On Pauline Hanson’s austistic kids comments

David Edmunds writes: Re. “Hanson’s autistic kids comments reveal a truth no one wants to talk about” (Friday) 

The unmentioned issue in Guy Rundle’s article on Pauline Hanson’s views on schooling is that she is such a polarising figure, and so incapable of empathetic, informed coherent expression that her intervention immediately kills any meaningful discussion, even when she may have a point.

Guy mentioned the issue of residualisation, although he didn’t use that term. Working in a large public school I had a relationship with a very decent teacher from a neighbouring private school who on rare occasions would ring me to explain that they had reached the end of the road with young Johnny, and would it be OK if he gave my name to the parents with a view to enrolment.  I know that other private school parents were stunned to receive a call from their school simply stating that there was no longer a place for their child at the school.

In the education system in which I worked there were departmental officers whose job it was to assess what extra needs might be required by particular students.  Occasionally they would receive calls from parents who had been referred by enrolment officers in private schools, who explained to the parents that they did not have the facilities to do the best for their child, and perhaps they should consider the public system.

Ms Hanson also has her terms wrong.  While autism covers an extraordinary range of intellectual and behavioural situations, there are all sorts of children who cause intractable classroom problems.  Ms Hanson also suggests that writing lines might be appropriate, an extraordinarily fatuous response, even for her.  I agree with Guy that the conversation about disruptive behaviour in schools is rarely considered in the public domain, and then the experts consulted by the media pompously claim that teachers in their area of influence are remarkably well-trained to cope and there is no problem. There is a problem.  Teachers are not well-trained to cope.  When things go wrong they can count on departmental officers to scapegoat them, even when those officers have been warned of a looming problem.

The upside for parents considering a public school is that they can be fairly sure that the school will remain loyal to their child if things go wrong, and have the experience to cope.  They can be fairly sure that this is not the case in a private school.

I have the greatest admiration for parents of special-needs children.  They fight for their children and never give up.  They have won a lot over the last 40 years or so.  The fundamental claim they make is that they will not see their children classified as limited, and educated as such.  Education systems have generally accepted their argument, allow mainstream enrolments, but leave it to under-resourced schools with under-trained teachers to make it happen.  Teacher assistants are invaluable, but rarely trained, and provided with no career path.

A properly funded education system would acknowledge the additional proportional load on public schools as private schools, with notable exceptions, only look after the easy to educate.  This factor is not considered in a needs-based funding model based on demographic data.

Marcus L’Estrange writes: Re “Hanson’s autistic kids’ comments reveal a truth no one wants to talk about” (Friday)

As a teacher, a great article by Guy. Yes, it looks like Pauline got on the right tram but got off at the wrong stop by mentioning autistic kids only at her brief TV appearance. However, in essence, a further study of Hansard shows she is suggesting that education would be better managed for special-needs kids and non-special needs kids alike with some degree of separate teaching. Some autistic kids are good, like other kids, others are “bad”, like other kids. Overall, no need for special schools for autistic kids and other kids who “misbehave”. They just need to be removed to a fully staffed “Time Out” room within the school until their behaviour problem is addressed, solved so that the rest of the class can get on with their work.

Two “elephants in the room” not mentioned are the massive problems caused by the automatic promotion of students from one year to the next so that it is common that a teacher has to try and teach four plus different classes within the one class. It’s an impossible task, and is the major reason for bad behaviour in the classroom.  

Plus, of course, helicopter parents and weak school management. Secondly, the non-application of school, departmental policies on indiscipline is a massive problem resulting in many classes becoming very expensive child minding centers. 


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