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Teaching Children With Disabilities EDUC 4100 Thomas Brazil 110172897

Assessment #1: Project


'Special schools/settings are a thing of the past, they are anachronistic and not what education should
be about for students with disabilities. All regular schools and teachers are in a position to provide
students with disabilities with the education they need and deserve.'

Introduction
Understanding of people with disabilities and the roles they play in society has greatly advanced in the
last century (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 31). This can be clearly seen in the field of education,
with the United Nations declaring in 2006 that all children, regardless of the diversity of their
circumstances, have the right to a schooling free of discrimination (UN 2018, n.p). In Australia, numbers
of children with a disability in mainstream schools have also steadily risen, with only a small minority still
attending special schools (ABS 2012). Although these changes signify growing acceptance and
understanding of those with a disability and the potential they provide, it does not guarantee that all
students with special needs are receiving an education of the highest possible standard (Kalambouka et
al 2007, p. 366). Whilst there has been a significant push for the widespread inclusion of children with
disabilities into mainstream schools, the debate of which method of schooling is more effective and
suitable for the instruction of children with disabilities remains a widely discussed and controversial
issue (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 30 & 52; Ashman 2014, p. 43; Norwich & Kelly 2004, p. 43;
Freeman & Alkin 2004, p. 3). This project will analyse current statistics and law regarding the education
of students with disabilities. The literature will also be examined to find the advantages and
disadvantages of either method of schooling and assess if special schools are still relevant in today’s
society of increasingly inclusive mainstream classrooms.

Statistics
To analyse the numbers of children with disabilities, their attendance levels and their learning needs,
the term ‘disability’ must first be defined. These boundaries of definition are quite difficult to specify
(Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 21; Gross 2002, p. 2). The Australian Government acknowledges
that the term exists on a spectrum and is influenced by funding and current diagnostic practices, and
states that there will never be a conclusive definition of disability (Parliament of Australia 2018, n.p).
There are a number of requirements that a child must have to fall under the term of a ‘child with a
disability’, however. The 2005 Disability Standards for Education report lists these as follows:

 total or partial loss of the person’s bodily or mental functions; or


 (b) total or partial loss of a part of the body; or
 (c) the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness; or
 (d) the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness; or
 (e) the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person’s body; or
 (f) a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person
without the disorder or malfunction; or
 (g) a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality,
emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour

(Commonwealth of Australia 2006, p. 8)


Teaching Children With Disabilities EDUC 4100 Thomas Brazil 110172897

The 2016 ACT Student Disability Criteria lists the following conditions as forms of a disability:

 Intellectual Disability
 Language Disorder
 Physical Disability
 Hearing Impairment or Deafness
 Vision Impairment or Blindness
 Pervasive Developmental Disorder
 Mental Health Disorder
 Chronic Medical Condition

(ACT Government 2016, p. 2)

Each of these disabilities or disorders are on a continuum and require formal diagnosis by a clinical
assessment and a result of lower than 69 on a standardised intelligence test (ACT Government 2016, p.
3). The conditions that earn funding vary depending on those selected by each state. South Australia has
identified physical disabilities, intellectual or sensory impairments and/or disabilities in communication
as eligible for funding (Parliament of Australia 2018, n.p). Gross (2002) states that in certain cases, what
appears to be an intellectual disability may simply be a symptom of their classroom context (p. 1).

The rates of disability prevalence in Australia have slight reduced in the last decade, with 4.3 million
citizens (18.3%) currently living with a disability. Approximately 290,000 (7.2%) of these were children
aged between 0-14 years old (ABS 2016, n.p). 57% of children with a disability had a severe disability,
and boys were twice as likely to be diagnosed with a disability as girls (ABS 2012, n.p). 98% of school-
aged children with a disability attended school, which represented 8.3% of the overall school population
(ABS 2012, n.p; Parliament of Australia 2018, n.p).

Only 9.9% of children with a disability attended a special school. Instead, the majority (65.9%) attended
mainstream schools, and the remainder (24.3%) attended special classes within mainstream schools
(ABS 2012, n.p). It can be concluded from the statistics that most children with a disability attend
mainstream schools. Those that attend a special school are likely to have severe forms of disability and
therefore require the extra care and resources provided by that environment (ABS 2012, n.p).

Legal
It is recognised in the 2005 Disability Standards for Education that all children with disabilities have the
right to enrol and participate in the courses or programs of an educational institution. They also have to
the right be educated in an environment free of discrimination, harassment or victimisation as a result
of their disability (Commonwealth of Australia 2006, p. 17, 23 & 31). Australia is also one of 161
signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which in Article
24 states that “States Parties recognise the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to
realising this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall
ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning” (UN 2007, p. 16).

The Disability and Discrimination Act legislated by the Australian Government in 1992 also ensures that
no educational institution discriminates any person with a disability. Section 22 states that it is illegal for
any educational authority to deny a child with a disability a position at the institution or to implement or
Teaching Children With Disabilities EDUC 4100 Thomas Brazil 110172897

accredit teaching materials that prevent children with disabilities from participating (Australian
Government 2018, p. 25)

Special Schools
Advantages
Special schools are centres of learning that provide specialised instruction for children who fall into the
categories described earlier in this project (Farrell 2012, p. 3; Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p.22;
ABS 2012, n.p). Despite the majority of children with disabilities conducting their education through
mainstream schools, a proportion of the literature suggests that special education settings offer
resources, opportunities and benefits that mainstream schools simply cannot (Freeman & Alkin 2000, p.
3; Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 22; Westwood 2003, p. 37). One such advantage is the smaller
size of the classrooms, which allows for a reduced student to teacher ratio and more individualized and
focused instruction (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 22; North 2008, p. 69; Day, Prunty & Dupont
2012, p. 144). Teachers in a special education setting are also more likely to be specifically trained to
teach children with disabilities and have a genuine desire to be part of their learning (Freeman & Alkin
2000, p. 3; Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 395). This can be seen in their ability to adapt their teaching to different
needs of individual students whilst still providing challenging learning tasks. This method of teaching is
maximized by the autonomy that a special school offers, promoting flexible and creative teaching (Day,
Prunty & Dupont 2012, p. 144; Allan & Brown 2001, p. 204). Learning can be adjusted to move at the
pace of the individual student, in contrast to a mainstream class, where there is constant pressure to
keep up with the rest of the class (Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 394; Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 22).

Not only do special schools offer the skills of specialised teachers, but they are specifically designed to
provide children of all disabilities with easy access (Westwood 2003, p. 36; Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 394).
This holds great appeal for parents of children with severe physical disabilities, who may find that
mainstream schools are not as accessible (Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 391). Special schools will also be vastly
more prepared with a wide range of resources and therapies specifically catered to assist children with
special needs (Westwood 2003, p. 37; Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 394). There is consensus in much of the
literature that special schools are the ideal placement for students with severe disabilities for this
reason (Ashman 2014, Westwood 2003, p. 43; Westwood 2003, p. 37; Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen
2013, p. 22).

A factor often overlooked in the discussion of the value of special schools are the relationships between
students. Whilst bullying is not completely absent in special schools, there is a significant likelihood that
children with special needs will receive higher levels of bullying in a mainstream setting (Norwich & Kelly
2004, p. 60). Pitt & Curtin (2004) also notes that despite the preconception that children with disabilities
will want to socialise more with peers who do not have disabilities, there are a number of examples
where this is not the case, and they actually feel more secure and accepted by their peers in the special
school (p. 393). This is supported by Freeman & Alkin (2000), who also observes that children with
special needs receive greater acceptance by their peers in the special education setting (p. 15).

Disadvantages
Allan & Brown (2001) theorise that a “much broader notion of inclusion” is achieved by special schools
as students found themselves as members of their community due to their preparation for a life of
interactions with other members of society (p. 206). However, the primary concern for parents
Teaching Children With Disabilities EDUC 4100 Thomas Brazil 110172897

considering which school to send their child with special needs has generally been the issue of
segregation and exclusion (Timmons & Brown 1997, p. 188; Ashman 2014, p. 43; Hedegaard-Soerensen
& Tetler 2016, p. 267). Timmons & Brown (1997) argues that children attending special schools will
socialise less with other children than their mainstream peers, resulting in a lack of behavioural and
social development (p. 188). It has also been suggested that there is too little focus on socio-cultural
learning, and instead that psycho-medial techniques are too heavily relied upon (Hedegaard-Soerensen
& Tetler 2016, p. 268). There is opposition to this, however, and Farrell (2012) claims that special
education has been misrepresented and is built upon a substantial foundation of knowledge (p. 17).
Whilst changes have been made to integrate students with special needs into culturally normative
practices and natural environments, it still remains possible that these students are missing a vital
component of their development in their lack of interaction with their peers who do not have special
needs (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 24; North 2008, p. 66; Timmon & Brown 1997, p. 188).

The subject of special schools being degrading and humiliating is equally contentious. There have been
some examples provided by the literature of children attending special schools feeling embarrassed or
devalued by the stigma of their school and their own educational abilities (Norwich 2008, p. 137;
Timmons & Brown 1997, p. 188). Farrell (2012) opposes this, however, by stating that special students
do not feel degraded or treated inhumanely (p. 14). Norwich & Kelly (2004) also contradict this,
however, stating that in their study children in special schools possessed “mainly positive educational
self-perceptions of themselves” (Norwich & Kelly 2004, p. 431). They do acknowledge the lack of
potential educational identity that would be gained by contact with children in mainstream schools, and
that special schools can be over-protective (Norwich & Kelly 2004, p. 431).

Mainstream Schools
Advantages
Inclusion in an educational context is not an easy concept to define (Forlin et al 2013, p. 6; Farrell 2012,
p. 8). It is a complex and debated topic that, if misinterpreted, can lead to misunderstandings and
incorrect practice (Kalambouka et al 2007, p. 366; Forlin et al 2013, p. 6). This project will adhere to
Ashman (2014)’s definition, which states that inclusion refers to the acceptance and involvement of
students with special needs in the mainstream school population (p. 7). As stated previously, inclusivity
for student with disabilities has grown in popularity and been pushed by policy makers to reduce alleged
exclusionary practices, and it is now a globally accepted standard in education (Ashman 2014, p. 7;
Forlin et al 2013, p. 6; Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 30). Westwood (2003) suggests that there is
no reason why students with less severe disabilities should not be able to attend a mainstream school
(p. 37). The primary appeal to parents has been the prospect of their child becoming increasingly
engaged in interactions with peers who do not have a disability, in the hope that they will act as role
models for social, behavioural and linguistic skills (Ashman 2014, p. 43; North 2008, p. 70; Timmons &
Brown 1997, p. 194). Although no learning environment is perfect, the literature confirms that
interacting with children who do not have disabilities is largely desirable and offers numerous benefits
(Freeman & Alkin 2000, p. 3; North 2008, p. 70; Timmons & Brown 1997, p. 188). Social and language
skill development is increased, there can be respite from constant awareness about their disability,
ignorance of disability can be reduced, differences in educational identity can be confronted in a positive
manner, academic assistance can be given from peers and a greater variety of experiences can be
provided (Freeman & Alkin 2000, p. 3; Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 393; North 2008, p. 70; Kelly & Norwich
Teaching Children With Disabilities EDUC 4100 Thomas Brazil 110172897

2004, p. 431; Timmons & Brown 1997, p. 188). Norwich & Kelly (2004) also find that the majority of
children with special needs have a preference for education at a mainstream school (p. 62).

There has been much debate as to which method of schooling is more academically beneficial for
children with special needs (Ashman 2014, p. 43; Freeman & Alkin 2000, p. 3). The literature suggests
that students in an inclusive education setting achieve similar results than their counterparts in special
schools, and that results improve as a child is more fully integrated into a mainstream classroom
(Freeman & Alkin 2000, p. 14; Kalambouka et al 2007, p. 366; Farrell 2012, p. 8). A past concern has
been that the inclusion of children with special needs would negatively impact the achievements of their
mainstream peers, however, research has so far disproved this (Kalambouka et al 2007, p. 379). There
are also have been no complaints from students that they are receiving less support from staff at
mainstream schools (Norwich & Kelly 2004, p. 62). Additional benefits afforded by inclusion in
mainstream settings include the presence of a language rich environment, high expectations from staff,
the opportunity to become more independent and the overall development of the school’s inclusive
practices (North 2008, p. 70 & 71; Farrell 2012, p. 8).

Disadvantages
There do remain criticisms of inclusion in mainstream settings, however. Whilst there are schools well-
prepared for inclusion, it cannot be denied that special schools are generally equipped with a wider-
range of resources and are more accessible for a greater range of disabilities (Westwood 2003, p. 37;
Ashman 2014, p. 46; Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 391). As mentioned previously, this allows for special schools
to be a more appropriate educational setting for those children with severe disabilities (Ashman 2014, p.
43; Westwood 2003, p. 37; Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 22). Mainstream schools still confront
issues of inaccessibility, such as lack of ramps, inefficiently designed toilets, insufficient warning systems
for those students with hearing impairments and poor lighting (Ashman 2014, p. 45). Students may also
be forced to be separated from the rest of the class because they cannot access certain classrooms
(Ashman 2014, p. 46).

This is not limited to physical access. Access to suitable learning for children with special needs through
the curriculum also has presented mainstream schools with issues (Ashman 2014, p. 46). Provision of
reading materials for students with vision impairment or pace of the work-load are some examples
(Ashman 2014, p. 46; Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 394). It is also possible that in some settings, the focus on
education will be overshadowed by the focus on inclusion (Farrell 2012, p. 13). This problem will be
exacerbated by teachers who have not received specialist training or are not willing to integrate
students with certain disabilities (Soodak, Podell & Lehman 1998, p. 481). There is also the potential for
mainstream staff who will be unprepared or intimidated by the inclusion of students with disabilities,
and respond with incorrect practices, isolation or even bullying (Soodak, Podell & Lehman 1998, p. 481;
Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 393).

Rejection or bullying from peers in a mainstream setting is an unfortunately common experience for
children with special needs (Hallahan p. 51; Pitt & Curtin 2004, p. 396; Freeman & Alkin 2004, p. 14).
Despite the concept of inclusion being built upon acceptance and tolerance, Pitt & Curtin (2004)
conclude that children with disabilities are more likely to be rejected, isolated and be subject to overt
bullying than children who do not have disabilities (p. 396). Freeman & Alkin (2004) support this, stating
that their study has found that older children with disabilities will not be as socially accepted as their
Teaching Children With Disabilities EDUC 4100 Thomas Brazil 110172897

peers without disabilities, and this trend actually amplifies the longer they are integrated (p. 14).
Norwich & Kelly (2004) also report high incidences of bullying behaviour in mainstream schools (p. 61).

Implementation
To achieve the greatest likelihood of successful inclusion, the literature promotes collaboration between
special education and mainstream settings (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 53). Norwich (2008)
suggests that the future role for special schools is that of interconnection with mainstream schools (p.
141). Heads of special schools are aware of this and are seeking to connect with mainstream schools
through curriculum development and instruction on how best to meet the needs of students with
special needs (Allan & Brown 2001, p. 202). Collaborative consultation or co-teaching between a general
and special educator is also recommended (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 53). Students should
be encouraged to collaborate and interact through peer tutoring, which would assist the child with
special needs with their learning, but also develop social skills and build relationships (Hallahan,
Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 54). It is also recommended by some that children with disabilities be placed
in inclusive settings during early childhood (North 2008, p. 69). This is a time when parents will be most
involved in their child’s education and development and the child will become familiar with learning in a
natural environment (North 2008, p. 66). Parents play a crucial role in the development and choices of
their child, and teachers should be committed to respecting and communicating with parents and
families (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen 2013, p. 56).

There is wide-spread consensus amongst the literature that successful inclusion is dependent upon
school-wide support and planning (Kalambouka et al 2007, p. 379; Gross 2002, p. 2; Cahill & Freeman
2007, p. 95). Strong school policies must be set in place that promote caring relationships, not just
between staff and students, but between schools and families (Kalambouka et al 2007, p. 379).
Teachers, support officers, leadership, administrators and professionals must be committed to providing
resources, training and supporting staff, making the school physically accessible and adjusting the
curriculum (Ashman 2014, p. 7). Teachers must be prepared for students with special needs in regards
to resources, lesson planning and attitude. Programmes should be planned thoughtfully and reviewed
consistently (Kalambouka et al 2007, p. 379; Ashman 2014, p. 7).

Conclusion
In conclusion, it is clear that this a contentious and complex issue. To provide the best educational
experience for children with special needs, all dimensions should be anlaysed in relation to one another
(Norwich 2008, p. 141). Both educational settings present advantages and disadvantages. Special
schools offer greater range or resources, more accessiblity, more highly trained staff, acceptance from
peers and personalised and creative instruction and curriculum. However, the issues of embarrassment
and degradation remain as contentious issues. Mainstream inclusive settings provide greater social and
behavioural development, a language-rich environment, potentially higher academic results and a
chance to develop independence. Families must consider limited resources and accessibility, less trained
staff, larger classroom sizes and an increased likelihood of rejection or isolation. The literature concurs
that a collaborative, school-wide approach is the ideal method to provide children with special needs
with both high-quality learning and interactions with peers who do not have disabilities in an accepting,
inclusive environment.
Teaching Children With Disabilities EDUC 4100 Thomas Brazil 110172897

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