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Inclusive and Special Education in Australia  

Michael Arthur-Kelly and Phil Foreman

Australian public education systems have developed policies since the 1980s and 1990s which have placed a major focus on inclusive educational practices. Despite this progress, Australia has witnessed the growth of parallel and sometimes competing systems of support for students with additional learning needs. It is helpful to view these approaches across one unified continuum of assistance for students. At one end of the continuum there are special schools which provide intensive and specialized learning support, coming within the traditional definition of “special education.” At the other end of the continuum is the full inclusion of students within regular classrooms, complemented by appropriate personalized learning supports. The inclusive approach is based on a philosophical platform that emphasizes the role of the local school in providing for the needs of all students in its community, regardless of diverse needs or disability. A unified view of educational provisions needs to consider the entire range of approaches from full inclusion through to specialized and alternative models of educational services and support, guided by one simple question: What is best for this learner? Principles such as universal design for learning (UDL) lead to an argument for a focus on individual needs and parental empowerment and choice, rather than an outdated dichotomous or settings-based model of educational support. By focusing attention on learning needs through the lens of curriculum, instruction, and contextual supports, the central goal of maximized outcomes for individual students can be realized.