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Public hearing 7: Barriers to accessing a safe, quality and inclusive education, Brisbane - Day 1

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CHAIR:  Good morning.  I welcome everyone who is following this hearing of the Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.  As always, we commence with an acknowledgment of country, and I invite Commissioner Andrea Mason OAM to perform that acknowledgment.

COMMISSIONER MASON:  The Disability Royal Commission acknowledges the First Nations people as the original inhabitants of the different lands at which this hearing is being held, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the Turrbal and Jagera nations and Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations.  We pay particular respect to our Elders with disability, past and present, and we give acknowledgment to First Nations young people with disability who one day, will take their place as elders in the future.  Thank you.


CHAIR:  Thank you, Commissioner Mason.

This is the seventh public hearing of the Royal Commission and it is the sixth at which the Royal Commission has heard or will hear evidence on matters within the terms of reference.  It is also the second public hearing to consider issues associated with the right to inclusive education recognised in Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the CRPD.

The first of the education hearings, which was entitled Inclusive Education in Queensland --- A Preliminary Inquiry, was held in Townsville from 4 to 7 November 2019, 11 months ago.  That hearing, which we described as Public Hearing 2, was   took place before the same four Commissioners who are participating in this hearing I shall refer to the Commissioners by name shortly.

The Royal Commission selected inclusive education as the first subject of a public hearing because of the obvious importance of a safe, inclusive and quality school education for the life experiences of both children and adults with disability.  A number of witnesses at the Townsville hearing, hearing number 2, told the Royal Commission that poor educational experiences can have a significant impact on the life course of students with disability, for example, in relation to literacy, employment opportunities and mental health.  The Royal Commission will shortly publish a report based on the evidence given at Public Hearing 2.

We intended to follow up the Townsville hearing, Public Hearing 2, with a second hearing on education in March 2020.  Unhappily, the COVID 19 pandemic arrived in Australia in February 2020.  The restrictions imposed by Governments on gatherings and movements of people in the interests of community safety meant that the second Education hearing had to be postponed.

The pandemic also caused the postponement of several hearings and other forms of  
public engagement that had been planned by the Royal Commission.  For example, we were due to hold an important hearing in the Northern Territory concerning First Nations people with disability in May 2020.  The travel restrictions in place meant that that hearing, too, had to be postponed.

Just as many other entities, organisations and individuals have had to adjust to the new reality, so the Royal Commission has had to adjust.  We've done that as far as our public hearings are concerned by revising the program and resuming hearings in August 2020 using technology to conduct virtual hearings.  This, of course, reflects our inability, for safety reasons, to hold hearings in the conventional way with members of the public free to attend the hearings in person.

This virtual hearing will be primarily conducted from the Royal Commission's purpose built hearing room at its premises in Brisbane.  Commissioner Roslyn Atkinson AO and Commissioner Mason OAM will participate in the hearing from that room.  Commissioner Rhonda Galbally  AC is participating in the hearing room from her own home in Melbourne.  I am located in a court room in the Sydney premises of the Fair Work Commission.  I do that with the kind permission of that body.

Dr Kerri Mellifont QC is the Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission for this hearing, a role that she performed admirably at the Townsville hearing.  Dr Mellifont appears with three counsel assisting the Royal Commission: Ms Elizabeth Bennett, Mr Andrew Fraser, and Mr Ben Power.  Ms Bennett is located in Melbourne, while Mr Fraser and Mr Power will appear from the Brisbane hearing room.

Most witnesses at this virtual hearing will give evidence remotely and in some cases evidence has been pre-recorded.  Certain witnesses will give evidence from the Brisbane hearing room.

You can deduce from this set up for the virtual hearing that, like Commissioner Galbally, I'm likely to feel quite lonely as the hearing proceeds.  More importantly, we are dependent on the technology working smoothly which, from experience, it usually does but not always.  We may therefore have the occasional interruption and we ask for patience and understanding if and when this occurs.

I want to say something about the Commission's recent publications.

As many people following these proceedings will be aware, the Royal Commission publishes progress reports every six months or so.  The last such report, which is available on the Royal Commission's website, covered developments up to 30 June 2020.  Today provides an opportunity to explain some of the developments that have occurred since that time.

The Royal Commission is directed by the terms of reference to provide an interim report by 30 October 2020.  That deadline will be met although, of course, the contents of the interim report have had to take into account the interruptions to the  
Royal Commission's program caused by the COVID 19 pandemic.

The Royal Commission's revised program, after the onset of the pandemic, commenced with a virtual hearing in August 2020 on a subject that had not been included in the original schedule.  At the August hearing the Royal Commission investigated the impact of COVID 19 on people with disability and in particular, the responses of the Commonwealth to the many difficulties and challenges experienced by people with disability during the pandemic.  The Commission selected this subject because it was clear that the unforeseen pandemic was having a serious impact on the health and wellbeing of so many people with disability that an urgent inquiry was warranted.

We stated at the time that we would publish a report on matters investigated at the hearing to ensure, so far as possible, that people with disability are kept safe and as secure as possible during the pandemic and in any future emergencies.  The report on the COVID 19 hearing will include recommendations and will be published next month, that is in November 2020.

Public hearings are, of course, essential to the work of the Royal Commission, but they form only one part of the Commission's activities.  I do not intend today to describe the full range of activities but I do want to refer to reports and other documents that have been published by the Royal Commission over the last two months or so.

Three important research projects have recently been published.  They are by Ms Rosemary Kayess and Ms Therese Sands, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Shining a light on Social Transformation; a report by Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum AO, entitled The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities; An Assessment of Australia's Level of Compliance; and the third report by Associate Professor Matthew Stubbs, Dr Adam Webster and Professor John Williams of the University of Adelaide, addressing the constitutional issues associated with people with disability and the regulation of arrangements relating to people with disability.

There has also been published a report of the Commissioners who participated in Public Hearing 3 dealing with the experience of living in a group home for people with disability.  That report was published on 30 September 2020 along with an overview of responses received by the Royal Commission to the Group Homes Issues Paper.

On 13 August 2020, we published an overview of the numerous responses received by the Royal Commission to the Education and Learning Issues Paper.  That overview includes references to the responses made by some organisations and individuals who will give evidence at this hearing in addition to the many other responses received from individuals, organisations, governments and public authorities.

As I have already mentioned, the Royal Commission will soon publish its Interim Report and the Commissioner's report on Public Hearing 2, the first hearing to deal with education, and we shall also soon publish the Commissioners' report on Public Hearing 4, which addressed healthcare and services for people with cognitive disability, and was held from 18 to 28 February 2020 at Homebush in Sydney.

The sixth hearing of the Royal Commission was held from 22 25 September and addressed the use and overuse of psychotropic, that is mood altering, medication for people with disability.  This was the second hearing to consider the health and wellbeing of people with intellectual disability or autism, particularly in response to what medical practitioners generally describe as behaviours of concern.  In due course, the Royal Commission will publish a report of this hearing as well.

I have referred to these publications partly to bring people who are interested in the work of the Royal Commission up to date.  But there is another reason for mentioning these developments.  As I frequently remarked, and others have remarked, this Royal Commission has extraordinarily broad terms of reference and it therefore faces a very formidable task.

Our work should not be seen as a series of separate inquiries into distinct policy questions.  Our inquiries are designed to explore the various forms of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation that have an impact on people with disability, not only at particular points in their lives but throughout their lives.  Violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation can have a profound impact on life experiences of people with disability, on their physical and mental health and wellbeing, their education attainments, their employment opportunities, their unwanted interactions with the criminal justice system, their contacts with families, friends, and the wider community, and the extent of their inclusion within Australian society.  Our work takes into account the multiple forms of disadvantage and discrimination experienced by particular groups such as First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability   something that is often described as "intersectionality".  Indeed, the very first witnesses from whom we shall hear today are First Nations people.

It may help to see the Royal Commission as constructing a very large and complex mosaic piece by piece, with the active participation of people with disability in the process.  The idea is that the mosaic will come together as the Royal Commission moves towards the completion of its work, still some time off.  There are a very large number of interrelated and intersecting parts that need to be developed but the broader picture that will be represented by the completed mosaic is beginning to emerge.

We have identified a number of themes from our work to date that are particularly significant to the autonomy and independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.  These themes include: choice and control; prejudiced and uninformed community attitudes toward people with disability; segregation and exclusion of people with disability; restrictive  
practices applied to people with disability, access to facilities, services and supports; effective advocacy and representation, active oversight of service providers and improved complaints procedures; comprehensive data about the experiences of people with disability; and adequate funding for the changes that are needed.

What then is the focus of this hearing?  Article 24 of the CRPD, the Convention, recognises the right of people with disability to access education without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity.  As Dr Mellifont will explain, the focus of this hearing is on the barriers to a safe, quality, and inclusive education for children with disability in what are usually described as mainstream or general schools.  Some evidence will resonate with those who have followed the Royal Commission's work because of what we have already heard, for example, about the use of psychotropic drugs as a means of controlling the behaviour of people with intellectual disabilities or autism.

Dr Armstrong, from whom we shall hear today, explains that what he calls the manage and discipline model does not work for children with disability.  He argues that this model needs to be replaced with one that provides positive behavioural support for students with disability who are perceived to be creating behavioural difficulties.  Other witnesses, including children with disability, their families and advocates, will refer to evidence demonstrating the adverse and sometimes catastrophic effects of repeated suspensions or expulsions on children subjected to punitive or disciplinary regimes.

As we heard in the hearing on psychotropic drugs, a different approach requires an acknowledgement that behaviours seen as problematic should not be characterised as the fault of the child engaging in that behaviour.  Rather, the behaviour should be understood primarily as a form of communication and the child provided with support and assistance rather than exposed to punishment or disciplinary action.
It has become apparent through submissions and responses to the Education and Learning Issues Paper that there are genuine disagreements as to the precise scope, effect and practical operation of Article 24 of the CRPD.  This is not a normative judgment or assessment.  It is a simple statement of fact.

What is important for present purposes is that there is a substantial measure of agreement as to what Article 24 does require.  Whatever the other differences of interpretation may be, it is generally agreed that all children with disability whose parents or guardians wish them to have a safe, inclusive and quality education in mainstream schools, have a right to receive that education without discrimination.  That means that they are entitled to the support of reasonable accommodation, a term that is defined in article 2 of the Convention and finds its way into domestic legislation in one form or another.  This is the philosophy, which underlies Queensland's Inclusive Education Policy about which we heard at the first education hearing.

It also seems that just about everyone in Australia agrees that there is no Australian jurisdiction that has successfully implemented inclusive education in all mainstream  
schools.  This is despite the fact that, as Dr Mellifont will explain, the vast majority of children with disability are currently educated in mainstream schools.

The pressing and central question for the Royal Commission, therefore, is how the right of children to inclusive education within mainstream schools can be realised.  This is not a simple problem to address.  It involves practical issues of great complexity and difficulty that will involve long term planning and the allocation of considerable resources.

Professor Graham, from whom we shall hear on Thursday, accepts in her statement that to achieve her model of inclusive education, the one that she supports, "fundamental reform of the school system is required".  Dr Armstrong, whom I've already mentioned, recognises that to achieve inclusive education as he understands that concept, the training of teachers requires very substantial reform and the culture of educational systems in Australia also have to change substantially.

If the Royal Commission is to bring about changes of this kind, we need to understand the barriers of the implementation of genuine inclusive education in mainstream schools.  This is what this hearing is about.  The next step is to formulate workable proposals that can protect all children with disability from violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation within the educational systems in this country.  Dr Mellifont.

We're not getting sound.


DR MELLIFONT:  I appear this week with Ms Elizabeth Bennett   I'm sorry, Chair, we're getting feedback, can I just have a moment.

I'll try again.  If not we might have to adjourn momentarily to fix that issue.

I appear this week with Ms Elizabeth Bennett, Mr Andrew Fraser and Mr Ben Power of counsel.  We are instructed by the Office of the Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission.

We acknowledge and pay our respects to the traditional custodians of the various lands on which we participate in this public hearing, and as you have heard, we are across various lands virtually and in person.  We pay our respects to First Nations elders, past, present and leaders emerging as well as to all First Nations people involved in and following this public hearing.

This is, as you have heard, the seventh hearing of the Royal Commission and the second to focus on school education.  And as you have heard this hearing is being held in Brisbane and Sydney, and while those hearing rooms themselves are closed  
to the public due to restrictions consequent on the pandemic, the hearing can of course be followed by webstream on the Disability Royal Commission website.

Over the next five days we will hear from approximately 23 witnesses.  We thank all of these individuals for their contribution to our inquiry.  We particularly acknowledge the children and young people with disability and their parents who are coming forward to give evidence this week.  Each of them will give their evidence in a way that accords with their individual wishes.  That means that some will give their evidence through pre recorded evidence and others will give their evidence live or in person, both.

We are, of course, aware of how challenging it might feel to revisit difficult events in their lives and in the lives of those they love in such a very public way.  We genuinely and sincerely acknowledge each of them and thank them for their important contribution to this Royal Commission.  Their voices are absolutely critical to our work.

In addition to hearing from people with direct lived experience of the issues we will hear about, we will also hear from academic experts, advocates, guidance counsellors, and representatives from the Education Departments of both Queensland and one from New South Wales.

Preparations for this hearing have built upon what we have heard in previous public hearings, through submissions, responses to issues papers, and our community engagements from people across Australia about the experiences of people with disability in education.

We thank everyone who has engaged with the Royal Commission so far and we, of course, continue to welcome your important contributions.

We will now briefly outline the topic of this hearing and place it within the overall context of the work of the Commission as it relates to education.

At its core, school education is about equipping young people for their lives.  There is a vital link between education and the full development of an individual's potential, as well as their sense of dignity and self worth.

When a student with disability does not feel safe, does not feel included, supported and valued, then the potential of that young person may never be unlocked.  That is not only a loss to that student, but a loss to all of us.

Here, as always, our work is underpinned by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  As we note here and as we did in Public Hearing 2 in Townsville, the Convention speaks to ensuring that people with disability are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability.  It speaks to ensuring the provision of reasonable accommodation and individual supports.  And that education should be available and accessible to all.

It goes without saying that our schools must be free from violence, abuse and exploitation.  We also expect that students will not be neglected.  When a student's educational needs are neglected, the impacts can be pervasive, far reaching, and sometimes insidious.

Getting a real life understanding of what educational neglect of students with disability in schools can look like is a big part of this week's hearing.  We will hear of barriers faced by students with disability, barriers which can prevent them from receiving a safe, quality and inclusive school education in Australia.

In 2019, according to data obtained by the Royal Commission from the Commonwealth, the majority of students with disability, as identified through the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data for School Students with Disability --- a mouthful, you will accept --- known in short terms as the NCCD.  745,665 students or 95% of students attend mainstream schools in Australia.  The evidence at this hearing will mainly focus on primary and secondary schools in the State systems, but some of the evidence which you will hear from the advocates do relate experiences of their stakeholders and clients from outside the State systems.

Segregated/special education settings, the independent school sector, and early education will be the subject, of course, of future work by the Royal Commission.

The barriers to a safe, quality, and inclusive school education for students with disability can be complex, systemic, and interlinked.  They can be single or multifactorial.  They might, amongst other things, be bureaucratic, cultural, attitudinal, or linked to funding and resource models.

As the Chair observed in his opening remarks, the pressing and central question for the Royal Commission is how the right of children to inclusive education can be realised.  To actually realise genuine inclusive education, these barriers need to be identified and they need to be removed.  They cannot be used as an excuse for not pursuing, truly pursuing, genuinely inclusive education.

We have heard many students with stories whose needs are not being met, who become disengaged, frustrated or anxious.  This can cause behaviours perceived by some as "challenging" and that can lead to a discipline response, including suspension, sometimes exclusion, and expulsion.  We will hear from Professor Linda Graham about how suspensions can be counterproductive and increase disengagement from school, and how one suspension can escalate into a pattern of longer and more frequent suspensions until the child no longer receives a meaningful education.

We will hear from a mother, who we will refer to as "Amy", about her experience of the impacts of frequent school suspensions on her now 9 year old son, who we will refer to as "Sam".  Sam was suspended a total of seven times in his first 18 months at school.  He received his first suspension when he was just 5 and he spent a total of 50  
days out of school due to these suspensions.

We will hear from another parent who we will call "Sarah", about the experiences of her son, who we will call "Kobe", who is now 16.  Their story is one of wanting adjustments and supports for learning, and their experience of not receiving what they felt and wanted, that they needed.  Ultimately, Kobe was excluded from school and was left so traumatised that he was unable to continue his schooling beyond year 10.  Now facing limited future prospects, Kobe just wants people to understand that his disability does not make him a "naughty kid".

Examples of the experiences you will hear about this week are, as Dr de Bruin will say, are but just some examples against a cast of many, many more.

In addition to the adverse impacts on learning as we have observed, the impacts on exclusion can be catastrophic for a young person's social and emotional development, mental health, and wellbeing sense of worth, and future.

We will hear evidence from Ms Emma Haythorpe and Ms Ann Howlett, who each worked within the education system and will speak about the difficulties faced by students with disability re enrolling in schools after they have been expelled or excluded.  I say expelled or excluded because there does seem to be some difference in language amongst the States; Queensland tends to use the word "excluded", other States, some of them tend to use the word "expulsion" or "expelled".

In a moment, you will hear an excerpt from a young man named "Jack" who will explain how he feels about ending his school education in Year 9, barely able to write his own name.  Jack has told the Commission how he feels.

May I ask, please, that that excerpt be played, and for the record, the document identification is IND.0004.0002.0021.


MAN:  How do you know you feel you don't have any education really, and this is how you're going to live the rest of your life?

JACK:  I'm restricted by an unbreakable chain, that's kind of how I kind of put it.

MAN:  Yeah.

JACK:  The --- even if I were to   it can't break but it can be scaled.



DR MELLIFONT QC:  Do you hear Jack's feelings?  He feels restricted by an unbreakable chain.  But says it can't break but it can be scaled.

We will also hear directly from current school student Maria Scharnke about her educational experiences and ideas for reform.  In speaking with the Royal Commission she reflects on a quote from an activist with disability, Mr Paul Collins, about the need for systemic change, and that quote is this:

The problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work.  It's that you're destroying the peg.

Commissioners, as I've stated, the purpose of this week's hearing is to more closely examine some of the key barriers to education for students with disability in mainstream school classes.  We will hear that neglect can sometimes rise to the level of a denial of school education, in violation of the child's rights.

We recognise, of course, in our work that many, and probably most people, we believe, teachers and school staff are truly dedicated professionals who are trying their best but faced with systemic barriers, many are trying their best in systems which may not sufficiently emphasise the needs of students with disabilities as part of their training, for example.

This hearing will explore a number of key barriers to education delivering on its potential for all students.  We will look at the lifelong impacts of providing inadequate adjustments and supports, the impact bullying can have on a student.  We will explore some models of discipline in schools, and inquire into whether schools approach manifestations of disability through a model of discipline rather than care and support.  And we will focus in particular on suspension, and informal exclusion of students from school environments, and barriers to re engagement.  We will look at the adequacy of some complaint mechanisms and we will hear from families who feel that they just get exhausted in pursuing their options and they feel they have exhausted their options in looking for support.

We will start to lay a foundation for the exploration of the use of restrictive practices, an issue that will be taken up more fully at a later point.

Can I pause here to note that this hearing will include evidence that may be distressing to some people.  It will include accounts of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation and may include references to suicide and self harming behaviour.  If this evidence raises concerns for you, you can, of course, contact the National Counselling and Referral Service on 1800 421 468 or Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

A core issue in this hearing is understanding how adjustments and supports for school students with disability are absolutely critical to their educational and social development, and a failure to identify and provide those supports can lead to  
educational neglect.

Dr Kate de Bruin will explain later this week that neglect can be both wilful and passive, and it can take place when schools fail to support students with disability to access quality education through appropriate supports.

We will hear that adjustments and supports are most successful when they are both systemic and individualised.  They are systemic where they are part of a holistic, schoolwide framework with support for students with disability and encompassing academic, social emotional, and behavioural aspects.

Supports are "individualised" within this whole of school framework when the provision of adjustments and teaching strategies are tailored to meet the individual needs of a particular student.  For example, tailoring the way a teacher explains a concept during a class to ensure that a student with learning difficulties understands and has an opportunity for one on one clarification.

We will hear that when done well, adjustments and supports can have a powerful preventative and transformative effect.  They can encourage safe behaviour and prevent the tendency for some educators to revert to the use of exclusionary discipline when they don't feel equipped to respond to behaviour they perceive as challenging.

We will hear about whether the funding models and methodologies used by Education Departments to provide support for students with disability is translating to real and effective outcomes for students, and we'll talk around some of the difficulties of the perceptions about funding requirements.

We will hear about what improvement to pre service and in service training might be made to better assist teachers, to better support teachers, to support students with disability.

We will hear from some of our witnesses about confusion that sometimes exists with respect to legal obligations that apply to schools, and how sometimes that can get in the way of delivery of adjustments and supports, and we will hear of community disillusionment with the capacity of the education system, which many families find bureaucratic and difficult to navigate.  I should say here that this evidence will come from our experts who are approaching this from an Australian perspective, not necessarily a State specific perspective in some respects.

We will hear that some people engaging with the Commission and engaging in research have a sense that decision makers "pass the buck", that there's a lack of clarity about who you go to when you're trying to resolve an issue for your child.

In information received by the Royal Commission, we have heard that bullying is an experience of students with disability which is all too common.  It can, of course, have a significant impact on young people, particularly where they already feel  
separated from their peers or are made to feel different.  The evidence that the Commissioners will hear this morning is a very compelling example of what bullying can do to a student and to a family.  And we must know and recognise also that it doesn't just impact the student and the family, it impacts on other students who see it.

A substantial part of the reason for calling Ms Bayles is to raise awareness in the spirit of Article 8 of the Convention which speaks to the needs for State parties to take measures, to raise awareness through society, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disability, to combat stereotypes, to nurture receptiveness to the rights of people with disabilities, and to promote positive perceptions and greater social awareness.

Another key issue in this hearing is to explore the way disciplinary measures are sometimes used against students with disability, used in a way which is punitive and disciplinary and how that can sometimes be deployed on the faulty assumption that some children with disability are being difficult when their behaviours are perceived as "challenging".

While all States, of course, accept the notion that students have a right to education, we will start to look at whether that right is respected, or if it's sometimes being undermined by the traditionally punitive practice of suspending students regarded as "misbehaving" students.  And again, I use "misbehaving" in inverted commas.

The evidence of witnesses and public data suggests that the use of suspensions is disproportionately employed against students with disability in Australia.  Consistent with that evidence and public data is some analysis of data obtained by the Royal Commission from the Queensland Department of education under compulsory notice, indicating that in 2019, 15% of students with disability enrolled in state schools received one or more suspensions in the year, compared to 6% of students without disability; of all students who received a suspension in a Queensland state school, 38% of those students had a disability, though they only make up 18% of the student population, and that once you take into account repeat suspensions, students with disability made up 46% of all suspension incidents.

As Commissioners are aware, the state education system began to be examined in Public Hearing 2 in Townsville last year and as the Chair reflected then in his opening remarks, Queensland was chosen because it was the state which had developed, taken the step of developing and introducing a policy specifically directed to inclusive education.  But even with that policy, the suspension rate is disproportionate.

Now, it must, of course, be acknowledged that it was observed in the Townsville hearing that Assistant Director General, State Schools, Disability and Inclusion, Ms Dunstone, observed that the Department was on a “journey” towards a more inclusive education, accepting, impliedly, that they are not entirely there yet, and we thank Ms Dunstone for that frank acknowledgement.  So too does Assistant Regional Director Chris Lassig, a witness you will hear from in this hearing, deploy the  
language of Queensland being on a journey.

Acknowledging that and steps have started, the suspension rate is still disproportionate, so that begs the question, why.  Why is it happening in Queensland?  And why is it happening elsewhere in Australia?  I do pause to observe this is not just a Queensland issue, this disproportionate rate is things we're seeing in the research across Australia.  And we will hear from the advocates which does suggest that the experience is being experienced across the country, and it raises a question about whether the avenues available to challenge exclusion and suspensions of students are working, and to ask whether schools are accountable, are made accountable for the decision-making around suspensions and exclusions.

In a moment, I will turn to Ms Bennett, who is appearing from Melbourne, and I'll make another observation before doing so.

Sometimes at the end of a long disciplinary process, students are expelled.  We will hear from witnesses about gatekeeping practices where students experience difficulty being accepted or re enrolled into another school.  That, of course, leads to a loss of schooling in the interim and sometimes students never actually returning to a mainstream school environment.

Ms Bennett will now give an overview of each of the witnesses you will hear from this week in the order that they will give evidence.  Thank you.

MS BENNETT:  Commissioners, this morning we will hear from Quaden Bayles and his mother Yarraka Bayles.  Quaden is a 9 year old Murri boy with a disability.  He has achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism, and a range of related health conditions.  We will hear from Quaden and Yarraka about Quaden's experience of bullying at a mainstream school in Queensland including the response by Quaden's school.

The evidence we will hear from Quaden and Yarraka also highlights the intersection between disability and culture and the particular needs and experiences of Quaden as a First Nations child.  Quaden has recorded some comments that he would like the Commission to hear and Yarraka will be giving evidence in person.

Quaden's experience raises important questions about how to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students with disability in school environments and to do so in a way that is culturally appropriate.

Many students with disability and their families receive substantial and necessary support and assistance from advocates.  The experience of these advocates is broad and a number of such advocates have made themselves available to share, in a de identified way, the experiences of their clients with the Commission.

Today, we will convene a panel of the following persons: Michelle O'Flynn and Nikki Parker from Queensland Advocacy Incorporated, a community based systems and individual advocacy organisation; Mary Sayers, from Children and Young  
People with Disability Australia; and Cecile Elder from Family Advocacy, an organisation that provides advocacy advice, support and advocacy leadership to families.

These independent organisations represent, and take enquiries from, parents, carers and students within the public and private systems, QAI from Queensland, Family Advocacy from New South Wales, and CYDA from across Australia.

These witnesses can speak to issues which are commonly brought to their attention from their stakeholders which are of specific relevance to this hearing.  They include: adjustments and supports being insufficient, or not being provided; low expectations of students with disability and the flow on impacts; suspensions, exclusions and expulsions; barriers and problems with existing complaints and review mechanisms; barriers in transitioning beyond school.

They can also speak to the devastating impacts they have seen on students with disability and their families who have endured some or all of these issues --- the far reaching, and sometimes in the broader community unseen impact of educational neglect.

During that session, Commissioners will hear an excerpt of a video from "Alice", a high school student with a disability who demonstrates eloquently and with extraordinary clarity the importance of actually ensuring a support or adjustment is tailored to the individual student.

We will then hear from Dr David Armstrong, an academic in inclusive education and developmental psychology.  Dr Armstrong will give evidence about methods of adjusting the classroom environment in a way that shifts away from the "manage and discipline" model.  In his view, a more inclusive approach is one that responds to positive behaviour and takes into account the purpose of perceived “challenging” behaviours.  The way in which those concepts can be incorporated into the classroom will be explored with Dr Armstrong.

On Tuesday, the Commissioners will hear from "Amy".  Amy will give evidence about the experiences of her son, "Sam".  Sam has just turned 10 and he's a person with a disability arising from autism, ADHD, anxiety and a number of other conditions.

Amy will give evidence of her experience and impressions.  She will say that before Sam started school, his school engaged constructively about the kinds of adjustments that might be made to assist him.  Some adjustments were made, and some staff showed a genuine commitment to Sam.  However, the structural support available was difficult to navigate, and the school's commitment appeared to her to wane as school went on.

Sam's mother will tell the Royal Commission that two days into Sam's second term of kindergarten, aged only 5 years, he was suspended for the first time.  During his  
third term of kindergarten, he spent almost half the school term, or 24 days, suspended.  In that term, he attended only 16 days of school.

In total, Sam was suspended from school seven times, amounting to 50 school days before he was 7 years old.  His mother will speak of her experience about her repeated attempts --- the repeated attempts the family made to get the school to provide supports instead of suspensions, and the substantial setbacks suffered each time he was suspended.  She will give evidence about the family's unsuccessful attempt to appeal the suspensions that Sam received.  We will hear that the substantial impact of the suspensions in light of Sam's needs for consistency and structure as a result of his autism.  We will hear that the school routinely used a fenced playground to segregate Sam from his peers.

You will also hear evidence about how, when Sam received a 20 day suspension, she and her husband had to unexpectedly start home-schooling their son for over a month, significantly restructuring their lives to ensure their son could receive an education.

Mr Frank Potter, the Executive Director, School Performance at the Department of Education in New South Wales will give evidence.  He will reflect on things which, in hindsight, might have been done better.  A number of issues with Mr Potter will be explored, including his knowledge and understanding of how the Department views the need to take into account age and disability when imposing a suspension, and his opinion about whether suspensions of the length imposed upon Sam were appropriate.

We will explore with Mr Potter, systemic questions of the provision of adjustments, suspensions, review of suspension decisions, and funding.  This examination will include how funding is allocated to schools, and what it means for that child when a school receives funding and when it doesn't, and find out about what controls and safeguards the Department has in place to review and consider the kinds of adjustments that are made for students.

We will also take Mr Potter to the recently proposed draft New South Wales behaviour strategy and the reasons sitting behind those proposals.

Commissioners, on Wednesday, we will hear evidence from "Sarah" and her son "Kobe".  Kobe's voice will be heard through pre recorded excerpts.  Kobe is a person with disability who has a range of support needs.  He has autism and ADHD.  Commissioners will hear about his varied experiences at two mainstream schools, including how his first school supported him to grow.  This changed when he commenced at another school.

You will hear about how hard Sarah had to fight to get staff at this school to understand her son's disability and how to provide support and engage with him.

You will also hear about Kobe's experiences of exclusionary discipline at this school,  
including through suspensions and part time enrolment, arising from behaviour associated with his disability.  This culminated in Kobe being permanently excluded after just 12 months.  Commissioners will hear how Kobe's experience left him "broken" and unable to cope in education settings, resulting in him receiving no further education since February this year.

Sarah knows her son is smart, he wants to be a police officer.  She feels "at a loss" as to why he had such a turbulent school experience.  It will be Sarah's evidence that educators need to listen to and understand students with disability, rather than punishing them for what they cannot control.  Sarah will tell us, "When a flower doesn't bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower."

On Wednesday, the Commissioners will also hear from Dr Kate de Bruin of Monash University.  Dr De Bruin's evidence concerns issues with Australia's regulatory framework for the provision of adjustments as well as current practice for adjustments in Australian schools.  She sets out numerous challenges implementing inclusive practices in schools, including beliefs and attitudes of teachers and school leaders, decentralised policies, inadequate teacher training and funding distributions.  She will discuss the benefits and weaknesses of the NCCD, which informs Commonwealth funding for students with disability.

The topic of adjustments is a significant one.  Later on Wednesday, we will also hear from Associate Professor Shiralee Poed from the Queensland University of Technology on this issue.  Associate Professor Poed will discuss particular barriers experienced by students with disability, their families and schools in identifying, providing and assessing adjustments and supports in a mainstream setting.

She will give a brief overview of the types of restrictive practices used against students with disability in schools, including seclusion and a physical restraint of students.  Her experience will be an introduction to this important topic.

On Thursday, the Commissioners will hear from the parents of "Jack" and from Jack himself through pre recorded excerpts.  Jack is a young man with a disability.  He has Tourette syndrome and other associated conditions.  His parents, "Sharon" and "Alex", will tell the Commission about the circumstances in which Jack started school, with all the enthusiasm and energy of a child, only to slowly and progressively find himself excluded and ultimately fearful of school.

To this day, at age 19, Jack has an adverse anxiety reaction to seeing children in a school uniform, an affliction that he and his family attribute to the poor associations Jack has with school.

Jack's difficulties appear to have been exacerbated because he didn't have the "right" disability which would bring it within funding to provide supports.  The Commissioners will hear about the extraordinary lengths his family went to, to get him help to try to fit in at school and complete his education.

They are proud of their son and how he has faced the various difficulties in his life, but they are acutely aware that it didn't have to be this way.  That at some critical junctures in his early life, Jack's experiences at school eroded his natural enthusiasm, and that he has been left substantially without the benefits of an education.

The experiences of Jack and the approach of the Queensland Education Department will then be examined through the evidence of Lesley Theodore, a principal education officer within the Department.

One part of Ms Theodore's role involves assisting families of students with disability as they try to negotiate the education system.  Ms Theodore will give evidence about the role she performs assisting schools in Queensland to understand the policies that apply to students with disability, and the supports that are available to them.

Commissioners, we will then hear from former and current Queensland guidance officers.  Emma Haythorpe left her role with Education Queensland because of her concerns about a number of practices, including the difficulties she faced when students were disability were expelled from Queensland state schools.  A present day perspective will be provided by Ann Howlett.

Commissioners, you will then hear from Professor Linda Graham.  Professor Graham has a deep expertise in relation to many aspects of inclusive education, and will give evidence about the inappropriate use of “exclusionary discipline” against school students with a disability.  In this hearing, "exclusionary discipline" means suspensions, expulsions and other actions which result in the withdrawal of educational provision to students.

Professor Graham will deal with the types of informal and formal exclusion that are common in school, why she considers them to be an ineffective response to behaviours that may impact learning and how suspensions can escalate over time into long term denial of education.

She will discuss the underlying drivers including the relationship between funding and suspensions.  She will discuss the disproportionate and devastating impacts of exclusionary discipline on students with disability and their families.  She will give evidence about the current regulatory framework and how things can and must be done better.

On Friday, the Commission will hear from Ms Maria Scharnke, a cognitively gifted Grade 12 student with autism and other disabilities.  Ms Scharnke is 17 years old and already a community advocate for people with disability.  You will hear about her experiences at mainstream and "special" schools, including isolation, exclusion and bullying.  The Commissioners will hear by what will now be a familiar refrain about the difficulties in obtaining adjustments and supports to reach her learning potential, including ATAR exams.

We will hear Maria's concern that students with disability are being "locked out" of  
tertiary education.  One reform she would like to see is for all students with a disability to be given enough support to obtain an ATAR and access higher education if they wish to do so.

Finally, the Commissioners will hear from Mr Chris Lassig of the Queensland Education Department.  He will give evidence about various issues canvassed over the course of the week, including as they relate to funding, adjustments and complaints mechanisms.

It's also important to recognise the contributions of "Leif" to this hearing.  Leif, is a young person with a disability.  Leif has autism, an auditory processing condition, and a motor impairment and graduated from a state high school in [redacted].  Leif enjoys astronomy, gemstones, knitting and video games.

Leif's pronouns are "they" and "their".

Leif provided a written statement to the Royal Commission about how their school did not understand the nature of their disability and learning needs.  They often felt belittled by teachers and school staff and treated in a way that caused them to meltdown.  They suffered extreme bullying by other students.  Leif describes feeling so scared that they would get off at an earlier bus stop and take the longer route home so that school bullies would not find out where they lived.  When Leif and their mother complained to the school, they felt their complaints were not taken seriously or addressed.

Leif is a creative and talented young person who desires to go to university.  However, Leif considers that they were not supported by their school to undertake the overall position stream of senior classes, and so did not obtain an Overall Position which has limited their options for further education.

Leif states that sometimes depression hits them hard and they don't enjoy the things that they used to.  We will not be hearing from Leif in person because they do not wish to appear.  We thank Leif for coming forward and for their important suggestions for reform.

I now hand back to Dr Mellifont.

DR MELLIFONT:  Commissioners, I would now like to say something about how this hearing which, as you've heard, has its prime focus on educational neglect will be conducted.  But the main purpose of the hearing is to elucidate some ways in which children are being neglected in our systems.  We seek to identify whether, and if so, how the systems and processes that are failing students, and we do that so that we can assist the Commissioners to ultimately make recommendations that will improve the experiences of students with disability to ensure they receive a safe, quality and inclusive education.

As you've heard, some witnesses will give evidence about their individual  
experiences and they do so to inform the Royal Commission's understanding of systemic issues.  And in respect of some of those witnesses, actual factual findings will not be sought by Counsel Assisting.  In respect of the matters relating to Sam, we may invite the Royal Commission to consider making some findings.  But we observe, of course, this is not a court and its findings do not lead to individual remedies. However, evidence received by the Royal Commission in hearings and findings made in hearings, can assist the Royal Commission in developing recommendations for change.

It is also appropriate at this stage to remind those following these proceedings about the provisions of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) for the protection of witnesses, in particular section 6M which states that any person who uses, causes or inflicts any violence, punishment, damage, loss or disadvantage to any person on account of the person having appeared as a witness -the maximum penalty for committing such an offence is imprisonment.  It is serious and the Royal Commission takes it in that respect.

In concluding remarks before then, turning to issues of non publications, pseudonyms and appearances. The evidence in this hearing sadly will not come as a surprise to many people with disability, their family, supporters and advocates.  These issues have been canvassed in numerous reviews, inquiries, reports and studies, and many recommendations have been made over the years.  We have thus far received over 450 submissions and issues paper responses that relate to education.  Our examination is informed by all of this information.  One such submission explained the frustration within education that the submitter didn't see their potential.  It says:

If nothing else, I would like to think that maybe, after this Commission, no other child has to go through their schooling battling for recognition as an intelligent, functioning member of society.

We are, of course, also thinking ahead to our next education hearing and the information we need to have in order to get a complete picture of education of students with disability across Australia.  And in this respect, we will, of course, be considering jurisdictions beyond Queensland and New South Wales.  We are, of course, simultaneously undertaking and continuing in depth reviews of the literature surrounding the issues that have been identified in hearings and monitoring the progress of the many reviews and recommendations that have been handed down over the years.

The future public hearing program will, of course, include education.  We will be delving more deeply, of course, into the issue of restrictive practices with students with disability.  In this respect, we have heard harrowing stories through the submissions provided to us.  One parent wrote to us:

My son has come home with bruises.  The verbal abuse he suffers is causing psychological harm.  He repeatedly begs to be taken out of school or to be  
allowed to change schools.  His frustration and hurt will almost certainly become anger as he gets older ---  it has already started.  Beautiful children become anxious and tortured teenagers and it makes me concerned about his prospects, socially and otherwise, as an adult.

Again, I repeat what I observed earlier, that the content of this Commission may be distressing to some and I've referred to the Blue Knot Service and others.  Blue Knot Service provides short term counselling and support, a gateway to frontline counselling, advocacy and legal support services, information and other useful services.  Again, their number is 1800 421 468.

Might I turn then to observing that Commissioners, you have made a number of directions in respect of this hearing.

Pseudonym directions have been made in relation to the identities of a number of witnesses, and those directions require that until further direction, the following persons are only to be identified by the pseudonym applied to them, that is, the persons to be known as Alice, Amy, Amy's son Sam, Sarah, Sarah's son Kobe, Leif and their mother Louise, the surname of the witnesses known as Sharon and Alex and as well as their sons.

There are also three non publication directions.  They include a general publication direction in relation to the publication of documents until such time as they have been tendered into evidence, any document in part A of the Tender Bundle with some exception and a number of unpublished documents.

A non publication direction relating to the pre recorded evidence of Quaden Bayles, a further non publication direction that extends to the non publication of any identifying information, that's any identifying information, about some of the witnesses using pseudonyms as well as the specific names of state schools and staff names, in particular those attended by Kobe, Jack, Leif, and Quaden.

Might we turn to, please, appearances, and might I respectfully suggest we start with Commonwealth because Mr Dighton, of Counsel for the Commonwealth is present here in the hearing room.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you, Dr Mellifont, and thank you, Ms Bennett.

We will take the appearances starting from the Commonwealth.  Yes.

MR DIGHTON:  If it please the Commissioners, my name is Dighton, Counsel appearing for the Commonwealth, instructed by Gilbert + Tobin.

CHAIR:  Yes.


MS FURNESS:  May it please the Commission.  My name is Gail Furness.  I appear for the State of New South Wales instructed by the Crown Solicitor's Office.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms Furness.

Is there an appearance for the State of Victoria?

DR MELLIFONT:  Chair, I note the appearance of Minter Ellison for the State of Victoria, please.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you, and I think there is an appearance to be announced for the State of Queensland.

MS McMILLAN:  Yes, correct, thank you, Chair.  My name is McMillan initials KA, I appear together with Ms Clohessy Instructed by Crown Law for Queensland.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms McMillan.

Dr Mellifont, is it convenient for us to adjourn for a short time?

DR MELLIFONT:  Yes, please, until 11.30 if it's convenient.

CHAIR:  Yes, well, according to the correct time we'll adjourn to 12.30, but you can adjourn ---

DR MELLIFONT:  On Queensland time, 11.30, thank you.

ADJOURNED    [11.11 AM]

RESUMED    [11.30 AM]

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you.  Dr Mellifont.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  I call Yarraka Bayles.

CHAIR:  Thank you.

DR MELLIFONT:  While Ms Bayles is coming to the witness box, may I repeat my earlier observations that some of the evidence which will be heard today does include some information about self harm and suicide.  A content warning should be coming up on the screen at the moment.

While that happens, I will just ask that in respect of material provided by Ms Bayles, there is a copy of Ms Bayles' statement in Tender Bundle Part A, volume 1 at Tab 6.

I ask that her statement be received into evidence and marked as Exhibit 7.1.  There are associated exhibits and I ask that they be marked as Exhibits 7.2 and 7.3.  These are pre recorded statements of Quaden Bayles.

There is a video which was a public video which I ask be marked as 7.4, and an email which is found in Tender Bundle part A, volume 5 at tab 2, I ask that that be marked as Exhibit 7.5.  The document identification for that is 9999.0041.2477.  That is Queensland document identification number.



Thank you.

Good morning ---

CHAIR:  We're getting the warning on the screen, I think?  Is it on the screen?  It is, I'm sorry.

DR MELLIFONT:  It's on the public webcast.  May I ask Ms Bayles be affirmed.

CHAIR:  Ms Bayles, I think is in the Brisbane hearing room.


CHAIR:  Thank you for coming to give evidence.  Would you follow the instructions of Commissioner Atkinson's associate who will administer the affirmation to you.  Thank you very much.



DR MELLIFONT:  Can you state your full name, please.

MS BAYLES:  My full name is Yarraka Juelbahngull Bayles.

DR MELLIFONT:  You've made a 26 page statement dated 24 September 2020, is  
that correct?

MS BAYLES:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Are the contents of that statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and ability?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, they are.

DR MELLIFONT:  You are a First Nations person?

MS BAYLES:  I am a proud Aboriginal woman, yes.

DR MELLIFONT:  Can you tell me something of your background?

MS BAYLES:  I'm a Redfern girl.  I was born and raised in Sydney in the 80s, and I grew up on the infamous block, from a very politically active family.  A lot of people know the legacy of my parents and grandparents, so I grew up at a time where, I guess, our black politics and media were mobilising and our family were at the forefront of establishing a lot of those Indigenous organisations in Redfern, and then in the later years up here around Queensland.

DR MELLIFONT:  And your mum was from New South Wales?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, and my mum is a Wonnarua and Bundjalung woman from New South Wales, and my dad is a Birri Gubba and Gungalu from Queensland.  They're both deceased now, so I'm picking up where they left off.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, and we thank you for informing us as to that.  Just allow the interpreters a little chance to catch up.  Thank you.

All right, now you work as a workshop facilitator and a tour guide for a First Nations run and owned organisation.  Is that correct?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, correct.  So the Black Card was established around seven years ago by my younger sister Mundanara Bayles, and my grandmother's younger sister, my great aunt Lilla Watson, or Dr Lilla Watson.

DR MELLIFONT:  I should have acknowledged at the beginning that some of the evidence which Yarraka will give does refer to people who have passed, we are very respectful of that and do acknowledge that.

MS BAYLES:  Thank you.

DR MELLIFONT:  Now, that organisation Black Card provides training and advice to individuals and organisations to improve their cultural capabilities, is that right?

MS BAYLES:  Correct.  So Commonwealth Bank are our largest client.  So we service Australia wide.  We do Reconciliation Action Plans as well as cultural facilitation, whether you need workshops to enhance your cultural capabilities, we do tour guiding, lots of different cultural workshops, school workshops, also bush tucker.  So a bit of everything.

DR MELLIFONT:  And your focus is really on improving cultural capability?

MS BAYLES:  Definitely, yeah.  I guess just raising more awareness and educating people about the true history of this country.

DR MELLIFONT:  You have three children, twin daughters who are 21 years old?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, I do.

DR MELLIFONT:  And a son Quaden who is 9 years old?

MS BAYLES:  Yes.  He will be turning 10 in 64 sleeps if you ask him.

DR MELLIFONT:  And we're going to hear from Quaden a little later and the video we took was just after the 21st birthday party, so he was a little tired.

MS BAYLES:  Yes, yes, he was.

DR MELLIFONT:  Can you tell us about Quaden, please?

MS BAYLES:  Quaden is the strongest, smartest, funniest kid that I've ever met.  Even if he wasn't my son I would say that.  There's a lot of different sides to Quaden.  While he's usually a very happy child, he likes to make people laugh, he's also got a very soft, sensitive side that he prefers people don't see because he does try to act like the tough big boy that feels safe.  But lately he's much more reserved.  He's turned into a bit of an introvert.

DR MELLIFONT:  How does he feel about being a First Nations boy?

MS BAYLES:  He's a very proud Murri boy.  He loves sharing his culture.  He loves putting on his work uniform at the Black Card when he comes on tours with us and he just absolutely loves sharing his culture with the world, and I think it's the only thing that has helped him with that healing journey from the time of that video up until recently.  So, yeah, culture is very important, it's the foundation for us.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And when you speak about that video, it's a video that we will play later, which is a video you did at a time of frustration and anger to raise awareness.  Is that right?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah.  So it was just a video that I chose to share with his permission out of frustration because we just felt like we weren't being listened to, we felt we  
weren't supported and we just felt that there wasn't enough being done to help overcome this from happening again and again.

DR MELLIFONT:  We'll come to that.  We'll come to that.  Quaden's in Grade 4?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, he's in Grade 4 at the moment.

DR MELLIFONT:  He loves his Grade 4 teacher?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, she's been wonderful, she's really helped him get back to school after the all the restrictions and a long period of time off school.  He looks forward going to school knowing he's got a good teacher.

DR MELLIFONT:  Quaden was born with Achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism, correct?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, that's the most common type of dwarfism.

DR MELLIFONT:  In short terms, in short expression, it means the cartilage is not able to turn into bone, which means the bones are prevented from growing.

MS BAYLES:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  In a nutshell?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, it's short limbed dwarfism or skeletal dysplasia, there's lots of different medical terms for the condition, but it's most commonly known as dwarfism.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So as you said, it's something known as "skeletal dysplasia" or sometimes "restrictive growth condition".

MS BAYLES:  Yes, lots of different names.

DR MELLIFONT:  Quaden has a lot of health related issues?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, the primary diagnosis is Achondroplasia, that can often lead to other illnesses as well, related to Achondroplasia, most commonly is the Hydrocephalus, which is the fluid on the brain.  He's had 11 surgeries to date, so it comes with --- it's very different, not every person with Achondroplasia has secondary diagnosis or other diagnosis.  So he's a very unique case, very unique case.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  One of the real main concerns to you is respiratory illness?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah.  He was diagnosed last year.  We noticed that his CPAP machine wasn't working as effectively, so he spent a month in hospital and he was  
then diagnosed with critical respiratory failure, and we were prescribed a BiPAP machine, so it's much stronger pressures and it helps him with every breath in and out, because when he falls asleep his airways collapse and he stops breathing for long periods of time.  In October last year, when he was hospitalised, they then introduced us to the paediatric palliative care team at the Queensland Children's Hospital, and they've been supporting us since last year.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  He's not able to bring that BiPAP machine into school?

MS BAYLES:  No.  And that's something he was really frustrated with, because it made sense, you know, if he's tired he needs a nap, it shouldn't be a problem to put that on because he knows how to do it all himself.  But the recommendation with his returning back to school plan from his specialist at the hospital was that they didn't want the machine coming to school and they didn't want to promote or encourage him to have naps during the day.  So I keep it at home or whenever we're travelling it comes with us but not at school.

DR MELLIFONT:  You understand there are competing concerns?


DR MELLIFONT:  And one being that if he does fall asleep that there might be a need for the ambulance to be called?

MS BAYLES:  They've let me know and advised him that "If Mum can't get to school to take you home for a nap, then we will have to call an ambulance", and recently I got to school 20 minutes after they called me because he was falling asleep and the ambulance had arrived just before me, and they were quite concerned because he had stopped breathing and all the staff were pretty shaken up because they actually thought he passed away.  It was quite concerning.

DR MELLIFONT:  Yes.  Now you and five other families started Dwarfism Awareness Australia, a support group in 2012, is that right?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, that's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  And that was because you wanted to promote awareness and education about dwarfism, is that right?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah.  We established that support group.  It was through the Royal Children's Hospital at the time and they used to have a skeletal dysplasia clinic, so a lot of families in Queensland have one day where all of the appointments, so from occupational therapist to physio to speech, to orthopaedic surgeon, orthodontist, all of your specialist appointments will be on the one day, and that was the first time I was able to interact with other families with dwarfism.  So I met a few families and at that time I was really struggling to accept the diagnosis and come to terms with a life I definitely wasn't prepared for.

So I met a few other families that were feeling quite similar, and we just started talking and thought it would be a really good idea to establish a support system because it was something I didn't have up to that period of time straight after Quaden was born until I met these other beautiful families.  So we set it up initially to help support families, especially dealing with a new diagnosis, but also to educate people because what we've noticed, especially here in Australia, is there's not much awareness or education around dwarfism.

DR MELLIFONT:  Yes, and the group is still going?

MS BAYLES:  Still going.

DR MELLIFONT:  Membership is free and you're obviously welcoming others who wish to join that group?

MS BAYLES:  We've had a lot of families just this year email our inbox because they've seen Quaden's story, and I'm now able to offer other families the support that I never had.  So it's been really good to be able to offer the support because I know how difficult it is.

DR MELLIFONT:  Commissioners, I earlier mentioned that Quaden came to the Royal Commission at an earlier date and did a pre record.  We're just about to play the beginning of that pre record, which is a way for you to meet Quaden.  I appreciate some Commissioners have.  So if I can ask for that first excerpt to now be played.

It's longer than that.  We'll have another go.


DR MELLIFONT:  Hi, what's your name?

QUADEN:  Quaden.

MS BAYLES:  What's your last name?

QUADEN:  Bayles.

DR MELLIFONT:  What grade are you in?

QUADEN:  4 going into 5.

DR MELLIFONT:  4 going into 5.  Do you turn 10 in December of this year?


DR MELLIFONT:  That's pretty exciting, double digits, right?  Do you think you're going to get presents?

QUADEN:  Yeah.

DR MELLIFONT:  You'll get birthday presents in December and then Christmas presents.  All right.  Can you tell me, do you like any sports?


DR MELLIFONT:  What do you like?

QUADEN:  Football, AFL, basketball, handball and soccer.

DR MELLIFONT:  That's a lot.  That's a lot of sports.  Do you have a favourite  

QUADEN:  And netball.

DR MELLIFONT:  And netball.  Do you have a favourite football team?

QUADEN:  Yeah, the Rabbitohs.

MS BAYLES:  The Rabbitohs, the Bunnies.  Are they going to go okay?

QUADEN:  Yeah.

MS BAYLES:  How good?

QUADEN:  They come in 9th or 8th.

DR MELLIFONT:  All right.  Where do you reckon they will end up?

QUADEN:  4th.

DR MELLIFONT:  You reckon 4th.  All right.  Do you cheer for them on the games?

QUADEN:  Yeah.

MS BAYLES:  Fair enough.  And I hear that the Red Dust Heelers came to your school.

QUADEN:  Yeah.

DR MELLIFONT:  How was that?  What was good about that?

QUADEN:  Playing basketball all day.


DR MELLIFONT:  Just an introduction to Quaden, Commissioners.  Thank you.

Thank you, Yarraka, for bringing Quaden in to speak with us on that earlier occasion.

I want to speak to you about Quaden's schooling.  Where did Quaden go to prep?

MS BAYLES:  We started prep with Quaden at the Murri school, otherwise known as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Independent Community School here at Acacia Ridge.

DR MELLIFONT:  That was a school he loved?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, it was a very safe and comfortable school because we all knew each other and had a lot of family and friends there, so he fit in really well.

DR MELLIFONT:  And everybody knew him there and he had lots of relatives there, is that right?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, he was very well looked after, very well supported.

DR MELLIFONT:  And how was Quaden's experience there, you speak in your statement about kids having some questions about why Quaden looked different.  How was his experience there?

MS BAYLES:  At the Murri school, as with any child, I guess, they're inquisitive, so the most common question was why does he have a big head, and he will tell people because he's smart and he's got a big brain.  So that was the most common question at the Murri school, as it is wherever we go.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And there he had a range of supports and you were dealing with the Montrose Disability Service who you found to be excellent, is that right?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, so Montrose helped with the toileting facilities to help him become more independent, and it's the same at his current school as well.

DR MELLIFONT:  After a period where you were interstate, Quaden started at a different state school in 2017 for the second part of Grade 1, that's correct, isn't it?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, after my dad passed away we moved to New South Wales and just went on a bit of a healing journey.

DR MELLIFONT:  All right.  You describe in your statement that education has been a journey for Quaden and your family.  It's a huge challenge, you say when he's up to it he's tries his best.  Is that how you capture it?

MS BAYLES:  He does, yeah.  We understand the importance of education and my dad was an education ambassador and encouraged us to be two way strong, to get a Western education but to also be strong in our cultural knowledge and education.  So Quaden understands that it's important to make sure he's getting an education, but he just struggles to keep up and go every day.  He's just too tired.  It's really exhausting for him to try to keep up with everyone, so even though we know it's important, his absenteeism is affecting his grades and he has a lot of the hospital time.  It can be challenging.  There's so many barriers to overcome receiving a good education for the regular child, let alone a child that already feels like they're behind the eight ball.  So it's been a constant struggle with trying to get Quaden a good education, unfortunately.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, you said that he's been hospitalised a number of times and this can impact on how much Quaden's able to do?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah, definitely.  It's all had a huge impact on his education.

DR MELLIFONT:  All right.  You've mentioned that at the current school that some physical supports have been put in place through Montrose, correct?


DR MELLIFONT:  What other supports does Quaden receive, without naming names specifically, but the types of support Quaden is receiving?

MS BAYLES:  So the most regular support is his physiotherapy and occupational therapist.  So they've got a really good team of careholders at the school.  Then we've also got a separate team at the hospital and then another team from the NDIS that come to the home.  So we're dealing with a lot of specialists and a lot of specialised people to be able to assist and help improve Quaden's quality of life.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And Quaden sees a Murri psychiatrist at the PA?

MS BAYLES:  Yes.  Also does home visits.

DR MELLIFONT:  And he sees a Murri counsellor at the Inala clinic at the Inala Aboriginal Community Health Service ---

MS BAYLES:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT: --- which you found amazing, I think you said.

MS BAYLES:  To be able to have access, or just to have a choice to be able to choose culturally appropriate and safe services is what we've noticed gets the best results, and he automatically feels safe with sharing his story to someone that, you know, especially an Indigenous male, so he's really opened up and receives so much support because of, you know, the barriers are broken as soon as he sees someone that looks like him or knows he's someone from community, then he's been a lot more open and free to chat.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And you also get some counselling through the Gallang Place Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation Counselling Services?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, that's been a service that our family has used for several years and Quaden had started doing sand therapy and art play there last year.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  For you this is a safe and culturally appropriate place for Quaden to go?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah, it's amazing.  It's been really good. They also do home visits, they have a tactical response team ---

DR MELLIFONT:  Slow down a little.

MS BAYLES:  Yeah, so they've been supportive through his whole journey as well as for my twin daughters and my own journey.  They've been really supportive with the counsellors they have and the supports that they offer.

DR MELLIFONT:  You've also got a suicide response emergency team who have come out for you ---


DR MELLIFONT:  When you've needed that for Quaden, is that right?

MS BAYLES:  Several times, correct, yes.

DR MELLIFONT:  Quaden needs a support teacher with him at school?

MS BAYLES:  Yes.  When we were having meetings earlier on in the year to get Quaden back into the school environment, they asked what would help or what would he like, and straight away it was a no brainer to have, you know, culturally safe practices in place at the school, and we recommended a male Indigenous support worker or a teacher aide, and they found one through the Queensland Department of Education and he's still there today supporting Quaden when he does go to school, which is really good.  It's been a huge success so it gives me peace of mind knowing that Quaden feels safe and supported at school now whereas before, you know, he would beg not to send him to school.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, and in the past there was an occasion, or a period of time in which the support person was a non Indigenous female.

MS BAYLES:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  And that wasn't culturally safe or appropriate from your perspective, of course, given, for example, that Quaden needed help with toileting.


DR MELLIFONT:  So in the past, and thank you for observing that things have moved on, we'll come back to that, but in the past, not having an Indigenous male support worker, what did that mean for Quaden in terms of his toileting habit?

MS BAYLES:  He would have accidents and get teased for that and not want to go to school because he'd soiled his pants in class because he'd tried to hold it, and then we hear other stories of children with dwarfism as well that would hold it until they get home and that can cause internal problems with your organs, your bladder, because you're holding, you know, your stools and urine as well.  So it was causing a lot of problems and he just didn't feel comfortable.  It wasn't a choice.  You know, you just get assigned, but we were just happy he had a support worker so we didn't feel we had any right to question or request a change in support worker.  But it wasn't someone that he was comfortable with by any means.

We've just returned from the Northern Territory where he's done ceremony and went through men's business and to understand that, you know, there is sacred men's business and women's business, and to have a non Indigenous female, I can understand why he didn't want her taking him to the toilet.  She can't go into the, you know, the boy students' toilets to the male urinal, so there wasn't much she could do when it came to assisting with toileting.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Now you have mentioned he does now have an Indigenous male support worker three days a week, how is that going?

MS BAYLES:  It's so good.  He comes home and tells me every day that he does go to school and Uncle [redacted] is there, that no one teased him today, he didn't get called any names today, and that's music to my ears.

DR MELLIFONT:  Yes, okay.  Now, that's three days a week and your understanding is that the school and the system is trying to find somebody who can cover the other two days, is that right?

MS BAYLES:  So his support worker is only able to attend three days a week as Quaden's support worker at school, and the plan was to bring Quaden back to school full time if his health permitted, which is uncertain at the moment.  But we have been speaking, in the last couple of weeks, about maybe getting a second male Indigenous support worker or a teacher aide, and they do have someone in mind.  It's just  
whether it's going to be a good fit for everyone involved and whether, you know, they are compatible.  Quaden has a list; you've got to be able to love sports and that's the first one, and him and Uncle [redacted], yeah, his support worker came home, he’s with the Department of Education.  So we had an informal introduction where it was just a meet and greet, you know, having a chat and they just spoke and it was really good.  So hopefully we'll be able to do that with the next person and if Quaden, you know, connects and they're a good match, then hopefully we can have two support workers for Quaden to go back to school full time.

DR MELLIFONT:  And it's not just about getting back full time, is it?  It's sometimes the current support worker may have to have leave for personal reasons.


DR MELLIFONT:  And that's happened in recent months, hasn't it?

MS BAYLES:  It has happened.  In our community we're dealing with a lot of sorry business, so he had bereavement leave, and that was for a week or two when Quaden was well enough to go to school but his anxiety is just through the roof.  So he definitely will not go to school if Uncle [redacted] is not there.  So --- he did try because I always say "Let's just try and see how you go", and he didn't last very long.  He had a meltdown and the anxiety was just too much for him to be there and feels unsupported while his support worker wasn't there with him.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  You've been working with the school working through issues about physical supports over the time, is that right?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah.  And they've been very supportive and I've always let them know how appreciative we are of all the supports they have offered.  You know, when it comes to his OT or his physio or the mobility aids, fixing the lifts and things that make it easier around the school, they've been really good in that respect.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So fixing the lifts was a big deal for Quaden?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah, because climbing mountains, it's literally like climbing mountains.  And you watch people of short stature trying to climb, you know, stairs that we take for granted because it's easy for us to do, but it was very difficult, and it's not a large   it's not a huge school but it's big enough for him to feel overwhelmed and to feel lost and climbing up stairs is almost like, you know, it's depleting his energy and after climbing stairs he needs to have a rest and he tires very easily.  The fatigue is one of the main issues.  So the elevator has made it a lot more safer because there's less hazard of falling, tripping up and down stairs, which is quite common for him.

DR MELLIFONT:  Has he expressed to you how he feels about the lift being fixed?

MS BAYLES:  When I done the tour of the school before he started, I said, "It's great  
you guys have a lift", and they said, "Oh, it hasn't been working".  They did get it up and running last year because there are several students now with disabilities that are in wheelchairs and they need the lifts because they can't use the stairs.

DR MELLIFONT:  I will get you to slow down just a bit.

I'll turn quickly to the area of playground equipment and then I will move on with your evidence.  But you speak in your statement about your hopes that playground equipment in school will be more accessible for students with disability, including students with dwarfism, is that right?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah.  I think, from my personal observation and speaking with other families that have children with complex care needs or disabilities, one thing we all talk about is, you know, I've walked into the school and watched Quaden in a lunchtime watching everyone else have fun, and that has been a regular occurrence.  So I would love to be able to see school playgrounds with much more inclusive equipment, whether it's indoor activities, you know, in the library, or certain activities or sporting   whatever is accessible for all students to have a school environment that is safe and inclusive for all I think, you know, would be great for everyone.

DR MELLIFONT:  I'm going to turn now to the issue of bullying and preface it by saying that you very much want to embrace the school and the Department and have a very positive working relationship with them moving forward.

MS BAYLES:  Yes, I do, 100%.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  That you've had some very significant and meaningful experiences in the past where you have felt that Quaden's needs and your calls were not met, but you're now working and looking forward to building that continued relationship with the school?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah.  I honestly feel like it took for a viral video for us to be able to get the support we need.  There has been several times where I've made contact in person at the school, I've called several times, I've written emails, you know, looking for a resolution or looking for some sort of support or acknowledgment that the bullying is being dealt with.  But it wasn't until recently that we are actually noticing some improvements while the bullying isn't happening anymore.

DR MELLIFONT:  The bullying is not happening anymore?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  I'll just take you to one earlier reference in QLD.9999.0041.2477.  I don't need the document brought up but this something you wrote in the middle of 2018 saying:

Quaden has been asking me to come to school to discuss his concerns about the constant bullying that he is experiencing.

He recently asked me what 'midget' means because he says that's what he's been called at school.

As much as I expect and prepare for this inevitable behaviour, it saddens me that Quaden begs not to send him to school to save from being bullied so I hope we can help overcome this issue because apart from the bullying concerns we absolutely love the school community and appreciate all the support and assistance we have received.

That's the email you sent?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, I remember sending that to the Principal at the time three years ago.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Now, he felt he had good experience in Grade 1 and you describe in your statement that at that point physically he didn't have as much differences from the other children in Prep, obviously, because of the age.

MS BAYLES:  Yeah, he seemed to just blend in with the Preps and Grade 1s.  It wasn't so apparent but, you know, the older he gets, the more he's slowing down in growth and other students his age are still growing.  So it wasn't much bullying or many concerns in Prep or Grade 1 other than the questions that we're happy to answer.

DR MELLIFONT:  But as Quaden got older and the other kids got bigger and the difference was more obvious, the bullying started?


DR MELLIFONT:  And continues?


DR MELLIFONT:  Until, as you say, more recent times where you have observed, and Quaden's been telling you, that the bullying has stopped, which you are extraordinarily grateful   

MS BAYLES:  Yes, indeed.

DR MELLIFONT:  --- although it's not something you should have to be grateful about, is it?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah.  In the ideal world we would love to be able to send our kids to school and expect that they are going to have a good day every day and not be at risk  
of harm or being hurt in any way.

DR MELLIFONT:  In the past, that bullying had involved calling him names, pushing him on the ground, as well as being isolated and left out?


DR MELLIFONT:  Because other children wouldn't pick him to their teams.  And on one occasion you picked him up from school, you heard comments from kids like, "Is he really a 9 year old?" "He's a midget." "He's a baby."

MS BAYLES:  They're the common words we hear, whether it's snickers behind our backs as they're walking or I'm picking him up, walking him to the car.  You know, to me that's playground banter and it doesn't really affect me, but when it's a child, and when you understand the impact of trauma on a child's brain, this, on top of everything else he's been through, it chips away and it festers and it boils up and he has lots of little meltdowns when things get too much.

DR MELLIFONT:  So you describe him trying to shrug and laughing it off but that can only go so far?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah, he does that in the playground, even on the basketball court that day, that's his coping mechanism to act strong so that people think that it's not affecting him, and that's what we've taught him to do.  But that backfires as well and ignoring things doesn't solve the problem.  So, you know, we're trying to deal with things as they happen now and it's a learning curve for all of us.

DR MELLIFONT:  And by 19 February 2020 --- it got too much.

MS BAYLES:  Yeah, to say the least.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And we'll play a short excerpt of the video which you posted on YouTube but if I might just lay out the circumstances behind that with you and you can tell me if I've got this right.


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  That you became aware from a call from the school that the Brisbane Bullets basketball team were coming to the school and you went to the school, the whole class was there   sorry, the whole class was at the basketball with the team and you arrived a few hours later to collect him, that is Quaden, and you saw a little girl patting him on the head and making fun of his height, and other girls standing around him and laughing.  And you asked Quaden if he was okay and he shooed you away.

MS BAYLES:  Mm hmm.

DR MELLIFONT:  So you let it slide there.  But then when he got to the car he let it out.


DR MELLIFONT:  He was hysterically crying and screaming about wanting to kill himself, and you were so upset that you called the school.  It appeared to you they weren't quite sure how to handle that and said that they'd look into it the next day.  And at that point you were angry, frustrated about what you had regarded as being a lack of prior action, and you posted the video.

MS BAYLES:  Yes, I did.  That's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, all right.  We're going to play just a short excerpt from that video.  It's a much longer one and it's a very short excerpt.  It will be distressing to many, so I repeat the earlier observations as to the support people that are available and supports which are available.

Can I ask that be played, please.


QUADEN BAYLES:  I’m going to die right now.  Where’s a frickin’ …

MOTHER:  So, I've just picked my son up from school ---

QUADEN BAYLES:  Where’s a knife?

MOTHER:  --- witnessed a bullying episode; rang the Principal and I want people to know, parents, educators, teachers, this is the effect that bullying has.

QUADEN BAYLES:  Give me a knife, I'm going to kill myself.


DR MELLIFONT:  After that video went viral, you actually received online trolling and abuse from people you don't even know.

MS BAYLES:  Yes, still to this day, every day.  People who think it's their business to make comment.  Yes, lots of death threats, and threats of physical harm against my children, my granddaughter.

DR MELLIFONT:  After that video was posted, you got calls from the Department  
and some local MPs who wanted to meet with you?


DR MELLIFONT:  You did, in fact, have a meeting with the school next week with the Department and the school?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, that's correct.  We met at a private location because media were harassing and following us everywhere at that time.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And in the course of that meeting, the school had said to you that they did want to get it right, make things right.

MS BAYLES:  Yes, which was really good.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Now, after that period of time, you did have two Murri women from the Department visit and check in on you?



MS BAYLES:  And they still do, so that's good, too.

DR MELLIFONT:  And they still do?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  But there was a period of time when there was not a great deal of communication from the school to you?

MS BAYLES:  Yes.  I think it was a very awkward time.  No one could have ever predicted the way things would happen, so I think a lot of legalities started to come into play, so I wasn't sure whether I should contact them and ask them, you know --- I honestly didn't want Quaden to go back to the school.  That was how I was dealing with it.  You know, he'd pretty much home schooled most of the year before, he lasted the first term, and this was --- just seemed like a repeat of the 2019 school year where I would --- I knew I would end up home schooling.

So there was --- it felt like months had gone by and I hadn't heard from anyone, it was just our support services checking in with us.  And it was Quaden felt like he was being punished because he actually wanted to go back to school.  He was getting bored of coming to work with me every day, and by that time we were still able to travel, so he was on the road with me, and it wasn't until some time after that we had another meeting of the people involved to come up with a care plan to bring Quaden back to school, and then COVID kicked in so that just delayed everything again.

So there were many, many months that went by where it was just me and Quaden either sitting at home because there wasn't anything else we could do, and it was very, very difficult.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And you've described to us that you as a mum find it difficult to know when to push with the --- when to make contact, when to chase things up, or what to be able to expect in terms of the school communicating things with you without you needing to trigger.  These are things you struggle with knowing who should be doing what?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah.  Well, I think from my experience, it seems like a lot of the times I have called or presented to the office or spoke to the teachers or principals, the most common response is, you know, "We'll talk to the parents."  Sometimes that's not enough.  When it continues and continues and we're not seeing any results, and it's usually the same people, most of the time, it just felt like there was not enough being done so I just stopped complaining because I felt like I was being more of a burden or, you know, they're looking at us like we're a couple of sooks and we should just get on with it and not complain or report any of these incidences.  So there was a lot that we didn't report and there was a lot that Quaden didn't tell me or I didn't find out about until a lot long after because he's got two cousins in the school, one in the class next to him, they're four months apart, and he's got a younger cousin in the grade below him.  So they would sometimes tell me of things that Quaden hadn't told me, of other bullying episodes in the school.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  One of the documents we have from the Department is a file note of a meeting, and it reflects that on that particular 19 February 2020 occasion that the student patted Quaden on the head, which is a trigger, and that she was a new student who didn't realise.  Is it my understanding that what you would like to see, not just in this school but in all schools, is clear communication plans in place to students for awareness and for education as a preventative means for bullying?

MS BAYLES:  Yeah, I would love for that to happen.  And I've suggested that several times to the school, if there is a new student attending this year, can --- I'm more than happy to do all of school assembly, or I'm more than happy to address each class.  So I had offered my services, free of charge, and also our Dwarfism Awareness Australia Committee have also offered but there hadn't been any dates set aside for that, which is why I believe this continued to happen, because lots of new students are coming, whether it's each term or semester or beginning of the new school year, and they may not have been exposed to children who look different to them, so automatically they're an easy target or they don't know how to deal with it or they address people or children with disabilities.

DR MELLIFONT:  So for you, it's not just about having a policy, it's about making sure it's implemented and for schools everywhere, to be vigilant about that?

MS BAYLES:  Yes.  I mean every school has a bullying policy, an anti bullying  
policy and you will see on signs at school that it's a no bullying zone, but in actual fact we all know bullying happens everywhere, not just in schools but in workplaces.

But what I would love to see is for those policies and procedures to be adhered to, and if they're not, then there's some sort of resolution or recommendations made and improvements to avoid it from happening again.

But there's lots of grey in between, you know, whether it's parents or students or teachers, understandings of what exactly bullying is.  If a child is being physically hurt, then we think that's bullying but there's lots of different forms of bullying.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  A later part of your statement speaks about past instances where Quaden was dissuaded, discouraged quite actively from looking at First Nations content in education.  How important is it for you for there to be cultural awareness training in schools, across Australia, at all levels?

MS BAYLES:  It's paramount for the progression of this country to move forward.  It should be compulsory that the true history of this country be shared, and you're never too young or too old to learn the true history of the place you live in.  My grandmother used to say, you know, if you live in this country and call this country "home", then you have an obligation to learn the true history.  And our children, we're finding, are not feeling like they can proudly identify, and that's exactly how I felt as a student in school, back in the '80s and '90s.  So, unfortunately, not much has changed, you know?  We have made little milestones and improvements but we've definitely got a long way to go.

DR MELLIFONT:  And in addition to that substantive content, you would like to see ensured greater cultural awareness within our schools?

MS BAYLES:  Yes, and we've offered that.  That's what we do for a living at Black Card.  I'm currently travelling all around Queensland facilitating workshops with Queensland Teachers' Union.  So I'm experiencing first hand meeting teachers across the board all over Queensland and 99% of the time their feedback is, you know, positive.  So we've offered this to the staff at the school several times, and we still have not had one staff member sit in on our cultural workshops to date, unfortunately, but it's a service that we have offered the whole school to be able to tailor a program that would work and, you know, it would be highly beneficial for all the staff members.

I would love for, you know, every person in Australia to be able to have the opportunity to sit in because these workshops are facilitated by our elders, which sets it apart from any other cultural safety program in this country that we've seen, which is why we're getting such great results.  So we're still waiting, and the offer's always been there, for the staff members at the school to come and have this experience as well.

DR MELLIFONT:  And as you've indicated earlier, your intention is, of course, to  
continue to engage with the school in a productive and proactive way?

MS BAYLES:  Definitely.  That's what we do on the NAIDOC days and Harmony Day and every opportunity we can, to make sure our children feel safe and proud to identify, and not feel ashamed to be known that they are Aboriginal.  We want them to be proud and to be able to embrace their heritage.

DR MELLIFONT:  Shortly I'm going to ask you about your hopes for the Royal Commission, but before that, we asked Quaden similar questions, so I'm going to ask for another two excerpts to be played and this time it's of the pre recorded evidence with Quaden.


DR MELLIFONT:  Can you tell me how you would like school to change?  The changes you'd like to see at school?

QUADEN:  Anything?

DR MELLIFONT:  Anything.

QUADEN:  Probably two --- um, one more support worker.  A Murri one.  A real one.  So when [Bleep] is away, I can have that one and he's gonna be there.

DR MELLIFONT:  What would you like   if you had to   if you were able to give a message to new kids who haven't learned about your disability and don't understand how much it can hurt you when they say things about you, what would you like them to know now?  What's the message you'd like to give to them?

QUADEN:  Just don't be rude to kids who have disabilities, and just be kind and be nice.


DR MELLIFONT:  Pretty simple message.

MS BAYLES:  Yes, if only it was as easy to action.

DR MELLIFONT:  But an incredibly important one.

MS BAYLES:  It is very important.

DR MELLIFONT:  I said I was going to ask you what you'd like to see from out of  
the Commission, and your statement speaks about you feel an obligation yourself to see that this type of bullying doesn't happen to Quaden or other kids and you would like to see something like a Quaden's Law or a framework rolled out to make sure it doesn't happen.  And you've been working with a number of other disability advocates, is that correct?

MS BAYLES:  Correct.  After the video went viral and the frustration of still trying to receive a good education, I've always   now that Quaden's old enough and he's very vocal, he can articulate quite well   I said, what do you want us to do?  And he's pretty much said in his own words that he would like just to be able to go to school and be happy and learn.  He wants to go to school and learn.  That's all he says.  He just wants to go to school and learn.

He finds it quite boring sitting in a classroom all day, and it's physically impossible for him to stay in one position too long anyway, since the spinal and brain surgery.  So we talked about Quaden's Law, and he reminds me every day, almost every day, so I know that it's something that I have to do is to be able to come up with some sort of legislation that hopefully improves statistics and lessens the bullying statistics in schools.  I think if there was some sort of safety mechanism, maybe even an anonymous reporting system at every school where children could go to school feeling like they were safe to receive an education --- because like I said, there are so many barriers to receiving an education for the average student, let alone a child from a different background or that may not speak English quite well or that does have a disability.  So we've been talking with several people from around Australia, experts in the field, on how do we introduce Quaden's Law and what does it look like.

So in Tasmania, the laws have changed now because of one of   a family that we've connected with, after she had received so much bullying it actually almost killed her.  So they had the laws changed in Tasmania and that's very promising for us because we know that we can do that and we don't have to wait until it's too late, until another life is lost to suicide, when it could have been easily prevented.  So I think if we have something like Quaden's Law, which is a safety mechanism, and the foundation of Quaden's Law, what I imagine it to be, would be to take the focus off bullying or anti bullying, because there is so much funding put into anti bullying campaigns which are amazing but obviously they're not working as effectively as they should be because we are still seeing suicides skyrocket as we speak.

So all we can hope for is to be able to introduce something along the lines of Quaden's Law because at the hospital we have Ryan's Rule, in the workplace you have, you know, lots of different processes you can take, and you've got the Anti Discrimination Board, all of these things where you can report to.  But we're not feeling that there's anything that we're aware of that is serving and supporting students.  So that's initially what we aim to achieve with Quaden's Law.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  I'm going to pick up on some things you've just said and read out a part of your statement and I'll finish on that, the Commissioners might  
then have some questions for you.



I want the focus to be off anti bullying.  By that I mean my focus is putting things in place so kids don't feel left out.  I would rather not call these kids bullies.  I don't believe they want to hurt kids, they don't understand the consequence of their actions.  I don't want to get kids expelled or suspended because that doesn't help.  I don't blame them (or the school in some respects): there's just not enough education around kids with disabilities, let alone Murri kids with disabilities.


DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.

Commissioner Sackville, they are the questions I have for Ms Bayles.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Dr Mellifont.  I will ask perhaps Commissioner Mason whether she has any questions to put.


COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you.  May I call you Yarraka?


COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you.  Yarraka, in your evidence you mentioned this idea of creating Quaden's Law or a framework as a way to make sure all kids feel safe in their school environment.  You've said they should include education tools for schools.  In his own words, your son Quaden has said that he wants kids to understand and not be rude to disabilities, just be kind and be nice.

So from what you have seen and experienced, is something like Quaden's Law needed inside the school gate, or is Quaden's Law needed inside and outside the school gate?

MS BAYLES:  That's a great question.  Thank you.  I honestly believe a lot of these concerning behaviours come from broken homes, that's learned behaviour.  I don't believe we're born racist or born hating someone because of the way they look.  So I think a lot more needs to be done with educating parents and caregivers, a lot more support needs to be aimed at families on combating this for all of our children's safety and, you know, for their future.

So initially it would be established in the school, but the possibilities are endless.  I would love for it to set a precedent, to know that kids inside or outside the school have a way of reporting instances, whether it's physical or emotional abuse or intimidation or whatever form of bullying they are experiencing, but it definitely needs to not be confined to just the school because a lot of it is coming from home or outside school hours, and it's spilling onto the playground, it's movies or violence in video games.  There's so much that's contributing to these kids lashing out, and I think we need to go to the core root, not just put a Band-Aid over it and fix, you know, the problem we have here.  What are the underlying issues and what are causing these kids to act out?

So it's definitely not going to be an easy fix, but I don't think it's going to be a difficult one because we all know that it shouldn't be a difficult task to send your children for an education and come home happy.  But for a lot of kids that's just not happening.

I see an educational program that triggers empathy.  I think that is one thing that is forgotten here.  Like we're taught from a very young age, don't stare, it's rude, or don't ask questions.  And I think we have to challenge the status quo to get, you know, deeper into understanding the bullying epidemic and the suicide epidemic.  So I think empathy is really important here, because most of the time when I say to a child that I've witnessed laughing or teasing or pointing or staring at Quaden in the shopping centre is most common, I've asked him how does he want me to deal with it, because we used to ignore it, and that's when he'd get home and be hysterical.

He then, in the last couple of years, he says, "Go and talk to them.  Go and talk to their parents."  I'm now doing that, and this has happened before and after the video in shopping centres where I've felt proud of myself and he's seen that I'm now acting for him, nipping it in the bud as soon as we see it, and we're addressing it there and then.  So I've spoke to the parents and I've said, "Listen, darling, I know you didn't mean it but when you pointed and laughed at my son and you got your sister to point and laugh, you thought it was really funny, my son is over there crying now and you really hurt his feelings.  I know you didn't mean that, but could you imagine if we did that to your little sister or we did that to you", and it clicked.  And his parents actually found me and thanked me for that, you know, because they were embarrassed and it doesn't have to be an awkward embarrassing moment.  It can be solved straight away if you deal with it in a way that we know how to, and the only way of moving forward is to ask those questions and to deal with it instead of just trying to ignore it because problems aren't going to be solved by ignoring it, and we've done that for way too long.  Hopefully it's something that can be very well received across the board, not just in education.


MS BAYLES:  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Atkinson, do you have a question?  No?  Thank you.

Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  No question, thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.

Ms Bayles, thank you very much for coming and giving evidence and sharing your experiences and Quaden's with us.  We really do very much appreciate that, and what you've had to say to the Royal Commission is extraordinarily helpful to us in understanding the problems and what needs to be done.

I wonder if you wouldn't mind giving Quaden a message, which probably would come on behalf of all Commissioners, which is that we're really pleased for Quaden that the Bunnies have finished higher than 4th, and that they are going to be in the grand final, and who knows, they may even win.

MS BAYLES:  Definitely.  Thank you very much for the opportunity for sharing our story.


DR MELLIFONT:  Might we have a short adjournment until 12.35 Brisbane time, 1.35 AEDT, to allow for the witnesses in the next session to come into place?

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you.

ADJOURNED    [12.32 PM]

RESUMED    [12.37 PM]

CHAIR:  Yes, Dr Mellifont.

DR MELLIFONT:  Mr Fraser of Counsel will be doing the next evidence session.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Yes, Mr Fraser.

MR FRASER:  Commissioners, for this session we have a panel comprised of representatives from advocacy organisations across Australia being as follows: here in the hearing room in Brisbane, from Queensland Advocacy Incorporated or QAI, Director and Systems Advocacy Director Michelle O'Flynn, and QAI's education  
advocate Nikki Parker.  Via videolink from NSW we have Cecile Sullivan Elder, who is the Executive Officer for Family Advocacy, and from Victoria we have Mary Sayers, the Chief Executive Officer from Children and Young People with Disability, or CYDA.

CHAIR:  Yes.

Thank you, Ms O'Flynn, Ms Parker, Ms Elder, Ms Sayers, for coming to give evidence.  Would you be good enough, please, to follow the instructions given by Commissioner Atkinson's Associate and take the affirmation that she will administer.  Thank you.





CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  Yes, Mr Fraser.

MR FRASER:  Commissioners, you will find a copy of the joint statement of Michelle O'Flynn and Nikki Parker in Tender Bundle Part B volume 1 at Tab 6, with some additional material in the Tender Bundle part D volume 3 behind Tab 1.3.  Commissioners, we receive the statement into evidence as Exhibit 7.6, and then as documents as Exhibits 7.6.1 through to 7.6.3, the documents referred to in that statement.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you.



MR FRASER:  With respect to the statement from Ms Sayers of CYDA, you will find a copy of the statement in Tender Bundle Part B Volume 1 at Tab 5 with some  
additional material in Tender Bundle Part D Volume 3 at Tabs 4 to 15.  The material at Tabs 12 and 13 has previously been tendered at Public Hearing 5 as Exhibits 5.28.31 and 5.28.20.

Commissioners, will you receive this statement into evidence and mark as Exhibit 7.7, and then the material that has not been tendered previously as Exhibits 7.7.1 through to 7.7.10.

CHAIR:  Yes, that can be done.  Thank you.



MR FRASER:  And finally, with respect to the statement of Ms Cecile Sullivan Elder, that is to be found in Tender Bundle Part B Volume 1 at Tab 7 with some additional material in Tender Bundle Part D Volume 3 behind Tabs 16 and 17.  Commissioners, will you receive the statement into evidence and mark as Exhibit 7.8 and the accompanying documents as 7.8.1 through to 7.8.3?

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you.




MR FRASER:  Now, beginning in the room in Brisbane with the representatives of Queensland Advocacy Incorporated starting with Ms O'Flynn, Ms O'Flynn, can you state your full name, please?

MS O'FLYNN:  Michelle O'Flynn.

MR FRASER:  And Ms Parker?

MS PARKER:  Nikki Parker.

MR FRASER:  And you have together prepared a joint statement that is 39 pages in length signed by Ms O'Flynn on 24 September 2020, and Ms Parker on 23 September 2020.

Starting with Ms O'Flynn, are the contents of that statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge?

MS O'FLYNN:  Yes, that's correct.

MR FRASER:  And Ms Parker, are the contents of that statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge?


MR FRASER:  Now, Ms O'Flynn, you're a Director and Systems Advocacy Director with QAI?

MS O'FLYNN:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  That's an independent community based organisation that focuses on systems and individual advocacy and community legal services for people with disability and mental health issues in Queensland?

MS O'FLYNN:  That is correct.

MR FRASER:  And of particular relevance here today, QAI provides a separate education advocacy service or the EAS, which supports students with disabilities in State schools in Queensland, is that correct?

MS O'FLYNN:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  And in addition to your work with QAI, you also have personal experience as a parent of a daughter with an intellectual disability, is that correct?

MS O'FLYNN:  That is correct.

MR FRASER:  Now, Ms Parker, you have been with QAI since January 2020, from which time you've worked as an education advocate.  Is that correct?

MS PARKER:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  And you yourself also have personal experience of disability as your son has a disability and currently attends a state high school in Queensland.

MS PARKER:  That's correct, yes, a mainstream state high school.

MR FRASER:  Ms Parker, with respect to the education advocacy service, can you  
explain to the Commission how that service works?

MS PARKER:  Certainly.  The education advocacy service is funded by the Queensland Department of Education, and as far as I'm aware it's the only education specific advocacy program in Queensland.  We deliver independent advocacy services to students with disability in State schooling and home schooling in Queensland, but it's probably relevant to also say that prior to the education advocacy service, QAI did do some advocacy for students with disability prior to the service commencing.

MR FRASER:  And does the EAS receive inquiries from families or students at independent schools?

MS PARKER:  We certainly get phone calls from families with students in independent schools and I may give them some initial advice, like more information, and refer them to other services which might be available.  But primarily our advocacy service is for State school students and students in home schooling.

MR FRASER:  I'll turn now to Ms Sayers on the videolink.

Ms Sayers, can you state your full name, please?

MS SAYERS:  Mary Sayers.

MR FRASER:  You've made a statement that's 69 pages long dated 24 September 2020?

MS SAYERS:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  Are the contents of that statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge?

MS SAYERS:  Yes, they are.

MR FRASER:  And you are the CEO of CYDA, Children and Young People with Disability Australia?

MS SAYERS:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  You've worked in research, policy and advocacy for over 20 years?

MS SAYERS:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  And in addition to that, you are the Chair and co convenor for the Australian Coalition for Inclusive Education, referred to as the ACIE, is that correct?

MS SAYERS:  Yes, it is.

MR FRASER:  And you've listed at paragraph 23 of your statement the ACIE membership organisations which includes, amongst others, the fellow members of the panel being QAI and Family Advocacy, is that correct?

MS SAYERS:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  Now turning to Family Advocacy and Ms Sullivan Elder on the video screen, can you please state your name?

MS ELDER:  Yes, Cecile Sullivan Elder.

MR FRASER:  You've made a statement that is 80 pages long dated 28 September 2020, is that correct?

MS ELDER:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  Are the contents of that statement true and correct, to the best of your knowledge?

MS ELDER:  It is.

MR FRASER:  Family Advocacy is a NSW based advocacy organisation.  What would you describe as being the core work of Family Advocacy?

MS ELDER:  Yes, so predominantly we support families across New South Wales as we absolutely recognise that they are positioned to be the strongest advocate alongside their family member with disability.  Our advocacy work entails providing advocacy advice across New South Wales via emails, phone calls, virtual meetings, and other online platforms.  We also deliver workshops across advocacy related workshops across New South Wales, and undertake systemic advocacy to look at removing barriers with the State Government and departments and alike.

We also have an initiative, Resourcing Inclusive Community, that undertakes capacity building around providing information and innovative supports for people with disabilities to live inclusive lives.

MR FRASER:  Commissioners, now that I'm finishing off the formal matters, throughout the course of this evidence I will be playing two recent video excerpts from a high school student with a disability speaking at the National Youth Disability Summit, who I will refer to as "Alice", though that is not her real name.  You will find two extracts in Tender Bundle Part D Volume 3 at Tabs 19 and 20.

Commissioners, will you receive these into evidence and mark them as Exhibits 7.9 and 7.10?

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you.


MR FRASER:  Ms Sayers, if I can begin with you, and can I ask you to speak up a little bit for the audio visual link.  One of the areas that will be examined in the course of the hearing this week is the provision of adjustments and supports to students with disabilities.  You refer at paragraph 112 of your statement to findings from a National Education survey undertaken by CYDA as to that issue.  Now I understand that CYDA has undertaken its National Education surveys annually since 2015.  Before I ask you about the response to the most recent 2019 survey, can I ask you to explain how these surveys work, how are they undertaken?

MS SAYERS:  CYDA has over 5,000 members.  So first and foremost we circulate the survey to our members, most of whom are families with children with disability or young people with disability themselves.  We also work with our partners like QAI and Family Advocacy so that they can share the survey with their members as well and then we analyse the data ourselves.

MR FRASER:  And why did CYDA think it necessary to undertake these surveys?

MS SAYERS:  For the ten years of our operation, inclusive education has been something that we've consistently advocated for.  Since 2015, we've been completing these surveys annually so that we can better understand the experiences of students with disability in Australia.

The two surveys cover a whole range of topics, including the extent to which students with disability are excluded in their education, enrolment barriers, suspensions and expulsions, and school cultures for inclusion.  This includes attitudes and whether schools have high expectations for students with disability.

The survey also looks at individual education plans, often referred to as IEPs, and families’ involvement in the plans. IEPs are often the mechanism to which reasonable adjustments are provided and discussed with the school.

So, currently, other than the work that CYDA does on its national surveys, to our knowledge there's no tracking of the experiences of students with disability and their experiences of inclusive education as defined by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at a national level or if there is data collected, it's not made publicly available.

MR FRASER:  With respect to 2019, of those persons that responded, what do you consider to be the key findings as to the issue of supports and reasonable adjustments, and I'm referring here to around 112 of your statement?

MS SAYERS:  Thank you.  Our 2019 survey results show that students with  
disability are routinely excluded in their education with many being segregated from mainstream schools and from classrooms, not attending full time, refused enrolment and excluded from school activities.  So suspensions, expulsions and restrictive practices are also common, which show a lack of understanding and support for students with disability.

So while the majority of students receive some specific support because of their disability or learning difference, there are also many families who have actually put in a lot of out of pocket expenses to enable a student to stay.  We note also that many people - many students with disability - don't have personalised individual education plans in place and this was again backed up in 2020 when we did a survey during the COVID period and this report found that individual education plans are not working the way they should and while you might be able to argue that a well designed IEP might not be needed to have been changed to accommodate the pandemic, many families did not feel that IEPs were operating well to begin with, before the pandemic, and modifications and accommodations were not being made to support the move to remote learning.

I guess in summary, individual education plans are often seen as a main vehicle for providing reasonable adjustments, but there wasn't a lot of faith in individual education plans as a vehicle or mechanism.

MR FRASER:  Ms Sullivan Elder, what has been the experience of your organisation, Family Advocacy, in New South Wales, perhaps leaving to one side the specific COVID recent development but more generally before that?

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  Yes, I think it's important to say that Family Advocacy has been around for 29 years and undertaken a lot of work but particularly in the area of inclusive education.  In the last five years our calls have gone up to 66% of all calls that we receive on all issues across the State.  Some common issues that we hear about are lack of reasonable adjustments, high rates of suspension, enrolment refusal, partial enrolment, low expectations for learning, gate-keeping, micro-exclusion, and restrictive practices.

Overwhelmingly, families report that the skills and attitudes of the schools as to whether their child receives the appropriate adjustments and supports is key and families are even saying that minor adjustments that could make a significant difference in many cases aren't occurring and that the skills and confidence of the school, if not there, plays the role of dictating whether success is going to be there.

Another important point is the attitudes of schools, that families raise constantly that if schools aren't willing or wanting to take on that child's education as they should, that that shows through in the level of adjustments and supports that are provided, and necessary adjustments that aren't even in the individual education plan are missed out or not followed through.  And in many instances, there are strong messages that the student, the parent, I mean the child, shouldn't be at that school and should be somewhere else, which is more often than not. From families' perspectives,  
the lack of adjustments and supports that have been provided quite often set students up to fail.

And, lastly, I think it's important to add that families that call us very much feel, or a lot of families, that it's a luck of the draw in relation to getting a teacher, a school leader, that is wanting to provide the appropriate supports and adjustments and if they do get lucky and they get a great teacher who is skilled, competent and also has the right attitude, then if that teacher leaves them it very quickly can turn in the opposite direction and they're back to square one in relation to having to get the basic needs or supports and adjustments in place.

MR FRASER:  Back to this room. Ms Parker, in your statement you refer to the experiences of lack of adjustments being provided to students with disability, or issued with the adjustments provided. What are some of the common issues you see coming through your work in the education advisory service?

MS PARKER:  One of the things that I frequently hear from clients of ours is that schools don't recognise even the most basic of adjustments that are required for students to allow them to actually access the curriculum, or indeed access the school appropriately.  One client of ours is a student with visual impairment and she could not access the prescribed novel in her English subject in an audio and instead was left to rely on others even to actually even access the most basic of prescribed resources.

We often hear parents request adjustments and some of these are extremely basic, as Ms Sullivan Elder mentioned earlier, for example, just a simple visual prompt that a student with disability is familiar with and can use.  So without these visual prompts they can't actually communicate the most basic and vital information to their peers or to the school and to the other staff.

We also hear - I should set some context.  Regional office staff in the Department of Education can assist with - they've got inclusion advisers, autism advisers, and various other specialists, I suppose, that can provide advice to schools.  But what we hear is that schools don't always want to utilise these services and even when parents are requesting, say, an autism adviser or an inclusion adviser to come into the school to assist, there's pushback from the schools to actually allow that to happen.

And I suppose that's exemplified in a conversation I had with a regional office staff member who said, oh, when I was explaining that we needed somebody to come into the school to provide some assistance, the response was "Oh, leave it with me, I'll have to talk to our staff to work out what that school's attitude is towards regional office staff supporting the school.  Some staff don't want that support or some schools, sorry, don't want that support.  So leave it with me."  And certainly that response from that regional office staff member is certainly consistent with what our - the parents that are contacting us are experiencing as well.

MR FRASER:  Thank you for that.  Noting the time, Commissioners, I might finish before the lunchtime adjournment by asking that the first of the two video excerpts  
tendered previously be played.  This runs for about two minutes or so if that's convenient.

As I mentioned, it's an extract from the National Youth Disability Summit from Alice who speaks about the importance of ensuring a support or adjustment is tailored to the individual student.  Can I ask that document IND.0056.0001.0001 be played?


ALICE: Can I start by acknowledging the wonderful intentions that brought inclusive education into being.  The problem is we need to take the next step and destroy the foundations of the metaphorical wall that stands between people like me and achieving in the way that we want.  We need to eradicate the one size fits all approach to inclusivity.

We have come a long way since the sympathy laced ideals that are reflected in expressions like "confined to a wheelchair" or "wheeled" or "wheelchair bound" and we've done much to reduce the othering created by words like "spastic" and "retard".  We've got a long way to go with that one.  What I'm talking about is a kind of inequality.  Inequality disguised as acceptance.  A one size fits all approach that sees us as people but refuses to acknowledge us as individuals.

By year nine, I had really started to love academic pursuits, and my success had seen this become an element of my identity for which I was, and still am, really proud.  At this stage in the classroom, I did just need a teacher aide to be my hands.  What I got was a well intentioned person whose lack of technical expertise, particularly with word processing, was the cause of significant distress, not just for me but for her.

I know why I was assigned this aide, and again, the intention was not malicious.  My program managers wanted me to be more independent.  But the problem was this approach increased my anxiety because I was so worried about the potential impact on my academic outcomes, and hence a part of my identity felt threatened.


MR FRASER:  So, Commissioners, having heard from Alice's direct experience of the need for an adjustment, which was not matched by the adjustment that was provided, I think that's a convenient point to adjourn, if it suits until 2.00.

CHAIR:  Mr Fraser, we will adjourn until 2.00 Queensland time, 3.00 Southern States time.  We'll resume then.  Thank you.


ADJOURNED    [1.02 PM]

RESUMED    [2.00 PM]

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you, Mr Fraser.

MR FRASER:  Thank you.  Commissioners, before we left for the break, we heard from Alice and immediately prior to that we heard from Ms Parker from Queensland Advocacy Incorporated.

Ms O'Flynn, is there anything you would like to add to the comments of your colleague about the provision of adjustments in the area of education, particularly arising out of the video excerpt you've just seen?

MS O'FLYNN:  Yes, thank you, Andrew.  It's been reported for decades now that many parents have stated that their students with disabilities have had to attend multiple placements or other settings other than the mainstream classroom.  That diminishes the contact time with the teacher, and without that contact time it diminishes what a teacher knows and understands about that child.  And that therefore makes it very difficult to understand how to implement any reasonable adjustments to that curriculum.

And yet, where teachers do know and understand their students, they regularly make adjustments or even extensions, according to the style and need of the child.

Early childhood trained teachers know and understand how to do this almost as second nature because they understand childhood development and the range of learning styles and needs and range of abilities across different ages right up until Year 12.  So they are part of the teaching toolbox and diversity in learning styles and needs shouldn't be used to restrict or inhibit a student from learning.

I have a really good example of when teachers do know and understand a student and what motivates them and how to implement that.  A student in high school, quite a long time ago, was really interested in becoming a professional golfer.  Now, that had seemed at the time quite unreasonable and well beyond his reach, but the teachers took that interest and used it and employed it as a motivator to --- they used golf tees and golf balls to teach Maths and English, and they --- he designed a golf course drawing contour maps as part of his geography.  And in his transition planning from school to post school, he got a part time volunteer job retrieving golf balls from the water course, just cleaning them up and eventually selling them back to the players.

But he joined a golf club, and once he left school he was still a member of that club and he hung around and he kept playing and going there and doing the things with  
the balls, and eventually the instructor took him on and I believe he got a paid job as a caddie for that professional golf instructor.  So it was pretty close to his ultimate aim.  It's just a really good example of what can happen.

MR FRASER:  Now, I'll turn now to the importance of community and social attitudes to an inclusive education for a student with a disability.

Ms Sayers, having heard directly from Alice in the video and the reference to the concept of othering, is this an issue that you have seen arising throughout the course of CYDA's work?

MS SAYERS:  Absolutely.  And one of the major challenges in education is the underlying ableism that exists.  Ableism, like racism, can be very overt or it can be very subtle, as we heard in the video.  So these are often the small but repeated messages that students with disability and their families receive from teachers, administration and support staff, preschools and others in the school community.  These messages are that the student’s needs are problematic, or too difficult for the school to accommodate, or that there is a burden on other students if reasonable adjustments are provided.

So the school culture, led by teachers, principals and support staff, has a major influence on whether the student with disability is fully included.

So attitudes are part of a broader set of community attitudes that see students with disability as too hard to educate, a burden on non disabled students, or better off when they're only educated with other disabled students in special settings away from the mainstream.  And the media also plays a key role in negative attitudes to students with disability, and that burden and deficit narrative, and there's rarely positive stories of students with disability in the media.

MR FRASER:  Was this issue of school culture addressed in the most recent CYDA education survey?

MS SAYERS:  Yes, in terms of school cultures for inclusion, families did not believe students with disability received adequate support in their education, that they were communicated with regularly about the student's learning progress, they didn't believe teachers had high expectations of the student or teachers had the required training to provide a supportive and enriching education environment.  Very sadly, that their child or family was not made to feel welcome at the school.

So, culture for inclusion starts even before school, even in early childhood.  So by the time a child starts school, parents will often have faced challenges having their child included in early childhood education, such as kindergarten, in community playgroups and the like.  And the first time children face exclusion is often not when they start school, but is absolutely reinforced through the transition to school process.

Families describe to us the battle they have to face to advocate for inclusion of their  
child, and I know we will be talking about gatekeeping later on but these attitudes can be summarised by one family who said, "I applied to 36 schools, have attended four, of which two have removed him and three would not meet his needs and assaulted him."

MR FRASER:  Ms Sullivan Elder, with respect to the experience in New South Wales of Family Advocacy, what have your experiences been as to the culture of inclusion?

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  We would certainly agree with everything that Ms Sayers said and that, absolutely, one of the biggest hurdles is the culture and the acceptance of where students with disability should be educated.

Breaking it down to the school level, the attitudes of the teachers and the principals towards the students could have a powerful influence on the student's ability to reach their base learning and their social development.  Families often tell us that schools say their child is not suited to attend that particular school because it's a regular class.  Receiving striking comments around things such as "Kids are cruel, your child is better off somewhere else," "they're not a good fit," "We can't solve all the world's problems," "Our teachers aren't baby sitters," "When you grow out of your disability maybe you can come here."

Unfortunately, these aren't rare comments.  They're comments families hear regularly when they're trying to seek an inclusive education with their child with disability.  These attitudes then have a strong flow on effect for the other students in the school grounds and in the class and how they're seen in relation to the student with disability actually being a valued member of the class and the school community.

In many instances we also hear that schools fail to recognise the students with disability as capable learners, and this comes through strongly as to how teachers actually teach the student.  Not only is the student's learning potential undermined but it also influences how other students in the class, as I said earlier, perceive them. Whether they're respected as one of the students, whether or not they're “othered,” as Ms Sayers referred to, whether or not they're bullied or not or included or not.

Just to give you a bit of an idea of a case study that I put in the witness statement, of a family that had chosen to support, or to send preschool student, her young son, into a regular day care and how much he loved it there, and whenever he attended early intervention, it was a whole different story.

As that child progressed into regular class, it was absolutely pressured from the parents --- of teachers to the parents, the school to the parents that the child go to a support unit in which they felt they had no other option.  After about a year, the child actually went backwards in relation to his speech, in relation to in his ability to learn, he didn't want to attend the class, all of this stuff went on, and the parents could absolutely see it was a detriment to the child.  The family then learnt about the rights for the child to attend and the legal obligations of the school, and worked hard to  
advocate their son into a regular class.  Now, at the end of Year 2, he's actually caught up academically on the most part, can now communicate verbally now much better than he was when he was actually in the support unit.

They talked about the difference being the attitude of the principal and the teacher, and although we know culturally we've got a whole of system issue going on here, that breaks down to what happens at school, and this is what families face and students face every day.

MR FRASER:  Turning to the hearing room in Brisbane, Ms Parker, from your experiences in the employment advocacy service, what do you say is the importance of strong culture?

MS PARKER:  I think culture is fundamental to what a student will experience, both in terms of their education and just their general experience about being in the school.  The students, like children can see, they experience the culture of the school and they can feel the rejection.

One parent recently told me that her child, who is in primary school, who needed particular adjustments but these were being denied by the school, this parent told me that this primary school student, her daughter said to her, "Mum, I've tried really hard but I got no response.  So I tried less and less, and they didn't respond to that either.  The school just doesn't care, the teachers just don't care."  That's a primary school student.  So this is something that's   that sense of rejection, that negative culture is seen and felt by the kids.

I have to say, the culture can be a really positive thing or it can be a really negative thing, and the students and their families can see the student progressing or regressing, depending on the culture.  And certainly we've also had clients, and it's been really clear, that the culture of the school and the experiences of children have dramatically changed just with the --- might be the change of principal, change of class teacher or the change of head of special needs or inclusive education, where the change in attitude has either really positively or really negatively affected the students with disability.

I think it just shows, you know, how important culture is, how important individuals and, like, the students   the school body generally, how they consider students with disability.

MR FRASER:  What about the importance of role models?

MS PARKER:  Yes, certainly one 15 year old school student, who lives with disability, she actually asked me to suggest to the Royal Commission that education curricula should include stories of people with disability.  She said that in her whole schooling she has not heard of stories of people with disability.  She's heard of other vulnerable groups and their stories, individual stories but she believes that this lack of stories of people with disability, lack of valuing people with disability, contributes  
to the ignorance of disability and ignorance of lives of people with a disability.  So she'd like to see, yeah, curricula, education curricula across Australia include stories of people with disability.

MR FRASER:  Ms O'Flynn, is there anything you would like to add to that?

MS O'FLYNN:  Yes, please, Andrew.  I think what all of this is showing is this comes from a “values of the system” in every State.  We have a system that values a competitive approach to education.  We have   that passes down to schools that value either sporting or academic prowess.  So with principals who are essentially charged with promoting and selling their school image, they don't see the contribution that students with disabilities make across their whole school and their culture.

So instead of having a collaborative approach to schooling, which, you know, in early childhood teaching, kids do learn to do things collaboratively in little groups and little teams, and that's how we generally work, once we've left school we collaborate, and yet here we are in schools, pitting students against each other, on a rating system that is inevitably not going to value students with disabilities as part of that collaborative team.

MR FRASER:  One of the areas that will be examined throughout the course of the hearing this week is the use of exclusionary discipline in the context of students with disabilities.  Each of you in your statements refer to the use of suspensions and exclusions, which is the topic I will turn to now, starting with Family Advocacy, Ms Sullivan Elder.

In your statement, you refer to the concept of a right or exclusion, what do you mean by that and can you provide an example?

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  Yes, so when we're talking about micro exclusion, we're talking about students that are excluded from the typical things that happen in a school and a school community.  For example, it could be things like being denied access to the actual full curriculum, not allowed to attend excursions, school camps, sports and sports carnivals, work experiences ---

MR FRASER:  Ms Sullivan Elder, can I ask you to slow down a little bit for the purpose of the transcription.  Thank you.

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  Of course, yes.  So sports carnivals, work experience, pathways, dance classes, theatre groups, choirs - just the general things that happen in and around the school from the classroom out.  Micro exclusion can also occur in classrooms, so if a child is actually educated in the regular class, they can still be separate from the other students.  For example, sitting in a different part of the class, learning a different curriculum such as colouring in whilst the other students are learning about Maths, just getting that sense of being excluded from the general flows of what happens.

And these messages --- these practices, of course, send a really strong message to other students in the classroom about how that student is treated and where they belong.

MR FRASER:  And you referred to an example in your statement, an example at paragraph 63, can you elaborate on that?

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  Yeah, absolutely.  That was an example from a parent about the rationalisation from the school that their child could not attend a certain part of the curriculum, which in this case was Indonesian, and Indonesian and Sport, because they had an intellectual disability.  There was no reason other than that.

The parents advocated very hard for the attendance, there were particular interest of the students, and they were attending and finding it enriching and opening up their world, certainly from the Indonesian language perspective and learning about the culture.  At the end of those classes that student couldn't necessarily speak Indonesian, but they actually learnt so much about the culture and the practices that happen over there, so they found it a very rewarding experience.

MR FRASER:  You also refer to instances of partial enrolment in your statement.  What do you mean by that and can you give an example?


MR FRASER:  And remembering to speak slowly for the transcript.


So in our experience, families often have to fight just to get their child with disability into their local school.  Once a child is finally admitted to school, the barriers often don't end there.  Many families report being overjoyed in gaining that successful enrolment in a mainstream class, only to find that it's not for a full day but for a part day.  Sometimes even for as little as one hour per day and without even having a full day's trial.  Commonly this is also not negotiable - or that's the way that it's projected to the families - so even if a child is on a part time trial and it's successful and they're allowed to attend full time, they're often told to drop their child late and pick them up early.  Parents are often told that the school --- that they need to be available within an hour's notice if an issue arises, and this partial enrolment can actually go on for years.

I will just share a quick story of a family in relation to   so their child was moving from a special school to a regular class, and after a successful trial, they were offered 9.00 to 12.00 for five weeks and told that it had to only be from 9.00 to 12.00 with no explanation other than that.  There were no incidents, everything went along quite well in that time, and then they were offered another five weeks from 9.00 until 2.00.  That caused quite an issue, as all of it would, in relation to that student missing out on two of its favourite subjects so that the parents had to advocate really hard to get  
them involved.

Still, they had to sort of change around the schedule, but --- and actually then went from talking about the student actually going full time the following year, so --- there's many caveats around the student actually attending full time for many students across New South Wales and some of them, as I said, go on for a very long period of time.

MR FRASER:  Ms Parker, turning to you in this room.  In your statement at paragraph 29 you refer to similar reports from parents of students with disabilities where the schools introduce limited teaching hours.  Can you tell us about that, and at the same time as you're doing that, I will ask that the document marked IND.0046.0001.0013 be displayed on the screen.  But Ms Parker, over to you.

MS PARKER:  Thank you.  Certainly, we've had parents describe to us situations where schools have introduced very restrictive and punitive teaching hours, limited teaching hours.  So one student had teaching time imposed to 9.30 each school day, this parent spoke to us of her frustration of having to wait in the car after school drop-off simply because she couldn't, you know, there's no point her going home.  She needed to come back to pick up   she would have needed to come back and pick up here student at 9.30, no less than an hour later, so there's no point in her going home.

So the child obviously derived minimal, if any, benefit, and for the parent who also cared for other dependents, their schedule was unsustainable.  This parent believes that the school used the strategy as a way of forcing them out.  In the end, the parent did actually withdraw their child and went into home schooling.  And we've had numerous reports of similar things.

One parent, the school reduced attendance days and times after each, you know, when there were particular incidents and finally this child was only permitted to be present at the school for only two days a week for two hours each of those two days.  The parent said to us that the school reasoned that it was not adequately equipped to meet the child's needs, and the document that you just mentioned on screen, it's a page from a school diary in Queensland, and it emphasises quite rightly how important it is for students to be in attendance at school each day.  And, you know, even just ten minutes per day, that equals nearly half a year over the 13 years of schooling.  So it quite rightly emphasises that students should be participating in the school, should be benefitting from both the education and other experiences that the school environment should allow them to experience.

MR FRASER:  So it shows the cascading effect of small or increasing absences over time?

MS PARKER:  That's right.  And certainly going back to suspensions and exclusions when a student is suspended, you know, seven times, eight times, nine times, ten times in a year for up to two weeks at a time has a huge impact on the amount of  
time that that student's away from school, and it also obviously has a huge impact on the mental health of that student who feels quite rejected by the school, and unable to engage properly.  And parents also talk about how they feel --- this is going back to the reasonable adjustments in part --- but parents often talk to us about how the incident which led to a suspension or exclusion, the parents considered that if had reasonable adjustments been put in place, that incident wouldn't have occurred and that student would be able to continue to sort of be involved in the school life, in education and the other experiences.

MR FRASER:  Thank you.  We can take that document down.  Thank you.

I'll turn back to Ms Sullivan Elder from Family Advocacy.  Arising out of that, in your statement at paragraph 52, you refer to the use of suspensions as distinct from micro exclusions.  Can you explain what the difference, in your understanding is, between these two things?

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  Yes, so when we talk about the experience of micro exclusion, we talk about students being excluded from the typical things that most students would participate in.  As I mentioned, school camps, excursion.  And when we're talking about suspension, we're talking about students that have been formally requested not to attend school for a period of time.

MR FRASER:  And what sort of issues come to your organisation in New South Wales regarding that use of suspensions with students of disabilities?

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  So students with disabilities are very much over represented in suspension data.  Family Advocacy's view is that if a child is deemed as misbehaving, at the very least, the following questions need to be asked: what has gone on for the child?  Were there appropriate supports in place?  Is there a positive support plan in place?  Was it followed?  Was the environment a trigger for the child?  What would we need to do as educators to adapt accordingly and have families been consulted?

Certainly any form of behaviour is communication, and many families’ feedback that the inclusive education plan, which is supposed to identify the accommodations needed, are often not done, or done without family consultation, or not implemented at all or inconsistently.  So for students, feeling frustration, their anxiety rises.  If this fails it can often lead to the suspension of that student.  Students are often having to wear the consequence of inadequate support and inconsistencies across schools.

Sadly, the reputation of being a badly behaved student often follows these students well into the future.  So what then happens quite often, in relation to when that student might return after the suspension, families report that in many instances there's been no change to the actual support considerations around the child, there's been no new strategies put in to try and ensure that that doesn't happen again.  And there's a real fear that's expressed in relation to the likelihood of suspension then occurring again, which, as we know, often it does.

MR FRASER:  Turning to you, Ms Sayers, in the context of micro exclusions and suspensions, is there anything you wish to add based on the work undertaken by CYDA?

MS SAYERS:  Yes, thank you.  Only that the evidence that you're hearing today is confirmed by our National Education surveys.  So if we look at our 2019 survey, 16% of students didn't attend school full time, 14% of students had been suspended in the last year and 40% of students had been excluded from events or activities in school in the last year.  So things like camps, sports, excursions.  One example was a class mass at a Catholic school that a student with disability was excluded from.

So some parents on the Education Survey say that they have no choice, because of these behaviours, but to exit the school and to undertake home schooling or distance education.  They really feel that schools have failed them, and therefore they have no other option but to home school or enrol in distance education.

MR FRASER:  Turning back to this room and QAI, and your experience in Queensland, Ms Parker, what do you see as being recurrent themes as to the use of suspensions and exclusionary discipline involving students with disability in Queensland?

MS PARKER:  So, certainly the experience in Queensland State schools mirrors that, unfortunately, in both New South Wales and Victoria.  It's certainly very common, and in the past we've often heard that students with intellectual disabilities and other cognitive impairments have experienced exclusions and suspensions.  In more recent times, the majority have been students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Certainly the experience of parents in Queensland is that there are ongoing multiple suspensions that some students have to endure, and are certainly very common, and I was interested to hear the statistics in Ms Mellifont's opening this morning because that nothing that we haven't heard before, but it's of absolutely no surprise to us that the over representation of students with disability and suspensions and exclusions.

MR FRASER:  Ms O'Flynn, is there anything you wish to add to that?

MS O'FLYNN:  Yes.  When we've been looking at parents who have contacted us around suspensions and exclusions, we've examined the documents and what is a clear pattern is the poor quality of individual education plans which focus only on the students' activities and their progression that fail to name what resources, adaptive methods or accommodations the schools might use, what teaching methods or approaches of the school or environmental changes, and incident reports have total focus on every utterance or movement of the child, but fail to mention any who, where, what, why, what other people have been saying or doing at the time of the incident, or leading up to the incident, and then positive behaviour plans seem to have a reward or consequence focus without any indication of what training might be undertaken for the teacher, what supports or methodologies would be used.  And despite all of this documentation, there's no assurances with students or parents that  
there would be any consequences if the school failed to follow those documents.

What we have noticed, however, is the moment an advocate is engaged, there is a significant change in response from the school and from the Department with better outcomes for students.  So advocacy makes a big difference.

MR FRASER:  Ms Sullivan Elder, following on from the issue of documentation and policies, you refer in your statement to the application   sorry, to the advent of the student discipline in government schools policy in New South Wales.  Can you inform the Commission about what this is and what your experience with it has been?

MS ELDER:  So certainly we've shown students with disabilities are over represented in suspension data and it's clearly concerning.  The policy you're referring to is currently under review.  A new student behaviour strategy has actually just been released.  With this statement, we can say the devil is in the detail, because if you want me to refer back to the old policy, clearly when we look at the data --- and we look at the rate of calls across probably the country, but certainly in New South Wales we know that this policy was failing many, many students across New South Wales.  So we're turning our attention to the NSW Department of Education's work on the reform of these policies and improvements.

We've had, as an advocacy organisation, very limited opportunity to feed into this process.  We've not been approached for direct feedback from families in relation to gauging what their insights would be with this, and certainly it's timely that a review needs to occur, but we would say that within the old and the new policy there should be a very positive approach to supporting students.  It's critical.  We would question whether the word "behaviour" actually needs to be there at all, quite frankly.

Any policies that are going to be developed around this, also for them to be effective and to ensure students get the supports that they need and the considerations, needs to be an unrushed consultation, and, concerningly, it's not occurring.

Families, just touching on Ms Sayers's comments, too, that many families, or not many, but there's a proportion of families out there that especially after things like many, many suspensions that their child's experienced, lack of faith in the system in relation to how their child is being supported, actually do turn to home schooling as a last option.  They often say that they feel that their child is not safe at school, or that their child is not doing anything --- the school is not doing anything different to provide the right support, so they're left in a difficult situation to decide, to actually withdraw their children out of the school and decide to continue the schooling at home.

MR FRASER:  I'll turn now to discussion of complaints mechanisms and complaints processes which you've all touched upon in your statements.  Now, these complaint mechanisms may need to be engaged for any number of reasons, including issues arising out of adjustments, implementation, or otherwise, or the use of suspensions  
and exclusions.

I'll start with QAI.  What do you hear from parents of students with disabilities as some of the issues they face when it comes time to navigate the complaints mechanism if they wish to raise an issue with a school?

Ms Parker?

MS PARKER:  The parents that come to us, their observations are that the Department, when they've gone through a complaints process or, indeed, if we've assisted them through a complaints process, it's often the case that the Department assumes that the school principals and school staff have acted appropriately.  We often see there's a lack of objectivity in the responses from complaints, a lack of accountability, a lack of transparency and a lack of integrity, unfortunately.

And this, actually   what we see actually coincides with what the Director General of the Department of Education included in his response back in June to a draft report of the Crime and Corruption Commission in Queensland.  That was into the allegations relating to the appointment of a school principal and the Director General, in his response to an early draft, stated that he regretted that he didn't more closely supervise his Deputy Director General.  He said that he expected the Deputy Director General would act honestly and consistently with policies and the code of conduct, and he acknowledged the culture in the Department needed addressing.  He also acknowledged that training was needed in integrity, in accountability and in transparency.  And so it just seems as though there's some real cultural issues within the Department, some fundamental issues there.

MR FRASER:  Coming back specifically to complaints processes for parents of students with disabilities, what's your experience been as to the time it takes for complaints to be resolved?

MS PARKER:  It takes a long time.  So I have   and certainly clients or parents of clients have attempted to engage regional office to resolve issues at schools.  There's numerous cases I could bring up, but in one case I have contacted a regional office over a period of about two months with numerous emails, numerous phone messages raising serious issues and the school   the student hasn't been at school in this time, requesting regional office assistance to resolve these, and I've often received virtually no response from those, and certainly nothing resembling resolution of that.

I've been involved in the overturning of exclusion decisions or expulsion decisions when a student may technically be enrolled in a school but they are receiving no education and these have taken many, many months to resolve and so --- and it may be five or six months between the incident that led to an expulsion and the overturning of that decision.  The overturning of the decision may result in a changed decision to a long term suspension of, say, five months, which conveniently coincided with the beginning of the next term but there was no explanation given as to why that was an appropriate period of time.

We've got a client who put in serious allegations to the Queensland Department of Education's Integrity Unit earlier this year and now, some nine months later, has still not received a response to those despite following up numerous times requesting a response.

MR FRASER:  And what sort of impacts do you see on the parents of these students by being involved in the process itself?

MS PARKER:  Yeah, certainly.  I suppose the context to this is that often students with disabilities who have been experiencing issues within the school can suffer quite serious harm and many of our clients have, in terms of their mental health, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide attempts as a result of their treatment and experience at Queensland state schools.  So that's the context and so it's   like the students and the families are already suffering as a result of what's happened.  So to go through a complaints process is, you know, an additional stress on parents.  There's a difficulty of providing evidence because there's, you know, they're not in the school and actually witnessing what's happening so there's a difficulty to provide evidence.  There is this culture of compliance, it seems, where teachers are compliant to principals and the regional office backs the principals.

There's also a dramatic power imbalance.  Individual parents trying to fight the very big Department of Education and we've actually seen correspondence written by lawyers on behalf of Department of Education, which are really quite bullying in nature, and which are inconsistent with the model litigant principles.

So it's a highly emotional, stressful period.  A number of people today have used the word "battle" and that's often a word that we hear from our clients, that these are battles they're having.

MR FRASER:  I might move to you, Ms Sullivan Elder, and the experience of Family Advocacy in New South Wales with respect to parents navigating the complaints process.  Do these stories that you're hearing from Ms Parker, is that consistent or otherwise with the position that you see in New South Wales?

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  Yeah, absolutely.  Very consistent.  Parents tell us the process, too, is quite hit and miss and more than likely by the time a parent gets to the time of needing to actually call an advocacy organisation, they've already tried to resolve the issues happening locally for their sons and daughters.

Parents also share consistently that there is a real issue, in relation to the New South Wales system, in that it investigates itself and there's no independent oversight or involvement at all.  And certainly that complaints are not resolved adequately.  So in some cases, complaints aren't resolved at all, actually, and it may be the choice then of the student and the family that they actually relocate to another school because there's been no means of actually getting to a successful conclusion on behalf of that particular student.

Also, I would share the sentiments in relation to there's a real fear around the consequence to the child when a complaint is raised and some families talk about not wanting to push too hard and they don't want their child to be further disadvantaged for whatever issue's occurring for them at the time.  Lodging a complaint and taking things further, families often don't get fed back on what's actually happened with that complaint, have no further information sought from them, they're left in the dark around where things stand.

And just finishing off, parents do often talk about that power imbalance, so it's absolutely not uncommon for families to turn up for a meeting that's resolved around a complaint and to be there with five, ten staff from that particular school system that are actually then, in many respects, creating a real power imbalance between the parent actually advocating around the rights and the interests of their child and the school and their position on things.

MR FRASER:  Ms Sayer, in terms of CYDA as a national organisation, what are your observations more generally as to what parents feed back to you about complaints mechanisms across schools?

MS SAYERS:  Look, very similar to the Queensland and New South Wales experience, and we note that across States and Territories there's very few mechanisms which are independent where families can get issues resolved.  So they don't feel that the issues will be independently investigated and if they can't resolve the issue at the school, when it goes to the regional office they still have difficulty.  And particularly the allegations of abuse such as restrictive practices, we note that in many cases these are not independently investigated and school systems investigating school systems.

So in most States and Territories there are Commissioners for children or Ombudsmen, but their powers are very inconsistent and often rely on other avenues being investigated first, pursued first.  So often an individual cannot lodge a complaint to an Ombudsman unless they've exhausted feedback complaints mechanisms with the Department first.  So this is compounded by a lack of funding for independent disability advocacy in each of the States and Territories, and in many States there's no funding for education advocacy which can work with families to help resolve these issues.

This, whilst we know advocates across the country have very long waiting lists, we receive many hundreds of calls every year from families looking for help.  So in some States who have got education advocacy like Queensland, like Family Advocacy in NSW, we know if we refer families on they will get help, but there's few jurisdictions that are specific education advocacy.  So that's a real challenge.

MR FRASER:  I might move, just in the interests of time, to a new topic which is transitions beyond school.  So after school, be it to employment or tertiary education.

Staying with you, Ms Sayers, at paragraph 82 of your statement, you refer to a report in 2015 that was commissioned by CYDA, Post School Transition: The Experiences of Students with Disability.

How was that report prepared?

MS SAYERS:  That report was prepared by doing both consultation as well as bringing in academic expertise.

MR FRASER:  So when you say consultation, is it similar to the surveys where you put it out ---

MS SAYERS:  Yes ---

MR FRASER:  --- and then people that wished to respond did so and informed you of their experience?

MS SAYERS:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  And what did that report find were the key issues facing students with disabilities for that transition process after school?

MS SAYERS:  Look, the report told us that many people with disability have extremely poor post school transition experiences, and generally programs and preparation for this transition is fragmented, with minimal coordination and guidance regarding what should occur during this time.

And then in 2019, as if we hadn't done enough surveying, we did another survey on post school transitions for students with disability and that really backed up the findings from the 2015 report, and the majority of respondents in that survey said their school did not provide appropriate information about career planning, they didn't receive adequate support to think about and plan for their future, and they did not find the assistance or information available through their school to be useful or helpful.

MR FRASER:  Ms Sullivan Elder, if I can return to you and the experience of Family Advocacy in New South Wales.  From around paragraph 70 of your statement, you set out some various matters to do with post school transition including, in particular, work experience issues.  Can you tell the Commission about what you've seen in your work arising in that respect?

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  Yes, so families frequently express that work experience pathways aren't actually offered to their child with a disability, and if they are, sometimes they may look like the student actually going and visiting along with other students with disabilities, maybe it might be a local Australian Disability Enterprise, an ADE, or a day service or a disability expo or whatever it may be.  So there seems to be, even though there's supposed to be policies in place around this, a  
real disconnect between students actually getting access to the right pathways around work experience.

Some students have been successful in utilising the work experience pathway in saying that, and that's primarily been due to families working alongside their school, working alongside their child, and actually trying to get some flexibility and adaption into the actual process.  When this does occur, we have some great examples in New South Wales where that student with disabilities has transitioned into adulthood and has had transitioned into a paid job.  However, there's intentional work that needs to happen both with families and also with, you know, education systems with that.

One young man, he was supported by his family to look at some work experience placements and worked with the school.  They changed the normal two week block that most students are supposed to do, or all students are supposed to do.  They took it over two or three terms, they actually made much shorter visits to the workplace, it might be a couple of hours, let's just say, for once a week or a couple of times a week.  They had the right supports, and with all of those ingredients it worked around what the student's needs were, what their career aspirations were, that student went on to work for a couple of the businesses, actually, that he actually did some work experience in over that time.

There's a real gap here, as I've mentioned, and we're currently doing a project in our initiative Resourcing Inclusive Communities that's going to be doing a lot of intentional work with families right from Year 7 through to Year 12 and with students, obviously, and with departments and education systems across New South Wales so we can try and strengthen that and strengthen the outcomes of employment and transition.

MR FRASER:  With respect to Queensland and QAI, Ms O'Flynn, can you tell the Commission about the post school options?  Is it a program, have I got that right, in Queensland?

MS O'FLYNN:  It's actually a post school options expo that seems to be run every year, and it's basically a showcase for day service providers although now under the NDIS they might be a bit more creative, and Australian disability enterprises.  There is very little, as far as tertiary education goes, although it is mainly directed at higher academically achieving students, of course, and the TAFE is seen as the only other option for students with disabilities.  There are a couple of campuses that have some creatively managed courses for students with disabilities with rather lower support needs, otherwise there's the rolling disability studies that some students have attended year upon year, despite the fact that they have jobs and --- but it's more been a way to fill in the rest of their time.  Certainly isn't very creative, and I think the transition planning for students, it mirrors the kind of approach as to how well or not a school or teachers will creatively adapt curriculum, find new ways to deliver meaningful education to students and that they take that approach forward into the planning for post school otherwise you tend to get the same pretty boring recipe for  
the rest of the life.

MR FRASER:  To conclude, I'd like to ask questions about the overall impact on the life journey, as it's said, or life course of a student with disability, and they've received a negative educational experience, for example, through use of suspensions, inclusions or lack of adjustments.

In the experience of the work of CYDA, Ms Sayers, what have you observed to have been the impact on students with disabilities of the process not working well?

MS SAYERS:  Look, we conducted research with Dr Kathy Cologon on inclusive education and she reviewed the evidence of over 400 researchers and journal articles, and she found there are lifelong consequences for students with disability from exclusion.  And when students with disability are not fully included in mainstream schools, their participation in higher education is limited and their employment outcomes are poorer.

There are also significant impacts on students' wellbeing which we note through our survey work, and this is because of educational exclusion discrimination and abuse.  And this results in marginalisation, stigmatisation and social isolation.  So I don't think the mental health impacts can be underestimated.  CYDA member surveys continue to show patterns of these “ableist micro aggressions,” if you like, disempowerment and discrimination faced by children and young people with disability.  And these are likely to have lifelong consequences.

However, when --- students with disability are fully included.  Their educational outcomes are likely to be far better, and the evidence is resounding, for their life outcomes.

MR FRASER:  Back to this room and the experience of QAI from your clients and people that contact you from time to time, what do you see, starting you with, perhaps, Ms Parker, as being what you observe to be the impact of a negative educational experience?

MS PARKER:  We've already heard about the wellbeing, and that's one of the key concerns that I've got.  The mental harm suffered in the formative years when students with disability are rejected, you know, are often suspended, excluded, missing out on those school years, huge issues, as I mentioned earlier, PTSD, anxiety, depression, self harm, even suicide attempts, and I'm certainly no psychological expert and can't speak to it, but I do get concerned about where students are having these issues in their primary and secondary education in those formative years, how that will impact their adulthood.  And perhaps this is something that the DRC will be receiving evidence from, from experts.  But, yeah, I think that's one of the key concerns I have.  Ms O'Flynn can speak to the experience of other services within QAI, what they've experienced.

MR FRASER:  Ms O'Flynn.

MS O'FLYNN:  We have asked clients of our individual services and certainly clients are engaged with our justice support program, so people who have come in contact with the criminal justice system, and clients of our mental health and human rights legal services, who are --- as a result have many impacts on their lives but have roots beginning in their educational experiences, who have had no education, no relationships education, no sex education, who are on forensic orders or indefinite detention, are on voluntary treatment orders.

So I think that if we are applying restrictive practices on children, some as early and as young as 6 and 7 years of age, we see the result of what happens to people by the time they become adults and when we're looking at transitioning people out of indefinite detention, it's hard to imagine what their life could be like without a lot of serious help for many years to come.

The other impact of not having had a good quality inclusive education is that many parents who have really believed in the sales pitch that's been given to them about special education have contacted us in their children's final year complaining that they've just realised their children have done 12 years of special education and don't know anything, aren't equipped for post school life, they're concerned about where they're going to live and the rest of their future.  Some have even reported assaults by teachers, other students, and principals in special education.

MR FRASER:  Ms Sullivan Elder, in respect to the impact on life course, in your experience with clients in your work with the organisation, what are your observations about the impact of a positive or negative education experience?

MS SULLIVAN ELDER:  So certainly I think it's really, really important that we consider the context of what separateness means, and when we're talking about students with disabilities that have travelled through their education years in a separate setting, the expectations are absolutely more often than not very different, and so if we're talking about that cohort of student then travelling into adulthood, as we all do when we leave school, then absolutely more than likely that's then going to look very, very different to the typical student who has had the typical education --- whether it's a student with disability or not, quite frankly --- is going to have a different set of expectations and life journey because of that.

We see this, we see this, it's not an uncommon thing and we see families that have absolutely worked alongside, supported their child to attend regular class and aspire to the many things that we would expect children and then young adults and then adults to aspire to because the expectation has been there.  And unfortunately the special education sector then flows onto the special disability sector and then the special life scenario.  It can't be avoided but it's got to be glaringly obvious in relation to looking at what we're dealing with here.

So when parents go through the system and they advocate, as I said, that there's far better options and if that doesn't happen, certainly when students leave school,  
students with disabilities that have gone through support units or special schools, more than likely it's an Australian disability enterprise which is a sheltered workshop, or it's into a day service.  We get calls from families who have been really clear in supporting their sons and daughters for a good life, all the good things that you would expect, as I said, on that journey piece, and they still get coerced whether it's by the education system or the NDIS or whatever it might be, that this is actually where they should be because of their diagnosis.  It's troubling, and until that's actually addressed, we're not going to see much different of a course for many young people with disabilities across Australia.

MR FRASER:  Thank you.

Now, Commissioners, noting the time, subject to any questions that you may have for the panel before the afternoon adjournment, there's a final video of Alice, who we heard from previously to complete the evidence of this panel.  Before I ask for that to be played and it's document number IND.0056.0001.0002, I note that each of the panel members has provided a statement in which they set out their recommendations for reform and predominantly in the statements, those recommendations are to be found as follows in the statement from QAI from paragraph 95 onwards, for Family Advocacy from paragraphs 148 onwards, and from CYDA from paragraph 131 onwards.

Subject to any questions the Commissioners have, I will ask for the final excerpt from Alice to be played where Alice herself speaks about this being the time for change.  So can we play that video, please.


ALICE:  What I'm trying to get across is that clearly with the system as it currently is, it is wrong to call the disability education sector truly inclusive.  We're all still, as one homogeneous group, held back by the one size fits all ideology.  That is, we all have the same abilities and interests.  It is this approach that's being perpetuated in our schools and our workplaces.  This is the approach that we need to dismantle if we truly want to call our education inclusive.  Still, this inequality is far less when compared to the blatant injustice that many of us still experience even before school starts   the struggle that is the process of enrolment.  It was shown in a Senate inquiry completed in 2016 that many schools refuse or subtly try to turn away students with disabilities on the grounds that they cannot provide the student appropriate education because of the "special needs" or any "challenges" that might occur with that student.  My own parents had to put forward a case to justify my so called "mainstream" primary school enrolment, but it can't stop getting your name on a roll and someone to help you out in class.

It is my hope that if we begin to act now, the foundations of that metaphorical wall will be shattered, and no student will ever have to experience the annoyance and the  
blatant ignorance of the one size fits all approach.  It's time to lift the veil.  It is not enough to treat us like people.  It's time to treat us as individuals.  Thank you for your time and listening.


CHAIR:  Yes.  Thank you, Mr Fraser.  I will just inquire whether any Commissioners have any questions.

First, I shall ask Commissioner Atkinson.


CHAIR:  Commissioner Mason?


CHAIR:  And Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  No, thank you, I'm fine.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.

Thank you, Ms O'Flynn, Ms Parker, Ms Sayers, Ms Elder, thank you for your evidence and for your very detailed statements which we have read, and for coming to give evidence in the panel today.  We do appreciate your contributions to the Commission and I would like to add our particular thanks to Alice for her contribution she has made through that video, and her compelling explanation of what she expects out of the education system.  We're grateful for Alice for doing that.  Thank you.


Are we now, Mr Fraser, to take a short adjournment?

MR FRASER:  If it's convenient, until 3.25 Queensland time, 4.25 other time.

CHAIR:  Even if it's not convenient, we shall take an adjournment until 3.25 Queensland time.  Thank you.

ADJOURNED    [3.05 PM]


RESUMED    [3.25 PM]

CHAIR:  Ms Bennett, I think you're going to take Dr Armstrong's evidence?  No doubt you will as soon as you turn on your button so we can hear you.

MS BENNETT:  Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  Welcome back.

Dr Armstrong, thank you very much for giving evidence.  We just forget to push the right button at the moment but we've done that now.  Thank you for coming and giving evidence, and I would be grateful if you would follow the instructions, please, of Commissioner Atkinson's associate who will deliver the affirmation to you.


CHAIR:  Dr Armstrong, Ms Bennett will now ask you some questions.


MS BENNETT:  Thank you, Chair.

Dr Armstrong, have you made a statement for the Royal Commission dated 16 September 2020?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Correct, yes.

MS BENNETT:  And that statement is 24 pages long?


MS BENNETT:  Could you tell the Commission your full name and professional address?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Yes, my name is David Joseph Armstrong, and my address is --- my professional address is RMIT School of Education, Building 220, Bundoora Campus, Plenty Road, Melbourne, Victoria.

MS BENNETT:  Are the contents of your statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

DR ARMSTRONG:  They are.

MS BENNETT:  Thank you, Dr Armstrong.

Dr Armstrong, can you tell us about your academic background.

DR ARMSTRONG:  Yes.  I was a specialist teacher in the UK for 13 years.  I started by setting up a service for excluded children and young people working with Manchester City Council, and I ran, led a unit working with the young homeless, big issue in the north, for four years and then for eight years I was an inclusion officer in the UK in a multi campus high school serving deprived areas of inner city Manchester, UK.

I moved to Australia, emigrated to Australia in 2012 and led a teacher, initial teacher led program at the University of South Australia, and worked at Flinders University and now I am Program Manager and Senior Lecturer in Inclusion at RMIT University, Melbourne.

MS BENNETT:  Thank you.  And in your current role, you teach future teachers, is that right?


MS BENNETT:  Yes.  And what do you teach them about disability services?

DR ARMSTRONG:  I teach them that these are an essential part of their role as a teacher, and students have --- all the students I teach have a strong background in inclusion, in understanding and being able to apply inclusion in their practice, but I also work with students who have elected to do a specialist stream on disability studies, and they receive more sophisticated and advanced knowledge around things like PBIS, positive behaviour intervention and supports, and also a specialist unit on working with disability services, where they get to learn about working with people like occupational therapists and other allied professionals.

MS BENNETT:  All right.  I'd like to ask you a little bit about how those concepts work in a mainstream classroom.  So Dr Armstrong, is it fair to say that an orderly classroom is important to deliver education?

DR ARMSTRONG:  It is.  A calm and purposeful behavioural environment is really important for all children because it reduces the anxiety and also through good modelling and a good environment, children can learn the correct conduct that will help them succeed and grow into adults.

MS BENNETT:  What does your research tell you about the usual method or the most common method currently used to bring about an orderly classroom in Australia, and to attempt to bring about an orderly classroom in Australia?

DR ARMSTRONG:  I can't see a method.  There really is no method.  There is just whatever custom happens to be in the school.  Whatever the person, bits they've picked up, that kind of usually don't work.  I've called it   characterised it as a "managed and discipline" model where outdated ideas about behaviour management from the 1970s are kind of applied, you know, ad hoc, piecemeal.  They usually don't work and then oftentimes the teacher either abandons them or tries to apply them   apply sanctions, as they don't work, so we have discipline applied.  Then that fails and makes things worse quite usually.

Students in my --- to my research, my knowledge also in practice, students with disabilities are most disadvantaged by this model, this poor model.

MS BENNETT:  I'd just like to unpack what that model involves for a moment.  So what are the assumptions that dominate what you call the "manage and discipline" model?

DR ARMSTRONG:  That children's behaviour can be controlled and managed as though they were a stock item in an inventory, you know, in your pantry.  And that usually doesn't work and --- or even backfires because the student will respond by --- against the control and will rebel quite often or become demotivated by it.  And then quite often the teacher, professional, if they carry on applying it --- often they don't, they just give up --- but if they carry on applying it, it will escalate what could have been smaller behaviours into bigger problems.  So you get a cycle of --- an ineffective cycle, a self sustaining negative cycle.

So the teacher sees it's not working, becomes demotivated, and we know from the research around teacher dropout that many teachers cite poor behaviour as the reason they leave the profession early, and by applying these particular practices they will feel like that because there are far better, more modern practices that we can use but many teachers are simply not aware of them.

MS BENNETT:  I want to come to those in a moment but before we do, can you explain to the Commissioners how that "manage and discipline" model affects students with disability in particular?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, there are things --- basically what happens is you have a child with disability who doesn't fit the norms, behavioural norms quite often there are either false attributions made about those behaviours, so he or she is doing it on purpose.  So for example, Jack, the boy you mentioned who had the ---

MS BENNETT:  Yes, he was mentioned in the opening.

DR ARMSTRONG:  --- Tourette syndrome, someone like him, he was doing it on purpose, he actually wasn't, it was an involuntary tick that he had, and there is an accommodation that is different from the norm by teachers, and then they respond negatively to that.  Jack ends up, like many students, becoming - feeling disengaged and disillusioned, and he's excluded bit by bit into the micro exclusions that were  
talked about earlier by Nikki and Cecile, and we have things like self exclusion where students will simply stop attending school, and their parents will elect not to send them anymore, and they will go into things like a big policy list of flexible learning options which is used increasingly for students like Jack who are pushed out of the mainstream, and they either go to special schools or they go to flexible learning options which have been rolled out across states in South Australia, and are regionally being rolled out across Australia, money is being syphoned into it, lots of money, because the mainstream system has simply been excluding students like Jack.

So the "manage and discipline" model is part of that inadequate process of responding - meeting kids' behavioural needs, part of that failure, and oftentimes when we see children like Jack and others, it's failed, the practice has failed.  And we see the suspensions, exclusions or self exclusions where a student simply stops attending as a result of that.  I see them as failures.

MS BENNETT:  You refer to that in your statement as a sort of feedback loop.  Can you suggest to the Commissioners what alternatives there might be for how to respond to a child in that situation?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, first of all, we need to think about - there are a range of evidence based strategies that teachers can use.  One of the simplest, really, is to learn to see patterns in student behaviour and principles of what's called functional behaviour assessment, which is a cognitive behavioural - part of the cognitive behavioural suite of strategies that teachers use, very strong evidence based, to look at what   because all behaviours by humans communicate internal states that we have. And there are some basic internal states; revenge, escape, and others that we have, and when we see children trying to escape from work, that should be, for example, where we see the pencil sharpening around the periphery of the classroom and children will be excessively pencil sharpening in primary schools just to get away from work.  Rather than seeing that, or this process, rather than seeing it as some sort of moral failing by a child, or a naughty child, levelled at them like that, we should say, "Why are they wanting to do that?  What's that behaviour about?  What's the function of that behaviour?"  And we look for functions of behaviour in an evidence based approach, because those reveal what's going on with the child, and that can help us bring in the appropriate and effective strategies and supports to address that child's behavioural needs and also pretty much meet their academic needs, too.  Because quite often, children in school show these sorts of behaviours to escape because they may have work set for them, academic work, that is too easy or too hard.  So we need to adjust, we need to differentiate, and set the work at the right level to meet their academic needs so they don't become disengaged and demotivated.

CHAIR:  Dr Armstrong, I'm sorry to interrupt.  Commissioner Sackville here.  I'm very interested in what you are saying.  It's a very big step from identifying that something that has been used historically or even right now is misconceived in some way.  The big step is, how can the problem be overcome and addressed better?  I understand the points that you're making; what I would be interested in is, what does  
it mean in the case of a particular student?  You can take an example like Jack and you can give Jack whatever characteristics you want in order to explain this.  But if you have someone like Jack with Tourette syndrome, and perhaps another set of problems, how would your approach, how would that work on someone like Jack?  What sort of resources would you need?  What kind of training would teachers need?  What allocation of funds would enable this to work?  They're the sorts of things that we have to grapple with.

DR ARMSTRONG:  Thanks, Chair.  It's very, very simple.  It costs nothing.  It is called attitudes towards Jack.  It doesn't cost a cent.  It's how we see Jack, we don't have to put any financial value to that one, but it's how we see Jack.  So rather than seeing Jack as making his noises wilfully and somehow being a problem or having a deficit, we use it as an educational thing, to talk to other children in the class, and to talk to them about accepting difference in other students like Jack.  I would also work with Jack's - and this is where some money might come in - we would work with Jack's parents to make sure that Jack was feeling valued and wasn't feeling excluded in this case. So that would be a little extra time for the teacher, of course, but I think that a fair part of the teacher's role is to make sure that all the kids in the class, including ones like Jack, are learning and progressing.

But the attitudinal stuff, you know, how we see children like Jack, would cost nothing.  There's no money needed for that.  And I think that's the point I'd like to make, Commissioner, really, this is about cultural and attitudinal change as much as dollars or extra training.  And we've had a few studies done in the area of special ed.  People think there's some special skills that somehow, I have to do lots of extra - spend lots of resources to get these – when actually the changes that are needed are very, very simple and people who work with kids like Jack successfully, often it's very simple, practical things, such as asking Jack how his day is, and such - as valuing Jack for all his contributions he makes which costs nothing, have no - and don't actually require any special skills, but do require tolerance and empathy and compassion and realism, quite often.

CHAIR:  Where's the best example where this has been tried and worked?

DR ARMSTRONG:  I can, actually.  Do you like research?

CHAIR:  I'd be interested to see where it's actually worked.

DR ARMSTRONG:  I actually refer to the two documents which I sent to you, one of which was a chapter on   called Project X, and I talk through all the values - and that was a highly successful project that I was asked to evaluate in South Australia, an extremely successful project.

What they did is they - children went there for three days a week to receive nurture group training, nurture group support, which is a promising evidence base, actually, and through that nurturing environment, their broken relationships with adults were basically repaired.  They were taught how to have relationships with adults because  
many of those kids had foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and other severe difficulties with behaviour, had never had successful relationships with adults, so they were taught, nurtured explicitly how to do that.

The staff talk about how they practically did that, about the values they had and about how they carried it out in their own practice.

For example, I refer to the case of Adam - I think it's Adam.  No, the young boy in Project X in the chapter I sent you, who turned up and had been terrified in his bathroom all night, due to domestic concern about his welfare at home. And the really excellent teacher who talked to me about his experience said when he came into the project he was late.  Rather than sanction him and say "You are late", what they did is - they asked him what had happened, and he explained how he'd been terrified and locked himself in the bathroom all night, and how nevertheless he'd come in. And rather than sending him to work straight away and saying "Right, we want you to meet the academic goal that other children here do", what they did is, this is what they told me, this is really successful practice, they said okay, they gave him a toothbrush, a drink, gave him some food, he got two hours' sleep on a beanbag in the corner, and then once he was up, he was ready for learning.

Now that flexibility around seeing a child in crisis and seeing a child who has a need, is   it's an attitudinal thing.  It's about having flexibility in practice, and in your relationships with kids, really, and seeing what's realistic.  That's absolutely crucial.

So it's about schools being more flexible about kids' needs, and there's an example there of a child, rather than saying --- I'll just go through it again.  Rather than saying "No, we want you to start straight away, the school day has started", they recognised he'd had a crisis at home, this child, and they got his basic needs met, so he got a toothbrush, he got some food, brush his teeth, have some food, curled up on a beanbag for two hours, and then when he'd had some sleep and had his basic needs met, then he was ready for learning.

Other schools would not have done that and they would have brought in disciplinary measures.  They would have said "You're late to school, what's happened", so that whole negative process would have been gone through rather than practical flexibility, really practical flexibility.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Dr Armstrong.  I think I better let Ms Bennett resume the questions.

MS BENNETT:  Not at all, Chair.  I just want to unpack some of the concepts, though, because I think flexibility we can well understand and we'll come to curriculum adjustment in a moment.  But you mentioned a cognitive behavioural strategy known as "functional behaviour assessment".


MS BENNETT:  Is that something that you've seen rolled out in teacher training?  Is that a psychological concept that needs to be followed into teacher training or is it part of teacher training?  What is it?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, on page 9, I've done a hierarchy of evidence based approaches based on the literature and this is based on big studies done in the US where PBIS - positive behaviour intervention - and supports have been rolled out across thousands of schools successfully ---

MS BENNETT:  Dr Armstrong, I'll just ask you to slow down a little bit for our interpreters.

DR ARMSTRONG:  So assessments have been done of what's effective in terms of behavioural strategies, and I've done for the Commission on page 9 of my witness statement, I've done a table with "Table 1: Behavioural interventions".  Now, this is based on research about what's effective, what's a hierarchy, what's effective.

Now I successfully teach functional behaviour assessment, which is the top one there, FBA, to students, and that's a really simple process to start with.  There are some challenges if you do the more complex versions of that, but you can do a really simple version of that, which is about noticing patterns in kids' behaviour through simple observational techniques, and then that gives you an idea of what's motivating them, and then your support that you bring in can be personalised to that child's needs and so, you know, we look at what motivates kids.  And quite often, for example, attention might be one of the motivators for kids' behaviours.  Me, me, me, okay.

MS BENNETT:  How would teachers --- I'm sorry.


MS BENNETT:  How will teachers work out what intervention responds to what trigger?

DR ARMSTRONG:  You come up with a working hypothesis, a scientific method, and then you manipulate that variable.  So for example, if you give a child attention, you'd watch their behaviours carefully if you think it's attention they're after, and then in another situation you wouldn't give them attention and you'd watch their behaviour very, very carefully.  What happens?  What's the difference?  And that tests your hypothesis, which is a best guess.

MS BENNETT:  Trial and error, is that right?

DR ARMSTRONG:  It's a little bit more than that.  You test it out.  You give them attention.  If you think they need attention, give them attention and watch their behaviour carefully.  Then in another situation, say the next day, don't give them attention, watch their behaviour carefully.  What happens?  What are they doing?   
And where is it happening?  And then you use what you see, that's the data, and that would be manipulation, you'd be able to say "My best guess is correct" or maybe "It's not, I need to try something else out".

And if it's attention, then you can say "Okay, what do I need to do to teach this child about how to gain attention", and the basics we know about behaviour is we cannot stop the underlying need of the behaviour.  If that child needs attention we can't stop them needing attention, but what we can do --- and this is a teachable bit for teachers, it's really important --- we can teach them how to get it in an appropriate way.  And that's the value of the work now that you can then do with the child to change that behaviour permanently.  Because that's an important, you know, self regulation, not seeking attention through, you know, through your behaviours is an important, you know, that's an important skill for some kids to learn.

We know, for example, kids with things like ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, often they will have difficulty; basically their self regulation will be an issue.  So they could particularly benefit from that kind of work, that kind of --- and it's a teachable moment, it's an important skill you're teaching kids there.

MS BENNETT:  So Dr Armstrong, a behaviour assessment might be one way you identify an intervention.  One of the interventions you talk about in your statement you call positive behaviour support ---


MS BENNETT:  --- can you briefly explain to the Commissioners what you mean by that?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Yes.  This is a big evidence based approach from the US and it involved the whole school, so it's not an individual teacher. In fact, it's school wide.  George Sugai and colleagues who are researchers over there, and the American Government has put in $700 million to make this happen in American schools because of their IDA legislation, where schools are not allowed to throw out students or exclude students unless they've used evidence based approaches in the classroom.  PBIS is one of those that has a strong evidence base, but it involves the whole school adopting positive behavioural norms and encouraging positive behaviours at every aspect of the school culture has to do that.  So it's a cultural, whole school change ---

MS BENNETT:  All right, so ---

DR ARMSTRONG: --- where you --- go on.

MS BENNETT:  Just to unpack that a little.  What if a child is being violent or antisocial, how does a school respond positively to that?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, I always say if they're behaving violently, what have you done before that?  Why has an escalation been allowed to happen to get to that stage?   
This should have been dealt with in the first indications.  And the idea about PBIS is that you motivate positive behaviours and you de incentivise negative behaviours in everything the school does.  So when that they do occur, they're less severe --- this is what research says --- so less violent behaviours, not severe violence, less severe. Also you are de incentivising kids, you're using positive praise to reinforce the good behaviours kids can have and you're de incentivising the bad ones.

So obviously, you know, there will be occasions where violence occurs inevitably but really, it's about bringing those down, and PBIS decreases the severity when they do happen, and also makes it, encourages, an adoption of positive behaviours.

Now how we use praise can be very effective in doing that.  If it's used carefully, judiciously, you can also develop strong relationships with kids.

Now we know, again, from a research evidence, teachers who have strong relationships with kids, kids respect them, are more likely to comply and have positive behaviours with that teacher in that environment.  We learn that from the research.

So there are plenty of tools in our armoury to respond in better ways than suspended kids, excluding them, and all of these are teachable moments.

MS BENNETT:  And is it practical in a classroom of 25 students to be able to observe the functions of behaviour and respond individually and positively in the way that you're suggesting?

DR ARMSTRONG:  It's essential and very simple, actually.  You should know your kids relatively well.  You should get to know your kids relatively well, and you should be watching for   you should be watching out for behaviours.  It's called group alert and overlapping ---  I won't go into the detail, but good teachers do that all the time intuitively, and strong teachers, and also you should be setting up your whole classroom environment so that kids have clear rules and norms, but bear in mind what you're doing, and there are basic things you can do as well, like not responding to triggers, like when kids can be trying to trigger you to get a response, recognising that and going, "Deep breath, hang on, I think I know what's going on here".  Okay, I'm not going to rise to this possible prompt for me to respond because some children may crave negative attention through attention seeking behaviours.

CHAIR:  Dr Armstrong, what if they create negative attention by being violent to another student?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Okay, well, look, what I've said should decrease that, actually, it should decrease the chance of that happening.

CHAIR:  It should decrease it, but what do you do in the meantime, Dr Armstrong?

DR ARMSTRONG:  You have to be aware that that can happen.  There are always  
chances where the violence is going to happen, but it's how you respond to it.  For example, do you respond quickly and forcefully, or do you freeze because you don't know what to do, or do you simply throw the kids out, which can make things worse.  You've got to assess the situation and that's a good teacher who will do that.

CHAIR:  I understand you wouldn't want to make things worse, and I understand that you don't want to adopt a punitive or disciplinary approach.


CHAIR:  My question is, really, what do you do in a situation where violence continues notwithstanding the best efforts of a teacher?  You're making certain assumptions about the abilities of teachers that may or may not apply to all teachers, but assume a good faith teacher trying to do his or her best, what happens when the behaviour of that kind continues?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, you have to look at what's driving the behaviour.  I'd be looking at the home environment, if it's violence, and also the child needs to be taught how to communicate in more effective ways so they get what they need.  For example, I'll give you an example, actually.  There are children with certain sorts of disabilities who may resort to violent behaviours to get attention, to get food.  I'm thinking biting, for example.  So let's work on that example.  So this is why they're doing it, because they can't communicate.  So you teach them how to communicate.  So, rather than bite you, they will let you know that they're hungry.  And that often, to kids with disabilities, that work is not being done enough.

I've been in settings where I know the work needs to be done with the kid, I can watch the behaviours because I can see they need to be taught to communicate.  If they're taught to communicate they can get what they want without expressing it with violence.  But that work needs to be done, and that's complex work to do with things like occupational therapy, to do speech and language therapies and others.  But it's essential work.

And there is always a tension there, I'll be honest with you, Chair, there is always  tension between short and long term work you do with a student.  Obviously, if they're doing dangerous things you may have to bring them out of the classroom temporarily while that urgent work is being done, working on their communication skills, but that's not an excuse ever, and I will say this --- and I've worked in environments that have been like that, I tell you, where you would normalise that and say "I just respond by 'There might be violence' so I will respond with sanctions", or the first thing I will do is respond with sanctions, and often     (overspeaking)    

CHAIR:  I think we better let Ms Bennett ---

MS BENNETT:  What I was going to ask is, you talk in your statement about suspensions as a response.  I want to ask you about that.  Is suspension a response that sometimes is necessary to respond to students' behaviour in a classroom?

DR ARMSTRONG:  It should be avoided really if at all possible, really, really, really, and it should be used as a pause.  And as the Chair was just saying, if there's a situation where a child is a danger to themselves, or to others, as the Chair was just responding, in a situation like that, it is possibly appropriate to bring them out while things are sorted out, to find out what support they need, and quite often, to be frank, it's happening because the schools have not done stuff a lot earlier and have not intervened a lot earlier and brought that support in, so things have reached a crisis pitch.  And in some cases, there are children who are being suspended because teachers simply don't know what to do with them and don't have the right, don't feel confident.

MS BENNETT:  Is there any guidance in the literature about the length of a suspension for particularly young children?

DR ARMSTRONG:  There isn't.  However, I would suggest that it should be no more than 48 hours for that pause to, you know, for assessments to be done and for finding out what's happened to occur because obviously with younger children, that withdrawal is having a bigger impact on them developmentally.  Bringing them out of a classroom, a very young child, I think in preschool or starting primary, you know, that is quite a very serious thing to do for a child, and we know as people have previously referred to today, that in some cases kids are out of school for months under suspensions, weeks and months, even, and I think that's totally unacceptable, really.

MS BENNETT:  Well, all right, and let me ask you a little bit about changing the curriculum for students in a way that helps them with different needs.  You talked about differentiation and I want to talk to you about that briefly.  Because again, it seems on the face of it to be a quite time consuming basis, is that right?

DR ARMSTRONG:  No, two things.  It's an essential part of being a competent teacher that you can set work at different levels, and how --- we know developmentally children vary.  Even within one class, you think about how many kids you will have.  You will have kids who are on the younger end of that year and kids who are on the older end and in Australian schools kids are even kept back some times, and they are significantly older so you have to set work.  You cannot set work all at the same level, and that is a huge way to have a good behavioural environment, is to set extension tasks, so kids who are streaking ahead have something to do, and --- so they feel they're engaged.

That's an essential part, really, of being a teacher.  It shouldn't be an add on, really, at all.  And it's often quite simple to do.  You set little extra tasks so kids who are ahead can do something gainful, and also for kids who are having more difficulties, you simply set --- talk to them about what they need and set work at their level, and that should be an everyday part of what you do, where you're constantly assessing how kids are progressing and what they need.  That's a core part of being a teacher, I think, really.

MS BENNETT:  I was going to ask you about that.  It's fair that children change fairly dramatically over time and fairly dramatically, is that right?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Yes, they do.  You have to be responsive.

MS BENNETT:  How often should teachers be reviewing how they're carrying out this process?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, looking, it's called formative assessment is one of the technical terms used, and people who advocate for formative assessment would be saying "You should be doing that all the time, you're interacting with kids, find out where they're out, what they're up to".

MS BENNETT:  Dr Armstrong, I will ask you to slow down a little.

DR ARMSTRONG:  Yes.  So formative assessment is one of the ways that you should be doing it all the time as a teacher, really, to assess where the kids' progress is, how they are proceeding with the work, the academic work.

For every --- for a child who has a high level of needs, I would do a weekly assessment, quick call in, and that doesn't have to be a very big time consuming thing.  It can be a quick check in with a child and/or their parents to see how things are  

MS BENNETT:  Does it need to be documented?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, we have individual education plans and individual learning plans, same thing and   who   which are documents, of course of legal statements, you use documents to document what's happening with the child, and there's a variant of that called the behaviour support plan, which is where there's been cause for concern for a kid's behaviour, and you document what's been done.  Those can be very useful.  There are some limitations with them, picked up by the literature, where they're saying, just for instance, a bureaucratic form filling exercise where there should really be a living, useable plan about what you're going to do, how you're going to have a responsive child, and that the child's also involved with constructing, so they feel some agency in their own learning.  So if they're involved, and there's an issue, they are actually talking about how they can be involved in growing and learning and meeting their own needs.

But, you know, the auditable nature of documents means that quite often they're not as effective as they should be, and quite often they're filed away and not used and changed and adapted as circumstances present.

MS BENNETT:  So recording and writing is less important than actually doing, is that a fair summary?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Absolutely.  That's a great summary.

MS BENNETT:  You've identified a number of concepts. If I understand your evidence, they should be part of every teacher's toolbox.  There's behaviour assessments, there's differentiation, there's positive behaviour support, and it's your evidence, Dr Armstrong, that they should be part of every teacher's approach to teaching, is that right?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Correct.  They're a modernisation of practice, away from custom.  Yes.

MS BENNETT:  As a teacher who teaches teachers, to what extent are they part of training Australian teachers at the moment?

DR ARMSTRONG:  The research that has been done say that it's ad hoc.  Some sectors are extremely good, really, really good, and others are less so.

Quite often, I feel --- I recommend quite strongly that they should be evidence based, teaching future teachers to use evidence based practices is an essential core part of preparing them to be teachers, and a lot of the problems we've seen today and we will probably see over the week, some of those, at least, stem from the fact that teachers are not prepared and they're not confident to respond to kids' behaviour, and so I think they're an essential element of teacher preparation, and should be written into the accreditation of initial teacher ed   teacher education degrees.

MS BENNETT:  They're not presently part of teacher accreditation, is that your understanding?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, they're increasingly so, but not presently.  And AITSL professional standards do refer to behaviour, and that teachers need to respond to challenging behaviour.  As the Chair was pointing out, it does occur and teachers need to be prepared for that.  But they're not given the evidence based tools that I can see, and the research suggests, in teacher ed degrees yet.  So that should be --- that could be a really positive change.

MS BENNETT:  It's a lot for teachers, so, Dr Armstrong, can you tell us what sorts of supports they need to be able to implement this suite of strategies that you've identified?

DR ARMSTRONG:  They need to know what they are, so they can name them, and they need to be given examples, practical examples, like with children such as Jack and Adam and other children, I give lots of vignettes to show how they really work, based on real kids, as far as I can.  And they need to, yeah, they need to see to have the confidence to use them, and they need to be fully supported by the culture of the school and by the leadership of the school.  We know that's essential.

One of the downsides of PBIS that I mentioned earlier was many schools, it appears  
in America, after adopting it, and it's working, then go back to the old habits of just custom and practice and whatever they used, whatever they can find, or they think works.  And also things like the three strikes and zero tolerance politicised approaches have made that worse, and made it very impossible to use more enlightened and progressive and evidence based approaches to behaviour.

MS BENNETT:  These approaches need a significant degree of engagement and positive engagement from teachers, don't they?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Yeah, yes, I guess so, yes, they do.  And they need leadership.

MS BENNETT:  And the reason, why I hone in on this, is that a reduction in teacher stress is also --- and you identify this in your statement, that we need to support teachers so we're not just adding to their burden, we're reducing their stress so that they can engage with students in a positive way.  Can you tell the Commissioners a bit about how that might realistically be achieved?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Okay, there's a misconception here.  The majority of problem behaviour that teachers encounter, thankfully, is not violence.  That is still relatively rare, thankfully, in Australia and in other countries like Australia, like the UK.  It gets in the headlines and the newspapers, but the much bigger part of the iceberg is the minor transgressions that get under teachers' skin.  For example, these are called disruptive behaviours, that's what we know them as.  So, for example, non compliance, children not completing work, coursework in class.  Children wasting time, gossiping, all these minor transgressions.  These are much more, we know from the research, much more problematic for the teachers particularly over the long term, because these add to the anxiety of teachers who are trying --- in an increasingly results driven education system, NAPLAN and others, trying to get kids through this.

So this is adding to their stress load, and we know from occupational research about the impact of that, the high number of claims made on insurance with teachers who are going off sick citing occupational stress.  Behaviour, we know from the research, is cited as one of the top, if not the top concerns teachers have, and leads to burnout.  And my concern, actually, is not violence in schools so much as burnt out teachers who are worn down by years of stress and are unable to give their kids a positive learning experience, and are getting sicker and sicker, and that's a real concern.  I think there's a need for a national initiative on that federal level to reduce teacher stress.

MS BENNETT:  What might that look like?  What are the elements of it?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, we know what's worked in the past.  One of the interesting elements that I've been self exploring is using materials from cognitive behavioural therapy, which is CBT, which is used to help teachers have more resilience to stress, and that needs, I think that's a really important area, really, for working with teachers to reduce   increase their resilience, psychological resilience,  
and make them more aware of when those stressful behaviours, triggers happen, and how to deal with that in a way that keeps their long term welfare --- it's really important because we've got too many teachers who are becoming sick and dropping out of teaching, quitting the profession early.  It's a major problem, a major public issue.

MS BENNETT:  Thank you, Dr Armstrong.

Chair, Commissioners, that concludes the evidence I propose to lead from Dr Armstrong, save for tendering his statement and exhibits which I neglected to do at the outcome.  Are there any other matters the Commissioners would like to raise?

CHAIR:  I'll ask Commissioner Atkinson.

Do you have any questions?


COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  I could probably talk to you for another hour, but one question I would like to ask is if --- you're talking about the experience in America and how this is being tried and then schools drop back into the old way, if it's so successful, why on earth would they do that?  Does it suggest that it’s not perhaps quite as easy as you would want to suggest?

DR ARMSTRONG:  We all have our habits and they do exert a strong pull on us.  Some of them are good and some of them are not so good, and the not so good ones can pull us back, too, and unfortunately in some schools, that appears to happen.  The old habits, they die hard, they don't go away, come back to haunt you and people find the way of doing things, "We've always done it like that so let's carry on doing it like that".  That inertia, social conservatism, seems to be pulling schools back plus a bigger lead, zero tolerances which are contradicting.  We've got on the one hand results driven schools and that conservatism, and then we've got on the other the forces that are trying to modernise education system and we have this tension, this pull back between zero tolerance policies which are completely the opposite of PBIS, and then PBIS is trying to be brought in, so we've got this mixed, very mixed policy background, one pulling one way and one pulling the other, and that means that some schools, unfortunately, gravitate one way, even though the evidence says this is the way to do it we know --- I mean I won't mention COVID, but evidence based health policy doesn't always win out, unfortunately, and evidence based education policy doesn't always win out, I'm afraid.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  All right.  Okay, second question is you're talking about teacher training and you're obviously involved in that, does that way of training teachers happen at your university and then has that been implemented in schools where they work?

DR ARMSTRONG:  I teach --- right now I'm, in fact, my students are actually watching this as part of their learning about PBIS.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  I should be meaner to you then, much meaner.

DR ARMSTRONG:  I said, please watch ---

CHAIR:  I hope they're getting the right lessons, Dr Armstrong.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  Can you give me some positive feedback?

DR ARMSTRONG:  I think they're getting a really good learning from this, actually.  These issues are not often enough talked about and dealt with in schools and that's part of the issue.  It's a tricky, complex issue and it is, and it's a hard one to deal with and it's systemic, quite often, in schools but nonetheless important and I tell my --- the students I teach, do learn a full base of evidence, do learn a full tranche of evidence (unclear) about what you use, and I model it and we do all that with them.

However, my concern is when we go into schools, I'm not there then, I don't have control over what happens and often they don't either and the leadership of a school may have certain views about behaviour that don't --- are not evidence based and win out and that's, you know, that's, unfortunately, some of the issues that you will be talking about this week, I'm sure, and today, maybe in some of those types of schools where the culture is not as supportive and things are not so good.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  So is the answer to my question, yes, you do teach it but as far as its implementation is concerned, perhaps not so good?

DR ARMSTRONG:  That's a perfect summation, Commissioner, yes.


CHAIR:  Thank you.  Commissioner Mason?

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  That's very positive behaviour support to me, thank you.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Mason, do you have any questions?


CHAIR:  And Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Yes, I'd like to follow up, please, Commissioner Atkinson's question.  Just about school leadership and, you know, how one does change that and the role of the professional development and continuing education  
and re educating teachers who have been taught the old way?

DR ARMSTRONG:  Well, we talked about workplace stress, didn't we, earlier on, and we keep getting every so often in the media and research, there are quite often quite scary figures about school principals, sickness and high stress and high attrition rates of school principals that keep coming into the news.  It is very, very stressful, you know, senior school leadership can be very stressful.

One of the things that does appear to be useful, some interesting ideas here about that, teachers look to school leaders for, like the research says about modelling positive behaviours, but they also, the leaders, teacher school leaders, also need support from their staff.  So it's a two way thing.  And I think initiatives on stress, some of the targeted ones should certainly be on school leadership to give them some of the techniques and support they might need to deal with their extremely stressful job quite often.

We also haven't talked about, and it's a bigger issue, but about the policy agenda that school leaders often have to deal with and how that can make their job so much more complex and challenging; things like NAPLAN, enacting NAPLAN, My School, I'm not going to go on about those huge pieces of policy in the landscape.  But certainly can we reduce some of these, frankly sometimes a little bit absurd, expectations on school leaders to enact some of these policies that are not well designed and often have unintended negative consequences.

So I think if we can lessen their load and up the support for them, both within school community and outside, too, because, remember, they're part of society, too, school leaders, I think that would give them a huge boost in terms of being able to deal with some of the challenging situations they find themselves in every day making decisions about kids.

There is no easy answer, though, of course, to that and that's even a wider societal change about how we value schools and I'm hoping that maybe COVID and lockdown has perhaps changed, positive attitudes changed slightly how people perceive teachers.

CHAIR:  On that positive note, I think, Dr Armstrong, we might stop.  I just had one question that I should resist asking but I will nonetheless.  I understand the word "textural" and I understand the word "pedagogy".  What is textural pedagogy?


CHAIR:  Briefly, if you can.

DR ARMSTRONG:  How to better teach textbooks set on the syllabus.  So, if you have, say, Emily Bronti, you want to teach Emily Bronti, one of her novels, how to better teach that in your English syllabus.

CHAIR:  Right, thank you.  Now I understand.  Thank you.

DR ARMSTRONG:  I was an English teacher by trade before I became an inclusion special ed type person.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Well, thank you for giving evidence.  Thank you for your statement.  It's been a very stimulating discussion and like Commissioner Atkinson, we would not have any difficulty continuing it for at least another hour.  But we do have to stop and thank you very much for your contribution, Dr Armstrong.  We appreciate it.

DR ARMSTRONG:  I'm honoured.  Thank you.

MS BENNETT:  Chair, Dr Armstrong's statement is at Tender Bundle B Volume 1, Tab 1 and the attachments are at Tender Bundle D Volume 2, so if the Chair see to mark them 7.11 through to 7.11.5.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms Bennett, we will do that.




CHAIR: Does that conclude our work for today?

MS BENNETT:  It does, and I understand that the next order is to suggest that the Chair adjourn until 10.00 am Queensland time tomorrow.

CHAIR:  We shall adjourn until 10.00 am Queensland time tomorrow.  Thank you.