MIL-OSI Australia: Education to meet the needs of every child

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Source: Australian Education Union

12 April 2021

A staggering 90 per cent of primary school teachers and principals say they need more funding to meet the needs of students with disabilities and one in three teachers told us they feel unprepared by their university education to teach students with significant needs.

In the comments, members told us they were “stretched” and find this work “very challenging”, saying lack of funding compounded by unwieldy and time-consuming assessment procedures, means that when funding finally does come through, it is not enough and doesn’t always reflect the real needs of the child.

It’s clear that Australia is falling far short of delivering on the fundamental right of all children to access education that is responsive to their needs.

As a result of the survey findings, the AEU has been working hard to update policy on students with disability and I’ve been visiting schools and experiencing the classroom challenges first-hand.

It isn’t possible to summarise all the amazing and diverse work that goes on across all public school settings in just one article, so we decided to devote this issue to educating students with disability – and we still had to leave so much out.

Many of these stories are heart-warming, but they also make me frustrated that the federal government relies on the goodwill of staff to continue to provide high-quality education in the face of shrinking federal disability funding. This shifts the responsibility of finding funds onto individual schools.

Yet, as schools battle with critical funding cuts, improved medical diagnoses and a better understanding of different conditions mean more students are presenting at their local schools with different, unfamiliar and in some instances, less visible educational needs.

It’s clear that nothing short of systemic change is needed. A strong and fully resourced public education system, backed with clear policy settings to guide practice, is the only guarantee that all students will be able to access the inclusive, quality education they deserve.

Proper resourcing would allow teachers to better support one another, but also – as one of the key threads of all these stories shows – it would give educators the time to build solid relationships with students, parents and carers, and acknowledge their preferences.

But funding is not enough.Without adequate training significant workplace, health and safety risks can arise, particularly when managing challenging behaviour. It’s important that the rights of every child are always balanced with the right of teachers for a safe workplace.

I’m encouraged to see that the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has recognised this, selecting education funding and pre- and post-qualification training as some of the key areas for further inquiry.

We know the transformative change needed to make the education system more inclusive is possible. The NDIS has proven that addressing inequity and underfunding can be done. It is probably one of the most significant social policy reforms in our recent history and it just took the will of the government. It may not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

As educators we have high expectations for all of our students. We also have high expectations that the government should step up and provide the resources and policy to play its part in making these expectations a reality. Until they do, the AEU remains committed to calling out government for reversing funding cuts and not properly addressing the needs of students and teachers at every opportunity.

Correna Haythorpe AEU federal president

This Article was original published in the Australian Educator Autumn 2021

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