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Cusp of new era for students with disability
Significant government announcements promise new hope for students with disability, their families and their schooling.
The substance and gravity of the announcements reflect the substandard experience of too many children with disability and the devastation that abounds when such realities are left unaddressed. Our members have never stood still in this area and own both the positive achievements and the responsibility to keep the improvements coming.
On Monday, 18 February, a vote was carried by the Australian Parliament to establish a royal commission into the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability. The disability community is calling for a broad-ranging inquiry that rightly includes educational settings.
Days later, Labor announced an investment of $300 million over four years for the education of students with disability on top of the $14 billion it already pledged to public schools around the country — a long-awaited and significant step toward reversing cuts and implementing a students’ with disability loading as envisaged under the Review of Schools Funding.
In the same week, the NSW Department of Education announced $205 million over three years for the initial implementation of their disability strategy, triggered by an upper house inquiry established in 2016, progressed by Federation’s ongoing advocacy and developed in consultation with parent, advocate and professional organisations.
We cannot separate these three developments given that long-term funding inequities experienced by public schools have stunted the capacity to implement whole-of-system reform and drive the shifts in culture and practice to equitably, effectively and sustainably delivered an inclusive education system. While these are significant developments, they seek to redress decades of inequity, neglect and ableism, which must be acknowledged in order to move ahead.
We take these next steps with responsibility and hope, in the knowledge our members are best placed to enact change, which will affect the trajectories of our students’ lives, particularly for those living with intersectional disadvantage.
While the fruits of these initiatives will take some time to arise, there are immediate steps our members can take to access support for improved learning and wellbeing for every student.
Associations can request the delivery of the Trade Union Training seminar Organising for Intervention to access and advocate for teaching supports for students with disability. The seminar has been run in a number of country and city organisations and supported members by raising their awareness of processes and resources to ensure all schools are equipped to reach all learners.
Members can access the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) updated information on personalised planning. Federation met with the NESA Special Education Project Officer in 2018 to progress NESAs support in this area. These resources are rooted in enabling better collaborative planning that happens with the student/their associate, strengthening early and long-term planning that is responsive and reflective of the child’s rights and future aspirations.
Such practice should be geared toward inclusive and flexible design of whole-school programs, over retrofitting. In this context, the start of the year is a good time to remind schools of the programming requirements for students with disability. Both our corresponding information leaflet and journal article seek to debunk the myth of requiring separate programs for students with disability in regular classes in mainstream schools.
As we gear up for frank discussion about the treatment of students with disability in schools and participate authentically with strategies for change, it is crucial we invest our time as teachers on processes that promote access and learning for our students (such as relationships and embedding expertise).
The production of separate documentation threatens further segregation and diversion of precious time to futile administrative tasks that fall short of the richness and opportunity of genuine engagement and quality pedagogy for inclusive education practice.
Finally, we must seize the opportunity via active participation in the Fair Funding Now! campaign to grow disability funding — the choice is clear, investment via the Opposition or a history of cuts by the Coalition.
Each dollar is but a drop in the ocean but each drop fills the gap to be closed, and it’s the health and stability of whole communities that will benefit as a result. Attend your Association meeting, call your Organiser out for a school visit and follow our social media so you too take your part in the history we are making for our kids.
Claudia Vera is the officer attached to the Special Education Restricted Committee