‘Horrifying’: Disability advocates demand website review

Disability organisations have hit out at a $646,000 project funded and endorsed by the federal government that one expert says shows “quite horrifying” examples of how to include children with disability in the classroom.

More than 100 peak bodies, experts, teachers and parents have signed an unanswered open letter to federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham calling for a review of the Leading Learning 4 All website.

The page – described by Senator Birmingham as “fantastic” at its launch at Melrose High School last year – offers resources aimed at promoting the inclusion of children with disability in schools, including video clips filmed by teachers throughout .

One video highlighted by unimpressed Queensland University of Technology academic Linda Graham centres on a teacher working with two year 3/4 girls.

“One is a hearing-impaired girl and the other girl is non-hearing impaired,” the teacher tells the camera, pointing at each girl in turn.

“… They’re working with me together in the deaf facility because they’re at a similar level and it gives them some focus with me in a smaller group situation.”

Professor Graham, a board member of inclusion advocacy group All Means All, said while signatories recognised the website was “a moving feast” it contained “fundamental flaws”, including that inclusion was presented as “aspirational”.

She said signatories believed the website should make clear that examples of inclusion shown in the short clips were included for discussion purposes only.

“What you have on there are frankly quite horrifying examples of practice and what worries me particularly is it’s clear the people who are in those videos have no idea it’s horrifying examples of practice,” Professor Graham said.

Project leader Fiona Forbes said the Leading Learning 4 All team was “working on a revamp at the minute” based on feedback received since the website launched.

But, she said, the response had been overwhelmingly positive among the 10,000 people who had accessed the site.

Of the videos, Ms Forbes said: “They’re not models of best practice, they’re used to promote professional discussion and stimulus for professional learning based on real life examples for which practitioners can identify.

“We want schools to start looking at inclusive practice, and if we shut down the conversation before it even starts then we’re not going to have those important conversations that need to be had in schools.

“We have made this quite wide from where the starting point of a school could be.”

But Stephanie Gotlib, chief executive of peak body Children and Young People with Disability , said it was reasonable to expect that a government-endorsed website would demonstrate best practice and set a high bar for teachers and schools.

She said it was disappointing Senator Birmingham had not formally responded to the Leading Learning 4 All open letter.

“The common experience and outcomes of education for students with disability are extremely poor,” Ms Gotlib said.

“We get no response when we write about a really important resource that is being developed and you just think, well do we really matter? Do kids with disability really matter to this government?”

An Education Department spokesperson said the department had discussed issues raised in the open letter with the n Special Education Principals’ Association.

Any review would be the responsibility of that organisation, the spokesperson said.

“ASEPA has been incorporating the feedback into its refresh of the website which is due to be completed at the end of January,” the spokesperson said.