Reform funding on need

The proportion of students with higher needs in NSW public schools has grown significantly. In 2002, one in 25 students had a disability; now one in five students in metropolitan schools and more than one in three in remote schools are receiving an adjustment to their support due to disability.

The Department has committed to developing new funding models and methodologies to support students with disability and, in doing so, align funding with the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data. Reform must be focused on delivering true needs-based funding for our most vulnerable students and recognise policy failings of the past.

The Every Student, Every School policy, rolled out in 2012, resulted in a major reorganisation of staffing for students with disability. It reduced centralised support for schools and led to funding cuts for thousands of students with autism and mental health issues excluded from the Integration Funding Support program. Under the revised arrangements, which are still in place, each school was provided with a Learning and Support resource allocation (now the Low Level Adjustment for Disability Loading), composed of a specialist teacher allocation (consisting of a base determined by a school’s enrolments and a supplementary allocation based on a Student Learning Needs Index) and a flexible funding allocation. The index currently uses literacy and numeracy data drawn from longitudinal NAPLAN data. It is a crude measure of a school’s relative level of need. The actual needs of students with disability, or the costs of the adjustments they are receiving (or require) are not considered.

While the Every Student, Every School policy provided all schools with flexible disability funding and a teacher allocation for the first time, it also forced schools to use that funding to educate thousands of students previously eligible for individual funding through the Integration Funding Support program.

Eligibility for the program was changed to exclude more than half the students in it, primarily those with the disabilities that were increasing at the fastest rate. Despite the rapid growth in the number of students with disability, the number supported through the program in 2019 was still 35 per cent lower than in 2011. A leaked consultants’ report later revealed the policy’s reforms were primarily driven by the need to constrain the rapidly growing costs of the program.

The Gallop Inquiry pointed out the growth in the number of students with disabilities, the increased complexities of the classroom and work of teachers to support students. Reform must be assessed on the impact it has on our most vulnerable, and as a union we will continue to be fierce advocates for all.