Tasmania’s Budget Estimates has revealed that children with a disability are being suspended at an increasingly alarming rate, many for minor misdemeanours.
According to the data, students with disabilities are also being suspended at a higher rate than students without disabilities. Last year, 31% of all suspensions were given to students with disabilities, even though they only make up about 15% of the total student population.
This follows the same pattern from Queensland, South Australia, and NSW, leading experts to call for current suspension policies to be overhauled.
According to recently released data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, assaults in NSW schools spiked by nearly 53% over the last decade, triggering a review by Education Minister, Prue Car into the Department’s Student Behaviour Policy.
Dr David Roy, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Education, said the evidence is clear that suspensions don’t work in modifying student behaviour, and often exacerbate the issues.
“Suspension is supposed to be a last resort, and yet Tim Bullard, the head of the Department of Education in Tasmania, admits that the greater the adjustment needed for a child in their learning, the more likely a child will be suspended,” Dr Roy told The Educator.
“It was also noted that 18 schools issued 60% of the suspensions. Suspending a child because of their disability, as suggested by the Tasmanian Department of Education, could easily be seen as discrimination.”
Dr Roy said there “seems to be a lack of concern or action” to deal with these issues that target the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
“These issues are not new. Teachers and educators have been calling for change to support children with a disability but despite multiple reviews and inquiries, those with power appear to do nothing. We know in-schools solutions, work,” he said.
“Education that is inclusive and engaging, works. We know listening to student needs works. We know meaningful and consistent adjustments work. We know suspension doesn’t. In NSW, the behaviour policy that openly admitted was to deal with the bias and discrimination against, of children with a disability has been put on review by Minister Pru Car.”
Rather than supporting all children to have a continual and inclusive education Dr Roy said it appears suspension and exclusions are “being used to deny education to children because they have a disability.”
“It is of no surprise that more and parents are finding home schooling their only option, that an increasing number of religious independent schools that recognise their ethos to offer welcoming learning spaces for children with a disability,” he said.
“Public schools are meant to accept all children. If a child with a disability manages to get past gate keeping and offloading to segregated settings; it appears some public schools find excuses to suspend them, so they don’t have to teach, while still accessing any additional funding, and politicians turn a blind eye.”
Despite repeated calls for action and reform, Dr Roy said there is a disturbing trend of violence against individuals with disabilities in society.
“The current Royal Commission into violence against people with a disability may have findings that will force the systems to treat those with a disability without prejudice but given the recent statistics it appears once again our most vulnerable children are not just falling through the cracks but being thrown into them,” he said.
“Shame on our so called leaders.”