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Issue #1705      October 7, 2015

Disability funding shortfall

Far more students with disability in schools need funded support than are receiving it, according to secret data from the federal government’s own national disability data collection which shows 13.1 percent of students have some form of disability.

Australian Education Union (AEU) federal president Correna Haythorpe told a Senate Inquiry last month that schools were not getting the resources they needed to educate students with disability.

“New Education Minister Simon Birmingham must make it a priority to deliver on the government’s promise of extending funding so it covers all students with disability, and do so by the start of the 2016 school year,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Lack of funding is the biggest barrier to children with disability participating on an equal basis at schools and making the most of their potential. It means that many students get no funded support at school, while others get a level that does not cover the cost of the adjustment required for their disability.

Funding far short of meeting need

The federal government is keeping the results of the National Consistent Collection of Data on Disability for 2014 and 2015 secret, but data from the 2013 collection shows 13.1 percent of students had some kind of disability, of which 88.2 percent needed support at school.

This compares to just 5.3% percent of students who receive any funded support.

This data backs up the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers which found that half of all students with disability in mainstream schools get no extra support, that’s a total of 127,000 students. This includes 37,000 students with severe or profound disability.

Ms Haythorpe told the Senate that the work of dedicated and passionate educators needed to be backed with resources so that schools could provide equipment, one-on-one support and professional development for staff.

“All students with disability who need support at school must be able to get it. Anything less is to leave these students without the skills they will need for work or further education.”

Year 12 completion rates among people with a disability are 36% compared to 60% for those without disability and that flows on into reduced employment rates and greater poverty.

Principals say they are under-resourced

The AEU’s State of Our Schools survey for public schools found that 79 percent of principals say they do not have the resources to properly educate students with disability at their school and 84 percent reported diverting resources from other areas of their budget to assist students with disability.

The experience of Sandra Bowden, Khancoban Public School NSW, is typical of those who contributed to the AEU’s submission to the Senate Inquiry.

“I have Kindergarten to Year 6 in the same room, a multistage class with two students with moderate disabilities and three mild. This makes teaching anything very difficult. I often feel I’m letting down the students who could be gifted and talented but I don’t have the time or the energy to get to them most days as the behaviour and disabilities take so much time.”

Ms Haythorpe said the federal government had let down students with disability by failing to keep its 2013 election promise to increase funding.

“Former Education Minister Christopher Pyne continually denied there was a problem, and failed to put aside any money in the Budget to increase disability funding.

“We need his successor, Simon Birmingham, to take the lead on this issue and tell us how he is going to deliver this urgently-needed funding in 2016.”

Next article – Organiser entirely vindicated

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