Time to Act on inequity in public education - FAQs

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What is a School for Specific Purpose (SSP)?

SSPs provide specialist and intensive support in a dedicated setting for students with moderate to high learning and support needs. They support students with intellectual disability, mental health disorder or autism spectrum disorder, students with physical disability or sensory impairment, and students with learning difficulties or behaviour disorder. SSPs cater for kindergarten to Year 12 students who meet the Department of Education’s disability criteria.

What is a support unit?

A support unit is a group of support classes hosted at a local mainstream school (primary and high school). Not every mainstream school has support classes. The establishment and disestablishment of these classes is based on local demand. The current categories of support classes in mainstream schools are Mild Intellectual Disability (IM), Moderate Intellectual Disability (IO), Severe Intellectual Disability (IS), Physical Disability (P), Autism (AU), Multi-Categorical (MC), Behaviour Disorder (BD), Emotional Disturbance (ED) and Hearing Impairment (H).

How do students access placement in SSPs/support units?

Application for placement in support classes (in SSPs and support units) is through the Access Request process. An access request is usually arranged by the school learning and support team at the local public school, but can also be organised through the local Educational Services team if a child is not yet enrolled. A student is offered enrolment in a special school through a placement panel process.

How do I find out where my local SSPs/support units are?

There are currently 117 SSPs across NSW. You can find the complete list of SSPs here.

The Department’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) maintains a searchable data set of all support classes here.

What are the inequities in these settings?

SSPs and support units exist to provide intensive specialist support. They do so with reduced class sizes to respond to the complex needs of each student via personalised learning and support. In SSPs these reduced class sizes are achieved by staffing these schools on notional numbers instead of actual numbers of students. This is where the specialist level of resourcing stops.

Much of the inequity in the system stems from SSPs being staffed and resourced as primary schools, despite most enrolling high school students.

As such, these settings do not have equitable access to:

  • specialist teachers (for example, English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) teachers, teacher-librarians)
  • school counsellors
  • executive entitlements
  • release time.

Despite enrolling high school students, these settings do not have access to:

  • secondary subject teachers
  • specialist subject teaching spaces and resources
  • careers advisers
  • learning and support teachers
  • non-teaching executive.

Despite the self-care, medical, mobility, psychological, sensory and complex needs of the enrolled students, these settings do not have access to system funded:

  • community or registered nurses
  • psychiatrists
  • speech pathologists
  • occupational therapists
  • physiotherapists
  • art therapists
  • other allied health professionals.

These settings have not been in receipt of any additional disability Gonski funds via the Resource Allocation Model (RAM). As it stands, the RAM has no mechanism by which to deliver targeted additional disability funds to these settings.

In any case, the Student with Disability loading recommended by the Gonski review and promised by the Coalition has been denied to students for years. Unlike Labor, the Morrison government has made no commitment to delivering the disability loading, instead cutting disability funds in five states and territories across Australia.

Is there evidence of these inequities?

Over the past decade there have been two NSW parliamentary inquiries and one Commonwealth inquiry that have demonstrated these settings continue to be under-staffed, under-resourced and under-funded relative to the specific purpose they exist to meet. It is devastating to note that the recommendations made by the NSW parliament in relation to support settings in the 2016 inquiry are much the same — if not identical in some instances — to the recommendations made years prior.

The specific inquiries that have occurred are the:

  • 2009 NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into the provision of education to students with a disability or special needs
  • 2015 Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into current levels of access and attainment for students with disability in the school system, and the impact on students and families associated
  • 2016 NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into the provision of education to students with a disability or special needs in government and non-government schools in NSW.

Federation members have continually raised these inequities via submissions to these inquiries, as well as through Federation and Australian Education Union (AEU) forums. The inequities in support settings have been the subject of countless Council and Conference recommendations and debates.

Members have engaged in political and industrial action to achieve additional funding and/or placement in support classes. While such action has resulted in a site-specific or individual student-specific outcome, very little system-wide improvements came of such action. The Review of Funding for Schooling (Gonski Review) also found disability to be a factor of disadvantage for learning, which required an immediate injection of additional funding via a Students with Disability loading.

More broadly, the National Disability Strategy consultation report, Shut Out: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia, was commissioned to detail the experience of people with disabilities and their families in Australia. The chapter on the education experience of people with disability is titled “The Wasted Years”. More than 29 per cent of submissions said that, far from ensuring young people with disabilities have every opportunity to realise their potential, the education system acts as a barrier to greater achievement and independence in their lives.