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Report - Public hearing 7 - Barriers experienced by students with disability in accessing and obtaining a safe, quality and inclusive school education and consequent life course impacts

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Report of Public hearing 7 - Barriers experienced by students with disability in accessing and obtaining a safe, quality and inclusive education and consequent life course impacts


The Disability Royal Commission held a public hearing in October 2020 in Brisbane.

The hearing, Public hearing 7, looked at barriers experienced by children and young people with disability in accessing safe, quality and inclusive education.

We have written a report about this hearing.

This Auslan video is a summary of this report. 

Experiences of people with disability and their families

At the hearing we heard from many witnesses, including 7 young people with disability. We also heard from family members, advocates, carers, a psychologist, academics and government representatives.

Young people with disability and their families talked about their experiences of school.

One woman, ‘Amy’, talked about her 10 year old son, ‘Sam’. Amy said Sam loves to go outside, horse ride and surf. He loves life, people and animals and is very intelligent.

Sam has several conditions including autism. He can struggle to control his emotions if he has difficulty communicating his physical needs, like hunger or pain.

Before Sam started kindergarten his parents gave information to his school about the behaviour strategies that had been used successfully at his preschool.

Sam’s speech pathologist and occupational therapist suggested supports that would assist Sam.

Within 3 weeks of starting kindergarten, Amy got a letter from the school, warning her that Sam may be suspended. The letter said Sam had been behaving inappropriately and aggressively. Amy was shocked to receive the letter.

In term 2 Sam was suspended for 2 days for aggressive behaviour – he had deliberately kicked his teacher in the knee.

Sam was suspended a total of 7 times in his first 18 months at school, often for aggressive behaviour. He missed 50 days of school. Amy was devastated and said it didn’t need to happen.

Eventually Sam did not return to school and was home schooled by his parents.

Amy said that Sam was traumatised by his school experiences. He told her that school made him sad, that he did not want to be there and he was bullied.


The report highlights key findings that came out of the hearing. Some of these findings related to Sam’s case.

The Royal Commission found:

  • Sam’s school did not consider whether necessary reasonable adjustments had been put in place before each suspension.
  • Sam’s school inappropriately identified ‘restraint’ as a reasonable adjustment provided to Sam.
  • The long suspensions of 20 days at a time were not appropriate for Sam’s age, disability or educational level.
  • The repeated suspensions meant Sam was not able to receive a safe, quality and inclusive education.


Witnesses at the hearing identified lots of barriers experienced by students with disability in accessing safe quality and inclusive education in mainstream schools.

Barriers include:

  • Negative attitudes towards people with disability, for example one witness said students with disability are seen as too hard to educate, and a burden on non-disabled students.
  • Educators don’t always understand disability or know how to support students with disability. People said that when students show ‘behaviours of concern’, like acting out or being aggressive, teachers think they are being naughty and punish them – rather than try to understand the cause of the behaviour.
  • Schools don’t always follow policies and laws about:
    • enrolment of students with disability
    • reasonable adjustments
    • suspensions
    • complaints processes.

And there is no independent system or process in place to make sure they comply with these laws and policies.

  • There are problems with the funding models for things like reasonable adjustments in schools, eg some funding relies on a specific medical diagnosis.
  • There is not enough data about the experiences of students with disability, so it is difficult to identify and understand the extent of problems they face at school.

More information

The full report is on our website. Search ‘Public hearing 7’.