There was a conscious decision to keep the demand for the Gonski Students with Disability loading centred firmly within the full Gonski campaign, Organiser Claudia Vera told Annual Conference in her address on Special Education.
This decision was taken because it was in alignment with a rights-based approach “where our students are a part of the whole not apart from it, as should our campaigning be for all, not just for some”, Ms Vera, the Officer attached to the Special Education Restricted Committee, said on July 5.
She hoped that in time to come work on disability rights would be led by the views and voices of people with disability.
The right-based model affirms that all human beings irrespective of their disabilities have certain rights that are indisputable. It therefore parallels the aim of Gonski, “to ensure all students have access to an acceptable international standard of education”, where “every school must be appropriately resourced to support every child and every teacher must expect the most from every child”.
Ms Vera noted sombrely that schools started this year without any additional federal government funding for students with disability, no further extension of the National Partnership and with the promised Gonski Students with Disability loading denied to students for well over a year.
Ms Vera acknowledged that schools sometimes faced big challenges but said firmly, “This union will not aid and abet the exclusion and discrimination of children and youth with disability. They are our students, they are learners. We are teachers of all not some. It is our job.”
An inclusive approach involves strengthening the capacity of an education system to reach out to all learners, she said.
Ms Vera said Federation was a member of the advisory committee reviewing the provision of targeted support – mapping existing provision across the state, considering guiding principles for such provision and working to improve the process by which these are accessed. The committee was made up of the principal organisations, P&C representatives, Federation, Departmental officers and family and disability advocacy groups.
“As part of this process, the Department will meet with focus groups for which Federation will be seeking the involvement of teachers with experience and understanding of the workings and failings of the current mode of operating,” Ms Vera said.
She added that there were significant outstanding matters relating to equitable access to resources for SSPs (Schools for Specific Purposes). A staffing entitlement claim will be pursued through award negotiations to gain equitable funding access for these specialist settings.
“Time and again the Department fails to cater for the specialist nature of these settings from an operational, equity and legal perspective,” Ms Vera said.
In setting staffing levels, the Department failed to understand that each student in such settings had a higher factor of need that is not reflected in the nominal class size.
“Our position was and remains that SSPs should be given access to the Gonski loadings on full time equivalency, just as staffing is provided. SSPs are currently receiving Gonski funds through the RAM equity loadings but not at an equitable level. We will continue to fight for this inequitable distribution mechanism to be rectified at the state Department level.
“This must not, however, be cause for our members in SSPs to disengage from the Gonski campaign: on the contrary, it is a critical reason for why those school communities must be front and centre in protecting the model.
“Gonski will deliver the recurrent funds to address the inequity – we can fight the mechanism but we won’t get the funds from a source outside of Gonski, “ Ms Vera said.