The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability handed down its final report on Thursday 28 September on the basis of 32 public hearings and 7,944 submissions, 55% from those with a disability and 29% from family members. Over four and a half years the Commission heard harrowing accounts of the lives of those with a disability, demonstrating that high rates of violence and abuse continue to be a common experience. Despite the NDIS legislation having been in place for 10 years, accounts of assault, abuse, neglect, and squalor in some disability housing is distressingly high.
What did the Commission Recommend?
The Commission distilled 222 recommendations from its thousands of pages covering school, work, housing, hospitals, and the criminal justice system. These include enabling autonomy and access, achieving inclusive education, employment and housing, addressing overrepresentation and disadvantage in the criminal justice system, screening, assessing and identifying disability, the NDIS and police, family violence, law and policy, first nations people, disability services, preventing violence, abuse and neglect and exploitation, disability service providers, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, improving NDIS complaint processes, independent oversight and complaint mechanisms, governing for inclusion and delivering change.
What was the Recommendation for Schools and Education?
The commission specifically addressed education saying ‘Mainstream schools need major reforms to overcome the barriers that prevent students with disability, particularly students with intellectual disability, accessing safe, equal, and inclusive education. The Australian Government and state and territory governments should develop a ‘National Roadmap to Inclusive Education’ for students with disability, detailing outcome measures, targets, and actions.’
Is There a Bigger Issue?
This is about inequality, inclusivity, and violence; an opportunity not to be missed. Inclusion of this order is an admirable goal that front-loads responsibility onto an under resourced education system burdened to breaking point by students and families with high and complex support needs. This is not the fault of teachers or schools. Some Commissioners were clearly cautious about this recommendation for exactly these reasons. Students with disability already report high rates of loneliness and bullying at school.
Over the past thirty years every western society has exploited the flexibility of its education system to absorb the impact of inclusion in every form. Schools and teachers have been landed with this responsibility with minimal investment in the practical authority required to make manifest this responsibility.
What is required?
This recommendation requires a twenty-first century technologically hybrid imagination; massive back-end planning; and NDIS scale investment in schools, teaching, teachers, and support staff to make it work.
To start with, the endemic violence prevailing in Australian schools must end. Education must first be reimagined as a safe place for all students for this next round of inclusion to succeed. This recommendation will disappoint and fail children with a disability and their families unless violence in its myriad forms is not purged from every education system in Australia. We cannot bring students with disability into a violent system to have them further violated.
The crucial word here is ‘safe’ and currently school is not a safe place for many students and their teachers. Abuse and violence in schools needs to be addressed at the widest level to protect all children, teachers, and support staff. The response must be systemic, designed for all, not only students identified as having a disability.
This is congruent with the Commission’s stated goal, to make Australia a place that is inclusive of people with disability where they are afforded the respect of truly belonging to the community.
Schools and teachers will require well-resourced authority to deal with high order needs and complexity. This will require a wholesale restructure of education and education systems.
For Australia, implementing this recommendation is a smart move, especially as we approach the economic and population challenges of the mid-twenty-first century. Managing inequality down through the practice of inclusion is sound economic practice.
Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability Final Report Executive Summary, Our vision for an inclusive Australia and Recommendations Commonwealth of Australia 2023