Capped funds for pupils with disabilities

Anna Patty Education Editor, SMH August 15, 2009

SCHOOL funding for students with special needs will be capped and no longer distributed according to the number of individual students, under NSW Department of Education proposals.

Principals and teachers are concerned that funding for students with autism and mental health disorders will be capped for the next three years at 2009 levels. The State Government plans to allocate grants based on the prevalence of disorders in the wider community.

Schools attract funding of up to $6000 for each child with a low-level of special needs. Children with severe needs will continue to attract at least $6000 each.

Cheryl McBride, the head of the independent Public Schools Principals Forum, said schools would receive a fixed amount of funding regardless of any fluctuations in the number of students with disabilities.

This would contain costs and prevent budgets increasing with an expected rise in the number of children being diagnosed with special needs.

''The need is growing, but the pot of money isn't,'' she said.

Under the Department of Education proposals, teachers will no longer specialise in reading and language, autism or behavioural difficulties. They will be expected to cover a broader range of special needs after undergoing 110 hours of online learning.

''We are diluting the skills of those experts and putting them into a melting pot,'' Ms McBride said. However, the president of the Primary Principals Association, Geoff Scott, said many teachers had no formal training in the area and would benefit from the online course. He said the Department of Education would consult all principals about the new proposals in the next few weeks.

''We think the current model has the potential to be better,'' he said.

The Department proposes to allocate all schools with a learning support teacher for half a day to two days a week.

Gary Zadkovich, the deputy president of the NSW Teachers Federation, said the Government's decision to cap funding meant it would not have to accommodate any increase in autism and health disorders.

''By changing from a diagnosis-based identification of students, governments avoid their obligation to increase funding proportionate to actual student need,'' he said. ''The proposal to make teachers an expert in every learning disability and behaviour disorder is ridiculous.''

The Greens MP John Kaye said the motivation was ''to contain the budget''. The Opposition's acting spokesman on education, Andrew Stoner, said the Government needed to ''ensure no students with disabilities miss out''.

A spokeswoman for the NSW Minister for Education, Verity Firth, said: ''The proposal to allocate funding directly to schools would remove the need for teachers to complete paperwork or seek confirmation of a student's disability.''



what prevalence of disorders in the wider community?

There is substantial doubt that the NSW Government has any idea of the prevalence of autism/ASD in the wider community. Will it base funding for children with ASD in education on the extremely outdated "4 per 10,000" figure in the DSM-IV, the outdated 1 in 160 figure in the AABASD report ... or will it recognise the latest data from Centrelink that shows 1 in 90 school age children are now diagnosed with either Autistic Disorder or Asperger's Disorder? What prevalence figure will it use for PDD-NOS?

And why would the NSW Government hold funding steady when Centrelink data shows ASD prevalence in school age children has increased more than 2.5 times in the last 5 years?

Some state education departments use the "ridiculous" approach ... insisting their teachers are expert in all specific disabilities.