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Inclusive education vs special (segregated) education

Inclusive education and segregated education are two different ways students with disability can be taught in Australia.

Inclusive education means students with disability are involved, accepted, and supported in the school and school community with all other students. This means that they learn in the same classrooms as their peers and are not segregated into different programs. Schools with inclusive education generally provide the necessary adjustments, whether physical or otherwise, to remove any barriers to learning and engagement in their classrooms, and to support the students, without removing them from their class.

Segregated education means students with disability spend their time in separate programs. These programs are intended to provide the support and adjustments students with disability need away from mainstream classrooms.

Some forms of segregated education include:

  • A separate school only for students with disability, generally referred to as a special school, although different states have formal names for them like schools for special/specific purpose, schools of special educational need or specialist schools. They usually have smaller class sizes than mainstream schools. The school may also have health facilities and specialists like occupational therapists on staff.
  • When a mainstream school has a special class or group of classes for students with disability, this may be called a support unit, a Special Education Program (SEP) or a Learning Support Centre. This means that although students with disability are technically at a mainstream school, they still learn separately to other students.

People often support segregated education by saying it’s cheaper to have all the students with disability in one place so teachers and other specialists don’t have to travel around different schools. However, segregation can increase the risk of abuse and neglect, and inclusive education is a human right according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Find out what people with disability and expert witnesses have told the Disability Royal Commission about inclusive education at our issues page on public hearings related to education.