Critical time for disability campaign

Claudia Vera

Teachers' morale compromised by lack of support for meeting the additional needs of students with disability

The Turnbull government cannot possibly meet its legal obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and commitments under the Australian Education Act 2013, National Education Reform Agreement and its own National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 to all students with disability without fully implementing the Gonski needs-based funding model, including the Students with Disability loading.

Delivering on equity and excellence for students with disability cannot be done on a shoestring. The 2011 Review of Funding for Schooling (Gonski) report confirmed that it costs more to deliver on equity and excellence for students with disability — 186 per cent of the school resource standard.

Federation is calling for the full implementation of the Gonski schools funding model to deliver the intervention necessary for every student to succeed, including:

  • guaranteed equity of resource allocation to Schools for Specific Purposes (SSPs)
  • investment in staffing betterments for support units
  • adequate levels of support placements and targeted funding
  • supported transition planning processes.

All teachers are urged to engage in campaigning at both federal and state levels in the coming months to improve learning opportunities for students with disability and teachers’ working conditions.

In NSW, teachers are working with a learning and support framework originally embedded to cap the rising cost of educating students with disabilities and create savings for the government off the back of our students’ educational opportunities.

The system has limited access to direct support from those with specialist expertise and experience. Formal and informal processes have been inserted along the decision-making continuum to act as gatekeepers of adequate resourcing that too often result in you professional judgement and collaborative planning being questioned, undermined and ignored. This is occurring in schools operating beneath the minimum resource standard and without any additional federal funding.

The dire state of our students’ schooling experience is inextricably linked to your working experience. Not only are too many of our students missing out on the lifelong benefits of schooling, but grossly inadequate resourcing is increasingly leading to your excessive workload and mental and physical ill-health.

Your morale and professional confidence is compromised by a sense of not feeling equipped or supported to meet the responsibility and challenges presented by the additional needs of our students with disability.

The government has abandoned its role in this collective responsibility and left an unmanageable load to be carried on your backs.

Federation has been involved throughout this term in a Departmental advisory committee tasked with reviewing the existing planning and utilisation arrangements for access to specialist provision (targeted funding and support placements).

The committee process has highlighted areas of effective practice including personalised learning and support, collaborative planning, timely and informed decision making — all in close consultation with the student or carer. These are all practices that Federation supports but acknowledges are resource-intensive. A report will be provided to October Council on the outcome.

Inquiry a chance to dispel mistruths

The NSW Legislative Council has established an inquiry into the provision of education to students with a disability or special needs in government and non-government schools in NSW.

Teachers cannot afford for this to be another passing exercise in highlighting already known facts to no real effect.

Your engagement and activism over the next few months is critical to dispelling the mistruths spouted by the Department in claiming there is no unmet need in the system and to call the federal government to account for a complete abrogation of responsibility to delivering on equity and excellence.

Federation will develop resources to maximise members’ submissions to the Upper House Inquiry and for use at school and Association meetings to support members in campaigning for additional resources to meet the needs of students with disability.

The union will convene an Equity for Students with Disability Symposium to mobilise members and community supporters, strengthen public support and generate further lobbying pressure on government.

Claudia Vera is the Officer attached to the Special Education Restricted Committee

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