Education participation needs and challenges

4 in 5

(80%) school students with disability have 1 or more schooling restrictions.

1 in 10

(10%) school students with disability do not receive support but need it.

1 in 5

(21%) school students with disability need more support than they currently receive.

On this page:


Introduction

Some students with disability may need additional support to help them participate in education. Not all who need support receive it.

Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers

Data in this section are largely sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). The SDAC is the most detailed and comprehensive source of disability prevalence in Australia.

The SDAC considers that a person has disability if they have at least 1 of a list of limitations, restrictions or impairments, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months and restricts everyday activities.

The limitations are grouped into 10 activities associated with daily living—self-care, mobility, communication, cognitive or emotional tasks, health care, reading or writing tasks, transport, household chores, property maintenance, and meal preparation. The SDAC also identifies 2 other life areas in which people may experience restriction or difficulty as a result of disability—schooling and employment.

The severity of disability is defined by if a person needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment with 3 core activities—self-care, mobility, and communication—and is grouped for mild, moderate, severe, and profound limitation. People who ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ need help with 1 or more core activities are referred to in this section as ‘people with severe or profound disability’.

What is meant by school and non-school students?

In this section:

  • school student refers to children aged 5–18 living in households who attend primary or secondary school
  • non-school student refers to people aged 15–64 living in households who are studying for a non-school qualification, for example at university, technical and further education (TAFE), or other non-school educational institutions like business colleges and industry skills centres.

Education restrictions

People with disability who have specific restrictions related to school or non-school education can face additional challenges participating in education.

What are schooling and education restrictions?

An education restriction means a person needs some support or supervision to go to school or to study.

In the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), a person's overall level of education restriction is determined by their highest level of limitation. Education restrictions include schooling and non-school educational restrictions.

Schooling restriction levels

Profound—the person's condition prevents them from attending school.

Severe—the person:

  • attends a special school or special classes
  • receives personal assistance
  • receives special tuition
  • receives assistance from a counsellor/disability support person.

Moderate—the person:

  • often needs time off from school
  • has difficulty at school because of their condition(s)
  • has special assessment procedures.

Mild—the person needs:

  • a special computer or other special equipment
  • special transport arrangements
  • special access arrangements
  • other special arrangements or support services.

Non-school educational restrictions

Severe—the person receives:

  • personal assistance
  • special tuition
  • assistance from a counsellor/disability support person.

Moderate—the person:

  • often needs time off from school/institution
  • has difficulty at school/institution because of their condition(s)
  • has special assessment procedures.

Mild—the person needs:

  • a special computer or other special equipment
  • special transport arrangements
  • special access arrangements
  • other special arrangements or support services.

Not all students with disability have an education restriction and a person’s level of education restriction may differ from their level of limitation in other life areas.

School students (primary and secondary)

Around 4 in 5 (80% or 305,000) school students aged 5–18 with disability have 1 or more schooling restrictions (Table PARTICIPATION.1).

The most common restrictions are to:

  • have difficulty at school (77% or 244,000)
  • use special assistance from a person at school (55% or 173,000)
  • use special arrangements at school or institution (31% or 98,500)
  • attend special classes (21% or 67,000)
  • attend a special school (14% or 45,300) (ABS 2019).

Boys with disability (83% or 188,000) are more likely than girls (76% or 118,000) to have schooling restrictions. Boys with schooling restrictions are:

  • more likely (24% or 46,500) than girls (17% or 20,500) to attend special classes
  • more likely (15% or 29,500) than girls (10% or 12,500) to attend a special school
  • less likely (11% or 21,900) than girls (16% or 19,900) to need at least 1 day a week off school
  • more likely (32% or 62,600) than girls (28% or 34,200) to use special arrangements at school or institution (ABS 2019).
Table PARTICIPATION.1: Whether have schooling restrictions for students(a) with disability, 2018 (%)

Whether have schooling restrictions

Boys

Girls

Total

Have a schooling restriction(b)

82.9

76.4

80.5

Do not have a schooling restriction

17.6

23.3

19.9

Total

100.0

100.0

100.0

(a) People with disability aged 5–18 living in households and currently attending primary or secondary school.

(b) Includes school students with profound, severe, moderate and mild schooling restrictions. People who do not attend school because of disability were excluded.

Source: ABS 2019; see also Table PTPN1.

Non-school students

Almost 1 in 2 (47% or 88,000) non-school students aged 15–64 with disability have restrictions related to their education (a non-school educational restriction) (Table PARTICIPATION.2).

For those with restrictions, the most common restrictions are to:

  • have difficulty at non-school institution (59% or 51,700)
  • need at least 1 day a week off (52% or 45,400)
  • use special arrangements at institution (33% or 28,600)
  • have special assistance from a person at institution (22% or 19,300) (ABS 2019).

Females (48% or 55,100) are more likely than males (41% or 30,900) to have non-schooling educational restrictions. Females with restrictions are more likely (57% or 31,400) than males (47% or 14,500) to need at least 1 day a week off (ABS 2019).

Table PARTICIPATION.2: Whether have non-school educational restrictions for students(a) with disability, 2018 (%)

Whether have non-school educational restrictions

Males

Females

Total

Have a non-school educational restriction(b)

40.9

48.5

47.2

Do not have a non-school educational restriction

55.0

51.9

53.3

Total

100.0

100.0

100.0

(a) People with disability aged 15–64 living in households and currently studying a non-school qualification.

(b) Includes non-school students with severe, moderate and mild non-school educational restriction.

Note: Figures are rounded and components may not add to total because of ABS confidentiality and perturbation processes.

Source: ABS 2019; see also Table PTPN3.


Difficulties experienced

Some people with disability experience difficulties at their school or educational institution, such as learning, fitting in socially and communicating.

School students (primary and secondary)

Not all school students with disability have difficulty at their school—over 1 in 3 (36% or 135,000) do not. Some who have no difficulty have a schooling restriction (16% or 61,200) while others do not (20% or 75,500).

Of those who have difficulty, the most common experienced are:

  • learning difficulties (68% or 165,000)
  • fitting in socially (56% or 137,000)
  • communication difficulties (44% or 107,000)
  • intellectual difficulties (22% or 53,900)
  • sports participation (17% or 41,500)
  • difficulty sitting (15% or 37,000) (ABS 2019).

Non-school students

Not all non-school students with disability have difficulty at their educational institution—almost 3 in 4 (74% or 137,000) do not. Some with no difficulty have a non-school educational restriction (19% or 34,800) while others do not (53% or 99,400).

Of those who have difficulty, the most common experienced are:

  • learning difficulties (32% or 16,800)
  • fitting in socially (25% or 13,000)
  • communication difficulties (20% or 10,500) (ABS 2019).

Support needed and provided

Students with disability who experience difficulty in education may need additional support to help them participate. Not all who need support receive it.

School students (primary and secondary)

Most school students with disability (57% or 217,000) receive support at school. Around 2 in 5 (43% or 163,000) do not.

Of those who receive support:

  • 3 in 5 (58% or 126,000) have special tuition
  • 2 in 5 (41% or 88,200) have a counsellor or disability support person
  • 3 in 10 (31% or 67,100) have special assessment procedures (Figure PARTICIPATION.1).

Boys (60% or 136,000) are more likely to receive support than girls (53% or 81,800). Boys who receive support are:

  • more likely (61% or 82,600) than girls (56% or 45,600) to receive special tuition
  • more likely (16% or 21,600) than girls (9.9% or 8,100) to receive special equipment, including computers
  • less likely (35% or 48,000) than girls (49% or 39,700) to have a counsellor or disability support person (Figure PARTICIPATION.1).

Figure PARTICIPATION.1: Type of support or special arrangements provided for school students with disability, by sex, 2018

Bar chart showing 6 categories of support or special arrangement for school students with disability who received support at their school. The reader can select by sex. The chart shows school students with disability are more likely (58%) to receive special tuition than special equipment, such as a computer (13%).

Some school students with disability need more support than they receive, including:

  • 1 in 10 (10% or 39,700) who do not receive support but need it
  • 1 in 5 (21% or 79,500) who receive support but need more (Figure PARTICIPATION.2).

Figure PARTICIPATION.2: Whether school students with disability receive enough support, 2018

Bar chart showing whether school students receive enough support. The chart shows 36% of school students with disability receive support and do not need more, whereas 10% do not receive support but need support.

School students with disability only attending regular classes in a mainstream school are the least likely to need or receive support—42% (or 114,000) do not receive or need support. A further 29% (or 77,900) receive support and do not need more. However, almost 1 in 3 (29% or 77,400) need support but do not receive it or need more support than they receive (ABS 2019).

1 in 3 (33% or 22,200) school students with disability attending special classes in a mainstream school need more support than they receive. But over half (53% or 35,800) receive support and do not need more (ABS 2019).

1 in 2 (51% or 22,900) school students with disability attending a special school receive support and do not need more. But 1 in 3 (33% or 14,900) need more support than they receive (ABS 2019).

Non-school students

Three in 4 (77% or 144,000) non-school students with disability do not receive any support from their educational institution (ABS 2019).

When they do, the most common types are:

  • special assessment procedures (38% or 16,600)
  • a counsellor or disability support person (31% or 13,500) (Table PARTICIPATION.3).
Table PARTICIPATION.3: Types of support or special arrangements received by non-school students(a) with disability, 2018 (%)

Type of support or special arrangement received

%

Special assessment procedure

37.6

Counsellor or disability support person

30.5

Other(b)

53.2

(a) People aged 15–64 living in households who attend an educational institution for a non-school qualification and receive support or special arrangements at educational institution.

(b) Includes special tuition, special equipment (including computer), special access arrangements, special transport arrangements and other support.

Note: More than 1 type of support may be reported.

Source: ABS 2019; see also Table PTPN13.

Some non-school students do not receive all the support they need:

  • 68% (or 127,000) do not receive support and do not need it
  • 8.4% (or 15,700) do not receive support but need it
  • 18% (or 33,400) receive support and do not need more (ABS 2019).

Discrimination

Almost 1 in 5 (17% or 30,100) students aged 15–64 with disability attending school or studying for a non-school qualification have experienced disability discrimination in the last year. See Disability discrimination for more information.

It can be difficult for some people with disability to access buildings and facilities in the community, including schools and other educational institutions. Over 1 in 10 (12% or 28,500) students aged 5–64, who need assistance or have difficulty with communication or mobility, have experienced difficulty accessing locations in the last year. Of those, nearly 1 in 2 (45% or 12,700) had difficulty accessing a school, university or educational facility.

Bullying

Bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence are all interpersonal behaviours that can create or contribute to negative social situations and school environments. For more information on bullying in schools see Bullying. No way!

A source of data on bullying of students

In 2019 Mission Australia conducted a survey of young people (aged 15–19 years) including a cluster of questions focused on disability. In Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2019, 6.5% (or 1,600) of young people reported having disability and 91.3% (or 23,100) reported no disability.

Young people with disability are more likely (43%) to have experienced bullying in the past 12 months than those without disability (19%). Bullying was most likely to take place at school/TAFE/university (77% off those with disability who experienced bullying and 81% of those without disability) (Hall et al. 2020).