Disability delay to hurt kids

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13 January 2017

Thousands of students with disability will spend 2017 without the support they need at school – due to the Federal Government’s refusal to give schools the resources they need and address chronic underfunding of disability.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham finally released data at the end of last year confirming that more than half of students with disability or learning difficulties who need funded support in our schools are not getting it.

But instead of using this as to begin action, he has tried to create doubts over the data saying that it is unreliable and that there is a ‘long way to go’ before it can be used as a benchmark to lift funding.

This may mean more delays of the Coalition’s promise to properly fund disability in our schools – something which was originally promised for 2015.

The data is from the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on Disability (NCCD) a project which has been running for six years, and aims to properly identify the prevalence of disability in our schools.

The 2015 data showed that 12.5% of students needed supplementary, substantial or extensive support for a disability or learning difficulty – more than twice the number currently receiving funded support in our schools.

This number includes 13.6% of students in public schools, which have consistently educated a higher proportion of students with disability than private schools.

The most recent research from the Productivity Commission found that only 5.1% of all students (and 6.3% of public school students) received funded support for their disability in 2014.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the Federal Government had “known about this data for over a year and done nothing”.

“It is time to act and deliver children with disability the funded support they need to succeed at school,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This data shows that over 270,000 students who need funded support are not getting it.

“Every year we delay is another cohort of students with disability who will miss out on vital support and the chance to benefit fully from their education.”

The lack of funding for students with disability is an ongoing issue and is not news to educators dealing with resource shortages in our schools.

The AEU’s 2016 State of Our Schools survey found that 87% of principals reported having to shift funding from other parts of their school budget to assist students with disability, up from 84% in 2015.

Coalition’s broken promise

While disability funding is a joint state and federal responsibility, the Federal Government must take the lead in lifting and targeting funding.

This is particularly the case given its 2013 election commitment to fund ALL students with disability according to their need.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said as recently as June 2015 last year that from 2016:

‘Every child in Australia with disability will be able to receive the correct loading, as they should, to match their disability’

But that promise was quickly abandoned and last year’s Budget confirmed the Federal Government had no intention of delivering a full loading until 2018.

Educators and disability agencies are now concerned that the federal government’s claim that the data is inaccurate – due to discrepancies between the states – will be used as another excuse to delay proper funding for students with disability.

Yet Education Minister Simon Birmingham is trying to back away from this commitment, saying that the data may be too unreliable to use.

Inconsistencies in the data should not be allowed to distract us from the fact that, no matter how you crunch the data, thousands of students with disability need funded support in our schools, but are not getting it.

It seems inexplicable that federal and state governments could spend six years working out a data collection process – only to find that what they have ended up with is unreliable.