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Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Page: 1661

Ms O’DWYER (4:24 PM) —One of the reasons that I joined the Liberal Party over 14 years ago was that I passionately believed then, as I do today, that it is important to defend choice and opportunity. In my maiden speech I spoke about the importance of education in unlocking opportunities for all Australians, no matter what their background. In no other area is choice more important than in education. The coalition is dedicated to an education system that allows parents to find the school that best suits their children’s needs and that provides the best possible chance for them to flourish and achieve.

The Currajong School, in my electorate of Higgins, was established in 1974 as an independent school for students with spectrum disorder associated social and behavioural problems. The school aims to provide a positive environment for students whose needs are unable to be met within the mainstream education system. The school works intensively with children to develop learning and coping strategies, with the aim of equipping them for the transition to mainstream education. It has a great history of successful rehabilitation and fostering strong self-esteem and a positive sense of belonging.

However, the transition is not always successful. In many cases, when Asperger’s or spectrum disorder children go into the mainstream schooling system they report high levels of anxiety stemming from the new learning environment and the extra pressure that is applied to them. This anxiety causes problems for the students as well as the teachers, who are often unable to cope effectively with their behaviour. Teachers often view the behaviour as disruptive, which can cause the anxiety to increase over time and impacts directly on children’s ability to learn. Likewise, some children will be better suited to a mainstream school environment that has facilities and properly trained teachers available to assist them. They are able to receive the attention they need while continuing to be stimulated by a broad curriculum.

Parents of autism spectrum children are concerned that there is a lack of choice at the secondary school level and that students with social and behavioural problems are finding it difficult to get the appropriate care and reinforcement that they need. Often very bright children go on to achieve academic excellence in the right environment. Under the current system, parents apply for funding associated with their child’s condition. Parents have told me that they are concerned that funding is directed to children with severe disabilities rather than children with unrecognised disabilities. Most of the funding is ultimately spent on teachers’ aides to assist children throughout the day. However, teachers’ aides cannot be there all the time. Parents have said to me that they think it is terribly important that there be a choice of secondary school for them outside of the mainstream education system. It is incumbent upon us and the state government to seriously consider it. (Time expired)