New South Wales
My objection to this development is based on an inadequate and misleading social impact assessment.
On page 136 of the Environmental Impact Statement, under 'Health and Wellbeing', Mecone claim that "The proposal will provide a fit for purpose school which will provide improved resources to achieve optimal learning outcomes and mitigate safety and wellbeing risks". There are a number of issues with this statement:
1. There is overwhelming evidence that optimal learning outcomes are achieved in mainstream inclusive education settings rather than segregated settings. This is true for both students with and without a disability. See, for example, "Towards inclusive education: A necessary process of transformation", an evidence review by Dr Kathy Cologon from Macquarie University that provides an extensive systematic literature review of inclusive education . It examines evidence across six decades and incorporates more than 400 research papers, relevant treaties and reports. Key findings include:
- There is no evidence base to support segregated education in any form, including in special schools, units or classrooms.
- There is no child or young person too complex or ‘disabled’ to be included in general ‘mainstream’ education settings.
- The research shows the benefits of inclusion in ‘mainstream’ education for students with disability, including:
- better academic and vocational outcomes than their peers in non-inclusive settings
- greater social interaction, resulting in more opportunities to establish and maintain friendships
- increased independent communication and speech and language development, in turn supporting greater inclusion and active participation
- a sense of belonging and a self-concept of not just being a receiver of help but also a giver of help
- access to a broader range of play and learning activities, which can stimulate physical development and enhance children’s experiences
- Inclusive education also benefits students without disability, teachers and educators, and the wider community.
2. Segregated education, which is what the proposed Budawang School for Specific Purposes will provide, is a breach of Australia’s international human rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD). Article 24 of this convention talks about the "full inclusion" of people with disability and states that parties to the treaty "shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels" and that "persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability". Budawang SSP will do exactly that. People with disability have a right to equal access to education and to an inclusive education. Building segregated educational settings in no way promotes, protects or respects this right.
3. The right of children with disability to attend their local government schools is a right protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The protection and realisation of this right is severely hampered when funding is directed towards segregated settings rather than to providing the same levels of support within mainstream educational settings. It also makes it harder for the parent of a child with a disability to advocate for their son or daughter to attend the local mainstream school due to the increased pressure from educational authorities to attend a segregated setting.
4. The Disability Standards for Education (2005) established under the DDA Act and which the NSW Department of Education purport to support state that Australian students with disability should enjoy the same opportunities and choices in their education as students without disability.
5. In regards to risks to the safety and wellbeing of children with a disability, again the evidence from years of government inquiries, royal commissions, research reports and media articles overwhelmingly conclude that segregated institutional settings are not safe for people with a disability. There is a higher risk of violence, abuse and neglect to occur in segregated settings.
It is clear that Mecone's statement is not based on any evidence and displays an embarrassing lack of knowledge on issues related to people with a disability. The evidence actually points to the opposite being true.
The development of Budawang SSP should not be allowed to proceed due to the negative social impacts the development of this segregated educational setting will have on children with a disability in the southern Shoalhaven for years to come. Instead, the funding should be repurposed to provide the same level of support within local mainstream schools as well as increased training for teachers on inclusive educational practices.