Have you heard of Every Student Every School? No? Neither had I until yesterday.
But this is a far-reaching initiative that will impact everyone – students with special needs, teachers, aides, other students and families alike.
The premise of the new model is to better train teachers so they can better support students with special needs. I don’t disagree with this as more specific special needs training is much needed right now.
What I do disagree with is the introduction of a funding threshold and the slashing of support teaching hours for students with lower level needs.
The document doesn’t spell out this in detail but does make reference to students with moderate, complex or high level needs still maintaining existing levels of support.
Information directly received from several public schools confirm that students with lower level needs (such as those on the higher end of the autism spectrum) will miss out.
Currently students receive funding based on their needs as identified in the application for funding lodged by the school. If they are indentified as requiring $2000 worth of funding, they get it.
Under the new model, students with lower level needs (eligible for less than $6000 in funding) will not receive any funding at all.
I found out yesterday that my son’s autism funding at his public school is being taken away because he falls under this threshold. That most kids across NSW with lower level needs are going to lose access to aide time they so desperately need.
All because they have changed the funding model and want to save money by slashing teachers’ aide hours.
And it’s not just in public schools. It’s affecting early intervention services too.
I’m not an expert by any means, but I think this is going to lead to a hell of a lot of problems for a lot of people.
Teachers will lose the practical daily support of teachers’ aides in the classroom. Although they may gain access to a specialist teaching support, who’s going to help them out when a child has an issue in the classroom while they are looking after 25 other students as well?
Students will have less support in the classroom with just one teacher to go to, who may very well be spending a lot of their time dealing with the special needs student. What sort of quality teaching will be happening in those classes, I wonder?
Obviously students with special needs will lose out too – who is going to give them the support they need to operate to the best of their ability in a mainstream classroom?
And their families will be forced to pick up the pieces each day. Vainly trying to advocate for more assistance while trying to support their increasingly anxious child and evaluating alternate options for education.
What other options will there be?
If your child is of average or above average intelligence you can’t access special education classes. You could try private schools and see how you go there, but historically funding has been easier to access in the public system.
And I bet independent schools won’t be able to cope with an influx of students with special needs who cannot be supported in the public system. Where will they go then?
What bothers me the most is the accepted principle that the public system is there to provide a quality education for every student. Isn’t this sort of policy sailing perilously close to discriminating against students with lower level needs?
How long will it take for principals in the new world to take parents aside and advise that they can no longer provide the help their child needs to thrive in a mainstream classroom? That they’d be better off in another setting?
According to this document on the NSW DEC website, 90,000 students, representing 12% of the entire student population have a disability or special needs. Currently 35,000 of these have access to some level of funding.
Since 2003 the rates of students with autism have tripled while the rates of students with mental health disorders have doubled.
And now funding is going to be slashed for the majority of these students.
It doesn’t make sense to me.
My son is going ahead in leaps and bounds in a mainstream class this year. He has his classroom teacher and an untrained teachers’ aide who helps out across the entire class. She takes him and the other kids out of the classroom if they need individual help or if they become upset or frustrated or overwhelmed.
My son doesn’t care that she is not a trained teacher. He cares that she is there to help him out when he needs it. That she can see when he’s struggling and nip it in the bud so he can continue to be a part of his class.
If she is not there to provide this assistance, what learning is he or any of his classmates going to receive? If the teacher is busy trying to deal with several kids with special needs on his own what hope does that class have of learning anything?
Sure, the teacher may be trained up superbly on how to deal with a child with autism in the classroom but when that child goes into full meltdown while in class, what happens then? How is the child going to be dealt with and how is the rest of the class going to be supported?
I fear that this move will force kids with special needs out of public schools because they will simply not have the capacity to help.
Kids like my son who is intelligent and thriving in a challenging classroom. Who may be forced back into a special education setting purely due to the lack of basic support in the mainstream classroom.
This cannot be allowed to occur.
I will be writing to my local state member of parliament as well as to the NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli and to the Premier Barry O’Farrell to protest these changes.
I encourage all of you to do the same if you care at all about the quality of education in our public schools. Because I can tell you now, there be will be little chance of any quality of education, for anyone, if these changes do go ahead.