The National Disability Insurance Scheme is failing to improve access to education, families say. Why?

Katie Burgess

Less than half of Canberra families say the National Disability Insurance Scheme has improved their child's access to education, as experts say the scheme is not working well with state and territory education departments.

Only 48 per cent of participants aged 6 to 14 in the ACT have seen an improvement in their access to education under the scheme, according to the COAG disability reform council's latest quarterly report.

The figures are even worse nationally, with only 37 per cent reporting an improvement.

And they come as a separate Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report shows almost one in four (23 per cent) school students with a disability needed more support than they currently received.

One in 11 students with a disability did not receive support but need it.

Senior lecturer in inclusive education at Deakin University Dr Ben Whitburn said the latest figures still showed the way the scheme ran parallel with mainstream education "adversely affected" children with disabilities and their families.

"Research time and again has shown the difficulties they have had accessing education, and the NDIS was expected to make their lives easier in this respect. However the scheme was unfortunately not set up to address this probable concern," Dr Whitburn said.

Dr Whitburn said the scheme required children with disabilities to "dip into two different buckets of support" - one for their educational needs and one to function in the community.

"To put this another way, say the NDIS provides a young person an important piece of assertive technology that unquestionably would help them also at school, they cannot use the technology at school unless the education department also buys them one," Dr Whitburn said.

Advocacy for Inclusion's senior human rights policy adviser Bonnie Millen said while support had generally improved under the NDIS, there were still gaps when it came to the education system.

 Dion Georgopoulos

Advocacy for Inclusion's senior human rights policy adviser Bonnie Millen. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

"The NDIS does not fund from individual participant plans a dedicated support teacher or tutor within the school system," Ms Millen said.

"Instead, families are directed to the ACT Education Department's Network Student Engagement Team team to be assessed for appropriate supports.

"The critique that Advocacy for Inclusion has been made aware of is that schools fund learning support assistants to assist in classrooms with individual students by transferring funds from one area of funding to allow funding for [learning support assistants], rather than being provided funding to all schools dedicated to this purpose.

"We argue that all schools should be provided funding from the ACT education department to have ensure students with disability are able to access and be included in all areas of education as their peers."

Ms Millen said training about autism and other disabilities should be mandatory for teachers, education staff and learning support assistants.

Twenty-seven per cent of NDIS participants in the ACT had autism.

Ms Millen said it was vital access to education be improved for children with disabilities.

"Around three in four students with disabilities experience difficulties at school, predominately due to fitting in socially, communication difficulties, and learning difficulties," Ms Millen said.

Around three in four students with disabilities experience difficulties at school.

Advocacy for Inclusion's Bonnie Millen

"The NDIS was supposed to improve access to all areas of life, including independence, everyday living and inclusion and wellbeing.

"However, like the health interface, education loses with the NDIS. It is designed to complement rather than deliver services - the NDIS acts on 'marketplace' and the education space is not considered a marketplace."

A spokeswoman for ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry said ACT public schools were committed to meeting the diversity of needs of all students, including students with disability.

"Resourcing for students with disability is allocated based on the assessed level of need of a student. Schools can use this resourcing flexibly to support individual students," she said.

"Schools may choose to use this funding for a Learning Support Assistant to support one or more students, or the funding may be used in other ways in order to best meet the needs of individual students. This could include, for example, adjusting the physical environment or purchasing specific resources and tools required to meet student needs."

The spokeswoman also said all teachers, school leaders and learning support assistants were required to participate in training to ensure they understood their legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities, in consultation with the students and their families.

The number of NDIS participants in the ACT has far exceeded original estimates for the scheme.

There are now nearly 7800 people taking part, above the predicted 5000.


Note that a high proportion of school-age NDIS partispants are autistic so this has a disproportionate impact for autistic NDIS participants.