EDUCATION OF STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Mr WATKINS: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Education and Training, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth Affairs. What are the results of the McRae report into the education in government schools of students with special needs?
Mr O'Doherty: Why has it taken the Minister so long to get this out?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order for the second time.
Mr AQUILINA: I thank the honourable member for Gladesville for his question and acknowledge his concern for students with disabilities in government schools - unlike the members opposite who can only carry on and whinge and whine. Members opposite did not produce one report in seven years, yet it has taken us only 12 months to produce the report that I am very proud to tell the House about today. Prior to last year's election the Premier and I made the commitment to examine issues and policy relating to the integration of students with disabilities in government schools.
Today I honour this commitment by releasing the McRae report called "The Integration/Inclusion Feasibility Study" for public consultation. I acknowledge the presence in the public gallery today of the author of this report, Mr David McRae, and I compliment him and congratulate him on producing this ground-breaking work, which is by far the best ever produced in Australasia and among the best of its nature produced anywhere in the English-speaking world.
Mr Collins: What about the Southern Hemisphere?
Mr AQUILINA: The Leader of the Opposition makes fun of students with disabilities in government schools. Parents and teachers would be only too interested to know of the callous disregard that the Leader of the Opposition has for their needs. He is a disgrace! The Leader of the Opposition is not concerned whatever with the needs of these students.
Mr Collins: The Grecian 2000 is getting to you.
Mr AQUILINA: The Leader of the Opposition is a dope. If he had dynamite for brains he would not know how to blow his nose. All parents, teachers, students and the community in general can have their say on this issue, which affects all children in our schools. Funding was first allocated in 1986 to help students with special needs to enrol in regular classrooms, but the impact and implications have never been fully reviewed. In fact, the last review was in 1982, when a report recommended integration of students with special needs into regular classrooms. Since this report was commissioned last October, Mr McRae visited 56 schools and met with 28 organisations as part of his extensive research. The report outlines 39 recommendations that will make the education system better able to respond to the needs of individual students with special needs.
Education for children with special needs has progressively changed in the past 10 years. The proportion of students with special needs choosing to attend regular classes has more than doubled since 1990. In 1995 more than 5,000 children with special needs attended school in regular classrooms, 11,325 were in support classrooms in regular schools, and 3,789 attended special schools. Demand for support classes in regular schools has also increased by 8 per cent as opportunities to join such classes have increased. Mr McRae's key recommendation is that parents or carers should have more say in finding the right school to meet all the needs, including educational and social, of their children. He has recommended that the choice of school should not depend mainly on the label of the disability.
Other recommendations include procedures to be developed to help parents and carers have a say in their children's placement and in designing their education program; the establishment of an independent appeal process to resolve disputes over placements or service provisions; a working party, including principals of regular and special schools,
to be established to recommend procedures for the way funding should be distributed; the development of a strategic plan for the upgrading and remodelling of existing school facilities to provide appropriate access and accommodation for staff and students with disabilities; and more flexibility in schooling choices, including allowing students to be concurrently enrolled part-time in special and regular schools, and more sharing of resources.
Public meetings will be held to discuss the issues in Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, Armidale and Lismore, and the results of the consultation process will be provided to me by December this year. I will also seek advice from the Department of School Education regarding the financial implications of the recommendations. Anyone interested in commenting is invited to contact the Department of School Education for a copy of the report. I reiterate that I am proud to be the Minister associated with this report. I compliment David McRae on his comprehensive report and I look forward to the consultation process, which will elicit positive and meaningful responses for the betterment of children with disabilities in our schools.