Australia’s education system during the COVID-19 pandemic has again left behind Australian students with disability, according to a new report released today. 

The report, Not even remotely fair: Experiences of students with disability during COVID-19, produced in partnership by UNSW Canberra, University of Melbourne and Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), shows that 61% of respondents said they had received inadequate support so they could be included in education during remote learning.

UNSW Canberra academic Professor Helen Dickinson, one of the authors of the report, said children and young people with disability arguably faced an even more difficult time and greater impact to their education.

“This is not because of their impairments but as a result of the underlying social structures and systems that create discrimination,” she said.

Key findings from the new report showed that students with disability during the remote learning period did not have regular contact with their school to ensure the learning was accessible, received learning materials from their school that were inaccessible and were not adequately supported in their education.

“It is well evidenced that children and young people with disability have poorer education experiences due to a range of well-known structural inequities,” Professor Dickinson said.

Of most concern was the complete withdrawal of vital supports to enable students to participate in education on an equal basis to their non-disabled peers. Almost half of students lost access to learning support staff such as aides or had their support hours dramatically reduced. There were also respondents reporting that students lost access to supervision in their education and experienced reduced access to education equipment that helps them learn e.g. technology or furniture).

The pandemic was also having a significant impact on mental health: just over half said either they or their student had suffered from poorer mental health due to remote learning. Students reported feeling more socially isolated from their classmates, which included being excluded from working from their peers, not invited to Zoom/virtual classroom sessions.

Mary Sayers, CEO of CYDA said that there is no doubt that COVID-19 has made school difficult for all students, but there is entrenched inequality in Australia’s school system which has made this situation so much tougher for students with disability and their families.

“That’s why it’s so important we continue our fight for a fair and inclusive education system where the learning needs of students with disability are not an afterthought, but a considered part of everyday teaching and learning at every single school in Australia,” she said.

For more information on the report and the key findings visit the CYDA website.