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International Practices in Special Education: Debates and Challenges
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Australia is developing its own unique view of inclusive education (Winzer & Mazurek, 2010b). Although legislation specifi cally targeted at special education such as that in the United States does not appear, recent education policies in Australia promote equity, inclusion, human rights education, and social justice. Following these policies and global trends in inclusive education policy reforms, all educational institutions in Australia today prefer an inclusive pedagogy approach. At the same time, due consideration is given to the level of impairment involved in the special needs of an individual student.

Compared to other Western nations, the inclusive movement arrived relatively late in Australia (Van Kraayenoord, 2002). It was not until 2001 that the actual terms inclusion and inclusive schooling appeared in the lexicon (Winzer et al., 2003). They supplanted the word integration, which had been used to denote the least restrictive but most appropriate educational placement for each student with a disability (Gannon, 1991). Today, the term inclusive education is emerging in education policy used to articulate the rights of students with disabilities, impairments, and learning difficulties to participate in the full range of programs and services and to use any facilities provided by the education system (Meyer, 2001).

The commonwealth government has an overarching concern with integration and specific policies for discrimination as we have discussed above. But each Australian state and territory has its own unique responses to inclusive education policy reforms. The momentum and practice differ dramatically (Winzer et al., 2003), and there exist considerable curricular and classroom pedagogy variations in Australia among schools. We can see the flavor of this in recent policy discussions and in two examples from different systems.

A 2003 meeting of the Australian Special Education Principals Association (ASEPA) identified the challenge of ensuring that all students (including students with disabilities and special needs) are recognized and catered for in curriculum options across Australia. It then established a Curriculum Working Party to review the range of curriculum responses being developed in the states and territories for students with special education needs.

At the policy level, the working party identified a significant consensus from members regarding curriculum issues for students with disabilities and special educational needs (SEN). They found that “strategic vision, research activities and national leadership in curriculum are missing for SEN,” and that there were considerable variations state by state in how to authentically include all students. The working party chided that “there is an ongoing tension that inclusion implies that all students will fit and be able to access  the generic product, whilst providing curricula that is not broad enough to accommodate the needs of all students—therefore ‘all’ does not in fact mean all.” Because curriculum does not provide supporting documents and resources that meet the full range of student and specific needs, they stressed that inclusive schooling for students with disabilities in Australia should address the diversity of needs, rather than planning one curriculum for all (ASEPA, 2003, original italics).

The State of Victoria

The state of Victoria adopted a comprehensive integration approach in special education following the report of the ministerial review of educational services for the disabled (Victoria, Department of Education, 1984), known as the Collins Report. The controversial Collins Report was influenced by education reforms in special education, notably from the United States and the United Kingdom. The report proposed five major principles: rejection of the concept of ineducability; children’s right to education in a regular classroom; transfer of children and resources from the special school’s sector to regular schools; noncategorical service delivery; school-based resources; and collaborative decision-making.

Despite its pedagogical significance, the Collins Report failed to define the term integration. Instead, it referred to two aspects of policy and practice, both of which identify processes (Reed, 1990). They were a process of increasing the participation of children with impairments and disabilities in the education programs and social life of regular schools in which their peers without disabilities participate, and a process of maintaining the participation of all children in the educational programs and social life of regular schools (Victoria, Department of Education, 1984).

However, the report laid the groundwork for extended discussions. For example, the Victorian social justice framework for schools in 1991 identified seven groups whose needs should be monitored, including students with disabilities (The Social Justice Framework/State Board of Education [and] School Programs Division, Ministry of Education Victoria, 1991). In a 1997 review, integration became the main education policy and pedagogical principle.

The 2001 Meyer report recommended that special schools continue with an enhanced role to provide for children whose disabilities need longer support and to provide research opportunities in collaboration with local schools on the development of strategies that strengthen inclusive education (Meyer, 2001). Currently, Victoria maintains a dual system of regular and special schools. The complex of special schools thrives alongside inclusive programs with much collaboration and interaction.

New South Wales: The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn

The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn can be regarded as a pragmatic model of inclusive pedagogy that addresses the diversity of needs of students with disabilities.

For the purposes of identification and resourcing in ACT and NSW Archdiocesan schools, students with a disability is the term applied to students with special needs (disabilities; Archdiocese, New South Wales, n.d.). In the Archdiocese, students with special needs and disabilities are identified according to the Australian government criteria and as determined at the state level. They also have an eight-level scale to address the specific needs of students with disabilities. They include the following forms of disabilities: cognitive, sensory, visual, physical, mental health (social and emotional), pervasive developmental disorder, language disorder, and chronic medical condition (see Table 1).

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