SPECIAL EDUCATION FUNDING
Motion Accorded Priority
Ms MELANIE GIBBONS
(Menai) [3.25 p.m.]: I move:
That this House commends the New South Wales Government for working with the Federal Government to deliver greater funding for students with disabilities in New South Wales schools
Today is an important step forward for the education of students with disabilities in New South Wales. I am proud to celebrate today's joint announcement by the Minister for Education and the Federal Government's Parliamentary Secretary for School Education, Senator Jacinta Collins, of $63 million from the More Support for Students with Disabilities initiative. This funding will benefit more than 100,000 New South Wales school students with disability by giving them greater access to classroom support and specialised equipment. This funding has two key aims: to enable students with disability to finish their schooling, and to help them secure a job once their formal education is completed.
We have evidence that students with disability are less likely to complete year 12, putting them at greater risk of unemployment and of social exclusion. Obviously, this is not a desirable outcome. So today we commit to delivering a better outcome for students with disability in New South Wales. I am also pleased to say that this boost in funding will help students with disability in government, Catholic and independent schools over the next two years. No school will be disadvantaged. As I said when establishing priority, all sectors will benefit from this injection of funds: $47.9 million will flow to New South Wales government schools, $11.3 million will be for Catholic schools, and $3.8 million will be for more than 35 mainstream and special independent schools.
It is also great to receive support from the Executive Director of the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales, Dr Geoff Newcombe, and the Executive Director of the Catholic Education Commission of New South Wales, Dr Brian Croke, for this announcement. This funding will feed into the State Government's new Every Student, Every School initiative, which is designed to give children with disability the best possible education by ensuring that teachers and schools are more able to meet their learning and support needs. After extensive consultation with parents, teachers and principals we have been told that they want more specialist support in regular mainstream schools. No teacher's aide will lose their job. Indeed, one key change that this Government will introduce is to provide a specialist teacher for every school to better meet the needs of students with disability across the State.
The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! There is too much audible conversation. If members wish to have private conversations they should do so outside the Chamber.
Ms MELANIE GIBBONS:
We will also expand specialist support services and resource options for students with complex disabilities and high support needs. It is about recognising that one size does not necessarily fit all and each student, each child, will have differing needs. To address this a functional assessment tool will be developed based not solely on the disability diagnosis but on additional educational needs. It is a win for students, parents and teachers. Materials will be developed professionally and, along with other support, will help teachers to adjust the curriculum to meet the individual learning and support needs of students with disability. This includes accredited online study options and more than 300 scholarships for teachers to undertake retraining to gain post-graduate qualifications in special education.
We are committed to giving our teachers the skills, resources and knowledge to best serve students with all educational needs across the State. I think we all agree that a teacher workforce that is better equipped to understand and meet the learning and support needs of the full range of students in classrooms is a great outcome. This initiative will also provide health, allied health or other professionals to strengthen school support for students with disability. Principals will remain responsible for determining how their school's resources are used to best meet the learning and support needs of the students in their school. This means that the school will be able to decide how best to allocate funding resources to suit the individual school, rather than be expected to adhere to the department-issued decision. Schools will even have the option to pool their resources with other schools. They can utilise technology to help with hearing and speech or to help focus on certain needs.
I am proud to support greater flexibility and independence for our schools so that they can use this funding to achieve the best outcomes at a local level. I have worked in the disability sector and I know some of the challenges schools face to meet the needs of all students, including those with special needs. I am sure all members would have come across this situation. Today's funding announcement is a step in the right direction to improving access to comprehensive education for students with a disability, and helping the 90,000 students in the public sector is a great outcome. It is clear that it is an area of need and I am pleased to celebrate this announcement today.
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT
(Marrickville) [3.30 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition on this motion. I move:
That the motion be amended by adding the following words after "schools":
"and calls on the New South Wales Government to guarantee that no school will lose support teacher learning assistance positions, and that no student will be worse off as a result of the Every Student, Every School reforms."
I move the amendment because this is an extremely important area of government policy and government action. There is no doubt that supporting students with a disability in our schools is an area of great complexity and emotion, and people have many ideas on how best this should be achieved. The Illawarra trial that the Government proposes to extend across New South Wales has been the subject of intense debate and parental concern, in particular, at a significant forum held in this place earlier this year. It is incumbent on the O'Farrell Government to give this guarantee to parents, students, teachers and teachers' aides who do the important work of supporting and educating students with a disability in our schools.
Time and again members of the O'Farrell Government have stood in this place and attacked the Federal Government in all manner of ways and for all manner of initiatives and development. Today the Coalition Government has tried to pass off increased Federal funding as its own achievement. The O'Farrell Government and the Minister for Education are so desperate and devoid of achievements, initiatives and action that they have to pass off Federal Government funding, activity and achievement as their own. I think this House and definitely members of the community would see through that. There is not one person who would not welcome additional funding for students with a disability, and we congratulate the Federal Government on that additional funding.
However, no additional funding is coming from the O'Farrell Government. This funding is from the Federal Government. The O'Farrell Government is using this funding to roll out a series of reforms that will mean fundamental change for students across New South Wales with a disability. Parents have raised a range of concerns, including that schools will lose out under the new funding arrangements, particularly schools that have a greater number of students with autism than the community prevalence of autism. They are concerned about that definition. They welcome the move away from having to have a diagnosis of autism, but the fact that schools will be funded on the basis of community prevalence of autism rather than actual numbers is something that causes concern for parents.
Parents are concerned that schools will lose support teacher learning assistance positions or teachers aides. I welcome the guarantee of the member for Menai that there will be no loss of teachers' aides positions. However, we need to know that no school will lose teachers aides positions. It is one thing to say that the number of teachers' aides will remain the same. If the teachers' aides are moved from one school to another school and that school loses overall a teacher's aide position, then parents have a right to be concerned about that. Parents are also concerned that special education teachers will be required to teach outside their area of expertise without appropriate training and support and that language support classes will be abolished.
These are real concerns. The O'Farrell Government and the Minister for Education must come clean and allay the fears of the community that these things will not come to pass. Above all, parents do not have confidence in the Government. In particular they do not have confidence in the Minister for Education to deliver complex reform for students with a disability after the debacle of the assisted transport scheme. Compared with this reform that was relatively straightforward—it involved contracts to deliver students with a disability to school. This is far more difficult, more complex reform. Parents in New South Wales have already felt the blunt side of reform O'Farrell Government style and they do not like it.
The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
I recognise the former member for Cronulla in the gallery. I welcome him back to the Parliament.
Mr PAUL TOOLE
(Bathurst—Parliamentary Secretary) [3.35 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the member for Menai that this House commends the New South Wales Government on working with the Federal Government to deliver greater funding for students with disability in New South Wales schools. This is a landmark decision. It is a bold initiative and one I am very proud that the Government is supporting. I am glad that members of the public are in the visitors gallery to hear that the Government stood up to the Labor Party when it tried to impose a carbon tax on the whole of Australia that would affect mums and dads across this State while members opposite sat quietly and did nothing.
The Minister for Education has worked hard with the Federal Government to provide $63 million to support people with a disability. Finally we have a Minister who is working with the Federal Government. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former Premier Morris Iemma could not work together. They had numerous problems in reaching a united policy on anything. It is this Government that has introduced reform and action across the State while Labor members run typical scare campaigns about attacks on wages and conditions. That is absolute rubbish. We hear only these claims from them rather than policy and reform. Today's announcement by the Minister for Education will result in more than 100,000 New South Wales school students having greater access to classroom support and specialised equipment. The $63 million will be a funding boost for government, Catholic and independent schools.
The Minister and members of this House realise the great need for this type of support. As a former schoolteacher I can say that this is long overdue. The mums, dads and teachers involved in schools all agree that this is a great initiative. Without this initiative, students who go to year 12 will have a greater risk of later being unemployed or suffering social exclusion. The announcement will feed into the Government's Every Student, Every School policy. For many years Federal and State governments have been called upon to improve funding and support arrangements for students with disabilities. This landmark decision is a great start. The funding will help boost the ability of teachers supporting students and by providing them with training and mentoring—I am very pleased about that. It is a step forward for education and for our students. I am proud to be part of a Government that has initiated this move.
Mr GUY ZANGARI
(Fairfield) [3.38 p.m.]: I support the amendment moved by the member for Marrickville calling on the New South Wales Government to guarantee that no school will lose support teacher learning assistance positions and no student will be worse off as a result of the Every Student, Every School reform. Last Friday, 23 March, I had the pleasure of visiting Les Powell School in Mount Pritchard, a school that caters for 80 students with a whole spectrum of disabilities. The school has 12 hardworking teachers and 12 hardworking teachers' aides. The hardworking principal, Mr Sargon Makko, and his dedicated staff ensure that students receive quality education inside and outside the classroom—formal and informal. Schools such as Les Powell can offer solid programs only if they have support from State and Federal governments.
I ask the Minister to ensure that schools such as Les Powell get their fair share of funding and that specialist teacher support is not removed from these schools. The Federal Government is serious about education, which is why it is providing more support for students with disabilities under this initiative. I commend Prime Minister Julia Gillard for her commitment to students, but especially to students with learning and physical disabilities. Parents are concerned about the Illawarra trial and only yesterday I received two letters from concerned parents in the Fairfield electorate who have students attending Canley Vale Public School. I ask the Minister to guarantee that no government school will lose its specialist teacher support. I do this is because the Minister has a track record.
The Minister's report card so far this year shows that on day one, 750 students with disabilities were left stranded on the side of the road. This indicates the Minister is struggling. We note that the funding is going to government, Catholic and independent schools to give disabled students the best possible start. That is essential. Once again I congratulate the Federal Labor Government on its outstanding commitment to education. It is good to see that the New South Wales Government has actually acknowledged that the Federal Government has such a clear commitment. We note that the aims for students are to finish school and secure a job, two very important matters.
Ms MELANIE GIBBONS
(Menai) [3.41 p.m.], in reply: I am happy to thank the Federal Government when it does something good and helps us to provide $63 million for students with disabilities. That is helpful and good, and I am appreciative of it. The State Government will utilise that $63 million properly and make the most of it to provide the best possible education for kids with disabilities. We all understand that if a child does not make it to year 12, leaves school and does not take up an apprenticeship or undertake further training that child can sometimes be at a disadvantage, particularly if a disability is involved. We do not want them to start behind the eight ball; we want them to have the best future possible. Parents are appreciative of this change and the fact that their kids may get more time with a teacher's aide and more specialist education. They need that one-on-one time. If we can provide that more often and more regularly than they are receiving it at present that will be a great step forward.
This reform is about helping the kids. That is what it all comes down to: providing them with a proper education. A mother came into my office this week and told me she was struggling to get her son to school. He has a disability and is finding the education does not quite suit his needs. This funding will give him one-on-one time with a teacher's aide, which is exactly what he needs. Importantly, it also ensures that the teachers have time to learn: they will be able to access scholarships so that they can learn how to teach these children. It is also important that they can liaise with special schools to find out what they do and what works for them, and how to get the best education possible for these children.
This initiative for students with a disability will provide more appropriate assistive technologies to support students to work more independently in inclusive environments. It is most important that that takes place. Training and mentoring teachers and school leavers to build their skills and knowledge in specialist education is extremely important. It will enable them to provide the education these children need so that they can leave school and be positive and active members of society. Hopefully, we will be able to help them to get employment.
Dr Geoff Lee:
Ms MELANIE GIBBONS:
That is right, it is about capacity building on an ongoing basis and giving them the best start in life. This initiative supports the establishment of specialist teacher support in every New South Wales government school. It develops the materials, and provides professional development and other support to help teachers adjust their curriculum to meet children's individual learning needs. It expands specialist support services and resource options for students with complex disabilities and high support needs. Most importantly, it also provides health, allied health and other professionals to strengthen school support for students with a disability.
Question—That the amendment be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
Question resolved in the negative.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Mr R. C. Williams
Mr J. D. Williams