Funding needs to flow to address gross disadvantage

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Kerri Carr

Colleen Hooker: funding discrimination

Schools are required to ensure all students with a disability have the same opportunities as their peers without disability, but Support head teacher Colleen Hooker says more funding is needed to provide the human resources to make it possible.

“Students with disabilities require additional support to access the curriculum, excursions, camps and whole school activities and they usually need extra adults to help them do this. For example, we can’t allow students with autism to attend the Easter Show because without a one-on-one aide they might get lost.”

Since last year, students in mainstream classes with a low-level disability (such as autism, hearing impaired, vision impaired, dyslexia) have attracted Resource Allocation Model dollars but this funding is not available for students in support units or SSPs.

“They are being discriminated against because they are not able to access funds in the same way other kids are,” she said.

“We’re relying on the Gonski Students with Disability loading when it comes — if it comes.” (The loading has been delayed by the Federal Government.)

Ms Hooker was part of a recent Sutherland Teachers Association delegation to state Liberal MPs Mark Speakman (Cronulla) and Lee Evans (Heathcote) about Federation’s election priorities.

These include demanding that the State Government call on its federal counterpart to implement the Gonski Students with Disability loading, as outlined in the National Education Reform Agreement (NERA), and ensure the provision of specialist teachers, placements and services to students with a disability (particularly for students with emotional disturbance and behaviour disorder).

She has concerns about students with multiple disabilities being placed in support classes that do not match their primary disability, because that’s where the vacancies are.

“There’s not enough places to meet students’ needs,” she said.

“The Gonski loading will allow us to allocate resources based on need. We will have more flexibility to allocate human resources.”

Ms Hooker said increasingly students who have had 1:1 school learning support officer (SLSO) support for a significant percentage of the week (because they have significant needs) in primary school, are placed in a support class in a mainstream high school setting where they receive just 1:10 SLSO support.

“Their needs have not changed,” she stresses. “This places great strain on the teacher and the SLSO.”

She said adequate funding needs to flow to address the gross disadvantage experienced by students with disability.

Ms Hooker points out seriously autistic kids need a much higher level of support than they’re getting now and the Gonski loading will provide that funding.

A 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey revealed the rate of students with disability is 18.6 per cent, three times more than the 5.1 per cent funded rate.

“Once upon a time parents wanted to get their child into a support unit because that’s where the resources were, but now there is a trend away from this as the resourcing is no longer there.”

Ms Hooker teaches at Engadine High School where there are 49 students across two IM (intellectually mild) and two IO (intellectually moderate) classes. She said she finds it professionally insulting that the unit receives just $300 per
support class annually.

Clarification: School principal Joanne Jarvis states additional monies are allocated from school funds to provide specific resources to support student learning in the unit.

Special education at a glance

18.6pc
students with disability
PricewaterhouseCoopers report
5.1pc
funding of students with disability
Productivity Commission