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The Policy Problem: The NDIS and Implications for Access to Education


Tuesday, 7th February 2017 at 8:15 am
Staff Reporter,
Despite the policy priority across OECD countries of increasing lifelong learning opportunities, fragmented NDIS policy in Australia prevents people with disability from achieving this ideal, write academics Ben Whitburn, Julianne Moss and Jo O’Mara from Deakin University.


Tuesday, 7th February 2017
at 8:15 am
Staff Reporter,


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The Policy Problem: The NDIS and Implications for Access to Education
Tuesday, 7th February 2017 at 8:15 am

Despite the policy priority across OECD countries of increasing lifelong learning opportunities, fragmented NDIS policy in Australia prevents people with disability from achieving this ideal, write academics Ben Whitburn, Julianne Moss and Jo O’Mara from Deakin University.

This is an edited extract from the original paper published by the Journal of Education Policy.

The distance rendered between the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and education from its inception is symptomatic of the continued authority of the special education industry in Australia.

That the NDIS was founded at least in part on a common understanding that educational attainment for people with disabilities in Australia was (and continues to be) at a crisis point, is an unfortunate consequence of this authority.

Education is also the most used “mainstream” service among current NDIS participants. Instead of maximising these outcomes, however, the NDIS is framed in a way that develops a certain policy problem.

Despite the policy priority across Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries of increasing lifelong learning opportunities, fragmented NDIS policy in Australia prevents people with disabilities from achieving this ideal.

Education and the NDIS

While equity in education is better served by progressive social and political theoretical bases than diagnostic categorisation, as with the NDIS, funded support in schools is tied to diagnosis.

This is similarly the case in the higher education sector, wherein the federally funded Higher Education Disability Support Program provides funding to some institutions to offset the associated costs of providing access to students with disabilities. In the main, this program is not made available to providers of vocational education. In terms of accessing the NDIS, public services such as health, education, housing, transport and justice are considered “mainstream”, and though they are taken into account in the planning phase of an IFP (individual financial plan), funded support is kept strictly separate.

In a document entitled Principles to Determine the Responsibility of the NDIS and Other Service Systems, the NDIA delineates what can be funded in an IFP for people in relation to their education, and the costs that are the responsibility of education systems.

These principles take into account the responsibility of the education system to provide all people, including those with disabilities, equitable access to curriculum, assessment and reporting, described as “educational attainment” that relates to “teaching, learning assistance and aids, school building modifications and transport between school activities”.

While in compulsory schooling specific disability training is not offered to educational staff, there is scope to integrate this into funding in vocational and higher education. At the same time the NDIA commits the scheme to funding supports “not directly related to educational attainment” but rather to the impact of the person’s impairment on functional capacity, relating to personal care and transport.

There is a particular focus on resources. The principles establish any need for equipment and aids for a person’s education, such as assistive technology, modified textbooks and software as the responsibility of education systems, as well as collaboration with allied health professionals. The NDIS will, however, provide funding for both of these requirements away from formal education if they are deemed valuable for building capacity.

On the whole, these principles uphold the privileging of expert knowledge over the voiced explanations of service users about their needs in relation to their ambitions for educational attainment. Further, the disjointedness between the NDIS and education services to this end exacerbates the policy problem; itself a problem that is manifested through those involved in the planning phase of NDIS participation. For one, education providers are kept from collaborative planning with potential participants, inherently because of the distance rendered between the scheme and education systems.

Even though packaged supports are created with families of school-aged children and participants seeking access to lifelong learning opportunities, this fragmentation ensures that a formalised and constructive pathway to enhance educational opportunities for students with disabilities remains, because educators are silenced, while participants are privileged only limited possibilities to speak.

What participants might ask for in planning is impacted, as they are steered away from asking for any provisions that might support their education. While it is unmistakably the responsibility of education systems to provide specialist training for school teachers as part of the funded support they receive from state and Commonwealth governments, it is uncertain in other circumstances whether or not training, resources and/or therapeutic support is the responsibility of either service.

By keeping them strictly separate a participant will be kept from receiving a coordinated programme that will incorporate all of his or her needs. Similar concerns have been raised in relation to the detachment between health services and the NDIS for people with severe disabilities who require constant care.

Similarly, having identified young people with autism as the highest proportion of funded NDIS participants, it seems enigmatic that specific disability training for staff of compulsory educational settings in relation to students on the autism spectrum is not offered, but that it could be made available to further and higher education providers.

Teachers of compulsory education have expressed ambivalence over their confidence to adequately educate students on the autism spectrum in addition to other disabilities, pointing to the necessity to increase professional development opportunities.

While [there is a call] for greater funding to this end, the NDIS is absolved of responsibility in the compulsory sector. An irony persists, however, in that disability training is offered to further and higher education providers. However, the likelihood of students on the autism spectrum reaching this level of education is made improbable through inadequate support in the compulsory phase. Therefore, funding specific training in the higher education sector will be wasted.

Finally, in relation to assistive technology, aids and physical resources such as books in braille, a challenge seems inevitable whereby equipment provided by the NDIS that could immediately benefit a student’s education will not be permitted for this use. Likewise, equipment provided by education jurisdictions will not be serviceable outside educational settings.

The restrictive consequences on a person’s education, owing to policy and liability concerns, will further regulate their access and participation in learning.

On the whole, that the NDIS makes this series of demarcations, while at the same time having been founded on principles of providing limitless access to services, particularly education, so as to leverage the social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities is indicative that the NDIS in its current form is inadequate to meet the multifaceted needs of people with disabilities.

It instead produces and exacerbates a policy problem wherein diagnostic categorisation, functional limitation and silencing of participants’ ambitions determine financially supported outcomes. Under this regime, formal education is rendered unnecessary for scheme participants, despite the value that it can provide to their lives.

Conclusion

The narrative of the nascent NDIS is that in its design it will leverage social participation of people with disabilities across Australia by providing for choice and control over life goals.This is unprecedented legislation whose comparable complexity has not been implemented elsewhere around the world. At the same time, however, access to funded support is contingent on medical assessment, economic rationalism and silencing, and any potential crossovers with mainstream services such as health, education, transport, justice or housing are instantly restricted.

In this way, the NDIS currently “mediates the dominance of the medical and neoliberal models of disability without necessarily challenging their legitimacy”. These competing discourses resonate with disability policy contexts elsewhere that limit inclusive capacity.

Entrenching this concern in relation to the NDIS specifically, is the limited choice available within the marketplace from which NDIS participants can purchase supports, itself further legitimising the supremacy of expertise in the life worlds of people with disabilities and silencing their agency.

The constituted subject of the person with a disability after the introduction of the NDIS, then, is still one of an impecunious, imprudent receiver of benevolent welfare.

The opportunity to develop a progressive disability policy-funding system that will provide seamless access to appropriate services and support has unfortunately not been realised. The distance rendered between the NDIS and education from its inception is symptomatic of the continued authority of the special education industry in Australia.

That the NDIS was founded at least in part on a common understanding that educational attainment for people with disabilities in Australia was (and continues to be) at a crisis point, is an unfortunate consequence of this authority.

Education is also the most used “mainstream” service among current NDIS participants. Instead of maximising these outcomes, however, the NDIS is framed in a way that develops a certain policy problem.

Further, the problem is exacerbated; increased participation represented by NDIS policy is not conceived broadly enough because access to lifelong learning opportunities are not made explicit in the policy platform. As a consequence of this framing, the NDIS cannot be drawn on to leverage inclusion to the publicised extent.

About the authors: Dr Ben Whitburn, Professor Julianne Moss and Associate Professor Jo O’Mara are from the faculty of arts and education at Deakin University.

The full paper can be found here.



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