Students with a disability need good team

Every child has the right to a quality education, and to access that education close to home.

The law also says that children with disability can go to their local school. And around 90 per cent of children with disability do. You could think, then, that Australian schools are pretty inclusive of disability. But are they?

Some schools welcome children with disability, but others fall short. Many parents fight for a place in a mainstream school; they want their child to be part of the community.

But, even after winning the fight, some parents end up withdrawing their child anyway - perhaps because their child misses out on some class activities, the lessons don't cater to their learning needs, or they, as parents, are often called when their child 'misbehaves'.

These parents may turn to special schools, or even home school their child. So why does this happen?

It's easy to blame schools and teachers. Rather, we need to look at how we can better support them.

In Victoria, just over four per cent of students in government schools receive targeted funding. Almost two-thirds of these have intellectual disability, and almost a quarter have Autism Spectrum Disorder.

And then there are students with severe behaviour disorders, physical disability, hearing and vision impairment, and severe language disorder.

Trying to cater to such diverse needs within a class of other students with their own particular learning needs relies on varied skill sets best found in teams.

Experts in this area are not only specialist teachers, but also allied health professionals, including psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and social workers.

The problem is that these professionals rarely get a chance to come together to figure out how best to help a child with disability, or specific learning needs, be part of the classroom and learn.

At La Trobe University we are bringing experts in all of these areas together, to share skills and knowledge. We already know from our work with mainstream and special schools that a collaborative approach - including the active involvement of parents - creates the most inclusive education experience. Because educating students with diverse needs can't rest with just one teacher or teacher assistant; it takes a team of family and professionals, with the child taking centre stage.

Teresa Iacono is a Professor of Rural and Regional Allied Health at La Trobe University