Thursday, 16 February 2017

Disturbing funding gap

Students with a disability face an enormous funding gap in Australian schools, new figures from the Productivity Commission and the Education Council appear to show.

Last December, the Education Council released its Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) for school students with disability for the first time, with responses from 100 per cent of schools.

When compared to the Productivity Commission's figures, it appears to show more than 268,000 students with disability are in school without funding support to assist in their education.

For some families this means their children cannot get the education they had hoped for.


The NCCD numbers for 2015, the most recent year available, showed 12.5 per cent of all Australian school students — 468,265 students — received some form of support due to disability that required additional funding.

This support is known as an "educational adjustment". It can include money spent to make schools more accessible with handrails and ramps, to paying for learning support officers who help students with a disability in the classroom.

The NCCD number for students that required some sort of financial support dwarfed the number of students with disability that the Productivity Commission said were actually funded.

Earlier this month, the Productivity Commission released its own report on government services. It found the total funded students with disability in 2015 by all Australian governments was 200,168.

According to those numbers, more than 268,000 students with disability were in school without funding support to pay for adjustments to assist in their education.


However, the Federal Government said the NCCD statistics were flawed.

"It really is very disappointing," Education Minister Simon Birmingham said.

"This data … hasn't come to a credible landing point just yet."

The NCCD figures are the result of an eight-year process to come up with a standardised definition of students with disability that could be used to compare spending and support in all states and territories.

The statistics rely on a survey filled out by school principals and teachers.

Senator Birmingham said the numbers produced wide variations between states and territories that made the results unreliable.

"There's much more work to be done by the states and territories to ensure that (the NCCD data) truly is nationally consistent," he said.

The Government admits, however, that it does use NCCD statistics to "inform" its funding decisions for students with a disability. 

"We're using it as part of a mix of information," Senator Birmingham said.


Those who have been struggling for years to find financial resources for students with disability have said the funding gap is real.

"There's really not enough resource allocated to school communities to really address the needs of these young people," said Terry Bennett, principal of Melba College, in Melbourne's outer east.

"We know from working with them in a daily capacity that they do need extra support," he said.

When the money is not there to make that support available, that can lead to tough calls.

"Unfortunately, it also means sometimes you have to make hard decisions about access time in the school," Mr Bennett said.

For Misa Alexander and her six-year-old son Hugo, restricted access to schooling due to a disability is all too familiar.

Hugo lives with moderate functioning autism spectrum disorder and moderate intellectual disability. His verbal communication is limited.

He was provided with a learning support officer to accompany him at school for three hours a day.

"He wants to be there. And having the amount of funding that we have doesn't allow him to attend a whole day," she said.

Ms Alexander says because Hugo only attends kindergarten in the mornings, it means he misses out on lunch — and, crucially, making friends. She wants him to be able to attend school all day.

"It is an example of children with a disability not getting enough resources," she said.

From the ABC Online.

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