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Inclusive education emphasises that all students are equal members with equal rights to education. All learners regardless of race, ethnicity, social class, or ability are welcomed, involved, and supported. Accessible learning settings and quality teaching that accommodates to the learning needs of individual students also demonstrates best practice for inclusive education. Inclusive schools work when all students learn together regardless of their differences.

Inclusive education can be mistaken for simply mainstreaming students with disabilities. Their presence alone in the school or learning centre is not enough. Participating academically and within the school or learning centre’s community defines successful inclusion. The workforce capability of educators and educational leaders is crucial to ensure skilful pedagogy and accommodations specific to inclusive education. 

Educators and educational leaders will make the Education State a reality. Supporting their ongoing professional learning is therefore instrumental to building their knowledge and skills for implementing inclusive educational practices.

Comparing Victorian demographic data between 2009 and 2012 reveals numerous telling discrepancies between Victorians with and without a disability aged 15 to 64. Victorians with disabilities were more likely to leave school earlier than are Victorians without a disability. Approximately 26 per cent of students with disabilities did not progress beyond Year 10 compared with 18 per cent of students without a disability. These recent educational trends reflect disproportionate employment and financial trends. An estimated 48 per cent of Victorians with disabilities were employed compared with 78 per cent without a disability in 2009. Victorians without a disability also earned almost twice the estimated median income of people with a disability ($592 vs $305 gross per week).

Comparing the most recent Australia-wide trends from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals additional trends between 2009 and 2012. The unemployment rate increased in the three-year period for Australians with disabilities (7.8% in 2009 to 9.4% in 2012). Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for Australians without disability decreased (5.1% in 2009 and 4.9% in 2012).

The labour force participation of Australians with disability aged 15 to 64 years remained steady (54% in 2009 and 53% in 2012). The labour force participation rate also remained steady for employees with either severe or profound disabilities (36% and 20% respectively in 2012). By comparison, the employment rate for Australians without disability was 83 per cent in 2012. More people with disabilities (40%) than without a disability (30%) also reported working part-time.

Data further indicate that employment influences lifestyle. Australians with a disability were less likely to own a home with a mortgage than were people without a disability (approximately 36 % vs 45%). A disproportionate 43 per cent of Australians with a severe or profound core activity limitation reported ‘moderate and high’ or ‘very high’ distress levels during 2007-08. Just 6 per cent of Australians without a disability experienced this severity of distress. Exclusion from the workforce and the community contribute to these consistent disproportionate trends of disadvantage. Discriminatory behaviours within the workplace or family and other social settings further compound existing disadvantage.
Education, however, is a preventive measure that generates multiple long-term financial and social benefits to all Victorians. Most children and young people with disabilities have additional needs requiring accommodation or, crucially, inclusive educational practices. Maximising a person’s academic potential better prepares them to become a fully participating professional and member of the community. Their employment and social participation are vital to their economic independence and inclusion. 

The Victorian Government is committed to implementing inclusive educational practices across Victoria.  VDEI designed its 2017 Professional Learning Program to assist teachers, teachers of the deaf, education support staff, and allied health professionals hone their inclusive education pedagogical knowledge and skill. I encourage you to plan your professional learning year. The manner in which you facilitate the inclusive education of children with disabilities will have a life-long cascading consequence. This is a powerful fact that should never be dismissed. Inclusive education is everybody’s business.

Dr Jill Duncan