Solingen 93

Domestic Violence and Abuse

Disability Royal Commission – Townsville Hearing Day 1, 4 November 2019

extremely important and significant day. It is the beginning of the first substantive
hearing of this Royal Commission. I want, on behalf of the members of the
Commission, to welcome everybody here, and those who are following these
proceedings elsewhere, and particularly, of course, people from the
disability community. We are very grateful for your interest in
the Commission and the contributions you have made, and will make,
to the work of the Commission. This is what is essential to our succeeding
in performing the functions with which we have been entrusted. My name is Ronald Sackville. I am the Chair of
the Royal Commission. With me today is Commissioner Roslyn
Atkinson, on my immediate left, Commissioner Atkinson AO; Commissioner
Rhonda Galbally, two to my left, AC, and Commissioner Andrea Mason,
OAM, immediately to my right. I shall ask Commissioner Mason to
perform the acknowledgement of country. COMMISSIONER MASON: We acknowledge
the traditional owners on whose country this hearing is taking place. The Bindal and Wulgurukaba
people of the Townsville region. We pay our respect to their elders –
past and present, and their next generation of young leaders. We thank them for allowing us to meet
on their country today for this important gathering. We would also extend this
acknowledgment and respect to any Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people in the room and online joining us today. Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: We
will now take appearances. DR MELLIFONT: Good morning. May it please, my name is
Mellifont, initials K.A. I appear together with my learned
friend Mr Fraser, initials A.B. We are Counsel Assisting the
Commission and we are assisted by the Office of Solicitor Assisting. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank
you, Dr Mellifont. Yes are there other
appearances to announce. MS KA McMILLAN QC: Yes. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Are you
comfortable standing, or do you… MS McMILLAN: I’m
fine, thank you. My name is McMillan,
initials K.A., Queen’s Counsel. Appear on behalf of the
State of Queensland. With Ms Clohessy instructed by Crown
Law for the State of 40 Queensland. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank
you very much, Ms McMillan. I should indicate that the State of Queensland
has been given leave to appear today. MS McMILLAN: Yes, thank you.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you. Yes. Is there any other appearance? No? Thank you very much. Can I just mention, so that everybody is
aware, we have started today at 10.30. Ordinarily we will start at 10. We will certainly take at least one break
during the morning, usually, if we start at 10 at about 11.30 but we may take
other breaks depending upon how things are proceeding. Similarly, in the afternoon
we will ordinarily commence at 2.15, go through till 4.15 and there will be a
break in the afternoon, at least one break. Before inviting Dr Mellifont, who, as you
have heard is Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission to make the opening
remarks for this hearing I would like to make some observations myself. As has been pointed out on many occasions,
the Terms of Reference for this Royal Commission
are extremely broad. Among other topics the Commission is
required to expose and examine violence against and abuse, neglect,
and exploitation of people with disability in all its settings and contexts. Importantly, the Royal Commission is also
required to inquire into what should be done to promote a more inclusive society
that supports the independence of people with disability and their right
to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. This hearing is principally concerned
with issues relating to the education of children with disability, with a particular
emphasis on the experience in Queensland. We have selected education for the first –
as the first topic for a hearing because of its obvious importance
for the life experiences of children and adults with disability. And Dr Mellifont will
say more about that in her opening. Education, however, is only one of the
many areas that will be the subject of the Royal Commission’s inquiries. Without attempting to be exhaustive,
there will be hearings on accommodation and independent living, the responses of the
health system to people with disability, the interactions between people with
intellectual disability and the criminal justice system,
including prisons, assisted decisionmaking, the
accessibility of buildings, infrastructure and transport,
discrimination in employment, the barriers to a more inclusive society and the effectiveness of regulatory
and reporting regimes. It is not a small task. We are acutely aware of the dangers of
inquiring into particular areas without considering the overall picture. For example, students with disability who
experience violence or abuse at educational institutions, or are denied the opportunity
to realise their full academic or vocational potential, may be
profoundly disadvantaged later in life. We’re also conscious of the need to take
into account the multiple and cumulative forms of disadvantage that often affect
groups of people with disability. This is, perhaps, most obvious in the case
of First Nations People with disability, particularly those in remote communities,
an issue that has already been explored in workshops conducted
by Commissioner Mason. But it’s also true of other people with
disability such as members of culturally and linguistically
diverse groups. We will be holding hearings not only this
year, of course, but in 2020 addressing abuse, violence and neglect experienced
by First Nations People with disability. These hearings, some of which will be
in remote locations, will address issues specific to the education of First
Nations students with disability. And, indeed, two Commissioners will be
visiting Palm Island immediately after this hearing to hold discussions with the
local community and the Commission is also developing strategies to address issues
specific to CLD students with disability. Some of the public hearings will
concentrate on case studies illustrating particular forms of violence, abuse,
exploitation and neglect of people with disability. This is, of course, a very
important aspect of the Commission’s work, not least because it will help shape the
understanding by the wider Australian community of the discrimination, disrespect
and exclusion experienced by so many people with disability. This aspect of the Commission’s work
requires people with disability, their families, their advocates to engage with
the Commission and tell their stories. The task of funding and establishing
services to ensure people receive the counselling and legal support to which they
are entitled has been the responsibility of agencies outside the
control of the Commission. It has taken more time than we had hoped
but these services are now in place and the relevant agencies are working very
hard to deal with the pent-up demand. Unfortunately, there are one or two
commentators whose contributions often appear calculated to discourage
people from telling their stories to the Commission and also to increase
the levels of anxiety. This is a matter for those commentators
to reflect upon bearing in mind the vulnerability of many
people with disability. We are confident, however, that as the work
of the Commission progresses very large numbers of people within the
disability community will take advantage of what has rightly been described
as a once in a lifetime opportunity. A second and equally important aspect of
the Commission’s work is to assess and critically evaluate practices and policies
of government, public agencies, and private service providers insofar as they have an impact on
people with disability. This is part of the process for identifying
the changes that need to be made to bring about a more inclusive society. At the opening hearing in Brisbane on the
16th of September 2019 we remarked on the extraordinary number of inquiries that have
been held relating to the disadvantages experienced by people
with disability. The multitude of inquiries and reports has
identified a range of issues and problems requiring attention. It will be much harder to formulate
solutions that will actually bring about fundamental changes in policies,
practices and social attitudes. But that is our job and that is
the job we are determined to do. In performing this job we intend not only
to expose abuse and poor policies and practices, but to highlight innovative
programs that yield good outcomes. The selection of Queensland for the first
substantive hearing on education does not imply that it has a poor record in
Australia in implementing a policy of inclusive education. On the contrary, one part
of the inquiry will be whether the Queensland Department of Education’s
Inclusive Education Policy provides worthwhile guidance for
other Australian education systems. The selection of education as the theme
of this hearing provides an opportunity to consider the significance for our inquiry
of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities, the UN Convention. The Terms of Reference, our Terms of
Reference, recognise that Australia has international obligations to take
appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures to promote the human
rights of people with disability, including the right to be protected from all forms
of violence, exploitation and abuse. The United Nations Convention
has a lot to say about education. Article 24 recognises the right of people
with disabilities to education without discrimination and on the
basis of equal opportunity. Australia is a party to the convention,
is required to ensure an inclusive education system
at all levels. This is directed to the full development
of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth and enabling
people with disability to participate effectively
in a free society. It’s important to remember
that an international convention, even if ratified by Australia, does not
automatically become part of Australian law. That only happens when a Parliament enacts
legislation giving effect to the rights recognised by the convention establishing
procedures and establishing procedures by which those rights
can be enforced. Despite Australia having ratified the
convention, no Australian jurisdiction, Commonwealth, State or Territory, has
passed legislation expressly recognising a right to inclusive education
for students with disabilities. This is an issue the Royal
Commission will need to address. Article 24 imposes certain duties on
Australia as a State party that are to be implemented in domestic law immediately. These include ensuring legal protection
against discrimination in education, and providing reasonable accommodation
for students with disability. However, the right to inclusive education
recognised by Article 24 is generally recognised as an economic, social and
cultural right rather than a civil right. The significance of this is that Australia,
like other signatories to the convention, is not required to implement the right to
inclusive education immediately, rather, its obligation under international law is
to take measures to the maximum extent of its available resources with a view to
achieving progressively within a reasonably short timeframe the full realisation
of the right to inclusive education. The reason for referring to these matters
is that the policy issues confronting us are not necessarily straightforward
or uncontroversial. If they were, presumably the problems
would have been addressed already and there would be no need
for a Royal Commission. The evidence at this hearing, for example,
is likely to indicate that there are different views as to whether there is
any role at all for special schools in the public education system. We will have to address those issues. A final point: this is not – this is only
the first hearing on issues relating to education. As the Commission has repeatedly stated
there will be other hearings on this topic. This hearing will not prevent anyone who
wishes to make submissions or to share their experiences from doing so,
and doing so with appropriate support. There will be other opportunities at
public hearings to present case studies and consider policy issues relating
to inclusive education. Nothing will be ruled out. No one will be prejudiced by
the holding of this hearing. We have recently published an issues
paper about education which is available on the
Commission’s website. The issues paper has been adapted from one
prepared for a recent education workshop attended by inclusive education
advocates and academic experts. It is not definitive, but intended to
give guidance to people wishing to make submissions or
provide information. We encourage people, we encourage
everybody to take up the invitation to engage with the Commission and we hope the
pleadings in these four days will help elucidate
the issues we need to address and in respect
of which submissions and personal stories can be told so we are better able
to achieve our objectives. Dr Mellifont. DR MELLIFONT: May I start by picking up
some of the points the Chair just made. This is the first public hearing in
respect of education and learning. I cannot emphasise enough that
this is just the beginning. The Royal Commission is acutely aware
that the issues concerning the topic of education and learning are vast, that
significant time, effort and resources are required in order to
do the topic justice. So for anyone who is concerned that they
have not had the opportunity to provide information to the Commission in respect
of this very important subject, may we allay these fears immediately. This is not the last time that the issue of
education and learning will be the subject of public hearing. This is not the last time that issues
affecting North Queensland – or Queensland, for that matter, will be explored. This is just the start. May I echo the Chair’s sentiments and
emphasise that the Commission wants to receive information from members of the
public and we encourage you to provide information to the Commission if
you want your voice to be heard. There are various ways in which you can
provide information to the Commission. And giving evidence by way of a public
hearing, such as this, is not the only way in which the Commission receives
information for its consideration. At the end of these opening remarks I will
set out some of the methods of information provision and contact details, as well as
the supports that are available for those that choose to engage
with the Commission. One of those supports is the
provision of legal advice. Commissioners, in the course of our work,
we have received queries from people wishing to provide information
to the Commission, but asking why they would want
or need legal advice. Their question has been “have I done
something wrong?” and the answer to that question is: absolutely not. Making legal advice available is not
intended in any sense to be a signal to anybody coming to the Commission that
they have done anything wrong, or that they need legal advice
in respect of that. The provision of legal advice is to give
people ability if they wish to chat about their intended engagement with
the Commission with a lawyer. One means of supporting witnesses at this
Commission to be comfortable is by allowing them to give evidence
under a pseudonym, to protect their identity and
the identity of their children. In this regard, I note that the Chair
has issued a nonpublication order which expressly prohibits the publication of any
information which would tend to identify current or former students of the
education system in Queensland. This, of course, covers information
regarding the identity of the parents of such children, including photographs or
videos, because information identifying the parents indirectly identifies
the children or the child. The prohibition against publication is
not just directed to conventional media. It is to all. And it prevents publication on the
web, on Facebook, on social media. May I emphasise again that the purpose
of these non-publication orders is to help and to protect witnesses who
have had the courage to come and share their experiences with us. Consequences for publication in
defiance of the non-publication order are, of course, serious. May I also note the next public hearing
of the Commission will be conducted in Melbourne from the 2nd until the 6th of
December, led by Ms Kate Eastman of Senior Counsel, together with
Mr Malcolm Harding, who we warmly congratulate as his
recent appointment to Senior Counsel. And the topic there to be examined
is group homes in Victoria. In the first half of 2020, as the Chair
has noted, the Commission will conduct hearings in various places across
Australia, continuing the public hearing work on the topics of education and
learning, and accommodation, that is living and home, and starting
public hearings on health and justice. Shortly, my learned friend Mr Fraser will
outline the evidence which you will hear this week in the course of these
four days of public hearing. But for now, may I note in brief terms that
part of this week will be used to shine a light on the very real and pervasive issues
that students with disabilities and their parents and carers can face
in the education system. We have received information and
submissions from across Australia already in respect of this topic. And for that we are grateful. Those submissions and information start to
paint the very real and stark picture that in many places persons with
disabilities are not receiving equity in their education. They are not being treated as people with
the rights to an equitable education. May I share some of those
stories with you now. First tells us – and this is a direct
quote from the submitter’s own words: Finally, after five years of stress,
frustration, and both of us developing anxiety disorders now requiring medication
and treatment, we agreed reluctantly to remove her from school
and home school her. I had to give up my own business
which was rewarding both professionally financially. This has placed even greater
strain on our family in so many ways. Our child is now going to private school
part-time, and she is psychiatrically unfit to attend full-time due to severe and
ongoing anxiety, where we pay exorbitant fees and have to fund the
education system ourselves. This further increases our stress. From another, these are the words: We need to stop trying to make our
children normal and acknowledge what is normal for them. We are lucky our brains are
flexible, theirs are not. What is weird is we have the flexible brain
but we refuse to change our thinking so I’m not sure who has
the problem here. From another person: There is not enough education or
awareness out in the community. It feels like we are hopeless and people
don’t understand the life we live. From another: Many people thought I was a bit slow,
so I became the target of discrimination. My parents had poor English skills and
limited knowledge of Australian culture. These deficiencies were a significant
disadvantage to my upbringing and education. I was often told by people at my
school that I was stupid and would be on the dole
for the rest of my life. I was often called
derogatory insults. Some teachers would hear it and see
what was going on and ignored it. One of the stories relayed in a submission
from CYDA, that is Children and Young People with Disability Australia,
demonstrates the complexity of the challenges faced where
structural barriers are compounded by a lack of understanding. The names in this story I’m about to
read have, of course, been changed. Charlotte is a 10-year-old student with
Asperger’s syndrome who recently withdrew from a private school after bullying became
so severe that she stopped attending. Her parents felt they had no choice
but to remove her after incidents that included her being pushed off a pier and hiding in a garbage bin
to escape taunting. Charlotte has been subject to multiple
instances of bullying and violence. On one occasion she was admitted to
hospital suffering severe anxiety and stress after a teacher confronted her
with a false accusation that she had stolen another
child’s property. The resulting anxiety was crippling,
even affecting her walking and speech. The hospital wrote to the
school but with no response. In a separate incident, she was taken to
the hospital after being hit across the head and suffering injuries
including black eyes. Her mother could not identify any
remedial action that had been taken by the school in that respect. An individual education plan was in place
to support Charlotte and it was inadequate, only implemented for one school term,
and showed a lack of understanding of her behaviours and
communication style. All of this exacerbated her anxiety. The negative experiences at public and
private institutions have taken a toll on Charlotte’s family. Charlotte’s mother is worried she will lose
her job and Charlotte attends school only three to four days a week at best. Advocating for her child’s
safety has been exhausting. Charlotte’s mother has said,
“We’ve had such a horrible journey. It’s almost like because Charlotte’s
different, she’s viewed as less.” May I take a moment to thank the contributors
of those stories to the Commission, and these stories have come
from across Australia. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Dr Mellifont,
can I just clarify, those stories are all with the consent of the
people who are involved? DR MELLIFONT: Yes, thank you.
Quite so. Why look at education first? It’s not a matter of happenstance that
education and learning has been selected as the first topic for
hearing in public hearings. Education is a key enabler of other rights
including those related to work, housing, political participation
and access to justice. Education sets the scene. As Rosemary Kayess, a member of the United
Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and senior research
fellow, and Jennifer Green senior lecturer school of management and director
postgraduate community and not for profit management program, note in their 2016
piece entitled Today’s Lesson is on Diversity: As a cornerstone of social
inclusion it plays an important role in social development and interaction as well
as often being the avenue for lifelong friendships and
support networks. The Commission, of course, adopts what
should be self-evident, which is that all children have the
right to an education. This is a time critical right. We as a society have a relatively small
window of opportunity to get this right, and research analysed by the Commission
thus far, and information being received by those who work within the system, tend
to the conclusion that we, as a society, can get education right. Ms Mary Sayers, CEO of CYDA, was recently
quoted in a media article as stating: If we don’t get it right in education,
we can’t get it right everywhere else. So this is really important and
historic that the Royal Commission is starting with education. As Catalina Devandas Aguilar, United
Nations special rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities stated: Childhood is a decisive stage of life. It is a stage of exploration, play,
learning and identity construction, among many other things. Too many times, however, reality restricts
the right to a full and happy childhood. The Commission recognises the pervasive
and significant effect that adverse education experiences can have on a person’s
life journey, particularly so a person with a disability. Getting education right is the
starting point for the prevention of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation,
and for – and it is the starting point for creating an inclusive society. In the course of this hearing we will hear
from Professor Suzanne Carrington, who will explain and demystify the concept of
inclusive education and speak to the benefits that inclusive education can offer
not just for students with disabilities and their parents and carers but also
to the general student cohort, teachers, principals and education workers alike. So what does the research tell us? Review of reputable academic works tells
us that we know that education is a setting where people with disability and their
families often experience violence, abuse, and neglect. This may contribute to poorer academic
outcomes and social and emotional development for people with disability, as
well as a start to life marred by trauma. Many barriers remain entrenched in
education practice, and very often in education
law and policy. Barriers are often multifaceted and
overwhelmingly the result of societal attitudes. They are also often structural and
systemic, including inadequate legal and policy frameworks, the provision of
adjustments and supports, insufficient funding, flaws in data collection, and a
lack of accountability and transparency. Cultural barriers to inclusion and
development arise early in life for people with disability,
particularly in school. There is a false idea that by infantilising
people with disability and not teaching life skills they are being kept safe. Students with disability are devalued
and their potential to flourish is not acknowledged or nurtured. We have received information concerning
the lack of understanding and negative perceptions of some school staff,
principals, students and parents, and how they have significantly impacted the
ability of students with disability to participate and thrive. One parent reported that other kids
get special awards just for speaking to her
child with a disability. That obviously reflects a paternalistic
and passive view of people with disability, as objects who must be protected rather
than as active holders of rights, rather than as human beings who like every
other human being on this planet can do some things well and
others not so well. What we know from the data is that over the
past decade there has been an increase in the proportion of students with
disabilities attending schools. Among students with disability in Australia,
14 per cent attend a special school. The number of students with disability
attending a special school has increased by 35 per cent between 2003 and 2015,
incentivised by resourcing arrangements where children with disability
who attend special schools attract a higher funding loading. Mainstream settings are not free from
segregation for students with disability. Of those students with disability who
attend mainstream schools, approximately 19 per cent attend
special classes within those schools. We know, from the important work of
Professor Linda Graham that despite the lack of consistent data students with
disabilities experience much higher levels of suspension and expulsion than
their peers without disability. We have received submissions where
students with disability have been consistently denied the reasonable adjustments and
support they need to learn alongside peers. This lack of support and understanding
has led to deteriorating behaviour and ultimately to incidents where they have
been suspended, expelled and/or shifted along to another school. Can I again say at this point these
are submissions from across Australia. These are not intended to be regarded
as Queensland specific commentary. These are submissions
from across Australia. This topic of suspensions and exclusion
like, for example, the topic of the use of restricted practices, is a very important
topic, worthy and in need of detailed consideration by the Commission,
and work which the Commission will be undertaking in the future. A survey from CYDA published recently in
its annual survey is consistent with the observation made by
Professor Graham. The individual stories referred to
in CYDA’s survey bring some of these statistics to life. For example, one parent’s child
was suspended six times in six months for behaviour
issues, and redirection issues. The parent said “they push and push until
he’s completely overwhelmed and then they wonder why he won’t comply. Then they suspend. Once for three days. He was six years old”. Even for those who are present in the
mainstream classroom, the survey indicates that in some educational facilities,
students with disability are routinely being denied opportunities to fully
participate in the curriculum and school life, with almost half of the
students being excluded from participation in camps, sports,
excursions, events and school activities. Another parent reported that the principal
at times forgot to include support unit kids in activities, or they are
always separated from the mainstream kids by default. Research also indicates that
people with disability continue to be subject to violence, abuse
and neglect in the education setting. The Senate Community Affairs References
Committee, Parliament of Australia, entitled “Violence, abuse and neglect
against people with disability in institutional and residential settings,
including the gender and age related dimensions, and the particular situation
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability and culturally
and linguistically diverse people with disability” – that’s the title of the
report – 2015 – that report states and demonstrates that there is an increased
risk of violence, abuse and neglect for children and young people
with disability in school and transportation to and from school. It observed that people with disability
are most likely to be abused in segregated service environments, many of which are
to be found in education institutions. Further, individual examples articulated
in the CYDA survey included a child bullied so bad that it led to self-harm and
depression, where a school PE teacher ridiculed a child for not wanting to
participate in sensory overloaded PE classes and music, and a child
pushed downstairs, called names and threatened with rape. We know from Australian Bureau of
Statistics survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2018 that while education outcomes
for people with disability have improved, with higher rates of year 12 completion,
attainment of bachelor degree or above, and advanced diploma and diploma education
outcomes for people with disability are still low compared to
people without disability. We also know that educational attainment
is one of the greatest predictors of employment and income, and that people
with disability are under-represented in formal education matriculation. So only 33 per cent of people aged 20
and over, people with a disability, have completed year 12
compared to 62 per cent. Sixteen per cent of people with a
disability have a bachelor degree or higher compared to 31 per cent of
people without a disability. In our submissions and through
our consultation so far, we have heard that some parents
advocate tirelessly for their children to receive
an equitable education. This consumed time, energy,
and that’s physical, emotional and psychological in resources. Sometimes for the situation for
the child becomes so dire that the parents decide to change schools or home school
their children, which in turn often adds a new layer of financial
stress to their concerns. And in some cases, parents have developed
anxiety disorders themselves as a result. The decision to remove from
mainstream school is agonising. It often comes down to safety. While parents acknowledge the benefits of
attending a mainstream school they remove their children to
ensure they are safe, they are listened to, and they
are free from bullying. Children and families from
low socioeconomic backgrounds can be at a greater disadvantage. They face additional challenges when
advocating for their children as they may not necessarily have the financial
resources to continuously resolve the significant barriers they
face in educating their child. In some cases, home schooling or paying
private school fees is simply not an option. Research information received so far in
respect of the perspectives of educators are teachers is that some do not – are not
or do not feel supported to teach diverse learners. We’ve had reports from teachers
feeling overwhelmed trying to teach some students with disability when they’ve not
been given skills, training or resources they need, and we have had reports from
students with disability and their parents of a lack of understanding, specialist
training and assistance and no empathy from school staff, education departments, and
that the relationship between the schools and their families can
often be adversarial. The Commission recognises and will be
exploring intersectionality across a variety of issues. For example, the additional
considerations to be taken into account where finding solutions
where disability is combined with low socioeconomic circumstances is a
matter the Commission will visit. The Commission will also explore
an understanding of disability in the LGBTQI+ community. And an understanding of disability
in our First Nations Peoples communities. As the Chair has indicated,
Commissioners Mason and Atkinson are travelling to Palm Island this Friday
to commence the very important task of community consultation with
our First Nations People. In the first half of 2020, some of the
public hearings will focus on the issues faced by First Nations People
with a disability. Research and information thus far has
indicated that segregation from the mainstream classroom has a compounding
effect on First Nations students with disability as it is often the case that
special schools, units and classrooms lack the cultural education and connection
to community that may be provided in the mainstream environment. As Scott Avery notes in his publication
Culture is Inclusion, schools often take a compartmentalised approach where programs
for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are run independently of programs
for other children with disability. Our information and research thus far
has also indicated that First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse
parents and families may already be experiencing racial discrimination in
trying to engage with a school when seeking support for a child
with a disability. The Chair has, of course, outlined
the right to education for people with disability and that it is well recognised
under international human rights law. Article 24 articulates the right to
education for people with disability. These, Article 24 and the international
rights, are not aspirational. The Commission is committed to ensuring the
right to inclusive education and the right to dignity and recognition of the
right to an equitable education of all children, of all students. The Commission’s Terms of Reference
require the Commission to look at what governments, institutions and the community
should do to prevent and better protect people with disability from experiencing
violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, having regard to the extent of violence,
abuse, neglect and exploitation experienced by people with disability in
all settings and contexts. And to look at what governments,
institutions and the community should do to achieve best practice, to encourage
reporting of and investigations of and responses to such conduct, including
addressing failures in and impediments to reporting,
investigation and response. And very importantly, what should be done
to promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with
disability and their right – their right – to live free from violence,
abuse, neglect and exploitation. As I said before and as the Chair said
before, this hearing is just the start. In addition to starting to shine a light
on issues experienced by students with disability and their parents or
carers, this hearing will also look at inclusiveness in education as it relates
to students with disability, and the implementation of existing
policies and procedures relating to inclusive education
of students with disability. And we are starting with a focus on the
Queensland Government education system. This Commission is committed to putting
people with a disability at the centre of all it does,
including children. This week we will be privileged to hear
from two parents who speak about their experience in seeking to achieve
equitable education for their children. This Commission absolutely recognises the
importance of students being able to speak for themselves and for the Royal Commission
to give the opportunity for their voices to be heard, truly heard. We are hopeful that in the future we will
have the privilege of hearing from such students who are willing to share their
story with us in such a public forum. My learned friend Mr Fraser will now
provide an outline of the evidence to be heard this week. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank
you, Dr Mellifont. Mr Fraser. MR FRASER: At the conclusion of these
opening remarks, the first witness this Commission will hear from is a mother
of a child with disability who’s presently engaged in the state
education system in Queensland. We will hear from another parent tomorrow
who will speak of her experiences both as a parent of children with disability and the
education system in Queensland, and as a person who has herself
worked within that system. These parents will inform the Commission
about the experiences that their children and they themselves as parents
have had in navigating that system. Evidence of this type is of invaluable
importance for the work that lies ahead. The first of these witnesses will give
her evidence under a pseudonym as AAA. She and her daughter are local
to this part of Queensland. Her daughter, in addition to being an
energetic and social 13-year-old girl attending high school, has a diagnosis of
Down syndrome, some intellectual impairment and problems with her vision. Her education journey began in a special
education development unit at a young age. She subsequently attended school by a
combination of prep and at times at that unit before moving to grade 1 and
onwards, from which time her experience was one of exclusion. She was not valued as an
authentic learner and was separated from her peers in many instances. Reasonable adjustments
were not available to her. After her mother’s attempts to engage with
the principal did not assist she made the decision to move to another primary
school where, after a period of adjustment her school life began to improve. Her new school saw her as an
individual capable of learning. She had access to proper curriculum
where she was expected to and did participate with her peers. She was active in the school’s programs. She is now in high school, a school which
sees her as an authentic learner and has high expectations of her. This parent and her daughter have been
engaged with three different schools in the state education system and their
experiences have vastly differed from school to school. She will speak of her firsthand
experience of the importance of school leadership to ensure children with
disability receive the same education opportunities as children
without disability. This afternoon we will hear from
representatives from two community organisations by way of a panel session. The first being Dr Lisa Bridle,
a senior consultant with the Community Resource Unit, or CRU. CRU is a community organisation that
focuses on building the advocacy capability of families. It has a 30-year history of
working with families with disability and has been working specifically in the
education space for the past seven years. Dr Bridle’s role includes the development
of strategies and programs which promote and sustain leadership
towards positive change in the lives of people with disability. The panel session will also include
Mrs Deborah Wilson, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Independent Advocacy North Queensland,
IANQ. IANQ is a central advocacy and legal
service for people with disability in North Queensland and has
operated since 1987. It provides both individual and
systemic advocacy to assist people with a disability. Mrs Wilson is also the Secretary of IANQ’s
Management Committee and the Deputy Chair of the Disability Advocacy
Network of Australia. As I have mentioned, these witnesses will
give their evidence in a panel and the Commission will seek information
from them as to the issues which have been brought to them by
people seeking their assistance. Questioning of the panel will elicit an
understanding of the recurrent themes brought to these organisations with respect
to issues or barriers faced by students with disability, faced by parents trying
to advocate for their children with disability, and barriers faced because
of school educator attitude, culture or training and knowledge. On Tuesday morning the Commission
will hear from the parent that I referred
to earlier. This parent will also give evidence
under a pseudonym, known as AAC. She is a mother of five children
that face a range of challenges. Four of her children have autism. Her youngest also has attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder. Her children range in age from 15 to 28. As can be imagined, the challenges
faced by each child are different. In addition to her role as a parent she
is an experienced teacher in the area of special education, having worked
in the Queensland public education system for more than a decade. As a parent of children with disability
and an experienced teacher, this witness is well placed to inform the Commission about
the difficulties that such children face in the education system. She will speak about the experiences
of her children at two different independent
schools in this region. This includes difficulties in getting
teaching staff to make adjustments to meet of her children’s needs and the
importance of teacher engagement. She will also speak of her own observations
as a teacher in the state system, working with students with a 30 disability. The Commission will then hear evidence
from Mr Kevin Bates, the president of the Queensland Teachers’ Union,
a position he has held since 2012. The QTU is a professional body which
represents more than 47,000 teachers and school leaders in primary, secondary and
special schools and TAFE institutes in Queensland. Mr Bates will give evidence
as to QTU’s position on the inclusion of students with disability in mainstream
schools and on the commissioning and de-commissioning of special
education units and special schools. As a representative voice for its members,
QTU’s position on special education and other substantive matters is
determined by the democratic decision of its elected representatives. Mr Bates will give evidence
in respect to the following. QTU’s position in relation to the Queensland
Department of Education’s Inclusive Education Policy and the conditions
upon which the support for that inclusion is predicated. In particular, he will explain
QTU’s position not to support school-based decisions to move to a total inclusion
model unless there has been adequate consultation with staff, there is support
from staff and full delivery of all resources required to
support all students. And from QTU’s perspective, the issues that
arise with the implementation of Education Queensland’s policies and procedures on
inclusive education, including funding models and the resourcing of schools
required to attain inclusion of the nature described in the policy. On Tuesday afternoon the Commission will
hear evidence from two academic experts by way of a panel session, being Professor
Suzanne Carrington and Dr Glenys Mann. Professor Suzanne Carrington, of
Queensland University of Technology, will introduce the concepts of inclusive
education and the consideration relevant to its effective realisation,
including examining the importance of principal
and teacher attitudes. Dr Glenys Mann is at present a lecturer at
the Queensland University of Technology. As a parent of a child with a disability,
Dr Mann has a particular interest in the issues that parents of students with
disabilities are confronted with in relation to the schooling of their
children and the factors that influence and inform
their decision-making. In 2016 she submitted her thesis entitled
An Exploration of Parental Decisions to Transfer Children from
Regular to Special Schools. Dr Mann notes in her thesis that the
good school life that inclusive education promises has remained elusive
to many students, particularly those with
intellectual disability. Traditional practices such as
segregation continue to exist including by the continued
provision of separate special schools. Given that one explanation for the
continued existence of those schools is to afford a choice of schooling to parents
of students with disabilities, Dr Mann’s research considers
the range of factors that influence the decision-making
process, in which a parent engages to make that
choice, including the desire for the personal growth of their child and
enjoyment of school, down to more fundamental factors such as physical
access and the meeting of basic needs. In instances where a decision has been made
by a parent of a child with disability to enrol in a special school, Dr Mann’s
research has considered the factors that have informed that decision, including the
lived experience at school, including of children and/or their parents being made to feel unwanted,
and the use of suspensions; barriers to education such as lower
expectations and an exclusionary culture; and the importance of attitude of
teachers and principals and the importance of the
parent/teacher relationship. On Wednesday, the Commission will hear
from six Department of Education employees. This will be done by two
sets of panel evidence. The first panel will be from
three heads of inclusive services. The first panel you will hear from is
constituted by Ms Catherine Morris, Head of Special Education Services
at Bowen State High School. Next member of the panel is Ms Jewelann
Kauppila, Head of Department, Inclusive Practices at Ingham
State High School. And, finally, Ms Loren Swancutt, currently
acting in a secondment as Regional Head of Special Education Services and Inclusion,
her substantive position being Head of Inclusive Schooling at
Thuringowa State High School. In the second panel this Commission will
hear from Ms Judith Fenoglio, principal of Ingham State High School, Ms Pamela Prichard, principal
of Bowen State High School, and Mr Grant Dale, principal
of Thuringowa State High School. At these two panel sessions the Commission
will hear firsthand evidence in respect of these three schools, the efforts which have
occurred in respect of the implementation of the Queensland Government’s
inclusive policy, what is working, and what additional needs these
educators perceive are required in respect of inclusive education. On Thursday, this Commission will hear
from the assistant Director-General of inclusion and disability in the Department
of Education, Ms Deborah Dunstone, about the implementation of Queensland’s
Inclusive Education Policy. Ms Dunstone will speak about the processes
undertaken in the Queensland state system to identify students with disability by
way of the annual collection of information pursuant to the Nationally Consistent
Collection of Data on school students with disability. She will speak about the
resources and supports that are made available for students with disability and
the current role of special schools and special education
programs in Queensland. Ms Dunstone will tell the Commission about
the results of the independent review into the education of students with disability
in Queensland State Schools which was completed by Deloitte Access Economics
culminating in the publication of a report in February 2017. That report made 17 recommendations
to improve inclusion and productive educational experience for
students with disability. Ms Dunstone will speak about the
commitment made by the Queensland Government to implement all 17 of the Deloitte report’s
recommendations and the progress being made to do so, including by the renewed
Inclusive Education Policy which commenced in May 2018. Dr Mellifont will now
provide some final comments. DR MELLIFONT: We have the good fortune
of being joined this Thursday by Ms Kate Eastman of Senior Counsel,
so Counsel Assisting the inquiry. At the risk of it appearing that I might be
exhibiting some home-State own bias, may I thank the Queensland Department of
Education’s cooperation with the Commission and to note the reason for commencing
with Queensland Education, as the Chair as noted, is due to the steps
taken towards inclusion. Now, I don’t think anybody is claiming
the system is perfect, but the research gathered so far indicates that the
inclusive policy is starting to gain traction within several schools. In that respect, we conferred last week
with the witnesses who will be giving their evidence on Wednesday, including
Ms Morris, who is the head of special education services at Bowen, and she told us of a recent visit
by external teachers to their school to see what Bowen was doing
by way of inclusive education. One of these visiting teachers asked
one of the students, a student without a disability, what it was like to be in
a class with – let’s call him John – a student with an obvious disability. The student did not
understand the question. He couldn’t understand why he would be
asked what it was like to be in a class with John because John, like
him, was just another student. Another student there to learn,
another student there to play, and another student there to grow. That’s progress. The Commission is acutely aware of the
incident which occurred at Heatley last week, involving an 11-year-old
inflicting knife wounds on a teacher. The Commission’s thoughts are
with that young student, the teacher and the school community. However, this incident
will not be the subject of any examination in these
public hearings. It will be highly inappropriate to engage
in any discussion of any sort in respect of that incident, given a number of
factors, not least of which is the ongoing police investigation. These public hearings will be live web
streamed on the Commission website.
pages/default.aspx. It is the intention of the Commission to
approach its task in a thorough fashion with intellectual rigour. That means it will be necessary for
different sides of the debate on contentious issues to be heard. This for some may be very confronting. For some, hearing arguments contrary to
your own opinion may be very stressful. For some, it may even
be a trigger for trauma. The Commission understands that some of
the topics that will be discussed, some of the evidence that will be received,
will be upsetting, and we encourage those who are watching,
whether here in person or on the web stream,
if you think you might find some of the content challenging,
please have support around you. As I touched on earlier, the Royal
Commission is aware of the right of all children and young
persons to be heard. We acknowledge that children and young
persons have the right to express their views and have them taken seriously. The absence of any children and young
persons giving direct evidence this week should not be taken in any way as a sign
that the Royal Commission does not wish to hear from children,
or their voices will not be heard. We welcome those people
to engage with us. We also understand it can be a big ask for
a child or a young person to participate in the Commission public hearing and
speak about their experiences. And in this public hearing, it’s our hope
that the voices of the children and young people will be heard through
their parents, teachers, and advocacy and community groups. I said that at the beginning
I would speak about supports. The Royal Commission has an internal
counselling and support services team who are made up of social workers
and counsellors… The Royal Commission has an internal
counselling and support services team who are made up of social workers
and counsellors who are able to provide counselling and support to people engaging
with the Commission at face-to-face community forums, public hearings,
private sessions as well as over the phone. Four of our counsellors are present
at today’s hearing, including an indigenous male
social worker. In addition, the Australian Government,
through the Department of Social Services, has funded Blue Knot Foundation to
establish a specialist counselling support and referral service for people with
disability, their families and carers, and anyone affected
by the Commission. The Blue Knot Royal Commission hot line
number is 1800 421 468 – I will repeat that – 1800 421 468 – and is available from 9am
till 6pm Eastern Standard Time, Monday to Friday, and 9am to 5pm
Eastern Standard Time on the weekend and public holidays. Blue Knot provides professional short-term
counselling and support, a gateway to front line counselling services,
advocacy and legal support services, information and referrals about other
useful services and psycho-education. They have extensive, nation-wide referral
networks to support those who require longer term, face to face
or case management support. A range of legal and advocacy services have
been funded by the Australian Government and are being administered through
Department of Social Services and the Attorney-General’s Department. These include additional funding to
organisations currently funded under the National Disability Advocacy
Program for individual advocacy. The Commission has been advised of
50 of the NDAP funded organisations will receive top-up funding. Advocates from the National Disability
Advocacy Program are able to help protect an individual’s rights,
to say what they want to say, to help provide advice and support. Further, the Australian Government through
the Attorney-General’s Department has funded a Legal Financial Assistance
Scheme to assist individuals and entities with meeting the costs of legal
representation, and disbursements associated with formal engagement
with the Commission. The Attorney-General’s Department has
also funded National Legal Aid and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Legal Services to deliver free legal advisory services for
people engaging with the Commission. Further information about all of these
support services and links can be found on the Commission website or by
contacting the information line. The information line number for
the Commission is 1800 517 199. That’s 1800 517 199. May I finish with these comments,
which have as their trigger an observation made by Dr Bridle. The devaluation of some within our society
of people with disability can lead them to ask the intolerable and ignorant question
of why does a proper education for a person with a disability
even matter? This Commission hopes to bring about a
transformational change within Australia to render that kind of thinking
a thing of the past. May I now move to the
formality of tender. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Well, Dr
Mellifont, we may take the opportunity… DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE:
..for a short break. Ms McMillan, you are hiding behind a
computer screen there but… MS McMILLAN: Yes. COMMISSIONER
SACKVILLE: .. I think I can see you. Do you want the opportunity to
say anything by way of opening? MS McMILLAN: No. Not at this stage, thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you
very much. Alright. Well, we will take a break of about quarter
of an hour, and we shall resume with what Dr Mellifont has foreshadowed, the
exciting business of tendering documents. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Ms Mellifont, I
think I should formally make the direction not to publish to which you referred. So pursuant to section 6D subsection (3)
of the Royal Commissions Act 1902, I the Honourable Ronald Sackville, Chair,
established under Letters Patent dated 4 April 2019 and amended on 13 September
2019 to inquire into and report on violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation with
disability, direct until further direction the unredacted statement of the witness
about to give evidence, dated 1 November 2019, is not to be
published except to one, the Royal Commission, its staff,
counsel and solicitors assisting including
contracted service providers for the purposes of exercising their functions
and duties, two, counsel and legal representatives
for the State of Queensland, three, in-house lawyers at the
Department of Education who are instructing counsel, and legal
representatives for the State of Queensland, four, no more than five officers employed by
the Queensland Department of Education and the office of Assistant Director General,
Disability and Inclusion, whose names have been provided
in writing to Andras Markus, Solicitor assisting the Royal Commission before the
unredacted statement is provided to them. Those are the orders that have been
made and they are on the record. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you, Chair. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: Might I also apologise to
some within the room for the tapping on the microphone which can be extremely
loud and upsetting to some people. We will do our very best to avoid making
contact with the microphone because it does have a very
strong sensory effect. So may I express my apologies. Also, I will slow down a little so that we
can ensure that the interpretation and the reporting, the transcript,
captures everything. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Can I give a
little bit of forensic advice based on experience. Everybody is perfectly welcome
to follow the real-time transcript which is being produced with
astonishing skill. But my experience is that if you read the
transcript, it does tend to distract you and detract from listening
to the person speaking. It’s entirely a matter for you but
sometimes you might find it better not to actually read the real time transcript and
if you can hear, listen to what is going on. But that’s just a personal preference
based on long experience of being distracted – I’m an expert
at being distracted. Yes, Dr Mellifont.
DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. May I then move to the formal
tender of Tender Bundle Part A. Indexes have been provided and I simply
need to read into the record that I tender Part A of the Tender Bundle which
contains exhibits 1 through 14. Now, some of the material which has been
tendered in that bundle will need to be the subject of close examination for
redaction of private material. So in those circumstances, I seek an order
that until further order the contents of the tender bundle not be published. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes. Well, I
will make that order in the terms that have just been expressed
by Dr Mellifont. As far as the tender is concerned,
you are referring in hardcopy form, in any event, to one of the two
volumes that has been handed up to each of the Commissioners. DR MELLIFONT: That is so, thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: And we have,
of course, a digital or electronic version of that document.
DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: May I also inform the Chair
and Commissioners that Ms McMillan QC for the State of Queensland will be
providing an opening a little later during the week. I call, therefore, our first witness,
who will be giving evidence under the pseudonym AAA. And I ask that she come
to the witness box, please. For the record. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: I think it’s
been explained to you that you may take an oath or affirmation as you wish so please,
whichever you wish. Thank you very much. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE:
Thank you very much. Please sit down. Dr Mellifont will ask
you some questions. Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: For the record,
this is tab 89 in the bundle. Good morning. Thank you for coming today.
FEMALE: Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: Do you live here in a suburb
in Townsville? FEMALE: I do. DR MELLIFONT: Do you have a daughter
aged 13? FEMALE: I do. DR MELLIFONT: And does she have Down
syndrome? FEMALE: She does. DR MELLIFONT: Can you tell me
about her, please? FEMALE: [REDACTED] is a very happy
and energetic 13-year-old. She is very interested
in anything related to Disney, her favourite movie at the moment
is Maleficent Mistress of Evil. She is extremely independent. She is very fond of her pets. She has a cat, a dog,
six chickens and a fish. She has a great need to be social and with
other people, and I see her one day doing something like being a theatre
attendant or a party organiser. DR MELLIFONT: And is hospitality her thing? That is, in respect of wanting to
know who guests are and making sure that they’re
looked after? FEMALE: Yes, very much so. So she likes to prepare food, serve food,
make sure everyone’s comfortable, and has everything that they need. So, yes, hospitality is
definitely her strength. DR MELLIFONT: Now, her diagnosed
label is Down syndrome. So she – does she have some intellectual
impairment? FEMALE: Yes, [REDACTED] has an
intellectual impairment but she is also a great learner. When she picks something up she’s usually
right from then on she’s right to go. She has some aspects of autism
spectrum disorder and low muscle tone. DR MELLIFONT: OK. How’s her vision? FEMALE: Her vision is extremely poor. [REDACTED] has no
depth perception. She has what’s called
biocular vision. She requires glasses
just to focus. DR MELLIFONT: So she can’t see
out of her left eye? FEMALE: When she was born she couldn’t
see out of her left eye. They patched her right eye to then enable
the optic nerve to connect with the left eye. It’s quite common in babies. But what that left her with was biocular
vision rather than binocular vision, which is what most people have, so she
can’t judge depth and at the rate at which things are travelling
towards her. DR MELLIFONT: OK. So without her glasses,
she’s virtually blind and can’t focus? FEMALE: Absolutely. DR MELLIFONT: OK. She doesn’t have any
peripheral vision? FEMALE: No, she’s very much tunnel vision. She can’t see things coming
from the side of her. Because she focuses so intensely,
she doesn’t have that movement in her head because she’s very much focused on what’s
either in front of her or below her. DR MELLIFONT: OK. So her glasses are very
important to help her get around safely? FEMALE: Absolutely. DR MELLIFONT: OK. Now, can your
daughter do a lot of things that many kids of her age can’t do? FEMALE: Yes. So she’s really capable. She – she can cook half a dozen meals from
a recipe, so not just pull something out of the freezer and put it in the
oven, but cook meals from scratch. She cooks for her family
every Wednesday night. She can do – do her own – a load of washing
and hang it out, organise, you know, putting washing in the laundry basket,
which a lot of kids don’t do, but she’s quite capable around the house
and very – very independent. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. I slipped by using
the child’s name. May I – no, my fault. May I remind everybody of the
non-publication order with respect to that, and that the identity of the
child should not be released. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE:
Including you. DR MELLIFONT: Including me. Yes, that’s what I mean. Alright. So can you tell me about your daughter’s
early school years, please? FEMALE: [REDACTED] started under a
program called the Special Education
Development Unit which is now called the Early Childhood
Development Program. She was only seven or eight
months old at the time. She – the program was designed to engage
parents with children with issues on how they can play and just be – treat their
children as they would any other child and engage with their child
in – in a normal setting. It was a very
supportive environment. Parents were supported too – by
the other parents in the room. The teachers that ran the program were
extremely skilled, and our – our children were given opportunities like a regular
play group setting but accommodated their – their disabilities in that. DR MELLIFONT: Is that a program you would
like to see continue? FEMALE: Absolutely. This program allows kids who have a delayed
development or delayed learning to get the skills to go to school in time
with the rest of their peers. DR MELLIFONT: OK. Can you tell me about
your daughter’s prep year, that is at his first primary school? FEMALE: So my daughter’s transition to
primary school was assisted by the staff at the Special
Education Unit. They supported the teacher at the school
in helping them understand [REDACTED]’s challenges, learning needs,
learning style, etcetera. We did do what’s called a dual enrolment
back then, so three days at the primary school and then two days at the
Early Childhood Development Program. This really set [REDACTED] up for success
and it gave, I believe, me, the teacher, and [REDACTED] a sense of
confidence that she belonged there. DR MELLIFONT: OK. So you regarded her teacher there as an amazingly experienced teacher
with a great teacher’s aide? FEMALE: She was a quality teacher. She was – she was experienced, she was
– she had a very quiet manner about her. The teacher aide was amazingly
accommodating of [REDACTED]’s needs, made sure that she had everything that
she needed throughout the day. The teacher didn’t see any barriers
to [REDACTED] being in the classroom. DR MELLIFONT: OK. And the teacher aide
was able to assist your daughter with toilet training, manage that? FEMALE: Manage her personal care,
perhaps opening a container, or, you know,accessing resources
in the classroom. DR MELLIFONT: OK. You describe prep as being not so much
about curriculum but getting kids ready for school, and it being a good experience
for your daughter? FEMALE: Absolutely. Just gaining those skills to participate
in a group, turn taking, sitting down doing set work, the social skills
required in the playground, the routine around eating, toileting, all those
sort of things that you need, those skills to just engage in school. DR MELLIFONT: OK. Can you tell me about
grade 1, please? FEMALE: Grade 1 was a challenging year, and although the teacher and her classroom
was quite good, this is when the teachers from the Special Education Unit
would take [REDACTED] out of the classroom for chunks of the day. I’m assuming with other kids
with disabilities, I’m not sure. But she only ever did
things like colouring in. She was just given stuff to occupy her and
she wasn’t given access to the curriculum, she didn’t – she wasn’t seen
as an authentic learner. She was just being babysat
outside the classroom. DR MELLIFONT: When you say she was
taken outside the classroom, is that, to your understanding, to a special education unit or somewhere
else, or you don’t know? FEMALE: Yes, like a special classroom
assigned to the special ed teacher, yes. DR MELLIFONT: OK. So you speak about her not having
been taught any of the curriculum. So did she produce
any work? FEMALE: No. Colouring in was it. And it wasn’t even content
or curriculum related. So it was just
random colouring in. DR MELLIFONT: Did she need additional
resources? FEMALE: Because of [REDACTED]’s low
muscle tone and fine motor skills, I guess, the pens and pencils
– the organisation of her resources had to be enabling her rather than
providing another barrier. So these would cost, you know, instead of
two or $3 for a packet of pencils I would pay up to $15 for triangular
pencils that had grips on them. She had slope boards, she had all
her books were colour coded so that would help her
identify her own book work. Scissors, anywhere, $15, $20 for a pair
of scissors because – just so she could participate in those
activities in the classroom. DR MELLIFONT: OK. And things like special
rulers as well? FEMALE: Yes, rulers with a grip on the top so she could hold it. DR MELLIFONT: And who was it who
recommended the use of these items for your daughter? FEMALE: Our occupational – or her
occupational therapist. DR MELLIFONT: And who did you perceive
had the onus – sorry, I will rephrase that. Who had to provide those? FEMALE: I had to provide them
because the school didn’t. DR MELLIFONT: OK. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Can I say, if
you need a break at any time, will you please let us know?
FEMALE: Yes, thanks. DR MELLIFONT: Something else you needed
to buy was different exercise books suitable for her level of learning? FEMALE: So in year one, or year two
when you go buy books it will have year one English book and
it’s a grid or certain line spacing. I would have to adjust that to what
[REDACTED]’s ability – writing ability was. So just a different – a
different type of book. DR MELLIFONT: So these are all things you
needed to fund out of your own expenses? FEMALE: Absolutely.
DR MELLIFONT: OK. Just to orient you I’m going to take
you to around paragraph 20, OK. Let me know when you’re there. So let me just ask
you about that. Did you regard things to do with
[REDACTED]’s education as being hard work? FEMALE: Every day was difficult. I just don’t remember getting through a
week where I wasn’t asked to provide a resource or fix a
problem at the school. Just getting permission forms
to go to swimming lessons, which were funded by the government,
or the swimming carnival. We just seemed to always be left off – or
[REDACTED] – my daughter is left off the distribution list of anything that
was extracurricular at the school. DR MELLIFONT: Does that mean you weren’t
getting permission forms at the same time as the general
student cohort? FEMALE: No, I used – I would find out
what was going on at the school through other parents just waiting
at pick up, and so on, and I’d actually text them after hours and ask them
about different activities because otherwise, we would miss out. DR MELLIFONT: OK. And if you found out late and you put in a
permission form perhaps later than others, what would happen? FEMALE: I was always told it was
never in time, but I – as soon as the forms were available, I would fill them in
and either drop them off that day or the very next morning. I would deliver them
to the office myself. DR MELLIFONT: And did that mean that your
daughter was or was not able to participate in things like swimming
lessons or the carnival? FEMALE: I convinced them to
allow her to participate. [REDACTED] is an
excellent swimmer. She is not in any way
a risk at swimming. She can swim 18 laps
of a 50-metre pool. And she could do that, probably not 18 at
that point, but probably at least half a dozen lengths of a
50-metre pool at that age. DR MELLIFONT: OK. Were there occasions where she missed out
on going to lessons or carnivals, or is it a matter of you needing to advocate
until it was accepted? FEMALE: It was always hard – hard work to
get her to be included in what was taken for granted
by other students. So it was me – me insisting, and making
sure she got there when they – when she needed to be there. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. DR MELLIFONT: Can you tell the
Commission about a dance performance that your daughter’s class did in front
of the whole school in grade one? FEMALE: Yes. Unfortunately, we can’t show it because there’s other kids
in the – in the video, but clearly [REDACTED]’s cohort is in
one group on the video, and then she’s separated on the right-hand side of
the group, very close to her teacher. She was doing the same performance at the
same standard as all of the other children, but she wasn’t allowed to
stand as part of the group. And I watched that and it just breaks my
heart because she was – if – I can’t think of a reason why she shouldn’t have been in
the group because she was doing everything – she – and it’s
a beautiful video. It’s just a shame that there’s probably
10 feet between her cohort and her. DR MELLIFONT: And for you, in your words
that shows as stereotyping of Down syndrome,
low expectation and limits? FEMALE: Yes. The – the assumption that she
wouldn’t be able to do it, you know, that – that low expectation
of her ability, that her – and her right
to be part of the group. DR MELLIFONT: Can I confirm to the
Commissioners that we have, of course, received and viewed that video. It’s not appropriate for public display
because it does depict other students. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: But it shows exactly
what this witness has said. Excuse me for one moment. Now, were there upstairs and downstairs
classrooms in that school? FEMALE: So the old Queensland schools
here have a – yes, like a high-set and a low set – a
high-set framework where the classrooms never used to be
downstairs, they just all used to be upstairs. But in year 1 and year 2 there were
classrooms available with other year 1, year 2 kids in it downstairs which
would have removed a huge barrier for [REDACTED],
which was the stairs. So she had to hang on to the rail with one
hand and then someone had to support her on the right side to navigate
down the stairs and up the stairs. And if you can imagine with a classroom of
kids running – you know, trying to get out to the playground or getting back into
class it was quite stressful for her. DR MELLIFONT: Yes. So the additional challenges…
FEMALE: Oh, yes. DR MELLIFONT: .. included her vision?
FEMALE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Lack of sense of depth with
her vision? FEMALE: Yes, that’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Low muscle tone?
FEMALE: Yes, that’s right. DR MELLIFONT: And the hustle and bustle
that schools are? FEMALE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Alright. Can you tell me
about grade 2, please? FEMALE: It was very apparent early on
that the teacher my daughter had for
year 2 wasn’t a great match. I offered the teacher a binder of resources
that I had built over years for my daughter, which had also
teaching resources in it. It had, you know, information about
[REDACTED] her needs and so on. She just pushed it back to me and said,
“I will do my own research, thanks”, and didn’t want to know anything about her
or the resources that I had offered her. DR MELLIFONT: So at that stage, can I just
ask you this: when that happened, what was your sense of empowerment
or otherwise? How did you feel? FEMALE: I just felt sick in the stomach
because this person did not – just didn’t seem to engage either with me as a
parent or want to know anything about her individual students that may help
her be a more effective teacher. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Now, in – so your daughter attended year
two at her first primary school for three weeks; is that correct? FEMALE: She was enrolled there
for three weeks, yes. DR MELLIFONT: But only was at school
for five days? FEMALE: Five of those three weeks. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So feel free to expand if you wish or
would you like me to help you through this part? FEMALE: No, you’re right. I’ll just hang on. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Take your
time. FEMALE: It became really apparent
that the teacher was treating my daughter very differently
to the other children in the classroom. She was yelling
and screaming at her. She was – every time [REDACTED] stood up
which she needed to, to pull out the drawer where all her material was stored,
the teacher would scream at her, and I witnessed that, as did other parents
who reported that back to me. The other children had resources on their
desk but [REDACTED] wasn’t allowed to have her resources on the desk. She was given her iPad to
keep her busy during the day. There was an imaginary line at
the back of the classroom that the kids weren’t meant to cross. It did equate to about a
quarter of the classroom. And when my daughter – I was in the room
at the time, when my daughter crossed over the line, she just stood up at the front
of the classroom and just screamed at her, and basically threatened her, “If you
don’t get out” – I don’t know what the consequence was at the time, but there
was no explanation why she was in the wrong place,
why it was the wrong place. It was just one big room. There was no line, as such. The – [REDACTED] had, based on the
recommendation of the OT, a bunch of resources that would help her cope with
her sensory needs throughout the day. These were packed away by the teacher
and [REDACTED] wasn’t given access to them at all. And instead she was offered like a
bath mat at the front of the classroom underneath the whiteboard for her
to sit when she needed time out. She was also offered underneath
her desk as well, which is – yes. DR MELLIFONT: Which is a
problem, isn’t it? Upsetting?
FEMALE: This was in three days. So she also lost [REDACTED] on a couple of
occasions, and no one knew where she was, no one had reported her missing. I actually went to pick her up early for
something and I said, “where’s
[REDACTED]?” She did not have a
clue where she was. She was found by her – one of her old
teacher aides, sitting in the – in the covered play area on her
own, eating her lunch. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. If it’s all right with you I might come
back and summarise some of these points – and let me know if this
is an accurate summary. During the first week of school in 2013
there are some times you were there in the classroom when the teacher was
delivering lessons but your daughter was not included in the lessons. She was given her iPad to occupy her and
was ignored; is that correct? FEMALE: Correct. DR MELLIFONT: Your daughter could not
use regular pens and had to use triangular pencils
because her things were different to those used by
other students, she was made to keep them hidden under her desk. That’s correct?
FEMALE: That’s correct. DR MELLIFONT: When your daughter would
stand up to get something the teacher would yell at her to sit down rather than ask her
what she was trying to do; is that correct?
FEMALE: That’s correct. DR MELLIFONT: Did you see her do that with
your own eyes? FEMALE: The screaming at her
when she stood up, yes. DR MELLIFONT: Yes?
FEMALE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: And did other parents report
the same… FEMALE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: .. thing to you?
FEMALE: Yes. And this having occurred to your daughter
at school, did your daughter then start screaming the word “sit” at home? FEMALE: Her behaviour went down –
really downhill in those few – especially
in the first two weeks. She was screaming, slamming doors, she
was in her room yelling “sit”, she was hurting the dog, she was hurting
me, she was hysterical. She lost continence during
the night during that phase. She just was totally
out of character. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. You’ve touched on this, but the teacher
created an imaginary line in the classroom between where the students were allowed and
not allowed, which took up about a quarter
of the classroom but your daughter did not know she could not
cross it? FEMALE: No. DR MELLIFONT: And when she did,
inevitably, to walk across, the response of the teacher was to scream
and yell at her to get out? FEMALE: Correct. DR MELLIFONT: Now, your daughter has a
sensory processing disorder which means she needs to have access to
some distractions and have some downtime? Is that right?
FEMALE: That’s correct. DR MELLIFONT: So when she’s getting
overwhelmed by – I did it again – too much sensory input, she needs some time
out? FEMALE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Downtime?
FEMALE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So did you, in consequence – this is in
early 2013 – meet with the school and agree that your daughter would have access to
activities such as blocks, play doughs, puzzles and sensory equipment?
FEMALE: I did. Yes. DR MELLIFONT: And did you provide that
equipment? FEMALE: I did. DR MELLIFONT: And is that the equipment
that your daughter was not able to have ready access to but
rather the teacher kept the equipment packed away in a cupboard in the
corner of the room? FEMALE: That’s correct. DR MELLIFONT: And you have spoken about
instead she being placed on a bath mat. Okay. Now, on occasion did you see the
teacher move [REDACTED] about in any particular fashion? FEMALE: I witnessed her dragging
[REDACTED] down the stairs without her glasses on at a pace that
[REDACTED] couldn’t maintain. Because of her low muscle tone and delayed
development, her walking at that point was probably not fully mature,
and the idea of doing that without her glasses was just terrifying. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Was your daughter allowed to sit
with the other kids at lunchtime? FEMALE: She was given a special place. There was a sign with the letter L on it
which was the first letter of her name, stuck up on a pillar about six feet
above where she was expected to sit. And my first interpretation of that was
what is L for in the school community, and putting a sign up so high she would not
have been able to see it anyway because of the way her vision is,
and the fact that she would have to – her neck’s
quite short, so she would have to look up
and to check that’s the spot. And then not be able to sit where
she wants to sit or with her friends at lunchtime was awful. DR MELLIFONT: So your concern was, in
addition to the segregation occurring, also that this placement of this letter which
children might connect L for loser, as children do…
FEMALE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: .. would have a stigmatising
effect? FEMALE: I just didn’t – I didn’t think it
was necessary, and I didn’t think they actually
thought that through or – there’s a hundred other things they
could have done, but yes. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. These incidents, were they isolated? FEMALE: No, they’re the ones I wrote down
and the ones I can remember. There were lots of little things. I sort of, at that, was becoming quite
exhausted so I had to pick my battles, and try and focus on the things that really
needed to be eliminated, as a work in progress, so to speak. DR MELLIFONT: To work out what was within
your capacity to challenge as a parent? FEMALE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Is that right? FEMALE: From the outside you can’t
– it’s – it’s crazy to think that you can control inside what
goes on inside a school. So all I could really do was
identify issues and work with the school to try and resolve them. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. You’ve spoken about the impacts of – on
your daughter of these events at school. So at school did you observe anything in
respect of your daughter and how she felt about her current teacher? FEMALE: She was petrified of her because of
the yelling and the screaming. We’re not yellers
and screamers in our house. She used to run out of the classroom and go
and hide behind the long flowing skirts of her year one teacher because
that’s where she felt safe. The teacher was a good teacher,
you know, she did her very best. And it was obvious that she was petrified
of this – of the year two teacher, but felt safe with her year one teacher. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Did you raise the incidents
with the principal? FEMALE: Almost every day, whether
it was by email, phone conversations,
organising meetings with the teacher. I’ve got a folder this thick of
the – the attempts I made to try and work through the issues. DR MELLIFONT: And what was the response
that you would ordinarily get? FEMALE: The principal blamed me and that
I had a – a problem or a relationship issue with the teacher,
which wasn’t the case. I was offering support, understanding,
whatever it was going to take to ensure [REDACTED] was safe at school, but it was
rejected that, you know, that it was my fault and I was the one to blame for
[REDACTED] issues in the classroom. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Just to assist you in your orientation,
about paragraph 30 for you. Did you then decide to
change schools? FEMALE: Yes. After two weeks it became
really obvious that my daughter was petrified
and didn’t want to go to school. I couldn’t get her out of the
house even if I wanted to anyway. We spent the next week in recovery mode,
trying to get her to the point where she wasn’t screaming and bawling
her eyes out for most of the day and working out what our options were. And that’s when we decided that I had to
– we had to move schools because I was getting – I wasn’t getting any –
anything that was saying it was worth the heartache to stay. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And you moved school,
yes? FEMALE: And the school – yes. DR MELLIFONT: Sorry? FEMALE: We just moved across the other
side of – so one school this side, another school this side,
and it was a totally different experience. The leadership in the school
was supported, they were experienced,
they were welcoming. DR MELLIFONT: What…
FEMALE: One of the… I’m sorry?
DR MELLIFONT: No, you’re right. I cut you off? FEMALE: I was just going to say one
of the teachers said to me early in her enrolment there was that, you know,
we want your experience, as in your family experience, at this school to
be the same as everyone else’s. So because I turned up with all my
resources, and all my props and everything from the old school and they just said,
“No, it’s just about education here.” DR MELLIFONT: And so was your
perception, having heard that, that that teacher didn’t think
that your experience at the school needed to be
any different just because your daughter had additional needs?
FEMALE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So overall, what would you say about that
school’s leadership? FEMALE: Because of the difference in the
schools, they still operate under the same legislation,
the same policies, the same budget constraints and
so on, which leaves me with the leadership in the school and the heads of department,
everyone is supported in that school. You can see it’s
a community culture. They don’t – they don’t look
at the child as a problem. They look at how they can adjust
or modify what’s required for that child to engage in education. DR MELLIFONT: So did you feel that if the
teachers had a problem, that they would be supported by the school
to come up with a solution? FEMALE: Absolutely. There was a very clear sort of mentoring
program within the school where teachers could seek advice from those
who had a – maybe a bit more training or a bit more expertise. DR MELLIFONT: In your view, was the head
of special education very good working tirelessly to make sure
that the teachers had the resources
to support the children? FEMALE: Absolutely. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. FEMALE: Teachers weren’t left as islands,
they were part of a cohort that worked really closely together, not just the
special ed teachers, the whole grade cohort was work, work
together so that all the teachers had each other’s back and were a team. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Now, when she first started at the second
primary school, this school you speak about was the school able to identify that
she had some anxiety? FEMALE: They picked up on it straight away. She had severe anxiety for about 12 months
after our previous school’s experience. She had no confidence. She was always, you know, sort of looking
at people as sort of almost anticipating yelling and screaming,
or trying to read people. It was – yes, about 12 months it
took her to recover from that. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. But she did recover?
FEMALE: She did. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And she’s confident and
she gets up to mischief and – yes. DR MELLIFONT: You speak about that when
she mucked up in class for the first time it was a yes moment for you. What do you mean by that? FEMALE: I guess she was just behaving
like regular kids. Her anxiety had not – you know, she was –
she was just frozen all the time after that experience, and she – she would – she
wouldn’t take any risks, she would just sort of, you know,
like a timid rabbit. So when she did muck up and
she got in trouble, I went “yes”, she’s just being normal. DR MELLIFONT: Which is not the normal
reaction of parents, but this for you… FEMALE: For me…
DR MELLIFONT: .. was a sign… FEMALE: Yes, absolutely. DR MELLIFONT: .. that she finally had
the confidence just to do something a bit mischievous.
FEMALE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Now, at that school did you regard her
being seen as an individual who was capable of learning? FEMALE: [REDACTED] for the first
time had access to proper curriculum. She got homework, she had sight words, all
the typical early childhood, early years primary school stuff. She got permission
forms for everything. She participated in everything. It was a very normal experience. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So for you that was a sign that the
teachers recognise that all children have a fundamental need to learn?
FEMALE: Absolutely. The school’s quite diverse. So [REDACTED] wasn’t
special at that school. She wasn’t different. She was just one of the, you know,
four or 500 kids at the school. DR MELLIFONT: And was she able to
participate in everything the school had going? FEMALE: In year four, [REDACTED] was
offered a place in the Duke of Edinburgh Deadly Dukes Program, which I was ecstatic because what that
meant was they saw her as an equal, they didn’t see her disability as a barrier,
which she had the same goals in the program as the other kids. Hers were modified so they
were within her reach. There were three goals. The two I can remember was acquiring a new
skill which we facilitated that through circus classes,
and the second one was volunteering. She had to do 15 hours, I think it was,
over a period which we chose to do the breakfast club at school which filled – identified [REDACTED]’s love
of doing hospitality. She would prepare breakfast
for her peers who didn’t have food at home, and she would serve them food, milk,
clean up, and so on, before school. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So did you need to help her with that? FEMALE: I needed to support her,
but, you know, the – by the time – the second,
third time that we did it, she was fine. She just – just needed a bit
of prompting and support … DR MELLIFONT: Okay?
FEMALE: .. and that’s it. DR MELLIFONT: So your description – tell
me if you feel it’s accurate – is helped her as much as she needed
but she really took charge. FEMALE: Absolutely. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. How was grade 4? FEMALE: Grade 4 wasn’t the best year
for – for my daughter at this new school. The teacher was
an experienced teacher. She was – there was no – there was no –
she wasn’t as exceptional as the other teachers, I guess. So she did what she had to do. She – there was – there were no
issues around inclusion or access. She just wasn’t
as good a teacher. She had a bad year, as in – I wouldn’t –
bad year’s probably harsh, but she had a year that wasn’t as good as the other years
but I figure, you know, every kid has a bad year at school, has a teacher that maybe isn’t,
you know, 100 per cent enthusiastic. That was probably
the main issue – was enthusiasm. So – yeah. DR MELLIFONT: Alright. So generally, you described – the
thing you found great about the school it was set and forget. What’s that mean? FEMALE: That meant that I could drop my
daughter at school at half-past eight, 20 to nine, know that I had nothing
to worry about until I picked her up at
3 o’clock in the afternoon. I never got phone calls. Only she was sick or
something like that. She had – you know, she had access to a
safe drop-off area, pick-up area, and that I had a relationship with the school
that if they did have a problem, that we could work it out. And it was just a really normal experience,
and I was quite happy until the sit back as a typical parent
until the end of year 6. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. At this school were you asked to provide
all the additional resources as you were required to do at the prior school? FEMALE: Some, yes. Some, no. As far as basic exercise books and all that
sort of stuff, no, they – they provided all that – all the textbooks and curriculum
material were all done by the school. Probably the one thing I did keep
providing, because they are expensive, is scissors, schools only have a
particular amount of money, but everything else they accommodated her. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Can we talk now about your daughter’s
transition to high school, and your process of choosing a high school for her, please? FEMALE: I guess I looked at going to
highschool as if without the view through [REDACTED]’s Down syndrome, so I initially opted for a private
girls school. But it quickly became apparent that her
inclusion there would only be physical inclusion, and that she would have to spend
most of her day in a separate classroom with another child with a disability,
that she wouldn’t be in with her peers. And [REDACTED] loves to sing and
she loves music but every program in the school was by audition only. So it was competitive. It wasn’t based on just participating
or enjoying singing or music. It was next level. And so I didn’t see any opportunities
where she could do any extracurricular activities
without competing. Got a sick feeling in the stomach and
withdrew our enrolment which had been accepted, and decided to go
to our local high school. DR MELLIFONT: And what’s your view
as to the representativeness of the local high school
you decided to go to? FEMALE: So the school represents the
community where [REDACTED] lives. It’s very, very diverse. Every – every demographic that you
can think of goes to that school. It’s – again, she’s not special. She’s got access to extracurricular
activities, and – yes. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So how were the first six months
of high school for your daughter? FEMALE: They were rough. [REDACTED]’s main issue with
high school has been transitions. Of course, with timetables, kids are
transitioning every 40, 50 minutes, and so that was a real
learning curve for her. It got to a point where
things weren’t going well. She wasn’t happy, I wasn’t
happy, the staff were not happy. So we – I called a meeting to try and work
out what I could do and what we needed to do to get [REDACTED] engaged in
the classroom because she wasn’t even getting
to the classroom. I turned up at the meeting with
a behavioural specialist and [REDACTED]’s NDIS coordinator to walk into
a room where there were eight teachers sitting at the table with [REDACTED]’s
picture in the middle of the table all wanting to know about her, what her
strengths were, what her interests were, and it was just a meeting about getting to
know both sides of, you know, the school side, the parent side,
and – and my daughter. DR MELLIFONT: Alright. So you speak about walking into
the meeting with eight teachers. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? FEMALE: It – sorry, I didn’t… DR MELLIFONT: Was it a good thing or
a bad thing? FEMALE: Oh, it was a great thing, because
everyone was on the same sheet of music. Anyone who had even a small involvement in my daughter’s school day
was at that meeting. So everyone got the same
information at the same time and I guess they could see that I was committed to her
going to the school, I’m on board, so it was a building of trust,
I guess, as well. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And did you come out of the meeting with
the sense that the participants wanted to know about [REDACTED] and
how she works? FEMALE: Absolutely. Absolutely. DR MELLIFONT: Now, did, in your view, that school see your daughter
as an authentic learner? FEMALE: Her – her curriculum was very –
they took a lot of effort to work out where [REDACTED] was at, as far as primary
school, and then what her goals were in her curriculum for that year. She was always given work
that was appropriate. It wasn’t dumbed down. It was just modified and
differentiated to her learning style. She has improved – she has gone I think
at least a year to two years ahead in her level of work since she
has been at that school. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. FEMALE: She’s, you know, doing really well. DR MELLIFONT: Alright. And so for you, that school took for the
time to take a proper profile of your daughter’s education needs?
FEMALE: Yes. So her learning – so her learning styles, what – what motivates her to learn, and just looking at the curriculum and
differentiating it to her – her learning style and her needs. And… COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Dr Mellifont –
I’m sorry, how long do you think you will be because I don’t want you to go
on too long without a break. DR MELLIFONT: I think we will be
about 10 minutes or so, perhaps 15. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Are you
good? FEMALE: No, I’m good. Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: Alright. Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: So has the school shared
with you their sense of vision for your daughter when she finishes
school? FEMALE: They’ve expressed that my
daughter’s capable of getting a regular job,
which is perfect because my vision for [REDACTED] is to get a job that pays
real wages and have an ordinary life, an ordinary opportunity at getting a
job and living in her community. DR MELLIFONT: And the school’s vision
in that respect, that they do see her getting a regular job when she finishes school is something
that’s very important to you? FEMALE: Absolutely, because without an
educ ation, everyone knows it’s very difficult to get a job
without some level of education. The ability to get paid a
real wage is really important. And having – having that confidence that
she can learn will also give her the confidence that she can
then work in the community. DR MELLIFONT: So in your view,
school’s not a babysitting gig? FEMALE: No. DR MELLIFONT: It’s a place where each
individual should be able to learn? FEMALE: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: And reach their potential? FEMALE: Yes. Reach their full potential. DR MELLIFONT: Alright. Does that school have
school camps? FEMALE: It does. And we’ve had two amazingly
successful school camps. The head of special ed and I sat down and
we nutted out any issues around the first camp, any concerns anyone had,
and some modifications were made. She had access to every
activity on the camp. And she participated in every activity and
won just about all the awards, but – but the following year there was a different
teacher who wasn’t quite as experienced – or didn’t – didn’t know
my daughter as well. And he was – you could see he was really
hesitant and he was really nervous, but the head of special ed and myself sort of
went, “No, no, it will be right. We will look at all the different
avenues and we will set up everything for success.” And we did. And the smile on his face when he
got back from camp, he was ecstatic. He said she has had the best time and
it was so good to have her on the camp. DR MELLIFONT: So for you, the ability to
participate on the same basis as everyone else reflects real access
and real participation as opposed to token inclusion? FEMALE: Exact – yes, exactly. So just doing what – having
the opportunity to do what all the other students are doing, whether it’s curriculum
or extracurricular activities with positive negotiation. It’s all possible. DR MELLIFONT: So for you and your vision
is for your daughter that one day she will have stable housing that’s not in a group home, that
she will have access to transport, some money to do the things she likes and a job
that is meaningful and friends and people around her that aren’t paid there to be
there, you don’t want disability to be a limiting factor for her? FEMALE: I want the only limits to be on her
life the same as everyone else. DR MELLIFONT: And how do you see the
role of education and schooling as playing a role in that? FEMALE: Education’s the start. If we don’t include kids in the education
system, how can we include them in the community, in the workplace. Kids need to be with their – their peers
who are then going to be, you know, their workmates or their
university colleagues or TAFE colleagues or
apprenticeship colleagues. It’s really important that my
daughter’s known in her community and sits alongside her peers
in her community. DR MELLIFONT: So for you what makes a
good educational experience for a student with a disability? And to orient you, paragraph 52?
FEMALE: Fifty? DR MELLIFONT: Fifty-two?
FEMALE: Sorry. Leadership is – leadership in
schools, the appropriate adjustments, and seeing people with a disability
as authentic learners. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So in your journey,
you’ve learned that providing a good education to
students with disability is also about doing ordinary stuff,
about providing a safe environment for all students regardless of whether or
not they have a disability, things like providing a safe drop-off point & pick-up
point mean that all students can be safe, and that students with disability don’t
need to be separated from their peers? FEMALE: No, they don’t. And it’s just – it’s good teaching,
ordinary teaching done well. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So your experience in the second primary
school and in the high school was one of provision of ordinary everyday
quality education for all kids. FEMALE: Absolutely. DR MELLIFONT: Is it your hope that this
Commission makes people realise that people with disabilities have the
same rights as those without disabilities for
education? FEMALE: I’m just referring to my phone
because I’ve written that down. DR MELLIFONT: Please do so. FEMALE: Students with disabilities have
the right to an education in their community, not somewhere else,
but where they live. On the same basis as their peers with
access to the curriculum and appropriate adjustments. They need to be
seen as authentic learners. DR MELLIFONT: What else do you hope that
this Commission accomplishes? FEMALE: I would like to see the
Commission address the exploitation of people with
disabilities, whether it’s from government agencies like the NDIA,
service providers, or family and friends. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. That’s the evidence
of this witness. Thank you for your time. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank
you very much. FEMALE 2: Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: We know
how difficult it is to give evidence. We appreciate very much… FEMALE 2: Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: your courage
and your willingness to come and help us, and I hope that you will remember this, as the first witness
of this Royal Commission? FEMALE 2: And thank you for the
opportunity. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you.
Thank you very much. Good, thank you. DR MELLIFONT: Might we adjourn, please,
till 2:30 when we will recommence with the panel, Dr Bridle and Mrs Wilson. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Just to
explain, a panel is when witnesses give evidence together. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: In
commercial litigation, it is, for very obscure reasons, known as the “hot tub” but we
shall refer to it as a panel. We will resume at 2:30? DR MELLIFONT: 2:30, please. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: We will
resume at 2:30. Thank you very much. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE:
Yes, Dr Mellifont? DR MELLIFONT: Good afternoon. May I start by clarifying an
aspect of the nonpublication order. And I repeat this morning that your Chair
has issued a nonpublication order which expressly prohibits the publication of any
information which would tend to identify the current or former students of
the education system in Queensland. And as I indicated this morning, that this
of course, covers information regarding the parents of such disability including
photographs or video because that information will indirectly
identify the children. That does not prevent the evidence given
from being published, provided it is done in a way which does not directly or indirectly identify the student or the parent. We welcome to our panel this afternoon Dr
Lisa Bridle, and Mrs Deborah Wilson, and ask that the oaths
Yes, thank you. I think it has been explained to you,
you may take the oath or affirmation as you wish. Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE:
Thank you very much. Please sit down. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE:
Thank you very much. Before we start, I would like to thank you
on behalf of the Commission, for the work that has gone into your submission.
Thank you very much. DR MELLIFONT: Can I also thank
Mrs Wilson, who is suffering with a significant chest infection
this afternoon. We are going to do the evidence in a way
that will involve her speaking as little as possible in those circumstances. COMMISSIONER
SACKVILLE: Thank you. And if you need to have a
break, just let us know. MRS WILSON: Thank you. DR. MELLIFONT: Is your name
Deborah Wilson? MRS WILSON: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Are you the Chief Executive Officer of
Independent Advocacy in the Tropics? MRS WILSON: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Have you held that role
from September 2015 to the present time? MRS WILSON: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Prior to that, did your work
experience include the following: working in Brisbane and event
services in Townsville? MRS WILSON: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Regional Development
Australia Townsville and North-West 40 Queensland Incorporated? MRS WILSON: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: And Mental Illness
Fellowship North Queensland Incorporated? MRS WILSON: Yes,
amongst other things. DR MELLIFONT: And in 2013 you were a
finalist in AIM Queensland’s Management Excellence awards for
the Townsville region? MRS WILSON: Yes, I was. DR MELLIFONT: Are you the Deputy Chair
of the Disability Advocacy Network of Australia? MRS WILSON: Yes, I am. DR MELLIFONT: And the secretary, as well
as your role of CEO, as CEO in Independent Advocacy
in the Tropics? MRS WILSON: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: You hold memberships in the Australian Institute of
Company Directors and Institute of
Managers and Leaders? MRS WILSON: Yes, I do. DR MELLIFONT: You come to this
Commission as a person who has, through their work and through their
life experience with family members with significant
disabilities, able to speak about recurrent themes in respect of people
with disability, their parents and carers and the
education system? MRS WILSON: Yes, I am. DR MELLIFONT: That is both state,
that is private and public sector? MRS WILSON: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: So when you give evidence
this afternoon, you are speaking about examples that may
have come from either? MRS WILSON: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Dr Bridle,
is your name Dr Lisa Bridle? DR BRIDLE: It is. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And you’re a
resident of Brisbane? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: And, Mrs Wilson,
you’re a resident of the Townsville area? MRS WILSON: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Can I just ask you
is that microphone picking up? There is static down here. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: As far as
we’re concerned I think it’s fine. DR MELLIFONT: All right. COMMISSIONER
SACKVILLE: Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. Dr Bridle, do you hold a Doctor of
Philosophy awarded in 2004 through the University of Queensland School of
Social Work and Applied Human Sciences? DR BRIDLE: I do. DR MELLIFONT: And were you awarded the
Dean’s Commendation for Outstanding Research for a high degree
thesis in respect of that doctorate? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Do you also hold a
Bachelor of Social Work, with First Class Honours, from the
Universityof Queensland? DR BRIDLE: I do. DR MELLIFONT: Is your current role Senior
Consultant of the Community Resource Unit? DR BRIDLE: I – that’s right. DR MELLIFONT: And have you
held that role since July 2010? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Does your prior work
experience include the following: 2006-2010, Clinical Coordinator and
Lecturer, Queensland Centre for Intellectual
and Developmental Disability? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: 2004 to 2006, Bioethics
Systems Advocate, Queensland Advocacy Queensland Advocacy Incorporated? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Consultant of the
Community Resource Unit in 2003 to 2004? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: And you’ve previously
worked as a social worker and domestic violence worker and
community development worker? DR BRIDLE: I did. DR MELLIFONT: Yes. You’ve also been a counsellor? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: And you’ve lectured and
tutored at various universities including UQ, Griffith,
Charles Sturt, and QUT? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: And your voluntary work
has included President, Queensland Parents for People with
Disability, 2009-2011, and a membership for a much
longer period of time? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: And that membership is a
consequence, in part, of your son, born in1995, who has Down syndrome? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Have you been a committee
member of the Australian Catholic Disability Council
from 2007 to ’11? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Voluntary work with Down
syndrome Association of Queensland? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: And a community member
of Queensland Advocacy Incorporated? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Thank you both for your
time this afternoon. Mrs Wilson, can you tell us what
your organisation does, please? MRS WILSON: Independent Advocacy in the
Tropics Incorporated advocates for people with a disability,
any type of disability, from any age. So start of life to end of life. And for a significant
area of North Queensland. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And Dr Bridle, your organisation,
please, in particular your role? DR BRIDLE: So CRU has been around for 30
years and we work for positive change in the lives of people with disability,
particularly trying to resource, people with disabilities, families,
workers, to pursue more inclusive lives for people with disability. So up until
June this year, my job was primarily leadership
development for families, and since June
I’ve had a role as the – really, leading the Families for Inclusive Education
Project which has been funded by the Department of Education. Really to resource families to be more
effective advocates for their sons and daughters with disability. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And in respect of your organisation, you
hear from people with respect to private and public sector? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. So our – the work since June has been funded by the State Department of Education. But we also receive funding from the
Department of Communities, which enables us to field inquiries from
people from public, private, and Catholic schools. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And so when you come to speak to the
Commission today about recurrent themes, the sources of that information and
knowledge come from all of those sources as well as your own…
..experience as a parent? DR BRIDLE: Exactly. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So Dr Bridle, can I ask you, please, with
respect to enrolment barriers, this is an area that you’ve identified
as being a recurrent theme. Can you tell us what your
experience indicates? DR BRIDLE: So this is not, I guess, a
new issue, and it has been in a – I guess identified through many studies over
decades that there’s a process of gate keeping that happens when students
approach a local regular school, a lot of advice that the correct
enrolment would be enrolment in a special school rather than
at the local neighbourhood school. I guess the things that are said to
families are either, “We don’t cater for students with this
level of disability. We won’t have the resources. We can’t ensure that your child will
be safe if they enrol at this school. You will find that the resources are
somewhere else.” And I guess other times people – the parents are offered something
that is far less than would be available to other families, so they’re told, “Yes,
you can enrol, but perhaps you will only be able to attend the school the number of
hours that a teacher aide can be allocated to that class,” or that, you know, maybe
the – even the physical modifications to the school will not be possible that there
won’t be the resources for students to really attend and participate on
the same basis as other students. I do want to say that with the new
Inclusive Education Policy which came in last year, families have been able, I
think, more effectively to make a case for attending their local school but, of
course, not every family is aware of that policy. And certainly families have still
had to make that case to go back to the school armed with the policy rather than
the first – yes, the first response from the school being
automatically welcoming. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So in some circumstances, have you had
instances of families being told that their child can only attend on a part-time
basis, which might be as minimal as an hour a day, but this presented
as a transition plan? DR BRIDLE: So it’s quite common, I think,
for schools to propose, for students with significant disability, that the
student just ease into the school year. And so I have known of families where the –
you know, into term 3 perhaps they’re only going for a couple
of hours a day. And then the – it’s up to the families,
really, to argue for their student to attend more than that. And often families are reluctant to be
seen as troublemakers, or too demanding. And so they find themselves there part-
time for the whole year and then that process continues, you know,
well into their education. So it’s something that’s carried over into
subsequent years, something that – rather than something that just
happens on entry to school. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Dr Bridle,
can I just clarify something about timing? You’re talking about
enrolment barriers. Are you speaking about practices that
are current or have occurred recently? What period of time
are you talking about? DR BRIDLE: Both. So I – I’d say, as I said, I think in
Queensland there’s now a policy that clearly states that you are entitled
to go to your kind of local school. But I don’t think all principals are
necessarily – all school principals are necessarily, you know,
complying – complying with that. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: So some of
the gatekeeping, of which you speak,
is actually current practice? DR BRIDLE: It is. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: –
– – in your observation? DR BRIDLE: But I guess one of the – the
point I would make is that I think that there has been – I think there has been
a shift but sometimes then it’s – it translates to other practices which are far
from fully inclusive, like the suggestion of part-time hours. COMMISSIONER
SACKVILLE: Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: And for you, Dr Bridle, and
Mrs Wilson, we will take your answers as relating to current and/or – and recent
practice unless you state otherwise. MRS WILSON: Okay. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. DR BRIDLE: Can I… DR MELLIFONT: Yes. DR BRIDLE: Is it possible to add that I
think the other – so there’s the transition into school is a – is a difficult time,
then the transition into high school is another difficult time. So I think that’s a time when, again, the
expectation that students with disability should be educated separate from their non-disabled peers also becomes quite strong. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And the types of messaging you’ve relayed
in your evidence earlier about families being told that another school would be
a better placement, is that particularly highlighted at those junctures? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. You have informed the Commission that
messaging from families includes this statement from one family: I felt unwelcome and pushed
to make another choice. I felt very disappointed. I truly felt he – that is their son – did not belong in
a special school. Is that the type – is that a one-off
message you receive or is this the sort of thing that happens
from time to time? DR BRIDLE: I can think of a family who I
spoke to recently who was actually moving from Townsville to Brisbane who approached
their local school and was told because it was a – an enrolment halfway through
the school year that there would be no resources available to support
– to support that child. The parents took, had transferred for work
and the father was unable to take up his work offer because they didn’t have
a school placement for that child. They’ve ended up in a special school so
that they could – both parents could work and pay their mortgage. DR MELLIFONT: And that’s recent? DR BRIDLE: Mmm. DR MELLIFONT: Yes? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Mrs Wilson, you’ve heard what Dr Bridle’s
observed in respect of enrolment barriers. Can you tell the Commission
whether your experience is similar? MRS WILSON: Yes, it has been. Yes. DR MELLIFONT: All right. Is there anything you wish to
add at this point in respect of those enrolment barriers? MRS WILSON: No, nothing different to
– to what Dr Bridle has already said. We – we see the same thing. DR MELLIFONT: All right. Thank you. And that’s recent and current? MRS WILSON: Recently, probably our case
studies are from one to two years old. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Have you
observed any change since the inclusion policy came
into force? MRS WILSON: No. No. DR BRIDLE: Could I say
one more thing about that? DR MELLIFONT: Certainly. DR BRIDLE: One of the things
that’s interesting… COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Feel free at
any time to add to what you’re saying. DR BRIDLE: Yes. So one of the things I have found is that
– I can think of a family who entered prep last year who was initially told by the
local school there wouldn’t be the support available. She went back, made the
argument, said, “Are you aware there’s this” – you know, really shared why she
wanted her son to be included, and he is having a wonderful experience. So when people are able to push past the
barrier, they can have a very positive experience, but my concern would be
that not every family can advocate for themselves and most people, in my
experience, feel deeply reluctant to send their child to a place where
they – they won’t – don’t feel their child will be welcomed. MRS WILSON: And can I just say, as an
advocacy organisation, we only see the worst cases. We don’t see the good
stories, the good outcomes. We only see the bad. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. Dr Bridle, another recurrent theme you’ve
identified is student devaluation leading to neglect. Can you tell the
Commission about that, please? DR BRIDLE: So I guess I can think of
situations where there has just been an appalling lack of attention to
the student’s dignity and privacy. So I’m thinking of a child that was seated
on a – a dog mat in the classroom, because – which was a way that if that
child had a toileting accident it would not hurt the carpet but… COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:
Sorry, did you say.. DR BRIDLE: Sorry? COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:
Did you say a dog mat? DR BRIDLE: Yes. COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:
Okay, thanks. DR BRIDLE: So, and when the parent argued
against that she was treated as if she was just off the wall. You know, kind of – you know,
accused of being kind of neurotic, basically, for questioning that. There were issues, I guess, of students
being kind of shamed and humiliated in front of the class, terrible
breaches of student confidentiality. So, you know, people talking in front
of other parents about the student’s disability and support needs. Toileting accidents treated – you know,
I guess highlighted in front of peers. People’s personal – support-giver – care
needs being discussed in very public ways. And we’ve already heard this morning about
the impact of being left out of activities So the – the testimony this morning was
very much in line with, you know, things that are regularly reported to us, where
kids aren’t – are left off class lists. They’re not going on excursions. They’re not participating
in assessment. They’re left off the show and tell roster,
all of those kind of small slights, in one sense, that end up
being deeply devaluing. DR MELLIFONT: You speak in your
submission about one parent being told the child likely did not even know they
had been hit by a teacher. Can you tell me about that? DR BRIDLE: Okay. This was a situation where the student had
been alone in a special education classroom at a lunchtime, even though the parent had
specifically asked that the child not be segregated in lunch period. So it seemed to be a decision that was made
because it was easier supervision for the staff. It was – the teacher admitted
hitting the child, but when the parent approached the school leadership, one of
the things, amongst many disturbing things that were said to her, was that he probably
didn’t even know that he had been hit. DR MELLIFONT: Have you had reports from
families about what happens when a child expresses reaction to exclusion? DR BRIDLE: Sorry. DR MELLIFONT: That’s all right. DR BRIDLE: Can you repeat
the question, sorry. DR MELLIFONT: That’s all right. To orient you,
I’m at the bottom of page 2. Have you had families indicate to you what
happens when a child expresses reaction within the school to having been
excluded; what happens to the child? DR BRIDLE: So I think that there’s a cycle
that happens where the child’s support needs, their need to belong,
is, you know, ignored. The child reacts and
then they are punished. So they bear the brunt of their
desperate attempts, I guess, to say, you know, “I belong.” DR MELLIFONT: Okay. I will come back to you, Dr Bridle,
before we finish to see if there’s anything additional you want to raise on this
topic, but Mrs Wilson, you’ve heard what Dr. Bridle said on this topic of student
devaluation leading to neglect. What’s your experience,
consistent or otherwise of what… MRS WILSON: No different. We – we see all the time – because the
child’s disability is not taken into account,
there – there is no inclusion. That does develop extra
behavioural issues. These behavioural issues lead to
suspension time and time and time again. There is always the excuse, you could say,
that there is not enough resources, there is not enough funding. We also see a lot of reduction in school
hours for the children to be attending. Most of it is usually in
two-hour blocks a day. A lot of issues that we see on not being
able to have OTs present in the school to. to give support, to give guidance
and behavioural issue modifications. So, again, that leads to children playing
up, children acting out, children being suspended. We had one when we were
talking about resources for continence. The disability toilet couldn’t be accessed
because it was being used as a storeroom, until it was cleaned out, and the
child could then use the facilities. So, yes, again, unfortunately I can’t say
that we’ve had anything different in our case studies going through. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Dr
Bridle, can I ask yo… DR BRIDLE: Yes. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: You’ve
referred to reports to your organisation of these matters.
What form do these reports take? Do you – do you have some formal reporting
process, or is this something that your members come and
talk to you about? How does it come
to your attention? DR BRIDLE: So a number
of things – yes. So we’ve always had the capacity for
individual consultations with families, even prior to the Department of Education
funding, so people will phone or email us. Some of the reports are reports that have
been made in workshops that we’ve held, both prior and since our Department of
Education funding, and we’ve also sponsored some leadership
development activities. We brought together
groups of families. So there has been focus
What is the funding for? What is that funding? What do you use it for? DR BRIDLE: Our current – our current
funding is to – came out of, really, a recommendation from the
Deloitte review into education. And so it was sort of recognised
that investment in parent advocacy, understanding of the new Inclusive
Education Policy, etcetera, was important. So that’s work that has been
undertaken since June this year. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: I see. Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: Dr Bridle, before I move on
to the next topic, was there anything in addition you wished to raise in
respect of the issue of student devaluation leading to neglect? DR BRIDLE: No. Really, I guess, that comment about
will they even know – will the child even know that they’re hit. That’s a pretty shocking statement but
we hear things, “They won’t know they’re excluded from a concert. They probably won’t know.” This is particularly students with intellectual disability. If they’re really shunned by their
peers, they probably don’t know. They won’t, they probably don’t understand
the insults that are made against them. DR MELLIFONT: All right. I might – we might take an afternoon break,
if that’s convenient, for 15 minutes. DR BRIDLE: I’m okay
not to have a break. DR MELLIFONT: Are you sure? DR BRIDLE: Yes. Yes. I cry all the time. Sorry, I do – I just feel the –
yes, but I’m fine. I’m actually fine. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Please do –
please do let us know if you need a break. DR BRIDLE: I do – I do cry when I hear about these things but I’m fine to continue. DR MELLIFONT: We’re going to take a break
at quarter past three anyway, so we might move on then to
lack of adjustments. This is something that constitutes
a high proportion of parent contact with CRU; is that correct? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: And the concerns with
lack of adjustments range from classroom adjustments and access to the curriculum,
to barriers to participation in other areas of school life;
is that correct? DR BRIDLE: That’s correct. DR MELLIFONT: And do common presenting
issues include a lack of access to communication or AAC –
now, what’s AAC? DR BRIDLE: Alternative
augmented communication. DR MELLIFONT: Which is? DR BRIDLE: Things like – can be pod books,
access to an iPad for communication, so voice-activated
communication devices. Even choice boards are sometimes their –
they’re resources that often families have made available to the school that are then
put in that – the teacher’s drawer and not accessible to the student. DR MELLIFONT: What’s
a choice board? DR BRIDLE: Something the student can say
what they want to do next, indicate yes/no. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Do other common presenting issues
include a lack of alternatives? For example, a student being
unable to use a computer as an alternative to handwriting? DR BRIDLE: Mmm. DR MELLIFONT: Is that correct? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: A lack of
adjustment to assessments? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Failure to provide
appropriate alternative materials? DR BRIDLE: Yes. So I guess that – what we see a lot of
times is very age inappropriate materials, so poor, you know, poor adjustments to the
– so that students are not working on the same curriculum as the other
students in their class. DR MELLIFONT: And do common presenting
issues also include students working in parallel, merely present in class, rather
than being engaged in the curriculum, or their education being
delivered by the teacher aide? DR BRIDLE: I think and I – what I would
say is this is an area where, again, we’ve heard this morning, it can be so hit
and miss as to whether this happens. So there are some schools doing
amazing work in, you know – you know, differentiation, you know, kind of planning
for the whole class is really going very well, and then there are other schools in
which the provision of the teacher aide is considered the adjustment. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And are you also receiving reports from
parents that they are told there is no funding available to cover
camps and excursions? So the families then become expected to
keep their child at home or provide that support themselves or
pay for a support person? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. I will come back to you, Dr Bridle, on
this topic, but Mrs Wilson, do you have any observations you wish to make with
respect to lack of adjustments? MRS WILSON: Yes, we do. Again, it is mirroring the same issue. We have parents who have offered to
provide the school with their resources, like was heard this morning, offering to
even pay for specialists from disability organisations to go into the
school and teach the teachers about specific disabilities for their children,
and those being rejected. Again, a number of staff meetings with a
number of teachers where their expertise in their child’s
disability is just not taken into account. Their recommendations for inclusion
is not taken into account. And, again, we must say,
it is only the worse cases that we see. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Dr Bridle, before I move off lack of
adjustments, do you wish to add anything? DR BRIDLE: I just want to say – so one of
the examples that comes to mind is where, again, the student is
punished for poor adjustment. So a student who has ripped up the
worksheets that they’ve been – been presented to them, year-in, yearout
actually, being stuck on the same maths sheets for several years, the student’s
clearly bored and, you know, kind of has ripped up those sheets and has been kind
of given a suspension as a result of you know, their disobedience. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: From what
you’re saying, it sounds as though there are some significant variations
in practice? DR BRIDLE: Absolutely. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Between
schools, presumably between areas. What do you think accounts for
the variations in practices? DR BRIDLE: I would agree with comments
made this morning that school leadership makes a big difference. I think where school leaders have – I
guess that thing of not just seeing teacher aide hours as the answer to
inclusion of students with disability, but have seen resourcing of school teams
to come together and have time for the in-service training, to build
their knowledge and expertise, really where, yes, teachers have been
given the time to plan, and I think where schools have been open to
the resources from Queensland’s established autism – the
Autism Hub and Reading Centre, inclusion coach positions, a number of very helpful
positions, actually, in the Department of Education, but not every school is as
open to that external feedback and input. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. Dr Bridle, can you speak, please, about the
impact of segregated models and practices. COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Before you
do that can I just ask a question. You were saying – one of the things you
said was the problem that the school saw just a provision of a
teacher aide as sufficient. Why is that not sufficient? Can you just explain to us
why that’s not sufficient? DR BRIDLE: Okay. So the people who you will hear from
tomorrow who are academics will be really able to give you all the research evidence
on that much more than I can, but I think there is a lot of evidence that over-use
of an educational assistant is actually a disadvantage to the student,
both educationally and also socially. So it’s socially stigmatising
and isolating for the student. It often means the student is being taught
by someone who doesn’t have the Bachelor degree in Education rather than – so, you
know, the inclusive education requires the classroom teacher to be seen as the person
responsible for the education of the student with a disability. But in my own experience with my son,
it – there was a learned helplessness. My son learnt not to do anything until
he was prompted by the teacher aide. It meant he was isolated
from his peers quite often. And that person, even though they were
lovely people, was not always as skilled as the teacher would be. COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Yes. I understand. Thank you. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. So Dr Bridle, can I take you, please,
to the impact of segregated models and practices. And just to start
with your observation that: In Queensland there have been deliberate
and welcome efforts to establish more inclusive models in regular schools,
including the transition of students with disability spending – sorry – from students with disability spending
most of their day in special education units, to students being supported
within the regular classroom. And, anecdotally, that appears to be more
established in primary schools rather than in high schools. DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: That’s the
commencement of your observations? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: What’s
happening despite that? DR BRIDLE: So I guess what we see, and I
think it’s just a really hard, historical habit for people to break is that grouping
of students with disability together. So even when the unit has been kind of
officially closed, the development of kind of programs which group students with
disabilities to a very common place. So it’s often kind of life skill programs
that are offered instead of maths, or instead of languages other than English
or, and so – and I guess what one of the things I was – that parents complain about
is that, really often, that happens by stealth. They’ve chosen to enrol their
student in their regular school because they wanted them to be included in all of
the classes alongside their peers, but then they find out that, in fact,
their son or daughter is removed from the regular classroom in small groups with
other students with disability. Again, without – the evidence is that
that’s not the most effective way for the student’s educational
needs to be met. But more than that, their families are
considered ungrateful and difficult if they say no to those programs. DR MELLIFONT: So you might be speaking
for example, of although a family having formally requested that the child is not
withdrawn from the classroom, that occurs without their knowledge. For example, they attend cooking instead of
maths, or other programs for students with disability, and that those families report
they’re sometimes treated as ungrateful and accused of denying their children
support when they resist those programs? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Sorry, please continue
if you had something to say? DR BRIDLE: Look, I – I think the other
thing that we see is where obviously students with intellectual disability are
really highly vulnerable to being seen as only able to be educated in special settings, even despite the – despite the policy. And I would like to see that, I guess more
of an emphasis on what we know from the evidence – from the research
evidence about what models work for students with disability. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. So in those circumstances where parents are
reporting to you withdrawal of their kids from class without their permission, are
they reporting to you a lack of trust then? DR BRIDLE: That is, yes,
definitely a lack of trust. And they’re also – you know, one of the
concerns that families who approach CRU would be that they believe that their
child is safer in that kind of mainstream environment, rather than being grouped
with students with disability who cannot communicate what has
gone on during their day. So some of the instances of you know, kids
being hit or kids being humiliated have occurred in those – when the
kids are segregated together. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And is it a matter of report to your
organisation that sometimes families discover that their child had been
withdrawn from the classroom only when another school parent tells them
or when the family happens to be at the school unexpectedly? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: All right. I will come back to you again, Dr Bridle,
in case you’ve got anything to add. But Mrs Wilson, do you have any additional
observations in respect of the impact of segregated models and practices? MRS WILSON: No. We definitely hear from our parents that
the negative and the demoralising impact that it has on their child being
segregated, being made to feel completely different, not the same,
not given the same opportunities, is what we hear all the time. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: When each
of your organisations receives reports of this kind of exclusion or bad treatment,
do you then contact the school or the education system, in any way
on behalf of the parent? DR BRIDLE: So, we don’t. We will talk with the families about
what they would like to do from there on. I think one of the issues that – our
experience is that families are deeply reluctant to make a formal complaint or
to do something that will – they feel will make their child more
vulnerable to exclusion. So families that I do know who have, and
I’m thinking actually in the private system here – they have made complaints or
started to escalate things and the child’s enrolment has been withdrawn. There are families in the State School
system who have found complaints upheld but actually they – nothing
substantially has changed. So we are not funded as an advocacy
organisation, so we do not take that decision out of the family’s hands but
our experience is that families – and often have really a lot else on their
plate, and they do not see that they have an alternative school for
their son or daughter to go to. Some of them feel that they don’t want to
move their, often, you know, it’s not just their child – the child with the
disability, but if the child has siblings at the school, it’s a very complex
decision to, you know. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Would
you like to have an advocacy role, to be funded for that? DR BRIDLE: A lot more access to
formal advocacy is very important. MRS WILSON: And we assist the parents go
through – the parents usually come to us when they’re at their wits end. They have nowhere else to go to. The school is not
listening to them. So we will then advocate
with them for their child. We will attend meetings, we will liaise
with the Education Department to try and get some sort of middle ground, and make
it easier for the child, without doing any harm, without any
retribution to the child. So we will always attend until there is
a good enough outcome for the parent. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. Dr Bridle, can I take you, please, to the topic of restrictive practices
and assaults. Now, not everybody knows what
restrictive practices means. So when you’re giving your
evidence, can you talk about that? DR BRIDLE: So the things that I’m talking
about particularly, the first issue, I guess, would be seclusion. So where a student with a disability may
be placed in a kind of locked sensory room or sometimes a makeshift sensory
room like a storage cupboard. DR MELLIFONT: What do
you mean by sensory room? DR BRIDLE: I actually don’t know – I – so
I know the idea of a sensory room, so, but I can’t describe it. I haven’t seen a sensory
room in a – in a school. Sometimes, I – the – I have seen a
restraint room in a high school that we were looking to send our son to. So it was just really basically felt to me
like it was a – a pen that you would hold an animal in, actually. DR MELLIFONT: And that’s
some time ago now? DR BRIDLE: That’s some time ago. DR MELLIFONT: Your
son is now 24? DR BRIDLE: 24. So it was probably
10, 12 years ago. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Sorry, I interrupted you. Go ahead? DR BRIDLE: That’s okay. So other times, I guess, so people have
found that their child is just in a – a courtyard on their own, or on a tennis
court on their own during school hours. Yes, so – then there would be, I guess,
when the child is restrained, either because they’re – sometimes kind
of wedged up in a seat, unable to kind of move their seat back. A family was describing that understanding
that when the child was coming home with bruises on their legs and they realised
how this child was seated all day. Perhaps they’re unable to move
their wheelchair out of position. Lots of families would come to us saying
that they’ve been told by a principal or a head – some other person in the school,
that the child can only return to school if they’re chemically restrained,
so placed on medication for the behaviour. They would be the
main instances. DR MELLIFONT: Have you had occasions
of parents reporting unexplained and/or unreported finger mark
bruising on their children? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Or that other parents or
students have witnessed rough handling of the student? DR BRIDLE: Yes. DR MELLIFONT: Have you received
reports of those things? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Have you had occasions
where a child has been hurt or assaulted by an adult, that that was characterised as
reasonable management of student behaviour? DR BRIDLE: So I think some of the physical
– physical overpowering of a student is certainly in that category, and at other
times I guess some sense that the student’s behaviour was so difficult
to manage that, you know, things have happened. DR MELLIFONT: I missed the last
bit, sorry. DR BRIDLE: Sorry, things have happened
that – yes, that it’s almost – people felt pushed to, yes,
retaliate, I guess. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Have you had reports by families of
their belief some staff have deliberately triggered a child’s behaviour by using
restrictive practices, to provide a justification for the child to be sent
home, whether by way of informal suspension
or a formal suspension or exclusion? DR BRIDLE: Yes. So one of – one of the things that has been
– a number of families have reported that they felt their child has been denied
perhaps access to the – their regulation, and that includes, you know, movement
breaks or the chance to leave, leave the classroom. It can be something like a
fidget device or something else that helps the child to regulate their own behaviour,
and those things have been seen as kind of rewards for good behaviour, rather than
something that’s a reasonable adjustment for that student to do better. And then removal of that, whether it’s the
movement break, or the other regulator, has been, has occurred and the
student has been punished. And sometimes parents believe
that this is – they have been deliberately set up to fail. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Have you had parents express their belief
to you that some incident reports are written up to evade legal liability or
present the most favourable version to their staff – of their staff? DR BRIDLE: So, so I guess I think families
will often say that they’ve received the report of what the school’s version is,
that they don’t believe the case that has been made, but it also seems to be written
up to have a watertight case against the child, in the parents’ view. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. Have you had examples of
families going to police? DR BRIDLE: We have, yes. DR MELLIFONT: And what
about repercussions? DR BRIDLE: So I guess that students with
particularly intellectual disability are in the same situation that they are in
many areas of our legal system where they’re not considered reliable witnesses,
the presumption is with the adults, and, often police have said that they either
can’t investigate or they can investigate but likely nothing
will be able to happen. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And in terms of repercussions
within the school? DR BRIDLE: So, as I was saying before,
I think very few people actually get to the point of making – making a formal
complaint, but even where there has been investigation, sometimes the
consequences have been minimal. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Dr Mellifont,
would that be a convenient time for us to have a break, or do you want to
ask Mrs Wilson something? DR MELLIFONT: I’m about three minutes off
finishing this particular topic, if we might. DR MELLIFONT: Dr Bridle, you report that
indeed in one situation school leadership expressed sympathy for the wellbeing of
the teacher rather than the student in the case of inappropriate
restrictive practice. Is that the case? Yes? DR BRIDLE: It was actually a
case where a student was hit. DR MELLIFONT: And
how recent was that? DR BRIDLE: I have – I have – I have
a document from – in the last year. DR MELLIFONT: Okay. And have you had reports from parents
they’ve become aware of assaults against children witnessed by other staff members
but where those things weren’t reported? DR BRIDLE: That was the case. Same case. DR MELLIFONT: Same case. Mrs Wilson, is your experience
consistent or otherwise with what has been relayed by Dr Bridle? MRS WILSON: Fortunately, we haven’t come
across any physical abuse, but definitely using suspension of 10, 12 days for a
simple matter of not being in the correct uniform, where another child
may just get a detention. We had in our case study one child has
been suspended for periods of 10 days, four times in one year. Using the model of teachers doing this
because they are stressed and the school needing to have the teachers off on stress
leave because they cannot deal with the behavioural issue of children with
disabilities, or intellectual learning disabilities. So very much in that vein of suspending
the child to deal with the issue rather than trying to work through
issues with the parents. Again, not being believed – being accused
of something, and not being believed that they didn’t do it, not believing another
witness to the incident which cleared them because that witness also
happened to have a disability. So taking the word of a parent or another
student over a child with a disability. DR MELLIFONT: Thank
you, Mrs Wilson. Might we have a break then… COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes. Let’s have a break for 15 minutes,
and we shall resume. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you.
Thank you very much. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. Dr Bridle, can we move then to a
discussion, please, about the understanding of behaviour,
suspensions and exclusions, please. DR BRIDLE: I guess what – what I would say
is that the quality of behaviour support plans is, again, very variable. Generally, I think there is still an
inflexibility in many school cultures, a lack of understanding of kind of student
behaviour generally, and kind of a punitive approach rather than an
understanding of positive approaches to supporting students with disability. So we would see lots of – we would hear
from lots of parents about the – almost like a revolving door of their student
having a, being suspended due to behaviour issues, coming back to school, getting
suspended again, and in many parents’ views, a belief that this is a deliberate
attempt to drive them from the school. DR MELLIFONT: Mrs Wilson, do you have
any observations in respect of those topics? MRS WILSON: No, nothing new from what
I’ve already said just before about our own clients – like, the same issues. DR MELLIFONT: And you’ve presented to the
Commission, which will be available in due course, a number of case studies
which indicate examples of this happening? MRS WILSON: Yes, that’s right. DR MELLIFONT: Dr Bridle, can you speak
please about the impact of the 2018 inclusive education policy and
Department of Education initiatives, please? DR BRIDLE: Can I talk a little bit
more about the exclusions first, sorry? DR MELLIFONT: Certainly. No problem. DR BRIDLE: So I just – I guess I wanted
to make the point that sometimes there’s encouragement from the school to just keep
the child home, that is not counted as a formal suspension or exclusion. So the things that might be said to
parents are, “It would be better for this not to be on the child’s tired or teachers
are tired, it would be better not to risk an incident, so if you keep your child
home, it won’t – you know, they won’t have an incident,
it won’t go on their OneSchool record. You know,
that would be better for everyone”. I guess I want to talk – I just want to
draw attention to the fact that parents describe a really high level of anxiety &
harassment about the number of phone calls that they get from schools around student
behaviour, incidents where there’s a level of frustration because from the parents’
point of view, none of the supports that have been agreed to have been put in place
and the child is kind of bearing the costs of those supports
not being in place. So even though behaviour support plans may
have been written, when – when the parent asks, “Have these things happened first?”
“No.” And then the child’s had a – you know, has lashed out, or in other ways
their behaviour has kind of constituted – constituted a level 2 or a level 3 behaviour, and the suspension
has, has happened. But none of the undertakings from the
school may have been put in place. DR MELLIFONT: In respect of your earlier
observation, so what you are speaking of really is an enforced type of absence
which are not going to show up in the figures as to actual suspensions
or exclusions? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. DR MELLIFONT: So you’d exercise some
caution with respect to data concerning suspensions and exclusions
because of that? DR BRIDLE: That’s right. MRS WILSON: Excuse me, can I also say
that as I said before about the emotional distress it causes the child, and teachers
having to then take stress leave because they cannot deal with
the behaviour issues. I don’t think the teaching staff have
been given or told the importance of the positive behaviour support plans that
are in place for that child to counteract misbehaviour during
the school term. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. DR BRIDLE: I just want to say that I think
it’s – many of the families who we’ve been in contact with who have ended up moving
their son or daughter to a special school have been driven by the student being
suspended or excluded from school. Often, parents will tell us,
“I didn’t want to do that. I was really committed to inclusive
education, but I’ve got – I’ve got to work and I just couldn’t, you know, take every
– take that phone call, have to pick up my child halfway – halfway through the school
day three days a week and maintain my employment.” I just want to quickly say it
was certainly our experience in high school that we were threatened with the – the
principal told us that it didn’t matter what we wanted in terms of our son’s
continued inclusion in high school. It was a Catholic high school. We were told at a meeting of eight people
that he would just suspend our son for longer and longer periods until we would
have no choice but to leave from the – leave that school. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE:
When was that? DR BRIDLE: So he’s now five and a half
years out of school, so probably seven years ago. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: I see. DR BRIDLE: I just want to – it’s digressing
a bit, if that’s okay, but I just wanted to say I’m – I’m not
a shrinking violet. I’ve been a social
worker for 30 years. My husband has been a criminal
defence lawyer for 40 years. And it was damn hard for us to withstand
the harassment, and walking into very hostile meetings with eight professionals
who told us that our son did not have a single friend at the school, that the
teachers felt he was just being babysat, that we were burdening the school, have a
letter in writing that he was a financial burden to the school. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you, Doctor. Can I take you, please, to then the impact
of the 2018 Inclusive Education Policy and the Department of
Education initiatives? DR BRIDLE: So I – I guess I feel that the
Inclusive Education Policy is something to be applauded and protected. I think it did respond very well to the
recommendations of the Deloitte Review that we needed to clarify, what inclusive
education means, and the distinctions between inclusion and
segregation and integration. I think it has led to work which has
clarified that every student has the right to enrol in their local school, and it
set some very helpful measures of success. So I think that that’s something
to be – to be applauded. I have seen, obviously it is still hit and
miss, but I’ve seen families who say, ” I now feel welcomed at
my – at the school”. So perhaps it’s a school that they had
already enrolled in but they never felt secure about their child’s
place in the school. So they will say that they’ve seen things
in the school newsletter, or they’ve seen posters, or they just feel that there’s
a difference in the climate at the school since the – since the policy and since the
work that has been done to kind of promote that policy and promote understanding
of the legal obligations to support and include students
with disability. DR MELLIFONT: Any other observations you
wanted to make in respect of that topic? DR BRIDLE: I think it has allowed some
students who had, where families had found themselves in special schooling, even
though that wasn’t their first choice to transfer into the
regular school system. I think it has raised expectations in some
schools about the child with a disability not just being in the classroom but being
– issues of access and participation. I see some higher expectations for student
learning and a greater – some greater consciousness that it includes out of
classroom activities as well, though that’s still pretty variable. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. DR BRIDLE: I think I’ve seen – as I said
before, I think there are some really excellent new roles within the Department
over the last couple of years which have made a difference for
significant number of students. So there are now contact points where
people feel that they will – their – parents feel their perspective will be
listened to and valued, and their input will be sought. And I think we see some
greater collaboration in schools and regional teams around
inclusive education. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you Mrs
Wilson, did you have… COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: When you
say you’ve seen some excellent new roles, what are those roles? DR BRIDLE: I’m thinking
particularly of the coaching roles. I understand different – different regions
do things slightly differently so I don’t want to give too much of a Brisbane
centric kind of focus, but there is, for example, the Autism Hub which I
mentioned previously. There’s some kind of inclusion coaches,
I understand sort of wellbeing or mental health coaches as well. Yes. COMMISSIONER
ATKINSON: Thank you. DR BRIDLE: And I think just – I guess I do
– CRU is delighted to be working with the Department too on that issue of supporting
families in their own advocacy, because I think it must come in any change process,
it – parents can’t just be dictated to either. It’s important that parents are
well informed about the policy and their rights – their son and daughter
rights, etcetera. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Have the
level of complaints or referrals to your organisation diminished since
the inclusion policy was adopted? DR BRIDLE: Well, they – they haven’t
diminished but that’s because we’re actually – in fact we’re saying we’re
more open for business than ever. DR BRIDLE: You know, so previously we
were probably not, education was a piece of our work.
It’s now… COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: I see. DR BRIDLE: We now have a lot more staff
so we have a lot more – we’re actually inviting people to contact us. So I don’t know that we could look at
the number of contacts and say it’s an indicator that there are less
problems or more problems. MRS WILSON: And I think that also goes to
the fact that parents have more rights. They – they feel more confident that there
is this new Inclusive Education Policy project in place, and that they are
demanding that it be put in place across all schools,
not – not just hit and miss. And as part of that coaching, mentoring
program, the Education Department should be open to learning from those
schools that are adopting the policies, that they can see it’s working and
learning from it. DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. DR BRIDLE: Can I just say I do want to say
that I think that there has been, with the new policy, I guess, there has also been
some families whose experience has been very negative who then – it’s almost like
the starkness of having an excellent policy and the experience
has been a bit galling for them. So there’s sort of some sense of “How come
there’s this great policy and I’ve seen my kind of, son or daughter’s mental health
really deteriorate because I can’t get the supports met?” And so I guess they’re
just very conscious, I guess, of the gap between, you know, what is being promised
and what – what they’re experiencing. And I guess the need then for – is to make
sure we have all the pieces in place so that families can be – because there will
be times when professionals fall short of what should ideally happen. So how do we make sure that,
yes, those families and students don’t fall through the gaps? DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. Can I now move to the last question for
both of you, and that is what do each of you wish to see come
out of this Commission? Would you like to
start, Mrs Wilson? MRS WILSON: Overall, it is, of course,
that abuse, neglect, exploitation for those with disability are addressed. The people are held
accountable for it. And we learn and we move on and we
have a much more inclusive society. With the education, again,
we have the policy there. We – we have that lovely
working inclusive education. It needs to happen and we all
need to learn from each other. Make sure you include the parents,
the specialist OTs and the specialist disability sectors out there, and get
it working, so it doesn’t happen again. DR MELLIFONT: Thank
you, Mrs Wilson. Dr Bridle? DR BRIDLE: So this has
given me some thoughts. I’ve probably got a number of things
that would be my recommendations or CRU’s recommendations. The first is actually
probably the one that is particularly controversial but essential, which is
to end the dual system of special and inclusive regular education, to set a date
& some clear targets for that transition. And the – probably, if you had asked me 10
years ago I would have said, “No, I think that they can coexist” and we can, you
know, keep – the inclusive settings will grow and eventually people will realise
you don’t need the special settings. But the data doesn’t
support that. So we’ve seen a growth
in special settings. And it is, to me, untenable that we would
continue to offer special education which is inferior on the evidence. And I feel, particularly, that in
Queensland to get enrolled in a special education school you have to have an
intellectual impairment, and I would ask why students who need more from the
education system would be relegated to a parallel system
where it’s inferior. I also think there’s no way we’re going to
get the social and economic participation promised by the NDIS unless we
get inclusion in school right. And that while those special places exist,
I think there will always be the threat of exclusion, that there will always be
coercion placed on families to take that special path. I think it undermines the
will to include when things get tough, and inclusion isn’t easy so
things will get tough. I think it reinforces a myth that special
places are the right places for people with disability, and it’s a theft
of resources that are best placed in the regular school system. So I would
like to see a transfer of funding from the special education system into
regular schooling, so that no child in a regular school is told that they
cannot go on camp, that they – there are, not the funding for triangular pencils, or
all the other things that are told to parents. And I understand that that won’t be easy
and it will take political courage, but we need to approach that as a, I guess a
change management process, and I had some ideas about some things
that are important in that. I would like to see that families who are
approaching any school get told about the Disability Standards for Education, the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the evidence,
the policies, and they can be guaranteed the same supports in the
regular school setting. I think there needs to be processes
of assistance for families who want to transfer or feel that they are being
coerced out of the regular system. I think we need disability rights,
education and training, a public campaign, if you like, which will target,
you know, schools and community. And I think we need to continue
to invest in parents in terms of their advocacy and knowledge. I think we also need to kind
of showcase what is working. So I guess one of the things that we would
hate is for all of the issues that are there in the regular school system
to – to be kind of an evidence that it’s too hard to do inclusions. So I think it was lovely to hear this
morning that actually you can have the same child well included, welcomed,
a valued member of the school community. And just as, you know, I’ve highlighted
lots of, you know, the hard times, we would also have, you know, families
who tell us of the wonderful things that happen for the kids in
regular schools. So whether that’s through, you know,
examples in Queensland, in Australia, or the chance to study good inclusion
overseas, I think that would be very valuable. I probably have just
two more points. Is that okay? DR MELLIFONT: It’s
fine, Dr Bridle. Please. Thank You. DR BRIDLE: I think in the meantime, I guess
we can’t wait for those special schools, the end of the dual system, which I would
think – I was thinking – I tried to put a number of in 15 years’ time. But I think we need to particularly invest
in understanding student wellbeing and belonging in schools, what does it mean
to be an authentic member of a school community, and – and understanding
student behaviour, often as an expression of inclusion, rather than of
the impairment. So the moment, I think, students are
desperately trying to communicate their needs, and it’s being seen as
something inherent to autism, or inherent to intellectual disability,
and actually, their behaviour’s telling us “You don’t understand me, you don’t value
me, I don’t belong.” So getting to understanding rather than
control of students with disability. Formal advocacy so that the onus isn’t on
families being brave and being prepared to sacrifice their own mental wellbeing to
advocate for their sons and daughters with disability. A continuing
support structures for families. I wondered in that whether it would be
timely to look at the Disability Standards for Education and how they describe
particularly consultation with families. DR MELLIFONT: What do
you mean in that respect? DR BRIDLE: I think – I think many families
struggle with – that they ask for things that they think are quite reasonable and
they’re told that they’re unreasonable. And so, or they are just not consulted and
there’s no way for them to insist on that. So some clarity
around that expectation. And then I guess some –
which – some continuing work. So this is work I think, that is happening
in Queensland around school improvement and culture, and helping schools to get
better at auditing their own – their own performance. But I would particularly like
to see input into those processes from the perspective of people with disability
involved in audit teams in schools. DR MELLIFONT: Thank
mentioned a period of 15 years. I know you weren’t intending to be precise
down to the last month but what would have to happen over 15 years to bring
about the end of separate special schools? What would be the preconditions
that would have to be satisfied? DR BRIDLE: So I think – the reason I would
choose something longer than, you know, 13 – the 13 years of school is to give that –
so that students were not – the numbers of students who would be then going into
special settings in the next two or three years would be much less, that families
would know even if they were enrolling in a special school that they may actually
not be open for the whole of that time. Obviously, we have – last year a group of
families got together and tried to decide what, what they would like to put forward,
and they argued then at least that no new special schools would be built and opened,
and I guess that’s one of the things that we’re trying to actually, I think, have &
include – move towards inclusive education at the same time we’re opening new special
schools and I don’t think that is going to get us where we want to be. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: What if there
are parents who want to have a separate school for their children? DR BRIDLE: So I – I absolutely understand
why families would want to have a – have a – have their child
at a special school. I’ve had many, many friends,
people who come to us at CRU also find themselves in special schools. So I think when families do not feel their
child will be welcomed, they don’t feel their child will be safe, they don’t feel
their child will be kind of supported, the schools are set up in rigid ways so they
don’t think their child’s sensory needs will be kind of accommodated. So, which I guess is why I was saying that
focus on student wellbeing has to be – has to start at the same – at the same time,
take it from that, that your assessment is that if the
mainstream schools are more welcoming and inclusive in the way you’ve
described, then the belief parents that their children might be better off in
separate schools will dissipate over time? DR BRIDLE: I don’t believe that because
I think that while special schools exist, that – there’s still
that direction. So I think that the pressure from
paediatricians, from health professionals, etcetera, is still direct – there’s a lot
of pressure that’s kind of brought to bear even before you get the unwelcoming
or the welcoming school principal. So I think that’s where, I guess, that
sense of actually awareness and training about the evidence on inclusive education,
the UN Convention needs to happen at the same – at the same time. So – but I think a lot of difference that
if, I think we need to be almost wrestling with what does an
inclusive school look like. So it’s not about
kind of retrofitting. It is about kind of planning, well, what
is a school where, you know, kids who need quiet space can get that
without being secluded. What is a school where, you know, kind of
movement breaks, if that’s what the child you know, if – if you’re planning for a
school which is diverse, it will have not only physical access but those
other access requirements met. What will safety look like
in an inclusive school? COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Mrs Wilson,
do you have a view about phasing out special schools? MRS WILSON: Sorry,
could you… COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Do you have
a view about phasing out special schools? MRS WILSON: I think it would take a long
time if that was to happen completely. Again, it’s about making the child feel
safe, having the parents feel confident that their child’s going to be safe, is
going to be totally included and have their education needs met fully. So I – I think it would be a long time
if it ever was completely to happen. With the point Lisa made about advocacy,
a lot of the parents that come to us don’t understand their rights,
don’t understand the legislation, the new Queensland Human Rights Act. They know something is not right but they
don’t understand fully what their rights are and how to go about addressing it,
and that’s what our role is, to help them understand, to help them make the choices
that are the best for themselves and their family. So advocacy in education,
like anything else, is very important, and unfortunately there’s not enough
money spent on advocacy at the start. It does save the government so much more
money in the end, but I think it needs to be valued that there is a need for
advocacy, there is a need to teach parents self-advocacy, which is something
that we – we do as well. It’s very important that people
can speak up for themselves. COMMISSIONER
SACKVILLE: Thank you. DR BRIDLE: Can I just say I just want to
make sure that – I want to, I do not judge any parent who `decides to send
their child to a special school. I also know some really wonderful
people who work in special education. This is not meant to be a slight
or a criticism of that at all. It is about the future
that we want to see. I know that probably if I hadn’t had a lot
of support from other parents during those years and, probably, wasn’t well-connected
and probably stubborn, when I saw my son’s wellbeing going downhill and he wasn’t
welcome, certainly that temptation was there to send him somewhere where
I thought 1. where I would be able to relax but
2. where he wouldn’t be seen as a burden COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: This is just a
question I have that Commissioner Galbally suggested. When you were talking about
educational resources available for the child, a number of them have been
mentioned this morning and this afternoon. Is really that, in essence,
what that child needs. So it’s a child-centred
child needs for their best education, rather than saying they need a
triangular pencil. Everyone’s going to be
different and it’s a question of age-appropriate curriculum materials? DR BRIDLE: Exactly. COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: And whatever
else it is, a quiet place, if they need a quiet place? MRS WILSON: Definitely. DR BRIDLE: And we’ve seen families
where they have – it’s just a very open discussion and that flexibility of what –
how can we plan for this child to be, you know, supported to participate and access
the curriculum, etcetera, rather than that kind of other schools who will go we can
only provide this and they will set the limit before they’ve even had
that conversation with the family. COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Thanks. MRS WILSON: I think the knowledge of the
parents as a resource is critical, and it needs to be listened to more fully,
and not just being taken at face value. Okay, they’re just the parent. They will – they will say
what their child needs. It really needs to be
used and harnessed. DR BRIDLE: Can I say one
more thing about the closure? So it just strikes me – so CRU has –
was around when Queensland closed large institutions, and that was, obviously,
a very controversial time and there were families who were campaigning for
institutions to stay open, as well as families who were campaigning for,
you know, institutions to be closed. And I guess the learning from that was
that, really, one, you did have to set a closure date and you did have to set
targets, and then you needed to listen to the families on both sides and support
families to understand what the alternative to living in the
institution was like. And I think we know that from other change
management kind of reform processes, and – but I think we can do better than moving
from closing institutions to group homes. So we also want to be kind of careful that
we don’t just, you know, create smaller pockets of segregation
in regular schools. DR MELLIFONT: Anything further
from the Commissioners? COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: No. No.
I think we’re finished. DR MELLIFONT: Mrs Wilson, thank you very
much for attending and wishing you a speedy recovery. And Dr Bridle as well. Thank you very much for
attending and safe travels home. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Can I add, on
behalf of the Commission, our thanks for your evidence and the care
that you’ve put into… COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: – –
– preparing your evidence. It’s been extraordinarily
helpful. Thank you so much. DR BRIDLE: Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes. Ms McMillan, what would you
like to say about all this? MS McMILLAN: Yes. As we intimated last week in our
communications, we won’t be in a position to cross-examine these witnesses,
particularly as there has been further evidence on top of
their submissions. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Well, I
understand you got some documents quite late. MS McMILLAN: Yes. Yes, we have. So I’m not in a position to
cross-examine either of these witnesses. So we will obviously come back to
the Commission on our position. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes.
You will let us know in due course. MS McMILLAN: Yes, we will. Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE:
Thank you very much. DR MELLIFONT Before we adjourn for the
Can they be released? DR MELLIFONT: They
can be released. Thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Mrs
Wilson, thank you very much. DR MELLIFONT: Before we adjourn for the
day may I just observe, of course, that the non-publication order would extend to not
making any statements in public which might identify Dr Bridle’s son, and by extension
given the nature of her evidence, the school that he attended. Just to make that clear in case
there is any doubt by those watching. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Does that
mean we need to make a separate direction to that effect? DR MELLIFONT: No, in my view the
non-publication order this morning would sufficiently cover at
least Dr Bridle’s son. It might be best, your Honour,
for the non-publication order to extend to non-identification or anything which might
identify the school that her son attended in the circumstances if your Honour would
– sorry, if the Chair – that’s a habit – if the Chair would make an
order in those terms. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: So you want
a direction that nothing be published that could identify the school to which
– at which Dr Bridle’s son attended. Or Dr Bridle’s son’s identity. DR MELLIFONT: That’s
so, thank you. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Does that
mean Dr Bridle’s name can’t be mentioned? DR MELLIFONT: No, it does not. It does not. It just means that in terms of the relation
to the evidence or the relating of the evidence, should be careful so as not to
make reference to her son or to the school to which he attended. COMMISSIONER
you will check with Dr Bridle that meets her needs. DR MELLIFONT: Yes, I will. Thank you. COMMISSIONER
SACKVILLE: All right. Thank you. Now, do we now adjourn and
resume at 10 o’clock tomorrow? DR MELLIFONT: Yes, that’s so. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: And you will
remind us of what’s going to happen at 10 o’clock tomorrow. DR MELLIFONT: Yes. We will be hearing from a second parent,
followed by Mr Bates from the Queensland Teachers’ Union, in the afternoon we will
hear from Professor Carrington and Dr Mann. COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Good. Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody,
for your attendance. And everybody who is
watching us remotely. We shall resume at
10 o’clock tomorrow.

Cesar Sullivan

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