.

Recordings from the hearing with Auslan interpretations and closed captioning, and accompanying transcripts can be accessed via the Disability Royal Commission website.