Union piles on evidence over disability needs

With graphic evidence of need in schools serving students with disability, Federation told a parliamentary committee only the Commonwealth’s implementation of the full Gonski, including the Students with a Disability loading, would yield the urgent improvements required to deliver equitable quality education to these students.

“It [the Gonski model] is the only vehicle that will deliver a degree of resourcing that gives us a chance to address many of the issues raised for many years,” Federation President Maurie Mulheron said, giving evidence to the Legislative Council committee investigating the provision of education to students with disability in NSW schools.

“The Gonski review rightly identified the need for greater investment in the education of students with disability .... It [the federal government] has refused to fund to date the students with disability loading, and furthermore it is manoeuvring to dismantle the Gonski model altogether. If the full six years of Gonski funding, including the Students With a Disability loading, from the NSW and federal governments is not delivered, students will be denied the vital support they need.”

Lack of full Gonski funds stretching resources thin

When the Committee queried whether Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s claims of unreliable data were an excuse to not deliver the loading, City Organiser Claudia Vera responded: “It is absolutely our belief that it is a delaying tactic, particularly in the face of the unmet need that the government’s own data has unveiled.”

Ms Vera identified a lack of political will as the roadblock to delivering the loading. "Given that the loading has been identified, the formula has been identified, the data in terms of need has been identified and the loading is still sitting with the federal government, it [the lack of political will] would be with the federal government,” she said.

The Committee members sought further information on a number of inequitable practices detailed by Federation in their submission, including the discrimination experienced by secondary students enrolled in schools for specific purpose (SSPs).

SSP assistant principal and Federation Special Education Committee member Tracey Gocher explained the impact at the coalface: “On the ground, what it looks like — I am working in the schools currently — we are staffed and funded in a K–6 model but we have students from Year 7 to Year 10. They do not have access to specialist teachers, to careers advisers and high school allocations of counsellors and all of those things. So those students do not have access to the full breadth of services and curriculum that mainstream equivalent students do.

“We do not have specialist classrooms. We do not have science labs or TAS [Technical or Applied Studies] rooms so we are trying to teach those subjects in classrooms that are built for K–6. We do not have specialist science or music teachers. We have got some K–6 trained teachers trying to teach Year 11 and Year 12 subjects that they are not trained in. They do their best.”

Of worrying Departmental practices reported by Federation members, Deputy President Gary Zadkovich said: “It is no wonder, in light of the under-funding for decades of students with disability, that Department officers have to resort to a range of measures, when the funding is not there, to manage the finite resources they have got .... We have had a Department and schools without the capacity to implement the kinds of recommendations that were made by the parliamentary inquiry in 2010, hence our strong advocacy for implementing the Gonski needs-based funding model.”

Ms Vera warned the complex task of providing quality education for all fell too often on individual school communities and teachers whose skill, health and workload were unsustainable in the absence of systemic support. “Additional and targeted funding is needed to engage teachers in ongoing professional learning, reflection and dialogue," she said.

Educational leaders should foster a culture that goes beyond homogenisation to diversification, provides the time and processes required for relationship-building, collaborative planning, flexible learning design and specialist intervention, she urged.

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Federation has created a website, for members only, to help meet the needs of students with disability. The site features essential information ranging from legislative requirements and government initiatives to conducting student enrolment, curriculum and programming in addition to how to support students to meet their potential through options for professional learning, working with parents, and ensuring staffing requirements are met.

The site also features information relating to the Department's learning and support funding and how educators can access learning and support programs, services and funding to meet student needs. There is information about how to manage the health and safety of staff and students. Login to the members' area of Federation's website for further information.