Disabled Students Being Left Behind
28 September 2015 at 10:48 am
Disabled school students with additional health and development needs are being left out by a support system that is too rigid and narrowly focused, according to a state peak welfare body.
Acting CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), Mary Sayers, said the state’s Program for Students with Disabilities was setting some people up for a life of disadvantage.
“The combination of disability, additional health and development needs and a low socioeconomic background can create a potential ‘double jeopardy’ for some children, who are at risk of lifelong social vulnerability,” Sayers said.
”The current Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) is based on rigid diagnosis eligibility criteria, and doesn’t recognise that students with disability or additional health and development needs from disadvantaged families, require even greater support to fulfill their educational potential.”
Sayers said the PSD currently supports about four per cent of the student population. However, around seven per cent of children up to 14 years of age have some level of disability, and about 20 per cent of children have additional health and development needs (AHDN), meaning they require additional supports to fulfil their potential at school.
She said this meant the majority of those students in need of additional support were unable to receive it through the PSD, putting them at risk of not being able to succeed at school.
“VCOSS members have told us students with disability and additional health and development needs face a culture in the current schools system, which former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes has termed the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’,” Sayers said.
A VCOSS examination of the PSD has revealed numerous instances of concern in the way the program is being implemented in schools. These include:
· One school used some of their PSD funding to obtain Kung Fu training for their teachers to ‘help’ them to manage students with challenging behaviours
· An example of a student whose skill level was assessed as three years below her peers – this was not considered an issue by the school yet would have been of serious concern if the student did not have a disability
· An example where a student’s individual learning plan identified that they should take photos of other students undertaking education tasks, with no focus on the student actually learning themselves
· One school used PSD funding to purchase Lego with the intention of developing the motor skills of students – while this was beneficial to some other students at the school, the student who actually attracted the funding was unable to use Lego due to their disability and therefore their support needs were unmet.
Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, said the Andrews Government would conduct a review into PSD.
He said the review would consult an expert Advisory Panel including representatives from principals’ groups, Australian Association of Special Education, Parents Victoria, AMAZE (Autism Victoria), the Specific Learning Difficulties (SPELD) Victoria, the Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne.
“This is the most comprehensive review of the Program for Students with Disabilities in our state’s history,” Merlino said.
“Everyone deserves a great education to reach their full potential – and children with special needs deserve support.”
VCOSS said the Andrews Government’s commitment to a review was an important step.
“VCOSS welcomes the Andrews Government’s initiative to review the Program for Students with Disabilities and we have recommended fundamental changes to the program in our submission to the review,” Sayers said.
“These include revising the funding arrangements to shift away from the rigid eligibility criteria and deficit-based PSD funding model to a functional and educational needs-based approach that supports all students with additional health and development needs. Many of these recommendations are about cultural and systemic changes that are inexpensive, but which would significantly improve the school experience of students and their families.”