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Education and Employment References Committee
Students with disability in the school system
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Education and Employment References Committee
McKenzie, Sen Bridget
Siewert, Sen Rachel
O'Neill, Sen Deb
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Education and Employment References Committee
(Senate-Friday, 20 November 2015)
Content WindowEducation and Employment References Committee - 20/11/2015 - Students with disability in the school system
ANDERSON, Mrs Pamela, National Disability Coordination Officer Region 16, Western Victoria, National Disability Coordination Officer Program
COTTEE, Mr Mark, National Disability Coordination Officer, Northern Victoria, National Disability Coordination Officer Program
EVANS-MCCALL, Mrs Andrea, SkillsPlus LTD, National Disability Coordination Officer, National Disability Coordination Officer Program
CHAIR: I welcome Mrs Pamela Anderson, Mr Mark Cottee and Mrs Andrea Evans-McCall from the National Disability Coordination Officer Program. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has received your submission. I remind senators that the Senate has resolved that an officer of the department of the Commonwealth or other state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about how and when policies were adopted. Officers of the department are also reminded that any claim that it would be contrary to the public interest to answer a question must be made by a minister and should be accompanied by a statement setting out the basis for the claim. I invite you to make short opening statement and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.
Mrs Anderson : I will start off with a bit of an introduction about the National Disability Coordination Officer Program. Andrea will then talk about some of the observations that we have witnessed and then Mark will proceed with some of the recommendations. The National Disability Coordination Officer Program is funded through the Australian government's Department of Education and Training. There are presently 31 NDCO regions geographically located around Australia according to population density. We also work with the age range of 15 to 64 years of age. Each region is situated within a host organisation. The program began in January 2008 and is currently funded through to 30 June 2016. The goals of the NDCO Program are to establish better links between schools, higher education and vocational education training providers and providers of disability programs and assistance; also improve transitions to help people with disability move from school or the community into post-school education and training and subsequent employment; and increase participation by people with disability in higher education, vocational education, training and subsequent employment.
The NDCO Program works closely with a range of key stakeholders in all education sectors, including schools, adult community education, vocational education and training, and higher education. This places NDCOs in a unique position to gather a range of perspectives about the current levels of access and attainment for students with disability in the school system, as well as on the impact on students and families associated with inadequate levels of support.
Our experience and observations indicate that, when individuals with disability have the opportunity to build personal capabilities and attain authentic educational outcomes, they also have every opportunity to subsequently participate as contributing social and economic citizens. This has enormous benefits both for the individual and society.
NDCOs around the country report that many students with disability face discrimination and bullying and find the education environment very confronting. These students have limited opportunities to build capability and enjoy the social, economic and personal benefits of education and subsequent employment. I will now hand over to Andrea to outline some of our observations.
Mrs Evans-McCall : From our collective observations, the key issues are many educators are ill equipped to respond in a flexible and innovative way to the educational needs of all their students. Across the education and training sector, there is a limited understanding of the DDA education standards and how to put them into practice, particularly in terms of reasonable adjustment and accommodations. Families rely heavily on educators to help them understand and navigate the complex system of services, supports and options as well as exploring pathways beyond school. Often, educators do not have the knowledge, understanding or resources to do this within the scope of their role.
All education and training providers and environments need to be inclusive and capable of responding to a wide range of individual needs. This is achieved through better resourcing and professional development to build capacity across all education sectors. Individual needs based funding is paramount. However, schools should also have access to funding to make systematic improvements regarding inclusive education environments and practices that are underpinned by universal design and access to assistive technologies. The Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability is a welcome strategy to identify national measures regarding disability. It also assisted in creating a shared understanding about disability and needs.
Mr Cottee : In our view, the following strategies can be employed to better support students with disability in our schools. We need increased teacher training in respect to working with students with disability, particularly those with learning disabilities. We need further established curriculum and design guidelines about inclusive education principles and obligations such as universal design learning. We need to provide families and/or carers and individuals with additional and objective support to become aware of options, rights and responsibilities and ensure they understand the choices available to them as they progress through the education sectors. This support should assist them to effectively navigate the system, apply the information and make informed decisions.
We need to recognise the need for identified and specialist support in all key transitional points, in particular the post-school transition, where the access to, types of and levels of supports are significantly different from in the compulsory school sector. We need recognition of the need to balance scaffolding methodologies, reasonable adjustment and authentic education outcomes to ensure we are setting students up for success. We must recognise the difference in approaches between states and territories and Commonwealth funded programs and the various eligibility criteria and seek strategies to address the inconsistencies.
We need to acknowledge that amongst culturally and linguistically diverse and Indigenous communities disability and education may be experienced very differently, and there may be additional considerations required to address understanding of and access to relevant and responsive supports and services for these clientele groups.
We must ensure that students with disability have authentic and meaningful opportunities to complete work experience and to explore their own capabilities and make informed choices about potential career pathways. We should ensure career development and planning activities are inclusive in all schools. We need to provide dedicated transition services that should assist with planning and preparation for the transfer of skills, strategies and technologies from the school environment to the post-school environment. We should place emphasis on the importance of being aspirational, articulating high expectations and setting standards so that all young people with disability come out of school with foundation skills that will enable them to pursue pathways effectively.
We should develop practices and protocols about the types of and access to special provisions and reasonable adjustment that are more consistent across the states and territories and throughout the education and training sectors to reduce the significant differential between supports and responses available in each sector.
Last but not least—and thank you for your time—we should acknowledge and address the impact the NDIS will have on the education and training sectors, and the shifts they will need to make to become more responsive and collaborative in meeting the needs of individuals with disability.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Going to your submission, on page 3 at the top under 'Future impact on students with disability as a result of the Government's decision to index funding' you say that this decision will impact significantly as schools will individually be required to bear the costs. We have heard evidence throughout this inquiry that parents, and particularly their children, are getting a raw deal in our education system, whether it is public or private. There is no doubt about that; they get turned away and have to fight—all the stuff that you have gone through in your submission. What will this do to that very poor access to schools that children with disability currently have?
Mr Cottee : I would put it in the context—and the others might want to put their own context on that—of the continual fight for resources within a school. You have someone diagnosed with a disability who has an assistant that will attend and be supportive in the classroom environment, then you have someone who sits next to them who has a disability, but it is not a recognised disability—it is more of a learning difficulty—and that person who is there to support the one individual will be spread across a few other people to make use of that person whilst in the classroom. If you talk to the student with disability later on they will say, 'I never got the support I was funded for.'
CHAIR: What does the indexing do to that?
Mr Cottee : I would not have a clear answer for that. I think the submission for that part of it came from one of the other NDCOs, so I do not have a definitive answer for you on that one.
CHAIR: Do any of the other witnesses?
Mrs Anderson : I cannot elaborate on that, sorry.
CHAIR: In paragraph 2 on the same page, page 3, under the heading 'Progress of the implementation of the needs-based funding system as stated in the Australian Education Act', you talk about systemic improvements. What are those systemic improvements?
Mrs Evans-McCall : It is page 3, to do with the national data.
CHAIR: It says:
We recognise that while individual needs based funding is paramount, schools should also have access to funding to make systemic improvements—
What do you mean by that?
Mr Cottee : That is probably what I was talking about with the individual being individually funded, but not the universal design aspect of it. We have extra supports that come along within the school itself. There is that thing about micro-exclusion, where you get the person with disability to school and they say that they are an inclusive school, but they are sat right down the back and put right in the corner away from everybody else, which is not really inclusive. That does not answer the question directly.
CHAIR: But that is not a systemic improvement; that is what happens in a classroom.
Mr Cottee : No, but we can see that if you use some universal design learning principles around that, that person is not put out the back; that brings them into the mainstream. Disability itself does not become this focal point of difference. Things always seem to come back to a disability focus rather than an ability focus, and that is where some systemic change could take place.
CHAIR: In relation to my first question about the paragraph at the top of page 3, you said someone else wrote that. Can you get them to explain further on notice?
Mrs Anderson : Yes.
Mrs Evans-McCall : That would be Jen Cousins.
CHAIR: Over on page 4, under the heading: 'What should be done to better support students with disability in our schools', under dot point 3, you talk about a multidisciplinary approach and also 'developing connections with internal and external service providers. Can you tell us a bit more about that, please?
Ms Evans-McCall : I believe schools quite often work in little silos. Especially in our role, we work really hard to try to bring the services into the school. There are often quite a lot of walls put up towards us—we quite often run post-school transition events and we work really closely with all the different service providers and, quite often, the schools fail to attend or to promote us to their families. They sometimes feel that they do it their way and do not necessarily need help from the outside.
CHAIR: Yes. We have heard that before.
Mr Cottee : I could give another example of that: the changes that were made to the disability employment services where they were encouraged to engage with schools a long time before those students with disability were leaving school but, because of funding regime changes and the servicing fees that services were getting to do that were changed, and the schools are really hands-off now. So that gradual transition is missing for them; the engagement part of it—not necessarily the transition part, but just the engagement.
CHAIR: I think you heard most of the evidence of the First Peoples Disability Network.
Mr Cottee : I heard a little bit, yes.
CHAIR: I am just looking at page 5 of your submission, at the third dot point down, where you say we need to: 'acknowledge that amongst culturally and linguistically diverse and Indigenous communities that disability and education may be experienced very differently.' I think that was given in evidence, but in the submission you also talk about additional considerations. Is there anything that you would like to add that those witnesses perhaps did not cover? They talked about the need to be delicate in community.
Mr Cottee : Yes; they were very succinct with it. I do not think I could necessarily add anything more powerful than what they were saying about the fact that disability is definitely treated differently within culture. And that also goes for those with a CALD background.
CHAIR: I was reading through some of the horrific examples that you gave us. It came up a couple of times that a curriculum was modified without any assessment being made of the child's ability to handle a full curriculum. I am just wondering, how often does that happen—where it is automatically assumed that the curriculum has to be modified but where there is no actual test or any rigor to that assessment? What is your experience of that?
Ms Evans-McCall : Quite a few times, but also it is quite often just that assumption—regardless of whether it is around curriculum—around aspiration as well. So quite often, the young people do not even get to choose certain subjects because they have already made the assumption that they are note going to be able to do it—rather than letting them have a go.
CHAIR: Is that part of the systemic change that you think needs to happen?
Mrs Anderson : Yes.
Ms Evans-McCall : Yes; definitely. I guess that will come with more professional development for the staff—who do not just make assumptions, because they have actually had some lived experience.
Mrs Anderson : Certainly, the smaller rural schools have actually approached us several times about struggling in dealing with difficult behaviours. And they do not have that special education experience or understanding of how to actually deal with those students in a curriculum context as well.
Ms Evans-McCall : And in a school, the person in charge of the young people with a disability is quite often a support worker, not someone with a qualified education background. Quite often, we even find that in the careers area: because they have a disability, the careers teacher does not deal with them; the person who is the support worker does, and they do not have a career development qualification. So they are just sort of left to be looked after by someone who is probably loving and caring but does not necessarily have the qualifications that they need to.
CHAIR: So, whether it is overt or covert—covertly, because the child is missing a lot of school, or the school is not equipped to deal with a particular disability or alternatively, overtly, where the teacher says, 'no, that child cannot possibly do the curriculum'—would that kind of modification of curriculum be fairly widespread in your view? Are these modifications being made, whether covertly or overtly?
Ms Evans-McCall : Yes; definitely.
Mrs Anderson : Yes. And mental health plays a huge role as well. Mental health issues in smaller—
CHAIR: In a child?
Mrs Anderson : Yes; in the smaller rural areas.
CHAIR: Is that in situations where a judgement is made?
Mrs Anderson : Yes.
CHAIR: Those examples that you gave seemed to come out quite by accident—that the curriculum had been modified. Is it something that you would now consciously look for? Would that be a question that you would now ask?
Ms Evans-McCall : Yes, it probably would be. Quite often you do not necessarily see it unless you go looking for it. The doors in schools can be a little bit closed so, unless a family has come to you, sometimes, it is by accident that we find out about that sort of thing. As Pam said, the small rural schools in some of the rural regions might only have had two or three kids with a disability whereas in big city schools there are a lot more. It tends to be that they are discriminated against more in the smaller rural areas.
Mr Cottee : On the curriculum—and I am not sure if it will answer your question—we have the Victorian career framework embedded in school practice, but it is not practiced. A lot of stuff that the government says is happening at a state level is not actually being undertaken. One of the biggest challenges I face, across the board, is the fact that they say, 'Yes, that happens', but it does not happen.
CHAIR: Why does it not happen?
Mr Cottee : Things like career action plans are there but they are tokenistic at best on some occasions. It is just a form to fill in because that is what the bureaucracy wants us to do. It is put in a drawer and it is never seen again. They are not there for that. They are there to drive the aspirational stuff and to embed and to make—
Ms Evans-McCall : And it is not often shared. It is usually the career practitioner that does it and just puts it in the drawer. It is not like it is for all the different subject teachers to share and develop.
Mr Cottee : It is there to make the curriculum come alive for the individual and not just to be a box that is ticked and put away.
Ms Evans-McCall : It is very haphazard across the different schools I work with. Some schools are doing it really well and others say, 'Oh, I know they are somewhere.'
Senator McKENZIE: We have heard a lot of evidence from witnesses about the importance of the culture of the school and that the leadership within particular schools is quite sporadic. What comments would you make about that? What has been the difference between positive school experiences and negative school experiences for some of the students you work with?
Mr Cottee : I am happy to go first.
Ms Evans-McCall : Yes, you can go first. Boys first.
Mr Cottee : I deal a lot with parents who have autistic and ASD-type children, and that sort of thing. One of the biggest feedbacks I get is about the real lack of communication. There is a communication breakdown. The whole culture stuff you mentioned revolves around the communication aspect. How well are they communicating? What are they communicating? Is everyone's view being valued? That is what I would say about cultures.
Senator McKENZIE: Do you have any examples of positive leadership in schools that has provided good outcomes?
Mrs Anderson : Definitely. I work very closely with Horsham Special School, and it is an absolutely fantastic school. Recently, we have been running a passport to employment program which focuses on pre-employment and getting young people ready to transition from school. We had two students, one from St Brigid's College and one from Horsham College—both mainstream schools—attend the program. We held it at the special school. They were really impressed with everything—the environment and everything there. They all ended up conversing with the teachers and enrolling for year 12 studies at the school. That school is absolutely amazing. We have been running a lot of different programs for students there. We are also looking at doing some cross-educational workshops with mainstream smaller rural schools to work with the teachers at the special education school dealing with—as I mentioned before—the difficult behaviours with different types of disabilities. We are focusing on trying to get that happening for next year.
Ms Evans-McCall : I would say it is probably down to who the staff person is within the school. I do not see it necessarily being from the top down. It may be why the culture is like it is but quite often that role changes every year and it is about who ends up getting the role. The other day in Sale I did an inspiring young people event for young people with disability. There are five different schools in that region. I had three schools attend but the other schools did not reply to my email or answer my phone calls about coming along. Quite often it is just the connection that you make with the person who really wants that for the young people and goes out of their way to bring them. I could not comment on whether it comes from the top down or whether it is just that person in that role—how busy they are, how many different roles they have been given in that particular year and how much time they have.
Mrs Anderson : My experience would be, obviously, as principal at Horsham, but then at Warrnambool we have got all the PSD coordinators and other teachers—
Senator McKENZIE: PSDs?
Mrs Evans-McCall : It is the person who fills out the form.
Senator McKENZIE: No, what does it mean?
Mrs Evans-McCall : PSD is for the funding. I could not actually tell you what it stands for—public school disability coordinators.
Senator McKENZIE: There we go! Excellent. Do you predominantly do your work with special schools?
Mrs Evans-McCall : No.
Mrs Anderson : Mainstream as well; various.
Mr Cottee : It really does depend. I would do a lot of extra work with the disability schools, but you do touch on the general populous.
Mrs Evans-McCall : I must say that it is actually harder to connect with the mainstream schools sometimes. The special schools say, 'Yes, yes!' but the mainstream schools, because it is a small percentage of their population, they do not necessarily. Does that make sense?
Senator McKENZIE: Yes, it really makes sense.
Mrs Evans-McCall : At special schools all the kids have a disability, and they say, 'Yes, we're disability; we want your help.' There was one particular school—it is a Catholic school in my region—and when I contacted the person who was supposedly meant to be in charge of the kids with disability, she told me, 'We don't have anyone like that at our school, so I don't need your help.' That is the barrier sometimes faced where the special schools—
Senator McKENZIE: I would like to explore that a little more, I think, in terms of the difference between the mainstream and the special schools.
Mr Cottee : They will ask for different things.
Senator McKENZIE: Let's talk about that.
Mr Cottee : From my point of view, a special school will be asking for information about pathways—the real pathway stuff: what are the options for my child when they leave school? When you go to a mainstream school, they will not ask it that way. They will ask, 'How do you help my kid get work experience?'
Senator McKENZIE: Is there a lack of understanding in mainstream schools that there are pathways?
Mr Cottee : I think back to a little bit of what Damian said earlier, from the First Peoples Disability Network, about the embedded lack of aspirational stuff already there. They think, 'I don't think this person is going to go anywhere, so we'll just put them all in a special room. They can go into a special class, and we might not get them work experience; we'll just get them to do some other stuff.' In recent experiences I have noticed that sort of stuff.
Senator McKENZIE: Ms Anderson and Mrs Evans-McCall, would that be your experience?
Mrs Evans-McCall : Yes, probably. The special schools, again, crave the support. I have recently set up a network across Gippsland of the seven special schools, because in the mainstream schools there is usually someone with a career development qualification who is in charge of careers. In specialist schools, they do not have the luxury of having someone with that expertise. There are three different careers networks across the region who the mainstream schools come along to, but predominantly they are talking about academia and the kids going off to university. The people from the specialist schools who are in charge of the post-school transition were not attending those networks because they felt it was not geared for them. I have set up a network where we poly-conference through all of the schools. We meet together and talk about the things and try to give them the same sort of professional development that the other schools would be getting. I think they crave that support, because they probably have not got the qualified people around that post-school, which is where we fit.
Senator McKENZIE: Are the mainstream careers teachers adequately Padded to assist students with a disability in the mainstream?
Mrs Evans-McCall : Some are and some are not. In some of the schools I work at, the aids that work with them would end up being the ones who supported them to get work experience and things like that. Predominantly, the attitude is that it is more academia. Unless the young person is capable of going off to university, they might not come under their radar in some schools.
Senator McKENZIE: Ms Anderson, did you have anything to add?
Mrs Anderson : I suppose I am going to funding. Similar to Andrea, I have also set up transition action networks across Western Victoria which involve mainstream and special schools. I find that special schools are so eager to put their hands up for their students to be involved with external activities to help them assimilate into community and aspirations, whereas I find the mainstream schools are not forthcoming with being able to provide funds for the students to do the same activities as, say, the kids from the special school. They hold on to their money, so to speak.
Senator SIEWERT: I wanted to go to the comment that you made about preparing for the impact of the NDIS, and just explore that a little bit and tease out what you mean by that a little bit more, if that is okay?
Mrs Anderson : In my opinion it is going to be really important that the young people are going to be able to advocate for themselves. That has been the big message with the NDIS; they are going to need to have their understanding of their aspirations and where they want to go forward. For me, I have been doing a lot more preparing around self-determination for students to be able to do that. I guess that comes back to the staff within the schools being able to not make the assumption; to actually listen to the person and for it to be person centred.
Also, I have got Barwon trial site in my area, and the impact with Geelong-Barwon is that there is no more Futures for Young Adults program for that transitional period from secondary school. I have had a lot of upset teachers, career teachers, parents and families that do not have that little nest egg of futures funding anymore.
There has been a huge disparity between everyone knowing where to go or what to do after school, because they have did not have that assistance anymore with the NDIS coming in. The NDIA, the agency in Geelong is now coming forth with more engagement with schools after they have got all their clients through the scheme, and now they are ready to engage more and actually work with schools about transition and everything else. I can see the impact being there will be a lot of misunderstanding as well of how to actually get into the scheme, but also what the scheme will actually fund, and what it will not fund, even though it is all on the website. Moving forward, there is a lot of misunderstanding there around, if their child is going to go into further education, how is the scheme actually going to help?
Senator SIEWERT: Can I just follow-up on the comment that you made about the Futures for Young Adults and the funding cut there. Not every young person with a disability will be getting an NDIS package—
Mrs Anderson : No.
Senator SIEWERT: But the funding has stopped for everybody.
Mrs Anderson : Yes.
Mrs Evans-McCall : Traditionally, you usually only got Futures for Young Adults funding if you were funded at school anyway. Do you know what I mean? That carried over.
Mr Cottee : The people eligible for NDIS would normally be in the same category with the Futures for Young Adults.
Senator SIEWERT: So not every student with a disability at school got that funding anyway. Is that what you are saying?
Mrs Evans-McCall : No, not everyone. There is that grey area between the funded kids and the non-funded kids. Usually, if you got a funding package at school you would get Futures for Young Adults funding prior to school.
Mrs Anderson : There would be those ones that would probably get lost in the cracks.
Mrs Evans-McCall : Of course, it was really focused on the post-school transition. There are three years, so of course you just get in the same basket as everybody in the NDIS.
Senator SIEWERT: If I have understood what you have said correctly, then that has not been adequately picked up in individual packages?
Mrs Anderson : No.
Mrs Evans-McCall : No, because there was a real focus of trying lots of different things in those three years; it is not as focused on that under the NDIS.
Mr Cottee : There is an opportunity there, though, if we actually use career action plans properly, for those plans to go along to do the NDIA when they do the plan.
Senator SIEWERT: To be a part of your plan. So that has not happened, has it?
Mr Cottee : I do not know what is happening. The trial there has—
Mrs Anderson : No, that has not happened. That will come in, obviously, in a few more years time when people are in the scheme from a young age. When they are in the scheme from a young age that will carry right through to the end of their life, basically. All that information and everything else would be part of that. The career action plan could be part of their plan within the scheme as they move through schools. It will be different, but it will be—
Mrs Evans-McCall : It needs to be aligned.
Mrs Anderson : Yes, that will be a long way away, obviously. In the meantime we need to look at how we can fill those gaps.
Senator SIEWERT: In the meantime there are gaps there for the people in that age group now.
Mrs Anderson : Yes.
CHAIR: Over to you, Senator O'Neill.
Senator O'NEILL: You mentioned that needs based funding is crucial in schools. Could you explain what the consequences will be if we do not see the disability loading fully implemented?
Mrs Anderson : Kids not going to school, no support—
Senator McKENZIE: Is there any fear that disability loading will not be implemented as planned?
Mrs Anderson : I could not answer that, sorry.
Senator O'NEILL: Would you like to take that question on notice and provide us with an answer? How many students with disability access career advice and transition plans for post-school?
Mrs Evans-McCall : Every student should have one.
Senator O'NEILL: Is that for the whole country or just the state?
Mr Cottee : That would be just for the state of Victoria, that I know of. We are only representing Victoria.
Mrs Evans-McCall : That is the difference between states and territories—
Senator O'NEILL: You went to that in your opening remarks about inequity within the disability sector.
Mrs Anderson : That is right.
Mrs Evans-McCall : It is the same as in other states. They have transition officers who are employed to support the people to leave school. There is no-one within schools doing that as their paid role.
Senator O'NEILL: Do you know whether any students who are eligible for that miss out?
Mrs Evans-McCall : On action plans?
Senator O'NEILL: Yes.
Mrs Evans-McCall : That is what I am saying—
Senator O'NEILL: The ones in the bottom drawer that you were referring to?
Mrs Evans-McCall : Yes, and some of them are very token attempts in terms of quality. It would be hard to say, but I think that the quality across the board for every student in my region who had them would be very minimal—the ones that were actual live documents.
Senator O'NEILL: Regarding the differences between those who have a good one and those who have a token one, do you have any data around the outcomes for that?
Mrs Evans-McCall : Again, it is that closed door of the school—
Mrs Anderson : It is anecdotal.
Mr Cottee : I have made some inquiries at a network level to see whether we could get those plans accessed once a child leaves a school so that they could take them along to the disability employment provider and the TAFE and make it a continuing document, rather than restarting every time they start a new transition point, but I have not had any traction in going further with that. Secondary to that was that I did not really want to pursue it, because I have found that they are probably tokenistic and not worth pursuing, to some degree. Knowing that the NDI was coming in, I thought that might be the better carrot to bring everyone around the table to talk about those things.
Senator O'NEILL: There are pretty big economic and social costs if kids cannot make the transition post-school, whatever that might be.
Mrs Evans-McCall : It is huge. And that is the field we work in—supporting that post-school transition closely.
Mrs Anderson : And hence why we are running these transition programs at the moment.
Senator O'NEILL: Do you know whether there is any data about the benefits and costs of helping kids make a transition and the cost of them not making it?
Mrs Evans-McCall : It would only be anecdotal; there would not be any—
Mrs Anderson : Yes, it would be anecdotal—
Senator O'NEILL: Could I ask you to take on notice the question of whether anyone in your organisation is aware of any data or statistics around that? That would be of interest.
Mrs Evans-McCall : Sure. So, you want statistics around the quality of a plan going forward?
Senator O'NEILL: Well, how many get a plan, who misses out, what difference it makes, whether there is any research around that, and the economic and social cost if students do not get this transition post-school. You have also mentioned teacher training—which I prefer to call teacher education, having been in it myself: you train monkeys, but you educate people; there is a difference. What do we need to better support new teachers? And what do we need to do to better support existing teachers, who can have interpersonal encounters that are incredibly enlivening or have complete removal from any access to an experience which would change how they learn and what they learn. And the teaching context: if they go to one of those lighthouse schools, by chance, their needs are going to be very different to those of somebody who has no exposure, or if they have a great educational leader in their school around disability or not. Given the varied nature of needs, what do you think needs to happen in relation to further education of teachers?
Mr Cottee : It is the whole disability awareness factor, especially under the autism spectrum, because a great focus is on behaviour management rather than actually teaching the individual how to learn. And that point of view is really just ignorance, and partially fear based, because you will do anything to avoid the conflict in the classroom, and behaviour management—it is just human nature.
Senator O'NEILL: Isn't it funding decision based, too? We heard this morning from Down Syndrome Australia that money is captured by systems and is not allocated to individuals. You have spoken about disability funding going to a classroom and there are kids with undiagnosed needs or needs that are apparent to the teachers and the students. The care that is allocated to an individual with high need is spread across kids with a range of needs, just as a practical response to the challenge that teachers are facing.
Mr Cottee : From a general perspective, I would say that we have to get away from trying to get teachers to teach kids what to think and teach them how to think. We need to get back to real teaching. We need to inspire teachers to be teachers, not administrators. That is a personal comment.
Senator O'NEILL: I think teachers feel that, too. Often the only career path for teachers to go forward is an administrative one rather than a practical classroom one. That being said, has your organisation got any requests or research about what needs to change in terms of the skills that are missing for teachers or programs that have been effective? Could you take that on notice and think about that?
Mrs Evans-McCall : Yes.
Senator O'NEILL: How much funding does your organisation receive from the government each year?
Mrs Evans-McCall : That is a good question.
Mr Cottee : That is easy to find out.
Mrs Evans-McCall : To run the whole program for each region?
Senator O'NEILL: Yes. This is just Victorian based?
Mrs Evans-McCall : No, there are 31 of us all across the country.
Senator O'NEILL: So it is federal government funding?
Mrs Evans-McCall : Yes. The total cost for the contract for the whole 31 programs—
Senator O'NEILL: Because it is a national disability—
Mrs Evans-McCall : Yes.
Mr Cottee : It is in the Treasury figures.
Senator O'NEILL: Are you funded on an ongoing basis?
Mrs Evans-McCall : We finish on 30 June next year and there has been no decision about our ongoing funding.
Senator SIEWERT: On the funding, could we get a breakdown of not only the total cost? There is obviously money allocated for each of the coordinators, but what else is the funding allocated for? If you give me a broad breakdown, that would be great.
Mrs Evans-McCall : Yes.
Senator O'NEILL: Just to be clear, you just said that at the moment—
Mrs Evans-McCall : We are only funded to 30 June 2016.
Senator O'NEILL: How many people are in your organisation?
Mrs Evans-McCall : There are 31 of us across Australia.
Mr Cottee : Four managers reside in Canberra. I think there are four contract managers.
Senator O'NEILL: In terms of job security, you have a pretty specific knowledge set now and you probably have pretty deep connections in the communities. What is the uncertainty of funding doing? It is six months away. Are you confident you will get the funding?
Mrs Evans-McCall : It is pretty stressful. We had our national conference recently in Canberra and we were told that it may be rolled over for 12 months, but they had not decided that and they had not decided whether it would stay with our current providers or whether they would put it out for tender. Of course, if they put it out for tender, we do not necessarily continue in the role and they lose all the networks and the work that we have done.
Mr Cottee : We are all auspiced out to separate organisations. Each region could handle things a little bit differently and they are auspiced differently. I am in the VET sector; these guys are in a different sector. There is the university sector. We are all in different sectors as well, doing the same primary role. So it will all be a little bit different.
Senator O'NEILL: That must be a concern.
Mrs Evans-McCall : Yes. Of course, the longer the decision is delayed, people will start to leave because they need security—
Senator O'NEILL: We have seen this methodology in the health sector as people disappeared and disappeared, and eventually there was nothing left to fund.
Mrs Anderson : There was money allocated, I think, in the last budget from 2016—
Mr Cottee : I am not sure about that. That was linked to the higher education package which never proceeded.
Mrs Anderson : I thought it was for us.
CHAIR: Thank you very much for coming along today and providing the committee with your evidence. We appreciate that. That concludes today's proceedings. I thank all witnesses who have given evidence in the committee today. I also thank Hansard, broadcasting and the secretariat.
Committee adjourned at 11:19