Seven words shout a marvellous message

Kerri Carr

Briana Blackett and Freddy listen to the message/Jason Nicholas

“Hi Mum, I love you. Good night.”

When Briana Blackett saw her six-year-old son Freddy’s video message — his first unprompted sentences — she recognised that special moment had come about because of the help he was getting at school.

“He could not have done that at the beginning of the year,” she said.

Gonski needs-based funding is providing a student learning support officer to work with Freddy, who has autism, for a large part of the day on most days of the school week.

“He is blossoming,” Briana said. “Without this support we would have a very different child. If this keeps going, who knows what he will be doing in 20 years?”

She recognises the intervention provided to special needs children at school is crucial to the rest of their lives.

“The support they get at school is life-changing, as we can see with Freddy,” she said.

Briana knows for support to be provided for special needs students additional money is needed.

“At the end of the day, money helps. Nothing happens without providing the means,” she said.

“Education is like a train ride. It depends on the ticket you’ve bought. If you get off at the first stop, that’s as far as you go.”

Briana feels education for students with special needs should be viewed in the same light as the intensive support provided to a hospital patient, in which a team of experts all work to achieve that person’s best outcome.

“Without support my son will lose the chance of an independent, successful life,” Briana said.

The NSW Gonski agreement between the NSW Government and the Commonwealth includes provision of a disability loading but Canberra has delayed the delivery of the funds to schools.

“If we had more money to help it would absolutely change the lives of the children and their families,” Briana said.

If the disability loading eventuates, Briana said the extra funding should be used for therapists to assist schools in how to best teach individual children and provide training for all teachers to understand special needs children.

“I would like Freddy to have as much learning support for as long as possible, particularly direct learning support,” she added.

Freddy is in a mainstream kindergarten class at Quakers Hill Public School.

She has high praise for the teachers and staff at the school.

“They are energetic, enthusiastic and have high expectations for all the students.” Freddy’s classroom teacher, Sheree Vidler, and student learning support officer, Heather, even attended one of Freddy’s speech pathologist appointments.

“Freddy is quite capable of learning — he just has trouble with language, socialisation, communication and determining what happens next,” Briana said.

Freddy’s student learning support officer assists him in understanding what is being asked of him. This may involve showing him, encouraging him to have a go, recognising when he needs time out.

“He would not have been able to survive in a mainstream school without support but he wouldn’t have achieved what he has without being in a mainstream school,” Briana said.

What Gonski funding has done for Freddy’s progress has reached the heights of NSW politics.

When Education Minister Adrian Piccoli visited Freddy’s school a few months ago, Briana shared Freddy’s story and the video with him. The Minister then shared Freddy’s story in parliament and then Premier Mike Baird met with Briana and Freddy.

The final report for the Senate inquiry into current levels of access and attainment for students with disability in the school system, and the impact of students and families associated with inadequate levels of support was due out on December 3 but has been extended to January 15.

Disability Standards Review shows more needed

Teachers are using "very effective" practices to enable access to the curriculum for students with a disability, and physical access to education facilities has "improved markedly" but much is dependent on a teacher's skills and interests, the Education Disability Standards Review says.

Supporting teachers to better meet the needs of students with a disability would be a key focus for the Turnbull Government, federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said, commenting on the release of the five-yearly review on December 3.

The Australian Education Union responded that the Turnbull Government had to clearly articulate how it would deliver promised increases in funding to schools to be used for students with a disability.

The review authors, Urbis consultants, said they received many submissions from parents who expressed frustration at the limited effective supports available to their children.

The review noted that some schools were reportedly unwilling to use core funding to support students with a disability.

There is increasing use of the Standards - which clarify the role of education providers and the rights of students with a disability and their parents - to advocate for their rights and obtain change.

Effective employment of the Standards is, however, difficult for low socio-economic groups and for some people with a disability, many of whom have a "culture of low expectation" that further inhibits their actions, the review says.

-Dinoo Kelleghan