Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in Private Schools around the World
Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in Private Schools around the World
CUNY School of Professional Studies
The paper tries to find data about the inclusion of students with disabilities in private schools in different parts of the world and analyze it. Through this fieldwork, I learned that there is little data on the subject. With the interviews, I found that there are more students with disabilities in private schools in developing countries, where the quality of public education is not so good and most middle class families enroll their children with and without disabilities in private schools. In that case, generally, families of students with disabilities have to pay for the extra costs of inclusion, which is a discrimination according to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I also found evidence that developed countries with solid special schools systems are harder to migrate to inclusive systems, either public or private. I concluded that “younger” countries encounter less resistance in this transition and that parents of nondisabled students can play an important part to help include all children.
Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in Private Schools around the World
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will be 10 years old next year. Ratified by 160 countries around the world, it is undeniable that the treaty has brought a wave of inclusion to many countries, especially developing ones. In some of these Member States, never had disability even been mentioned in any legislation before. Article 24 of CRPD, on the right to inclusive Education, raised lots of controversy in both developed and developing countries: “States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning.” (CRPD). While some developing countries had hardly any form of educational systems for children with disabilities former to CRPD, in many developed nations these systems not only existed, but there were those so strong that it became difficult to make much progress towards the inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms.
When we discuss the education of pupils with disabilities, what comes into mind is the public school system. But in some countries there is a large and powerful private school network. That is true for many developing countries, where public education is not good enough, and families who can afford would rather pay for private schools for their children, with or without disabilities. When it comes to private regular schools, there is not much evidence about the numbers and the rate of inclusion of students with disabilities in either developed or developing countries. The object of my fieldwork was to find out in which countries private schools are observing Art 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I wanted to find out if students were welcomed by private schools, if they had to pay themselves for supporting staff or/and equipment, even though it would be discrimination on the basis of disability, or whether any extra costs were absorbed by schools.
Private Schools in Brazil
In Brazil, the Confederation of Private Schools went to the Supreme Court to dispute new legislation that established that private schools must enroll students with disabilities and are forbidden to charge extra for that, subject to imprisonment and a fine. When one looks for data on school inclusion in different countries, it is usually about public schools. Private schools data is hard to find. As far as I have researched, there is no formal or informal research about this subject. The information I collected will help subsidize the Brazilian Supreme Court trial.
For this research, I interviewed leaders of the inclusive education movement from 12 countries. I asked the same questions, compare and analyze the data. The questions of the interviews were:
Are children with disabilities accepted in private schools in the country?
Do they have to pay extra?
What types of extra charges are there?
I emailed these questions to activists from 12 countries. Some of them gave straight answers and some more elaborated ones. The results are as follows:
“In Argentina, almost invariably children with disabilities in private schools have a “teacher’s aid” (mediator/”shadow”), which is a regulated profession. Virtually all middle-class family has a health insurance that pays for that professional. We paid mediators for our son from our own pocket because we had no local health insurance plan, and everyone was shocked about that. Other adjustments can be made by the school for an integration teacher or external educational psychologist who accompanies the child, depending on the school involvement. It is also common that a different tax is charged for an “included child” and in that case no necessary supports are provided. Nowadays, the support system is mainly regulated by the health system, not by the education system. I basically saw children with autism and Down syndrome in the schools I visited (I visited many), never with other disabilities. The UN Convention has Constitutional status in Argentina. But there is a former legislation, Ley Nacional de Educación (art. 11, n. y Cap. VIII), that does not respect the Convention and should be changed. It says that Special Education is in charge of the education of persons with disabilities and that “according to the possibilities of the child, the inclusion in a regular school should be done ”. Education is de-centralized and depends on the provinces (states). At national level there is the legislation mentioned above. The Ministry of Education establishes educational guides and programs, put the managing is in charge of local governments. This means that there is a lot of variation between provinces. There is no clause at national level, nor other jurisdictions, that forbid explicitly public or private schools to deny enrollment of persons with disabilities. In Buenos Aires there is a law (n° 2681) for private schools, but it is very little known. It says enrollment of a student cannot be denied without a reason or on basis contrary to the fundamental rights. In practice, families find many barriers to access suitable support, either because the aid is too extensive, the procedure takes too long, the aid is for too little time, etc. On the other hand the educational system generally suggests that the child be sent to the special school.”
“In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act makes extra payment illegal. It is also against the law to discriminate at enrollment. However, I know that schools get around the law by making parents feel so uncomfortable that they go elsewhere. They also tell parents that they will get much more funding for their child if they go to a state school (which is not true). Sounds like many countries have a way to go in allowing all students to access their rights to inclusive education.”
“In Brazil the public educational system show high inclusion rates, but the general quality of public education is not so good. Middle class families prefer to pay for private education for their children, including those with disabilities. By law, schools cannot deny enrollment of kids with disabilities, but some of them still try to convince the parents that the kid does not belong there, that the school is not prepared, the student would not feel “ happy”, etc. It is also illegal to charge extra for students with disabilities. A law will come into force in January 2016 forbidding extra payment and penalizing school administrators with fines and imprisonment. For that reason, the Confederation of Private Schools went to the Brazilian Supreme Court to dispute this legislation. The hearing has not been scheduled yet.”
“In Colombia there is legislation that says it is forbidden to pay extra cost.”
“First of all getting admission into regular schools is still difficult but as we have the right to education act which states very clearly that no one can be denied the right to be educated we still manage to get into the school. Thereafter we are unsure whether there is justice done. Some schools with a smaller number of students in each class are definitely coming out better. Some schools have over 50 students in every class what makes it impossible. We do not advocate giving the extra for teaching or entering schools but in some cases we do pay for the aid or what we call the support staff.”
“In Mexico, very few private schools accept children with disabilities. In most of those that accept, families pay the mediator. At the school my child goes to, the school pays for 30% of the mediator’s wage, and the family pays the rest (but I paid full because I had a very good person from the previous school, that wouldn’t take the school’s starvation wage). Other adaptations depend on the good will of those involved. According to Mexican legislation, “inclusive” schools must register with the local Secretary of Education. Our school is not registered and has to do a legal workaround for my son to be there.”
7) New Zealand
“Only in the last 10 years have private schools been able to access government funded teacher aide support until then only students who went to a state school could be funded. Due to the nature of private schools they can choose who is accepted as there is no law to say they must accept every child who wishes to attend however the law in NZ allows for all students have access to their local state school. The reality is that many parents fund additional teacher aide support if they and the school feel what has been funded by government is insufficient to support their child. Also far too many schools find a way of giving the message to families that children with disabilities are not accepted into their school and this creates ‘magnet schools’. In Auckland has been a growing demand from families for their children to go into special schools or satellite classes including many children with Down syndrome. This is in the misguided belief their child will have better access to therapy services. It was over 25 years ago that the education law changed in NZ allowing for all students to attend local school and yet we have families still believing special is best! This of course only reinforces the views of schools who don’t believe they have the ability to teach our children. We have come such a long way and yet not very far at all!”
8) South Africa:
“In South Africa the private schools do take children with disabilities but this is usually only when the parents are empowered or have an organization behind the like Down Syndrome South Africa. In fact I think in South Africa there are more children with disabilities in private schools than in government schools. However regardless of which school system it is it does come as a huge costs to parents as we have to pay for our all services in our own such as a teacher facilitator or assistant.”
“In Switzerland, CRPD was passed in 2014. In Geneva, and throughout the country, there is a very strong and medical orientated public and public sponsored special education system. The Office Medico-Pedagogique, within the Secretary of Education is full of psychiatrists and psychologists, and basically rules the lives of students with disabilities, sending them to segregated placements, some hours away from their homes. In the public system, almost all students with disabilities attend special schools. Parents who can afford get their children taught at private clinics or with private tutors. No private schools take children with disabilities, not even Montessori ones.”
10) United Kingdom
“We have our problems in the UK with private schools. The basic problem is that they are independent, however they still have to undergo inspection by Ofsted which is the government regulator. For private schools, these surprise inspections are about quality of service rather than diversity of students on role. Ofsted have the power to force closure but only on quality of education. It would be unlawful to have a blanket policy not to admit children with disabilities but the school could refuse admission if the child did not meet the admission criteria which may include academic selection. Independent schools also have a duty to make reasonable adjustment for disabled pupils but when judging what is ‘reasonable, cost and the need to maintain academic standards can be taken into account. Some local authorities do contribute to additional support for children in independent schools but this is not common. There are quite a few families who have their children in private schools in the UK but I have no idea whether they are making extra funds available.”
11) United States
“In the US, the law specifically states that private schools do not have to accept students with disabilities and it also states that the public school does not have to provide services in private school settings so there is nothing to sue on if the parent decides to place the student in a private school. That said, many schools do accept children with disabilities, especially catholic ones. Some charge families for extra support and some do not.”
“In Venezuela there is very little inclusion in education. The country ratified CRPD in 2013. The few private schools that accept children with disabilities charge the families extra for any accommodations or support.”
Inclusive Private School Administrator
I also thought it was interesting to include the comment of an activist for the rights of persons with disabilities who is also the owner of private inclusive international schools in Indonesia: “I have read everyone’s comments on inclusion and it’s interesting that it is illegal to charge more in Australia as I was unaware of that. However, the various Australian governments do provide additional assistance and therefore funding for special needs students. There is no way we would be able to offer our services without charging additional fees as we receive absolutely zero funding from the government, any government. We provide speech therapy services, OT services, individual classroom support, teacher assistance and special needs consultant teachers and all of this costs. We do charge the actual cost of this only to special needs parents. To not do so would mean that we could not offer the service as other mainstream parents would not be prepared to subsidize this cost. I think the actual situation of private schools in countries needs to be considered in terms of where the funding comes from.”
Entrenched Special Education Systems
The 2012 report on Special Education by the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education presents the school situation of school age children in European Countries. Although the data presented includes public and private sectors schools, the numbers for private schools are scarce and there is no indication if the private schools charge extra taxes or not for students with disabilities. As there is little data on private schools available, analyzing the existing numbers on inclusion in education in public schools in the report it is revealed that countries like Greece and Switzerland, for instance, have 0% of school inclusion, while Malta, Lithuania and Iceland, for example, have over 90%. This confirms the notion that school inclusion is not only a question of legislation or funding. Also, the high segregation rate in countries with entrenched special education systems like Germany, and low separation rates in Sweden remain stable, despite the ratification of the UN CRPD in both countries. As noted by Bierman on her comparison of institutional dimensions of inclusive schooling in Germany, Iceland and Sweden “the global diffusion of the human right to inclusive education therefore challenges established organizational forms of special educational systems, and culturally rooted paradigms of education and disability.” (Bierman, 2014)
Diane Richler, former president of Inclusion International, stated at the UN Day of Discussion about Education of Persons with Disabilities, in 2015, in Geneva, that “there were countries that had strongly entrenched segregated systems and there were other countries which had many children in general excluded from education and were building up their system as a whole. It would be helpful for the general comment (of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Member States) to give direction to States and to encourage them to have a short timeframe.”
It is a fact that inclusive education for students with disabilities face various challenges anywhere in the world, as “for successful inclusive education not only is there a need for full implementation of systemic educational change but also universal, responsive, classroom practices that are responsive to the diversity of individual student needs.” (Kelly, 2014). In a research about school inclusion in Cyprus, Angelides notes some of the factors that promote school inclusion: a leader who believes in inclusive education and pushes for inclusive practices, a nurturing and caring community environment and good relationships between teachers and the school and the parents. (Angelides, 2012)
Whether we analyze data on private or public education sector, it seems to me that the speed of the transition to school inclusion has to do more with cultural than economic factors. Large and “new”countries like Brazil and the US, – although UN CRPD has not been ratified in the latter yet – are well advanced, whereas in Europe it is practically null in some small and rich countries. The case of Switzerland, despite UN CRPD ratification in 2014 (but not the Optional Protocol), is iconic, with almost zero school inclusion in public or private schools. One can trace a parallel on inclusive education for persons with disabilities and the right for women to vote in Switzerland. The majority of cantons only introduced women’s right to vote shortly before or shortly after the confederation did in 1971. Two conservative half-cantons in eastern Switzerland refused to do so for a long time. During the 1980’s pressure of public opinion increased. The Federal Supreme Court decided on November, 27th, 1990 that the introduction of women’s right to vote would not need a change of the cantonal constitution. The judges declared that it would be sufficient to interpret the existing constitution in a way that the women were included in the term citizens.” (History of Switzerland). Maybe in Switzerland people with disabilities are still not regarded as citizens. This is an appalling fact, even more so coming from the country that houses the United Nations Human Rights Council.
About the data and final remarks
The information I gathered in the interviews was not provided by experts, but by experienced activists from their own point of view. It may be a good starter point but is by no means definite. I hope Brazil’s Supreme Court trial will shed light on the equal right of persons with disabilities to private education, together with their peers and that this paper serves as ammunition to amicus curiae that will defend this inherent right. The discussion has already started in Brazilian society, with some private schools administrators sending letters at the end of the school year to parents (in Brazil the school year ends in December), blaming students with disabilities on the new rise in tuition. At the same time, in a few private schools (Escola Nova and Escola Parque in Rio de Janeiro, and Escola das Nacoes, in Brasilia) nondisabled students’ parents have formed Pro-inclusion Committees, within the Parent’s Councils, to monitor inclusion as a whole, and collaborate with the schools towards a more diverse and nurturing school environment. “We assumed a group identity: each one’s cause became ours”, said a member of one of those groups. (PARATODOS, 2015)
It is good to have the law, especially the UN CRPD, ratified in Brazil with Constitutional status, at our side. But special schools still hold a lot of funds and political power in Brazil. As noted by Diane Richler, from Inclusion International in the UN Day of Discussion, as long as special programs exist, systems would find people to fill them. “Governments cannot afford to fund two systems – one segregated and another inclusive – the only way they could afford the costs of inclusion is by phasing out segregated systems and investing in the transformations needed.“
Angelides, P., Antoniou, E. (2012). Understanding the role of culture in developing inclusive
schools: a case study from Cyprus. Journal of School Leadership, Jan-Feb, 2012,
The authors examined how school cultures influence the development of inclusive
practices, using case study in a rural primary school in Cyprus. They spotted elements of
the school’s culture that contributed to the success of inclusive education.
Biermann, J.; Powell, J. JW. (2012). Comparing Institutional dimensions of inclusive
schooling: comparing the challenge of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities in Germany, Iceland and Sweden / Institutional dimensions of inclusive
education – challenges the UN CRPD for Germany, Iceland and Sweden versus (Report).
Journal for Educational Research, Dec 2014, Vol.17 (4), p.679 (22)
The authors analyze the challenges of inclusive education poses to special education
systems, in Germany, Iceland and Sweden. The study revealed key differences in the
three institutional dimensions— educational ideals and disability paradigms,
organizational forms, and regulations—that hinder or enable inclusive education.
Day of General Discussion on the Right to education of Persons with Disabilities –
Summary of meeting held by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the right to education of persons with disabilities. Experts from the United Nations as well as self-advocates, representatives of States and non-governmental organizations, and members of academia made statements and engaged in dialogues on the challenges in implementing an inclusive education system and made proposals for a draft General Comment on the right to education.
European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education (2012). Special Needs
Education Country Data 2012, Odense, Denmark.
The 2012 report on Special Education by the European Agency for Development in
Special Needs Education presents the school situation of school age children in European
History of Switzerland – Woman Suffrage. Retrieved from:
Kelly, A., Devitt, C., O’ Keeffe, D., Donovan, A. M. (2014). Challenges in Implementing
Inclusive Education in Ireland: Principal’s Views of the Reasons Students Aged 12+
Are Seeking Enrollment to Special Schools. Journal of Policy and Practice in
Intellectual Disabilities, 2014, Vol.11(1), pp.68-81
The authors investigate the reasons why students aged 12+ are leaving mainstream
education and transferring to special schools, and to identify what burden this places on
the special schools.
PARATODOS (06/11/2015) – When one’s Cause is Everyone’s cause. Retrieved from:
Article in Portuguese, about a private school’s parents initiative to create a pro-inclusion
Commission in the school.
UN General Assembly, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities : resolution /
adopted by the General Assembly, 24 January 2007, A/RES/61/106, available at:
http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f973632.html [accessed 11 November 2015]