Education participation needs and challenges

4 in 5

(80%) school students with disability have one 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

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 data on disability prevalence in Australia.

The SDAC considers that a person has disability if they have at least one 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 whether 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 one or more core activities, have difficulty understanding or being understood by family or friends, or can communicate more easily using sing language or other non-spoken forms of communication 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 one 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 99,000)
  • attend special classes (21% or 67,000)
  • attend a special school (14% or 45,000) (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 47,000) than girls (17% or 21,000) to attend special classes
  • more likely (15% or 30,000) than girls (10% or 13,000) to attend a special school
  • less likely (11% or 22,000) than girls (16% or 20,000) to need at least one day a week off school
  • more likely (32% or 63,000) than girls (28% or 34,000) 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.

Schooling restrictions also vary by disability group. School students with psychosocial disability (93% or 140,000) and intellectual disability (90% or 210,000) are more likely to have a schooling restriction than those with physical disability (72% or 67,000) and sensory and speech disability (79% or 94,000) (ABS 2019).

Disability group

Disability group is a broad categorisation of disability. It is based on underlying health conditions and on impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. It is not a diagnostic grouping, nor is there a one-to-one correspondence between a health condition and a disability group.

The ABS SDAC broadly groups disabilities depending on whether they relate to functioning of the mind or the senses, or to anatomy or physiology. Each disability group may refer to a single disability or be composed of a number of broadly similar disabilities. The SDAC identifies 6 separate groups based on the particular type of disability; these are:

  • sensory and speech (sight, hearing, speech)
  • intellectual (difficulty learning or understanding)
  • physical (including breathing difficulties, chronic or recurrent pain, incomplete use of limbs and more)
  • psychosocial (including nervous or emotional conditions, mental illness, memory problems, and social or behavioural difficulties)
  • head injury, stroke or acquired brain injury
  • other (restrictions in everyday activities due to other long-term conditions or ailments) (ABS 2019).

Non-school students

Almost half (47% or 88,000) of 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 52,000)
  • need at least one day a week off (52% or 45,000)
  • use special arrangements at institution (33% or 29,000)
  • have special assistance from a person at institution (22% or 19,000) (ABS 2019).

Females (48% or 55,000) are more likely than males (41% or 31,000) to have non-schooling educational restrictions. Females with restrictions are more likely (57% or 31,000) than males (47% or 15,000) to need at least one day a week off (ABS 2019).

Non-school students aged 15–64 with intellectual disability (73% or 20,000) and psychosocial disability (70% or 44,000) are more likely to have non-schooling educational restrictions, compared with students with sensory and speech disability (38% or 9,000) and physical disability (41% or 40,000) (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 PTPN5.

Non-students

More than 1 in 5 (23%) non-students aged 15–64 with disability would like to be enrolled at school or undertake further study. This is similar for males (23%) and females (24%). Differences exist by age group and disability group:

  • the desire to study decreases with age – 47% of those aged 15–24 would like to study, 32% of those aged 25–34, 30% of those aged 35–44, 21% of those aged 45–54 and 13% of those aged 55–64
  • 32% of people with psychosocial disability would like to study, compared with 22% with sensory disability (DSS and MIAESR 2019).

More than a quarter (26%) of non-students aged 15–64 with disability who would like to be studying, are unable to do so due to their condition or disability. This is higher among:

  • females (31%) than males (21%)
  • people with severe or profound disability (60%), than those with other disability (21%)
  • people with intellectual disability (48%) and psychosocial disability (44%), than those with sensory disability (25%) and physical disability (30%) (DSS and MIAESR 2019).

Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey

Data in this section are sourced from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Survey is a nationally representative, household-based longitudinal study of Australian households and individuals conducted in annual waves since 2001. Members of selected households who are Australian residents and aged 15 or over are invited to participate in a personal face-to-face interview. This section presents cross-sectional analyses of the 17th wave (2017). In 2017 almost 18,000 people from around 10,000 households participated in the HILDA Survey.

The HILDA Survey defines disability as an impairment, long-term health condition or disability that restricts everyday activities and has lasted, or is likely to last, for 6 months or more. This is similar to the definition of disability used by the ABS Short Disability Module. In this section people who always or sometimes need help or supervision with at least one core activity because of their disability are referred to as people with ‘severe or profound disability’. Core activities include self-care, mobility and communication. People who have a disability but do not always or sometimes need help or supervision with at least one core activity are referred to as people with ‘other disability’. The HILDA Survey does not collect information on level of disability in every wave. The most recent collection was in the 17th wave (2017) (Summerfield et al. 2019; Wilkins et al. 2019).

How is remoteness defined?

The remoteness categories used in HILDA are based on the Australian Statistical Geography Standard Remoteness Area framework (Summerfield et al. 2019).

Disability group

Disability group is a broad categorisation of disability. It is based on underlying health conditions and on impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. It is not a diagnostic grouping, nor is there a one-to-one correspondence between a health condition and a disability group.

The HILDA Survey collects information on 17 disability types, which have been combined into the following 6 disability groups:

  • sensory: includes sight, hearing, and speech problems
  • intellectual: includes difficulty learning or understanding things
  • physical: includes difficulty breathing, blackouts, chronic pain, limited use of arms or fingers, difficulty gripping things, limited use of feet or legs, physical restrictions, and disfigurement or deformity
  • psychosocial: includes nervous or emotional conditions, and mental illness
  • head injury, stroke or other brain damage
  • other: includes long-term conditions that are restrictive despite treatment or medication, and other long-term conditions.

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 (aged 5–18) with disability have difficulty at their school more than one-third (36% or 135,000) do not. Some who have no difficulty have a schooling restriction (16% of school students with disability, or 61,000) while others do not (20% of school students with disability, or 76,000).

This varies by disability group and remoteness:

  • More than 4 in 5 (81% or 122,000) students with psychosocial disability have difficulty at school compared with 3 in 5 (59% or 54,000) of those with physical disability.
  • More than two-thirds (69% or 59,000) of students living in Inner regional areas have difficulty compared with 3 in 5 (59% or 23,000) of those living in Outer regional and remote areas (ABS 2019).

Of those who have difficulty at school, 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 54,000)
  • sports participation (17% or 42,000)
  • difficulty sitting (15% or 37,000) (ABS 2019).

How is remoteness defined?

The remoteness categories used in the ABS SDAC are defined by the Australian Statistical Geography Standard Remoteness Structure (ABS 2016) which divides Australia into 5 classes of remoteness on the basis of a measure of relative access to services. Very remote areas are out of scope for the SDAC.

Non-school students

Not all non-school students with disability have difficulty at their educational institution almost three-quarters (74% or 137,000) do not. Some with no difficulty have a non-school educational restriction (19% of non-school students with disability, or 35,000) while others do not (53% of non-school students with disability, or 99,000).

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

  • learning difficulties (32% or 17,000)
  • fitting in socially (25% or 13,000)
  • communication difficulties (20% or 11,000) (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 88,000) have a counsellor or disability support person
  • 3 in 10 (31% or 67,000) have special assessment procedures (Figure PARTICIPATION.1).

Boys (60% or 136,000) are more likely to receive support than girls (53% or 82,000). Boys who receive support are:

  • more likely (61% or 83,000) than girls (56% or 46,000) to receive special tuition
  • more likely (16% or 22,000) than girls (9.9% or 8,100) to receive special equipment, including computers
  • less likely (35% or 48,000) than girls (49% or 40,000) 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 to show the data 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%).

School students with psychosocial disability (70% or 106,000) are more likely to receive support than other disability groups. Of those receiving support, they are also most likely to have a counsellor or disability support person (53% or 56,000) (ABS 2019).

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

  • 1 in 10 (10% or 40,000) who do not receive support but need it
  • 1 in 5 (21% or 80,000) 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 attending only 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 78,000) receive support and do not need more. However, almost one-third (29% or 77,000) need support but do not receive it or need more support than they receive (ABS 2019).

One-third (33% or 22,000) of school students with disability attending special classes in a mainstream school need more support than they receive. But more than half (53% or 36,000) receive support and do not need more (ABS 2019).

Half (51% or 23,000) of school students with disability attending a special school receive support and do not need more. But one-third (33% or 15,000) need more support than they receive (ABS 2019).

Non-school students

More than three-quarters (77% or 144,000) of non-school students with disability do not receive any support from their educational institution. This is higher for students with physical disability (82% or 79,000) and lower for students with intellectual disability (55% or 15,000) (ABS 2019).

When non-school students do receive support, the most common types are:

  • special assessment procedures (38% or 17,000)
  • a counsellor or disability support person (31% or 14,000) (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 one type of support may be reported.

Source: ABS 2019; see also Table PTPN26.

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 16,000) do not receive support but need it
  • 18% (or 33,000) receive support and do not need more (ABS 2019).

Discrimination

Almost 1 in 5 (17% or 30,000) students aged 15–64 with disability attending school or studying for a non-school qualification have experienced disability discrimination in the previous 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. More than 1 in 10 (12% or 29,000) students aged 5–64, who need assistance or have difficulty with communication or mobility, have experienced difficulty accessing locations in the previous year. Of those, nearly half (45% or 13,000) had difficulty accessing a school, university or educational facility (ABS 2019).

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) 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).