Open Letter to the NSW DEC Regarding Every Student Every School

Dear DEC,

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.

Background

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.

Concerns

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.

Conclusion

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?

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26 Responses

    • Kirsty says:

      Caz, the current penny-pinching in education spending across all parts of the system is wrong. And it’s happening in nearly every state too – don’t they realise they will reap what they sow? They should be throwing more money at education, not taking it away. Let’s hope someone in authority realises this sooner rather than later.

  1. I hope you’ve sent this to newspapers, media outlets, parliament members…it is clear as freaking day what needs to be done. So disappointing. Is anyone in it for the kids anymore? Or just themselves?
    Aroha @ Colours of Sunset recently posted..Week 32 and 33. {52 Weeks to Simplify Your Life}

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks Aroha – I have sent it to the DEC, we’ll see whether they’ll come back with a response. I’ll try sending it to some politicians and media outlets others as well, hopefully someone will sit up and listen to my concerns!

  2. Denyse Whelan. Education Specialist says:

    Great letter. You are so knowledgable and articulate.
    Here’s what you can do next ( remember I nor you hub can !)

    Get it to Maralyn Parker at The Daily Telegraph ( there’ll be an email addy on her blog at The Paper

    Send a copy to:
    1. Barry O’Farrell
    2. John Robertson ( Opp leader)
    3. Your local member
    4. The minister for ed: Adrian Piccoli
    5. Dr Michelle Bruniges -DG
    6. Senator Peter Garrett – Min for Education – Federal
    7. Julia Gillard PM

    All of the above will have email addresses on govt websites.
    Go you!
    Denyse
    Denyse Whelan. Education Specialist recently posted..Things I Know.School Holidays Edition.

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks so much for your support D! When I get an opportunity later today I will email it wider – thanks for putting that comprehensive list of names together for me!!!!

  3. julie says:

    i believe in everything she says..i also have a son with aspergers and removing what is in place will not only disadvantage him but those who are not as bad as he is..physical disability is always identifiable but mental disability cannot be seen and this makes it harder for them to get any decent help

    • Kirsty says:

      Julie, sorry to hear you are in the same boat as we are but the more people who speak out against these changes, the more chance we have to get them reviewed. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

  4. Vicky says:

    Brilliantly articulated. Off to use the power of social media. X
    Vicky recently posted..My sons

  5. Really well said, Kristy. Definitely send it to all the people Denyse listed.

  6. Bronwyn says:

    Well said. I really don’t understand how this policy can bring better outcomes for either children with disabilities or their typically developing peers in the same learning environment. The only thing I can see that it might do is reduce the cost.

    If they way you judge a education system is by how they treat the most vulnerable within it .. I think that means the DET gets a F.
    Bronwyn recently posted..School Holiday Ideas – Thomas & the Train Shed

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks Bronwyn. I truly fail to see how this will help special needs students either. It is, ultimately, a cost cutting exercise, but what the govt doesn’t understand is the money they save now will only make the social cost much larger later on. It is a false economy that’s going to badly impact on families that can cope least with more stress. According to my son’s grading, they get a K- from us!

  7. Michelle says:

    Hi Kristy,
    this is a good letter! I need to write another since the one I wrote, sent out, then published was done a while back and I have more information now that I think needs to be questioned. The list Denyse provided is a good one, but I would add a couple of names to it. One would be Carmell Tebbutt, Shadow Minister for Education. I wrote to many Politicians who are in Ministerial positions, but didn’t receive more than an acknowledgement letter back from any of them, until I sent my letter to Ms Tebbutt, who approached Mr Picoli on my behalf. I then received a reply from Mr Picoli through her. It was 2 pages long, and reeked of spin, but it was a reply!! I’ll be writing him another leeter shortly and asking him directly to answer some specific questions. Another thing you might want to do is contact your local Teachers Federation Representative, as they have some interesting information about who was involved in the policy making (largely lawyers and accountants). The other group to get in touch with is Families Against Disability Discrimination (if you haven’t already)…. they are co-ordinating a petition with the aim of reaching the 10,000 signatures required to force the Government into a Parliamentary debate on this topic.
    I hope you get a reply form the DEC- I’d be very interested to hear how it goes.
    Michelle
    Michelle recently posted..The transition to school plan- part 2- The Funding Application

    • Kirsty says:

      Michelle, thanks for your suggestions. I will definitely email Carmen Tebbut and get in touch with FADD too. I would be interested in reading and sharing your next letter too, I think we need all the help we can get!

  8. Becc says:

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Although this does not affect me directly, it is does not mean that it doesn’t concern me.
    I hope your letter gets the attention it deserves and I intend to share it on Facebook so the many friends of mine who are in the same predicament as you (and those who aren’t) can share and so on.
    Becc recently posted..Finding Babysitters When You’re on the Road

  9. Sam-o says:

    Such a good letter.
    My kindergarten (NSW) age son has no diagnosis but as a premmie he is still catching up with fine and gross motor skills. This combined with some issues with learning to respect adults which came to light at preschool (and still going strong) we changed our chosen school very late last year to a private Grammar School Prep. It costs is a fortune that we really can’t afford but has been the right choice in our case. I know he would not be anywhere near where he is now if we had sent him to the local PS as intended. He has a full time teachers aid in his room and 6 specialist teachers as well as on site OT wich is integrated into his class work. The local PS is only interested in NAPLAN and is known for pushing people to remove their children if they have special needs. 2 left kindergarten already and about 5 more families are moving their children for 2013. Several from anoth local PS are now being home schooled. 3 boys have transferred into kindergarten at my sons school mid year, showing it is a trend in the area. The local PS’s are all well above state averages in NAPLAN and determined to keep improving.

    I had no opinion about NAPLAN previously, but now this policy seems to prove what the anti NAPlAN people were saying all along.

    It really seems like this policy is setting up these kids for failure and to miss out on reaching their full potential. Which may well leave them as a much more expensive problem for the government in the future. I am so glad that in my case we had the option of catching my son up now. I fear for all those people in more long term situations, like your own. It really is a short sighted policy.

    Please excuse the ramble – I’m writing on my phone with two boys whining in my ear. But basically, bravo!

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks for your comment Sam and for sharing your experience too. I’ve sent the letter off to everyone who was suggested to me, we’ll have to see if anyone will listen. Fingers crossed…

  10. Peter says:

    I’m an ex DEC teacher and a father of an 8 year old with an exceptionally high IQ and Aspergers. The chances of him reaching his full potential in the current system are poor. If the system looks bad from the outside you should see it from within. Wonder how much the change of name from DET to DEC cost? Enough to fund a few teachers’ aids I’m guessing. Interestingly your post comes up on a search for ‘DEC support for Aspergers’ way ahead of any official DEC sites.

    • Kirsty says:

      Hi Peter, I’m glad you found me and took the time to comment – I’m not sure why my post appears before the official DEC sites, but I’ll take that! My husband is a teacher too and knows the score, at least I have him in our corner and he can cut through a lot of things with the school.

      The funding situation is setting up a whole generation of high-functioning kids to struggle – I just wish they could see what they are setting in motion before it’s too late.

  11. Peter says:

    Hi Kirsty…me again. Your comments on NAPLAN are spot on too. The other kids who will not draw school funding from NAPLAN results are the ones who like mine will do OK in the test in spite of the anxiety that comes with his Aspergers. His results won’t reflect the underachievement and torment that ASD brings with it and so he won’t be asked to stay home. He’ll be expected to gain acceptable bands, but won’t have the support to help him gain the results he has the potential to gain. I’m starting to sound like I care about the results. Not so in terms of my child’s individual results. It’s a test that really doesn’t relate to the way children should be taught, but in terms of the implications you refer to, you bet I care.

  12. Nell says:

    Good letter Kirsty. Have you had any response from the department yet? I came across your letter when searching for some up to date stuff on letters of support for ASD funding … I am an allied health professional in NSW. I’d be interested in any formal response you might get. Good luck.

    • Kirsty says:

      Hi Nell, thanks for getting in touch. I did receive a response from the department, however, predictably, it didn’t really answer my concerns. I will attempt to link to it, and to the other responses I have received so far, on the blog as soon as I can.

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