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Families fear students with disabilities are left behind in switch to remote learning

South-east Sydney mother Renae McNamara fears her son isn’t learning anything at the moment. The 11-year-old has two learning disabilities, which already place him four years behind his peers in spelling, writing and mathematics. He also has ADHD, which means he struggles to start tasks and needs constant guidance to maintain focus.

Now he is at risk of falling even further behind, as the supports he usually receives at school have slipped away during the switch to remote learning. As a single mother and respiratory physiotherapist at a hospital, Ms McNamara must send her son to school. But instead of receiving his usual tailored support, she says he comes home having played video games and listened to music all day.

Renae McNamara with her son at their south-east Sydney home.

Renae McNamara with her son at their south-east Sydney home.Credit:Louise Kennerley

“He is now being left sitting in a classroom with ADHD and with no teaching taking place, and he is expected to work independently at a computer all day. This is a child who should be working one-on-one with a specialised teacher,” Ms McNamara said.

“Vulnerable children, many whom have to attend school due to their parents or carers being essential workers, are being denied the education and teaching they require, and left sitting rotting in classrooms or at home where no teacher is teaching nor checking on their progress.”

Other parents of children with disabilities share Ms McNamara’s concerns, said chief executive of Children and Young People with Disability Australia, Mary Sayers. “We learned last year that students with disabilities were left behind in their education, and what we have heard this year is things aren’t much better,” she said.

“There’s a lack of clarity in information, particularly for students who require adjustments that are normally provided by the school.”

Those adjustments could include amending the curriculum to make sure it is accessible, modifying technology used in the classroom for a student’s needs, or tailored support from a specialised teacher.

“[Those] types of support provided should be the same but delivered innovatively – by phone, Microsoft Teams or online; having multiple check-ins throughout the day. But that just drops away. We hear that responsibility moves from the school to the families,” Ms Sayers said

Ms McNamara’s son has been receiving catch-up tutoring to help compensate after last year’s period of remote learning. “But now the exact same thing is happening again. It just does my head in. We’re forever behind; we’re never going to catch up,” she said.

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