Open Letter to the NSW DEC Regarding Every Student Every School
I am writing as a concerned and affected parent about the recent introduction of the Every Student Every School policy into NSW public schools. I have written some posts previously about my concerns with the policy (here and here) but I feel I need to openly air my continuing concerns to your department directly.
I have two children who are currently enrolled in a NSW public school. I have an 8 year old son who has dual diagnoses of albinism and autism and my 6 year old daughter who has a diagnosis of aspergers syndrome. Up until this term my son was eligible for support based on both diagnoses while my daughter has never been eligible for extra support.
My son has only been enrolled in a public school since the beginning of this year. He was previously educated in an ASPECT satellite class but we made the decision to transition him to a mainstream class this year. We came to this decision as we felt he was not being academically challenged in his special education setting and we wanted him to learn and model behaviours from mainstream peers.
We have been very happy with his progress so far. He is keeping up with his peers and has made huge strides in learning to regulate his behaviour and learning to socialise appropriately. His teacher confirmed his progress in our recent parent-teacher interview by stating that we had made the right decision to transition him – that he is indeed in the right setting.
A lot of this positive progress is due to the wonderful learning support team at the school who have always been there to support him and us. They helped us through an early suspension and worked with us to find a way to best support him. He was given assistance both in the classroom and in the playground which has made all the difference for him.
However, while my son is still eligible for funding for his vision impairment and continues to have access to an Intinerant Support Teacher (Vision) he no longer receives any individual funding for his autism. Which means he will no longer have access to extra assistance in the classroom or playground. Obviously this will mean he will not make the same positive progress he has to date.
I feel that my son will be further disadvantaged in a mainstream classroom under this policy as he will not be able to access the assistance that he clearly needs. While he is of normal intelligence and has no formal learning difficulties, his dual diagnoses mean that he needs to learn in a different way. He often needs extra assistance to help regulate his sensory needs, to assist him in staying on task, to help him complete his work on time.
He has demonstrated that he is capable of learning in a mainstream environment with appropriate support. We have been in a range of special education settings before and I don’t want to go back. I want to move forward and give my son the opportunities he deserves but I fear we will be placed in an increasingly difficult position as the new policy continues to be rolled out.
I have several specific concerns about the calculation, operation and transparency of the new policy, not only for my son but for the other students no longer eligible for individual funding.
Firstly, I do not agree with the removal of individual funding based on individual assessment.
I understand that schools can still direct some of their flexible funding to help students with lower level special needs but this depends on a funding calculation that quite frankly alarms me. These students should not have to rely on perhaps receiving funding from a pool determined by the Student Learning Needs Index, combining a pre-determined incidence of autism in the community with the base 10% of NAPLAN scores from the year before.
Why can’t student needs be assessed individually and then funded accordingly?
I believe the Student Learning Needs Index calculation underpinning each school’s flexible funding pool is flawed for the following reasons. The incidence of autism in the community has been set at 1:100, which is on par with the current Australian accepted incidence. However, there are 200 students at my kids’ school and both of my kids are on the spectrum – there’s our 1:100 incidence right there. Unfortunately there are several other students with ASD diagnoses at the school too (2 others in my son’s class alone) so that calculation doesn’t appear to be truly reflective of the incidence of autism in OUR community.
The new use of NAPLAN results also concerns me. Up until now, the focus for every school has been on improving their overall scores. I know this has resulted in many students with special needs being encouraged to miss NAPLAN testing to help reach this goal. Now that the base 10% NAPLAN results will be directly used in the calculation to determine the flexible funding pool for each school, how accurate will these figures be? How can last year’s results, in particular, be relied upon to determine the extra needs of lower level special needs students, particularly if they were excluded from the testing?
Furthermore, I don’t agree that the performance of the 4 different cohorts undertaking NAPLAN in each year, (who may or may not contain students with special needs), should be a factor in determining the size of the flexible funding pool for students with lower level special needs. A cohort may over-perform or under-perform in any given year, providing a misleading view of the school’s needs.
I also do not believe that parents of students with lower level special needs should have to lobby any harder to access basic funding for their kids because they are suddenly not eligible for any individual allocation. I don’t think we, as parents, should have to fight each other to get a slice of the pie.
In the end nothing can replace individually assessing a students’ needs and then allocating individual funding to address those needs.
Secondly, I believe the new functional assessment model needs to take into account behavioural and social issues, not just physical impairment.
The main fault of the previous system was the emphasis the funding assessment placed on physical impairment. For kids with ASD or those with mental health disorders, it was really hard to demonstrate their level of special need if they did not fall into the narrow parameters of a functional assessment that concentrated heavily on physical limitations.
I have not yet seen the new functional assessment model but I would hope that it takes into account behavioural, sensory and social needs which are the main issues for students on the higher end of the autism spectrum. If these issues are properly recognised and addressed, students with lower level needs would have a far better chance of thriving in a mainstream setting.
Thirdly, I believe that no amount of training can replace having real hands on support in the classroom.
While I support better training and education for teachers, I do not support the reduction in teachers’ aides in the classroom. Although teachers may gain access to more specialist teaching support under this policy, 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?
I know from experience that a hands on teachers aide can make the world of difference to a child with lower level special needs. They can recognise and act on the early signs of stress and therefore avoid a complete meltdown. They can minimise disruption for all students in the classroom and ease the load of the teacher.
I am concerned that all 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. I am also concerned that students with special needs will lose out too – who is going to be able to give them the support they need to operate to the best of their ability in a mainstream classroom?
Finally, I am concerned that students with lower level needs will be unfairly disadvantaged under this policy.
I believe that my son and others like him with lower level special needs are worth educating and deserve the chance to learn and to be supported. I fear that this policy unfairly disadvantages these students by removing their eligibility for individual funding and therefore their access to hands on support in the classroom.
The policy documentation promises that Every Student Every School will improve education outcomes for all students, particularly those with special needs. Based on my personal experience so far, I fail to see how this policy will do that. I hope I am proved wrong – I really do. But from what I can see my son and others like him will be disadvantaged and will no longer receive the basic level support needed to remain in a mainstream classroom.
I want to emphasise that I am not publishing this post in a bid to obtain special consideration for my son’s situation. I am writing this to seek a formal response to my concerns and to obtain clarification on behalf of all students impacted by this policy. I am also seeking formal acknowledgment that not all students will be better off under this policy, despite the standard rhetoric that states the opposite.
Above all, I want to declare that my husband and I WANT our children to be educated in a public school. I believe that public schools should provide education for all, regardless of ability or disability. I fear this policy will force students with special needs out of the public system because public schools will simply not have the capacity to provide the basic level of support required.
I fear for the future of students like my son, who is intelligent and so far has thrived in a mainstream classroom. I am deeply concerned that he will not make the same progress under the new policy because he will not be eligible for the same assistance he has received to date.
The facts are that his needs and that of others with lower level special needs have not changed. Why then, has their access to individual funding been removed? Why are these students now being disadvantaged in this way?
Do you REALLY believe that this new funding model will be a positive step for all students in NSW public schools?