Submission to Senate committee inquiry on school refusal

education: an outline in purple of a graduation cap
In December 2022, IHRA made a submission to the Senate Education and Employment References Committee in relation to its inquiry on school refusal and related matters.

In this submission we make four main observations:

  1. Whilst the Australian COVID-19 shutdowns have been a source of anxiety and social dislocation for many school-age children, the prevalence of school refusal post- shutdowns is, in our view, mostly unrelated to this trauma. Rather, COVID-19 home- schooling arrangements have shown a generation of young people that if they do not feel safe in schools, there are alternative ways that allow them to feel better. We expect that many submissions will make this observation, so we do not elaborate on it further.
  2. The reasons why children feel unsafe in schools are diverse and complex. One important reason is that students who are categorised by schools as LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, plus) can feel invisible, misinformed about their bodies, unsafe, unwelcome and lack a sense of belonging. This lack of visibility and acceptance is exacerbated by the fact that education professionals (like many in the general community) work from an aggregated and often superficial understanding of LGBTQI+. We believe that what is needed is a disaggregated perspective that differentiates between the lived experiences of different populations within the rainbow alliance. It is important here to note that intersex is not an identity category. The intersex population does not have a shared gender identity. Rather, intersex is a biological variation.
  3. Young Australians with intersex variations often report poor schooling experiences. We submit that most Australian schools (and education professionals working in them) lack sound understanding of the experiences of children with intersex variations. Not only are many people in the community ignorant about the lived experiences of people with innate variations of sex characteristics, but misinformation and incorrect assumptions abound. Children with an intersex variation are a small but significant subset of young people who express school refusal or school phobia.
  4. Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) provides authoritative information and advice on the needs and circumstances of people with an intersex variation or innate variation of sex characteristics. We urge the committee, in developing a holistic view of the causes and solutions to school refusal, to take account of young people with intersex variations, and the views of the intersex human rights movement and community as to how they can best be supported to be successful and settled in school and, more broadly, their lives.

The submission was written by Dr Agli Zavros-Orr, Olympia Balopitos, Dr Aileen Kennedy and Dr Alice de Jonge. It draws on work by Morgan Carpenter.

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