Disability inquiry told funds are critical

Claudia Vera
City Organiser

The commission of inquiry begins its sittings

Hearings are underway for the NSW Legislative Council parliamentary inquiry into the provision of education to students with disability and special needs in government and non-government schools in NSW.

Eight hearings, which are open to the public and are being webcast, will be held in both Sydney and regional centres of NSW. The dates and agendas for these hearings are available on the inquiry website.

The hearings follow the submissions process, which saw hundreds of Federation members, through individual, workplace or Association submissions, call for improved provision of education to students with disability in public schools.

Committee Chair, Mike Gallacher (Liberal) opened the first hearing, on Monday April 27 in Sydney by outlining the scope of the inquiry: “This broad-ranging inquiry will consider a number of important issues including equity of access to resources for students with a disability or special needs across the State,” he said. “It will also examine the Every Student, Every School policy and current complaint and review mechanisms. The committee will also examine any developments that have taken place since the last upper House inquiry into disability education in 2010.”

The first hearing saw witnesses from the Department of Education and principal organisations give evidence to the Committee.

Robyn Bale, the Department's Relieving Executive Director, Learning and Wellbeing, said the Department recognised the impact of disability on students’ families and was committed to providing high-quality education for all students in NSW public schools.

“We also acknowledge that some submissions to this inquiry raise serious concerns," she said.

Primary Principals Association Vice President Dianne Robertson said there was no lack of commitment by leaders, parents, teachers and student learning support officers to make a difference in the lives of students with disabilities.

“The issue is ensuring funding meets need," she said, adding, "It is evident that the gap is narrowing between some provision of services to students with disability and special needs and the number of students now presenting to NSW public schools.”

Special Education Principals and Leaders Association President, Peter Skinner called for equity, stating that students with disabilities are entitled to an education on the same basis as their non-disabled peers.

"Currently the quality of education our students receive comes from the high level of professionalism and care of the educators in our settings," he emphasised. "Their wish is to leave no student behind .... Special educators face the most complex learners in the education system with passion, enthusiasm and creativity. The inequitable funding of these students sends a message that students with complex learning needs do not warrant equitable funding."

Federation’s witnesses were to give evidence to the inquiry on Monday April 3 from 9am.

FEDERATION’S SUBMISSION TO THE COMMISSION

Federation calls on the committee to recommend that the state government:

1. continues to advocate for the federal government’s immediate implementation of the Gonski Students with Disabilities loading, which has been withheld for the past two years, and continues to be withheld;

2. continues to advocate for the federal government to reverse its cuts to the final two years of Gonski reforms and implement the full six year Gonski funding model as set out in the NERA;

3. maintains and enhances investment in the education of students with disability in NSW public schools, consistent with the Gonski needs-based principles and model and the requirements under the NERA;

4. adheres to its obligations as an education provider under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 and in doing so better equip the NSW public education system to do the same;

5. calls for and allocates additional funds to invest in equitable and quality education for students with disability to improve:

a.the provision of time and professional learning to deliver on personalisation through teaching and learning, with a particular focus on supported and system-wide transition planning processes

b.Integration Funding levels

c. timely access to specialist support

d.Access Request and placement panel processes

e.provision of support class placements

f. staffing levels for support units

g.equity of resource allocation to Schools for Specific Purposes (SSPs);

6. releases comprehensive detail on the impact of the changes to disability service provision in NSW on public schools and students, and develops protocols addressing the intersection between the Department of Education and its public schools with the National Disability Insurance Agency, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and disability service providers;

7. continues and expands funding allocations and provision of dedicated specialist services which support the personal care of students with disability at school (including the management of complex health care needs), transport to and from school and and assistance in coordinating or managing life stages.

Federation seeks for the inquiry to redress the decades’ long inequity for students with disability and finally deliver the systemic needs-based resources required by teachers and schools to keep their promise and deliver on their obligation to a quality public education for every student.


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