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Education and Employment References Committee
Students with disability in the school system

COOK, Mr Tony, Associate Secretary, Department of Education and Training

EDMONDS, Ms Dannie, Director, Students with Disability Future Funding, Department of Education and Training

PATTIE, Mr David, Branch Manager, Schools Funding Branch, Department of Education and Training

CHAIR: I welcome officers of the Australian government Department of Education and Training; I appreciate your coming a little early. I remind senators that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a 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 explanation of policies or factual questions about when and how 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 that claim. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has your submission—thank you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement of no more than a few minutes, and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Cook : Thank you, firstly, for the opportunity for the department to appear at the inquiry. In order to assist the committee in its deliberations, I would like to make a brief statement just to highlight and expand on information presented in our submission. Specifically, I would like to describe the Australian government's funding for students with disability, as well as provide some information on the national policy, leadership and coordination role of the Australian government for students in this important area.

As with all school education matters, it is important to keep in mind the context of the Australian government's role in education when considering how best to fund and support students with disability. The Australian government does not have a direct responsibility for school education but has been instrumental in leading reforms that positively impact on students with disability. As the committee is aware, in order to effect improvements in school education the Australian government works in collaboration with state and territory governments and non-government education authorities. This is also true for reforms intended to improve the education of students with disability.

In terms of funding for students with disability, it is important that the broad context of all school funding is understood and acknowledged. Overall, states and territories contribute approximately two-thirds of total public funding for schools. The Australian government provides approximately one-third of public funding. It is not the prime funder of schools in Australia. State and territory education departments and non-government school authorities and schools are also responsible for school management policies and procedures, such as staff professional development in areas supporting students with disability and student enrolment, including enrolment procedures for students with disability. Again, the Australian government is not responsible for these areas.

As the majority of students with disability are enrolled in government schools, states and territories provide the majority of funding for students with disability in schools. States and territories contribute slightly more than two- thirds, or 68 per cent, of the funding for students with disability in all schools and 83 per cent of funding for students with disability in government schools. As the committee knows, from 1 January 2014, the Australian government's share of recurrent funding for schools has been needs based in accordance with the Australian Education Act 2013. The act's provisions reflect a base per-student price of educating a student, together with six loadings to target disadvantage, including one recognising the additional costs associated with educating a student with disability. The introduction of this funding loading for students with disability has meant a significant increase in Australian government funding levels since 2014.

As stated in our submission, in the 2015-16 budget, the Australian government provided over $5 billion in funding for students with disability over the period 2014 to 2017. That includes more than $1.2 billion in 2015 alone. It is interesting to note the increase in funding that the Commonwealth has made since 2013. It is estimated that the Catholic sector will receive approximately $463 million in Commonwealth recurrent funding for students with disability in 2015. This is $311 million more than under the previous targeted funding arrangements in 2013. This is an increase of 205 per cent between 2013 and 2015. It is estimated that the independent sector will receive over $261 million in Australian government funding for students with disability in 2015, $180 million more than provided under the previous targeted funding arrangements in 2013. This is a 222 per cent increase in funding for students with disability in independent schools over the last two years. Australian government funding for government schools for the student-with-disability loading is estimated at $490 million in 2015. Unfortunately, the department cannot provide a direct comparison with student-with-disability funding for government schools. This is because from 2009, under the National Education Agreement, funding for government schools was provided as a single rolled-up amount. There had been no separate funding-for-students-with-disability program in government schools since 2009.

As with any new school funding arrangements, there are currently transition arrangements to ensure funding certainty and stability for systems and schools as they move from their old to their new Commonwealth recurrent funding amounts. However, all schools with eligible students with disability, as currently determined by the state or territory in which they live, regardless of sector or stage of transition, attract a students-with-disability loading.

I would now like to assist the committee by quickly providing some updated information on the progress of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability. The NCCD has been a significant collaborative initiative of all Australian governments and the non-government education authorities. This is an initiative owned by the Education Council, not the Australian government. The need for a nationally consistent approach to identify school students with disability was discussed by COAG back in 2008. In April 2009, ministers agreed to work towards publishing information about the percentages of students with disability in schools, with ACARA, to investigate nationally consistent definitions.

Since 2010, all Australian governments have been working collaboratively to develop and implement the new national data collection, with initial trials occurring in 2011 and 2012. The NCCD has been progressively implemented in selected schools over the period 2013 to 2015, with 2015—this year—being the first year that all schools will participate. The NCCD is significant because it will, for the first time, provide us with a national understanding of the prevalence of students with disability in schools and their level of need.

The Education Council decided in December 2012 that the NCC data would not be publicly available until 2016, subject to the data being of sufficient quality. It is particularly important to the council that the quality of any data used for funding students with disability is robust and reliable and accurately reflects the diversity of needs with students with disability.

The NCCD collection for 2015 is in its final stages, and an assessment of the data quality will occur before the end of this year. From 2016, as the committee is aware, the government has committed that Commonwealth funding for students with disability will be informed by the NCCD. The department will provide advice to government on the implementation of this commitment when we have analysed the 2015 NCC data.

Finally, I would just like to conclude, very quickly, by briefly highlighting three Australian government projects being undertaken this year, in 2015, that will develop resources to support principals and teachers to build inclusive learning environments in schools. The first two projects are being led by the Australian Special Education Principals' Association to develop resources in collaboration with principal and teacher professional associations. The web based resources will be available to schools in 2016. A national resource called Learning for All will focus on disability topics including complex disability, autism, mental illness, emotional intelligence, cognitive disorder and language disorder. The resource will include teacher and leader handbooks and will address both curriculum and pedagogical adjustment and differentiation.

The second resource in development, Disability Standards for Education in Practice, aims to raise further awareness of the Disability Standards for Education 2005. This resource will provide teachers with a framework and template that will enable them to determine how best to support students with special education needs.

A third project will develop examples of good practice in supporting the disability standards for education. These exemplars will demonstrate how the standards can be used across education settings, including early learning, schools, vocational and tertiary education, to provide better outcomes for students with disability. The exemplars will assist educators, parents, carers and students with disability and will be available in late 2015 on the Department of Education and Training website.

The government is committed to ensuring that current and future arrangements are directed towards achieving better education outcomes. It will continue to work with states and territories and education authorities to deliver reforms for students with disability. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. That is your opening statement for the department?

Mr Cook : That is correct.

CHAIR: Thanks very much. We have had a number of hearings in a number of states, and we are hearing consistent information. One of them is in relation to the CPI funding, where the Catholic Education Commission, along with some independent schools, told us categorically that, if the funding continued in line with CPI, schools would close. Do you have a comment to make on that?

Mr Cook : I guess that is their evidence, Senator, so I cannot really comment on what information they are using as the basis for that. When I talked about the disability funding, I talked about the fact that the Catholic sector, for example, over the last two years have received over 200 per cent more disability funding than they received in 2013. I am happy, if you like, to talk about how much additional funding will be going into the Catholic sector over the next couple of years, but again—

CHAIR: No, their assessment was very clear that schools would close.

Senator McKENZIE: I would like to hear about how much additional money the Catholic sector is getting over the coming years.

CHAIR: When I hand to you, Senator McKenzie, you can ask that question.

Mr Cook : I am not sure I can comment on them; I do not know what basis they have used there.

CHAIR: They have used the funding based on CPI to make that statement, and they were not alone. Other schools have said that as well.

Mr Cook : I understand they are basing that on historical data, on how—

CHAIR: Yes, on the current levels of funding matched to CPI they said schools would close.

Mr Cook : Considering every school is receiving record funding compared to what it has ever received before, and considering funding will increase every year, I am not sure how they reached that assessment.

CHAIR: How does funding increase if the CPI remains the same or goes down?

Mr Cook : Well, with funding every year you have more money than you had the previous year. That is the increase in that sense.

CHAIR: Sure, but it has also been expended. It has not been put in a pot.

Mr Cook : We have to look at how that has come about. My understanding is they have used historical data. If I look at some of the most recent data—

CHAIR: Do you say they are wrong? Are they wrong to say that?

Mr Cook : I do not think I have said that.

CHAIR: No, I am asking you. Are you saying that they are wrong?

Mr Cook : I cannot comment—I do not know what research they have used as part of that. But I understand, based on the evidence, that they have used historical data. The main drivers are teacher costs.

CHAIR: Can you take it on notice to talk to the Catholics about the comments they made at the Senate hearing about schools closing through CPI funding.

Mr Cook : I can certainly talk to them. I can also give some information about what we understand some of the drivers are at the moment. If you look at the drivers of school costs—

CHAIR: No, I am just interested in—

Mr Cook : I need to comment about what they have said. In terms of drivers of school costs—

CHAIR: No, Mr Cook, I will ask the questions. I have asked that question. You were not able to answer. I asked you directly whether the Catholics were wrong. You said you are not able to do that.

Mr Cook : I can comment on their comment.

CHAIR: So I am asking you to review the Hansard in relation to what they said, and then take on notice to speak to them and come back to the committee, because the evidence is on the Hansardand you can review that.

Mr Cook : To clarify, are you asking me to advise the committee about why the Catholics—

CHAIR: The Catholics came to the Sydney hearing and made a clear statement that schools would close. Other schools have said that too. Given the Catholic system is our—

Senator McKENZIE: It is very hard to pin them down, though, on the assumptions they were using to make those claims.

CHAIR: When you have your turn, Senator McKenzie, you can explore your lines of questioning. They are a large provider of schools—the second largest provider of schools in the country. They made that statement. They are not idiots, presumably. They know what they are talking about. I am simply asking you to review what they said on the Hansard and either make a comment about that or, if there is not enough information there, talk to them and come back to us so you can answer the question as to why the Catholic system has said that.

Mr Cook : Right. I am happy to do that. I will take it on notice and come back to you again.

Senator SIEWERT: Disability loading is allocated on—

Mr Cook : A per-student basis.

Senator SIEWERT: A per-student basis, and then to whom? Does it go to the individual schools?

Mr Cook : Just to clarify that, the model of how that operates is quite complex.

Senator SIEWERT: I could have guaranteed that.

Mr Cook : In terms of money going directly from the Commonwealth model—this is Commonwealth money I am talking about—to individual schools, that only applies to about 900 schools in Australia, and there are 9½ thousand schools in Australia. They are independent, non-systemic schools. They are stand-alone, independent schools that are not part of an overall system. In the independent sector you have Anglican schools that might be part of an Anglican system. If you are part of a system—like a state government, so all Queensland government schools, or the Catholic sector, like the New South Wales Catholic Education Commission, or an independent system, like an Anglican system—the model operates by looking at all of the schools in your system. In Victoria, for example—I cannot remember; I should remember—it is 1,600 government schools, I think. It calculates the model for every single one of those individual schools, and then it provides that funding to the Victorian state government as one single cheque.

Senator SIEWERT: That is what I wanted to get to. Then what happens? Suppose I get it as the Western Australian government. Then what do I do?

Mr Cook : Then what happens is that each of the systems, whether that be the Victorian government, the Victorian department of education or the WA Catholic education commission, implement their funding models, which is going to be different to the Commonwealth funding model—in fact, at the moment, there are probably about 20 funding models across the country that distribute that funding.

Senator McKENZIE: When did that come about?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes!

Mr Cook : That was a decision of the previous government.

Senator McKENZIE: Of the previous government?

Mr Cook : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: The leave loading that the Commonwealth gives—

Mr Cook : Yes, the disability loading.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, the disability loading—

Mr Cook : That is alright.

Senator McKENZIE: Did you say leave again?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I keep saying it. It shows that I came on the midnight flight, doesn't it? The loading is a component of the Commonwealth and I understand what you have said about only funding a certain percentage of the funding that goes to schools—

Mr Cook : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: does that go directly to schools per student exactly as it came from the Commonwealth?

Mr Cook : It would be highly unlikely.

Senator SIEWERT: That is what I figured.

Mr Cook : To help you, I have written to every state government department of education. It is a requirement for the non-government sector to provide advice to the Commonwealth as to how they have allocated that funding by the loading to each of their schools in Australia. I am still waiting to hear back from some of the states in relation to that, but that is a requirement under the act.

Senator SIEWERT: So it is a requirement under the act, but for what period of time can't you say whether the states and the system—because I presume you are doing that to each of the systems—

Mr Cook : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: have responded. Firstly, can you tell us who has responded?

Mr Cook : I would have to take that on notice because it has basically been in the last few weeks that we have been getting letters back.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take on notice who has responded?

Mr Cook : Sure.

Senator SIEWERT: I presume you have written to the Catholic system as a whole—

Mr Cook : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: To the Anglicans?

Mr Cook : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: To the other independents?

Mr Cook : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: And the states and territories?

Mr Cook : For the non-government sector it has been part of their usual practice. This is not unusual for them other than the fact that there is the loading component. They are used to reporting to the Commonwealth. We have something called the green book that we publish every year that outlines how much money has gone to the non-government sector. They are used to that, so I did not have to formally write to them, whereas the state sector is new under the Australian Education Act so I formally wrote to all the state education departments. I think we got most of them in but I am happy to take on notice those to date.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, if you could take that on notice. From those you have to date, are they telling you what they have spent it on or whether it has gone—as it came from the Commonwealth—to students essentially through the school system?

Mr Cook : That depends on the act, and it depends on whether they are participating or non-participating as a system. We have three participating systems in terms of government schools—New South Wales, the ACT and South Australia. Under the act, they are required to give me the level of loading broken down by school. If you are nonparticipating—that is, the rest of the states—you do not have to give that level of detail. They just have to give the global amount that was provided to their individual schools. It is differential, unfortunately, based on the way the act actually applies to schools.

Senator SIEWERT: Given that education is not my portfolio, I am just taking a wild stab here that which states were in and which states were out were part of the negotiations.

Mr Cook : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: When you say global amount, that is a global amount per school? They do not break it down to per student?

Mr Cook : That is correct—

Senator SIEWERT: But some states do. The participating states break it down per student.

Mr Cook : They will give me a global amount for the state—a breakdown by state—for example, let's just say WA. WA is a nonparticipating state.

Senator SIEWERT: How did I guess that!

Mr Cook : They will give us at the state level—of the millions and millions of dollars that we have given them—what it looks like broken down by their loading but not what it looks like at every school.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you not already know that because you are the ones who gave it to them?

Mr Cook : We know, but how have they then allocated that because they have used a different model to allocate it.

Senator McKENZIE: It is a different calculation. They use their own state based needs based funding model. There are essentially 20 different needs based funding models around.

Mr Cook : That is right. I know exactly how much I have given WA for that model, for that disability, but they may have used another model, using different criteria, to then allocate that funding to their schools. They have moved the amounts within.

Senator SIEWERT: So they may not have necessarily given it to you in the way that the Commonwealth works it out—per student?

Mr Cook : They might have given more, globally, to disability. Or they may have given less, and more to low-SES, for example. That is a state based decision.

Senator McKENZIE: Rural and regional, or Indigenous.

Senator SIEWERT: I see. But some states do it straight to them—is that what I understand you to have said?

Mr Cook : No, sorry.

Senator SIEWERT: No. Okay—just when I thought I had it!

Mr Cook : The only one that I understand probably does that is South Australia, for their nongovernment sector. So in state funding—because, remember, there is Commonwealth funding and state funding—the way that the South Australian government has allocated their state funding to the nongovernment sector is based on the Commonwealth funding model.

Senator SIEWERT: Therefore it is really hard for all of us to look at what level of funding then is really going to students with disability and how it is then being used, effectively.

Mr Cook : That is right. I can give you the global amounts that we have allocated from the Commonwealth to schools and systems, but I cannot at the moment give you a reading back which says, 'Was that money actually used for that purpose?'

Senator SIEWERT: I will get to the consistent collection of data as a separate topic as well. But even with that we are still not going to be able to tell how effectively the Commonwealth money is being spent, because of all those different ways the money has been broken up and because states are not necessarily delivering it straight to the schools, even though they have the disability loading.

Mr Cook : That is correct. The only schools it is going straight to are the 900 independent schools that are not part of the system.

Senator SIEWERT: Then how is the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data—I am glad you call it the NCCD!—going to help if we actually do not have a really good handle on how much money is being spent?

Mr Cook : The NCCD is really about getting better information than we currently have. The only information we currently use in the Commonwealth—and in states and territories—to actually fund and inform funding for students with disability is based effectively on a medical diagnosis that happens at a state level. That is what is in the Report on government services, so it is 5.3 or six per cent or so of the population.

The way the model operates at the moment is that there is no differentiation for those students. You might have one student who has very high needs. They are basically counted as the same amount as someone who actually has more moderate needs. While there is an interim loading in place, the amount is effectively the same for everyone. Nationally consistent collection of student disability data will enable us to say, 'Okay, let's look at the more extensive needs that might be there and look at the less extensive needs that might be there, and we can then differentiate the amount of money that loading may attract.' The loading may, for example, in the future move into three subcategories in the differential funding amounts: most needy, next needy and least needy.

Senator SIEWERT: We might as well go there, since we are there, and while it is on my mind. We have had evidence—a bit today, but also when we were in Brisbane; I am not so sure about Sydney, because I was not able to make it—that there were a number of people who were critical of the process because it is schools self-reporting. The argument is that it should not be regarded as best practice or an accurate reflection of what the situation is. I am presuming that you have heard that same criticism?

Mr Cook : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Therefore, is there a review process built in to the use of this that accounts for that?

Mr Cook : There are a few things. If I start back at the beginning: as I mentioned in my opening statement, it was in about 2008 that COAG agreed that we would collect this data. For that purpose, it was actually about publishing the data on the My School website. The process had begun. The Education Council then decided that for the purposes of funding we would use this process, rather than actually develop a whole new process. On a yearly basis we have been doing something called a 'process improvement project', which actually looks at the data collection and which works with groups of schools about how they made judgements, basically to try to moderate them. So we are aware of the data quality issues.

That is why we have developed training materials. That is why states and territories have been working with schools in relation to this. So, we have put a number of things in place. PricewaterhouseCoopers has been working with us on that. I think some of those reports might be public; I am not sure. We can take in on notice to see whether they are. But basically it is recognising that the data in the initial years may be not as stable as we would like and asking what we can do to try to address those issues. We have been putting projects in place to try to address that.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you on target for dealing with the issues around quality by the end of this year?

Mr Cook : That is our intention. This year is the first year that every school in Australia has been involved in the work. When that data is in, which we expect will be in the next couple of weeks, we will be analysing it in terms of quality. Then, in terms of the federal government, my department will be advising the new minister in relation to the next steps.

Senator SIEWERT: So, we will not necessarily see the data go public at the end of this year?

Mr Cook : That is correct. The Education Council has already decided that it would not be public this year; that was an Education Council decision.

Senator SIEWERT: So, it is next—

Mr Cook : It will be 2016; that is when they indicated. And they said it would be if the data quality is robust. That is what the Education Council also decided. This is owned by the Education Council; it is not owned by the Australian government. We are collecting on behalf of all states and territories, but it is actually the council's data, so they will ultimately have the final say, I guess, as to whether that data is robust enough to be published.

Senator SIEWERT: Going back to the funding model, under the new process you are finalising all the entities getting back to you, and then that will be published. Is that right?

Mr Cook : That will be a decision of the minister. Again, for the non-government sector we normally do it in what is called the green book. The minister will make a decision about publication. In relation to MySchool—in terms of the number of students with disability—the intent of that was to publish that in 2016. But, again, the Education Council has said it will be if the data is robust, to enable them to do that; obviously they do not want to put misleading information out there publicly. So, the aim would be 2016.

CHAIR: We will go to Senator McKenzie, and then we will come back to Senator Siewert and me.

Senator McKENZIE: I wanted to give you a chance to finish the answer to Senator Lines—just to flesh that out a bit more with the Catholic system and the record funding that the federal government is putting into disability.

Mr Cook : As I indicated, in terms of disability for the Catholic sector there was a growth of over 200 per cent from 2013 to 2015, and I think a 7.8 per cent growth from 2014 to 2015, a 6.1 per cent growth from 2015 to 2016 and a 6.7 per cent growth from 2016 to 2017. Over that four-year period, 2014 to 2017, that is a 22 per cent growth in Commonwealth funding, off the back, as I indicated, of an over 200 per cent growth from 2014 to 2015. I am aware that the Catholic system was using historical data, as I indicated, to talk about the growth in school costs. Growth in school costs is predominantly driven by teachers wages. About 70 or 80 per cent of staff costs is what actually drives the costs in relation to school education. I think they were using a figure of five per cent or so. It is interesting to note that between 2010 and 2013 the average annual growth of primary school teachers is 2.7 per cent. So, in terms of driving that forward to 2018, the differential was actually not great in terms of student enrolment growth as well as CPI growth. As I said, because every school is receiving record funding and every school is getting additional funding every year, overall, in terms of school funding—and that is Commonwealth, and of course there is state funding on top of that as well—I am surprised by the statement that schools will close.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, I heard a similar comment in Brisbane last week and was equally perplexed at the maths of how a school five years in advance can suggest that they are going to be laying off staff or closing schools in the face of the data as I knew it. Can you think of any reason or budgeting methodology that might result in such claims being made? I cannot seem to put my mind to it.

Mr Cook : I am not aware of them. Again, I will come back to school funding; it will grow every year. I have given you the disability amounts. I can give you—

Senator McKENZIE: I mean, are we expecting a tsunami of students into the education system that would require putting on exponential numbers of staff?

Mr Cook : Even if we did, school funding is demand driven, so we would fund it. Even if another 10,000 students appeared at the doorstep tomorrow, the Commonwealth would fund that, as do states and territories.

Senator McKENZIE: So, the comment would seem completely baseless.

Mr Cook : I do not know how the comment has come about. The overall funding for Catholic sectors increases between five and six per cent per year between now and 2017 and then the disability funding actually increases even more.

Senator McKENZIE: And the loading we are talking about for disability specifically is exactly the same loading as there would have been under the Labor government.

Mr Cook : That is correct. There has been no change to the act. It is exactly as it applies in the act at the moment.

Senator McKENZIE: So, we are basically implementing the former government's—

Mr Cook : That is correct.

Senator McKENZIE: The 20 different systems.

Mr Cook : Both the disability in relation to the act and also the time line for the collection of the nationally consistent data are the same time lines as the previous government's expectations.

Senator McKENZIE: So we have a unity ticket on this one, it would seem.

Mr Cook : It is being implemented as the previous government had indicated.

CHAIR: Under the new Prime Minister and the new Minister for Education, have there been any changes to policy or funding arrangements for students with disability?

Mr Cook : I do not brief the Prime Minister, so I am not aware of anything about the Prime Minister. We have had an initial briefing with the Minister for Education, and we will continue to do those briefings.

CHAIR: Did that briefing go to children with disability?

Mr Cook : It was a broad briefing around the entire spectrum of school education. We made a brief comment about disability, as there were very brief comments around everything else.

CHAIR: What was the brief comment?

Mr Cook : Well, that is advice to the minister. I would not normally be indicating what advice I have given to a minister.

CHAIR: So, there was a briefing with the new minister—a formal briefing—

Mr Cook : That is correct. We provided advice to the minister.

CHAIR: And you cannot tell us what the department reported in relation to students with disability?

Mr Cook : It is our advice to government, and we would not normally—

CHAIR: But there have been no changes to policy or funding arrangements that were told to you at that meeting?

Mr Cook : No. It has always been the case. The funding up to 2017 is exactly as appears under the act.

CHAIR: Has the More Support for Students with Disabilities program been reinstated?

Mr Cook : Reinstated?

CHAIR: Yes. Well, it had been cancelled—

Mr Cook : There are a few things around this program that we just need to be clear on for the committee. The More Support for Students with Disabilities initiative was a short-term initiative—two years, and then it was extended for 12 months. However, in relation to the way the act operates, if you were a non-government school that received More Support for Students with Disabilities money in 2013, that money is forever in your budget. So, the notion that he MSSD money has stopped is not correct. And I do not know whether that is fully understood, because of the way that the act operated, which is that it looked at what funding schools were getting in 2013 and said that you would get that funding, plus three per cent. That is for the non-government sector. So, if you were a school in the non-government sector that got More Support for Students with Disabilities funding, that money continues for you, so there is no cut in that sense. In some cases there were also system costs, so the Catholic education system of one state might have taken a proportion of money out. We have identified those costs and have apportioned that cost to that system in that state.

CHAIR: And for the public system?

Mr Cook : For the public system it is different, based on the decision of the previous government. That decision was using 2011 as the base year for future funding projections for the Australian Education Act.

CHAIR: Yes, but in relation to the MSSD, the current government extended the program by 12 months.

Mr Cook : That is right.

CHAIR: So, has the new minister or the new Prime Minister talked to you about reinstating the MSSD—another extension?

Mr Cook : There has been no conversation with me around that. For non-government schools, that money continues.

CHAIR: Have there been any changes to whether or not the loading for students with disability will be fully funded?

Mr Cook : Any changes to the transition—no. As per the previous budget, particularly the 2014-15 budget, the decision is that from 2014 to 2017 the model operates, as was agreed, as a part of the Australian Education Act. Beyond 2017 there will be negotiations with the state sector and also the non-government sector—between them and the Australian government. That has not changed.

CHAIR: When it comes to children with disability there has been no new investment and no changes in the government's policy since the new Prime Minister and the minister were sworn in?

Mr Cook : Sorry—in the last week or so have there been any changes to note? As decided in the budget, which means every year, the Commonwealth funding for children with disability increases by $100 million

Senator SIEWERT: What definition of 'disability' is used for calculating the loading?

Mr Cook : Many definitions.

Senator SIEWERT: Criteria, sorry.

Mr Cook : We use the definitions that state and territories use to identify students with disability in their state. That is different in every single state. It is generally a medical diagnosis, but it is based on however Victoria does it in Victoria, and this is why it is actually quite wildly different.

Senator SIEWERT: This is why we are getting problems with funding. For example, in Queensland, where we have got verified and unverified, you would only be paying the loading on the verified.

Mr Cook : I would imagine that would be the case, yes. That would be the data that they provide us.

Senator SIEWERT: So they miss out. There are a number of disabilities that are falling into the unverified, for example, in Queensland. It would be the same for every state; they would just call it something different. And so they miss out from the state system but also from the Commonwealth system for that funding.

Mr Cook : At the moment, the only datasets we can use are the datasets provided to us by states and territories and how they fund their students with disability.

Senator SIEWERT: The problem here, even with the nationally consistent collection, is that they are probably not going to be reporting on their unverified—

Mr Cook : In terms of the new system, basically we are looking at the four categories. It is about the levels of adjustment that a student might need in a classroom. The four categories go from extensive—so very significant adjustments—down to no adjustment that requires funding. It is the teaching strategies in the classroom that will actually cater for that student, but there is no additional funding. When people talk about the number of students who require adjustments going forward, we have to remember that there are four categories. One of those categories does not attract additional funding.

Senator SIEWERT: That is the no adjustment in the classroom.

Mr Cook : That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: . For example, let's say we were talking about dyslexia and about the fact that it is not verified. I think they said that it was not actually acknowledged. Wasn't the dyslexia support group saying that issues are not acknowledged?

Mr Cook : It would be going forward under the definition of disability standards. That is our expectation.

Senator SIEWERT: So it will be.

Mr Cook : That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: It then gets picked up through the consistent collection process. Then there will be funding available? That is what I understand, or is that making a leap of logic?

Mr Cook : That will be a decision of governments, I guess, but that is the advice we will be giving to government about the levels of adjustment going forward.

Senator SIEWERT: It then goes to 2017, and beyond that, when we are looking at the new funding cycle, is when that process could potentially kick in.

Mr Cook : Or earlier. The federal government has committed to next year's funding for disability being informed by the 2015 data collection.

Senator SIEWERT: If it is—I will not use the word 'verified', because I have been using it differently—

Mr Cook : If it is robust, stable data.

Senator SIEWERT: If it is robust, yes—

Mr Cook : Having said that, certainly from the department's perspective, we will be advising the minister as to how to implement the commitment that the government has given to inform next year's disability funding by the 2015 data collection. For the first time ever, every school in Australia will be involved.

CHAIR: Mr Cook, earlier you mentioned changes in funding for students with disability. How much will funding for students with disability grow from 2018? Will it be CPI in line with the government's announced school funding policy?

Mr Cook : That is a matter for government. Once we advise government on information that comes through the NCCD process, the government will decide how the model will exist beyond 2017. At the moment the total amount of funding, as you are well aware, the total school funding, will be indexed to CPI plus enrolment growth from 2018 on. Whether that applies to disability, unfortunately I cannot comment on that as it is a decision for government.

CHAIR: What if the NCCD process or other processes identify that there is unmet need for students with disability? How will this be funded if it is above and beyond the CPI cap? Will students miss out, will funding be taken from other parts of the system? If so, which parts will it come from?

Mr Cook : Again, this will depend on the data and the advice we provide, and then the decision by government. I cannot comment on that.

CHAIR: If the data is showing there is unmet need out there, and certainly a number of submitters have put to the committee that there is unmet need out there, what happens?

Mr Cook : That is a decision for government and I cannot pre-empt where government might go with these things. That is something the government will have to decide. We will provide advice on the matter but the government will decide.

CHAIR: Even within the current forward estimates you cannot make a comment?

Mr Cook : We have not seen the data so we do not know what it looks like for 2015 in all schools, so we do not know what the prevalence across Australia is. I know people have been talking about unmet need but again, as I have indicated, in the current process one of the four categories is about not additional funding.

CHAIR: If you are aware, as you just said, that people are talking about unmet need, is the department simply sitting on its hands?

Mr Cook : We are not because we do not have the data.

CHAIR: Aren't you thinking that if there is unmet need we might meet it in this way or that way?

Mr Cook : We are considering the advice we will provide to government, that is correct, and we will provide that advice to government once we have the final data in.

CHAIR: So despite you hearing anecdotally that there is unmet need out there, it is not something you are actively working around?

Mr Cook : We are working on the advice we will provide to government and will finalise that advice and provide that advice to government based on the final data that is available to us, which will be in the next couple of weeks. I think the non-government data might even be in. We are almost at that point.

CHAIR: When do you expect the non-government data?

Mr Cook : This week.

CHAIR: Then what work do you need to do on it?

Mr Cook : We have to wait for the government data as well, which I think will be mid to late October. We will look at that data, as we do with anything in the school funding model, and provide advice and a range of options for government to consider as to how they will implement their commitment to inform the disability loading using the NCC data for next year.

CHAIR: I accept that you are getting the data in, and you have told us that in the forward estimates school funding is linked to CPI.

Mr Cook : Beyond 2017, that is correct.

CHAIR: So if there was unmet need that came in for next year you would not have the capacity to meet that without additional funding.

Mr Cook : Again that is a decision by government.

CHAIR: But that is a fact, is it not?

Mr Cook : Not necessarily—it depends on the level of adjustment or the level of funding that a student may need. At the moment every student in Australia is getting the exact same amount of money. There may be differential need around those sorts of areas, but again this is all a decision for government.

CHAIR: Unless you save money, if there is unmet need it does mean there is not enough money in the system.

Mr Cook : But, again, some of that unmet need maybe a category which says no funding is required.—as I have said, one of the four categories is about that.

CHAIR: Yes, but it could also be one of the three categories above that.

Mr Cook : It could be. We are getting to a hypothetical stage where I cannot really provide much advice.

CHAIR: Sure, but on the current formulas you would not be able to meet that need. That is just a fact.

Mr Cook : Again, that is a decision by government. You are asking me to hypothesise about whether it will be more than it currently is.

CHAIR: You have told us the CPI is locked into the current forward estimates.

Mr Cook : That is correct.

CHAIR: So if there is unmet need coming into next year the funding is not there. You have to get additional funding.

Mr Cook : I am not going to make a hypothetical comment based on something in the future—I cannot do that.

CHAIR: I am not asking for a hypothetical. I am really just stating fact, because you have locked it in, so there is x dollars available. If there is more need out there, how does it get met?

Mr Cook : Again, I am going to wait until the data comes in to see whether there is more need.

CHAIR: I thought that, in response to a question that Senator McKenzie asked you, you said that it would be met, but now you are not saying that.

Mr Cook : It would be met. I talked about student enrolment. If there are additional students—I am talking about additional students that exist in the school sector. If suddenly another 10,000 students arrive tomorrow that we were not expecting then that would be met, because that is school demand driven. That is different to the question you are asking me about the differential disability.

CHAIR: Yes, I am asking—

Mr Cook : Sorry, I am not trying to be difficult. It is just that, because I cannot factually say whether it is going to be the case or not, it is hard for me to answer the question.

CHAIR: Yes, but to me it seems a factual response to say, 'Well, if CPI's locked in and we have additional unmet need out there'—which the AEU, the Catholics and parents are talking about; everyone who comes before the committee tells us there is unmet need out there—'the current system is not going to meet that need.'

Mr Cook : Again, from a hypothetical perspective, it could be the other way around.

CHAIR: A decreased need?

Mr Cook : In terms of the levels of adjustment, under the current model, because the funding amount is quite large, it may be differential across how that operates in terms of funding for disabilities.

CHAIR: But if that is true the opposite is also true. It must be. You cannot put a case that we might have a reduction, hypothetically, but then refuse to say—

Mr Cook : I am putting the case both ways.


Mr Cook : I think I have answered as far as I can go. I cannot make a hypothetical perception.

CHAIR: So it does cut both ways. You could have a reduction, but you could also have an increase, and that increase currently is not catered for in the funding.

Mr Cook : That will be a decision by government in terms of whether that is the case going forward.

CHAIR: Mr Cook, you cannot use the analogy that somehow there are going to be fewer students and more available funding and then not also entertain the prospect that there is unmet need out there and we have funding that will not meet it.

Mr Cook : My comment will be that, consistent as it is, when the data comes through we will know factually whether there is unmet need or not.

CHAIR: So that data will be released?

Mr Cook : That is a decision by council. The Education Council owns the data, not the Australian government.

CHAIR: But you expect it to be released?

Mr Cook : The Education Council made a decision, I think, in 2012 or 2014 with the proposal that information coming out of NCCD would be made available on the My School website in 2016 if the data were robust. So that will be a council decision.

CHAIR: How do you determine if it is robust?

Mr Cook : I guess states and territories will look at their own data and provide advice to council as to whether they think it is robust. It is their data.

CHAIR: It would be a terrible exercise if, after all these years and all this secrecy, someone then made a decision that the data is not robust so therefore it will never see the light of day.

Mr Cook : That is a state and territory Education Council decision. It is not the Australian government's decision.

CHAIR: Surely we have a right to expect better than that.

Mr Cook : The Education Council have said that they expect the data will be made public.

CHAIR: Except you keep putting the proviso 'if it is robust'.

Mr Cook : I do not. They have. That is their decision.

CHAIR: Yes, but—

Mr Cook : I am just letting you know what the Education Council, with every state and territory education minister across Australia, has decided.

CHAIR: Sure, but surely, if we have been collecting this data, to turn around at this late stage and say, 'It's not robust enough; we won't release it,' does not take us very far.

Mr Cook : The aim has always been to release the data, but the Education Council will make that decision. Twenty-seven per cent of schools are collecting the data for the first time ever this year, so the states and territories will make a decision about the robustness of that data.

CHAIR: All right. I will go back to Senator Siewert, and then I have further questions.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to the issue about the Disability Standards for Education. There has been a lot of criticism about the standards and, in particular, the lack of enforceability on implementation and compliance. Do you have any comments on that?

Mr Cook : As you are probably aware, we have undertaken a review. That review is currently with our minister, Minister Birmingham. After consideration, I expect that will be released in the not-too-distant future. Unfortunately, I cannot go into the depths of that review at this particular point, until the minister has had an opportunity to review it and the Australian government response has come out, but I am aware of some of the concerns. Some of the things that the Australian government has been doing is that we have been developing resources—training materials and materials online. But effectively, because this is predominantly about states and territories who run, own and operate schools, how that is implemented at a school level is the responsibility of those states and territories and the non-government sector. The Commonwealth does not actually manage schools. We can provide advice on the matter but only states and territories can actually enforce the requirements in relation to what is happening in their schools.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. When will we see the report? I thought it was due in August; wasn't it?

Mr Cook : Yes, that is correct. We got the report but it is now, just with the change of ministers, with Minister Birmingham for consideration. I would expect it to be out soon, but of course it is his decision.

Senator SIEWERT: I could spend five minutes going backwards and forwards, but let us pretend I have done that and I know that it is now up to the minister to make that decision.

Mr Cook : Sure.

Senator SIEWERT: There have been a lot of calls for a national complaints process. Obviously hearing that is not new to you. Has there been any consideration or discussion nationally to have a national complaints process?

Mr Cook : Not within the department, but again that is probably part of the advice that we are providing our minister at the moment if that is one of the findings from the report of the review that has happened.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that one of the issues that came up in the review process?

Mr Cook : I will have to take that on notice, if that is okay. I have not got fully every single issue that came up. I am very happy to take that on notice and provide advice.

Senator SIEWERT: It would be appreciated if you could.

Mr Cook : Yes. I am very happy to do that.

Senator SIEWERT: Prior to the review was there any discussion nationally about that or with the states and territories?

Mr Cook : I am not aware that there was. The Attorney-General's Department looks after the complaint processes rather than our department, so it might have happened in there but I am not aware of it.

Senator SIEWERT: We can put some questions on notice to A-G's.

Mr Cook : Sure.

CHAIR: I want to go back to a comment that Senator McKenzie made. She said that the Catholics said that fees would rise and that schools will close. She did not believe that that was robust, but aren't the Catholics in the best position to judge what will happen with school funding in their system?

Mr Cook : I would assume so, as anyone who owns a school system, but it depends what data they have available to them as well.

CHAIR: Or who have been running it as long as the Catholics.

Mr Cook : Again my point was I understand they were using historical data. The most recent data is quite different to their historical data in terms of growth in school costs.

CHAIR: Looking at the NCCD, the Productivity Commission shows there are about 190,000 students with disability receiving funded support, or 5.3 per cent of the total school population. Does the department believe that all the students who have disabilities in schools who need support are currently receiving it or is it possible that the number requiring support is far greater based on the available evidence from the ABS, from schools, from parents and from the NCCD?

Mr Cook : Sorry? I got lost a little bit.

CHAIR: I can break it down. Mr Pattie was nodding, so we agree that the Productivity Commission says—

Mr Cook : Is that the RoGS, the Report on government services?


Mr Cook : That is what we use as a basis for the data.

CHAIR: So does the department believe that all the students who have disabilities in schools who need support are currently receiving it?

Mr Cook : We can go with the data we get from states and territories. Senator Siewert said that she understood in Queensland there is a process and some get funded and some do not get funded. The only information we have got available that is providing funding is information that we get from the states and territories. We do not have another data source at the moment. We will have that in 2015 about funding for students with disability, noting that the processes are quite different.

CHAIR: Yes, sure. But are you as a department confident that all the students who need support are currently receiving it?

Mr Cook : It is the information provided to us from the states and territories. So we ask the states and territories to provide us with the information they have got about students with disability, and based on that we provide the funding. We are confident with the data that the states and territories have given us.

Senator SIEWERT: Going back to what we were talking about before: that is their definition, isn't it?

Mr Cook : Yes. And that is all we can use. That is the data we have got. That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand what you are saying, but the evidence that has been put to us is that a number of cohorts is not being included. There is a number of students with particular disabilities that are not being included.

Mr Cook : The point you raised before was around dyslexia.

Senator SIEWERT: There are many more. I used that one because it was off the top of my head.

Mr Cook : I do not think dyslexia has been funded in some states and territories; I understand that. But we can only use the data that we have available to us, because they do not have a system in that state to collect information about the number of students that have dyslexia. Going forward, of course, the NCCD will enable us to have a much broader definition based on the disability standards, which will enable us to capture some of those groups.

CHAIR: With the NCCD, in general terms, what did the 2013-14 results show in regard to the proportion of students with disabilities in schools compared with the number that is currently funded?

Mr Cook : That information is not available publicly yet. The education council have indicated they do not want that data to be released.

CHAIR: Have they given a reason why they do not want the data to be released?

Mr Cook : Because they are concerned about the fact that not all schools are involved in that. In 2013 I think it was only 20 per cent of schools, so to release that information would potentially be misleading—it might give a view of something when in fact it is only a minority of schools. They were also concerned about the robustness of the data at that point.

CHAIR: The NCCD reveals whether students with disability receive adjustments and, if they do, what level of adjustments they receive. Is that correct?

Mr Cook : That is correct, yes.

CHAIR: Does it show in any way whether those adjustments are adequate to meet individual needs?

Mr Cook : Adequate based on a teacher judgement. My understanding is that the information that has been provided is the level of adjustment with which students with disability are being provided in the classroom; so it is the information that teachers are providing through the data collection at the moment.

CHAIR: So it does not judge whether those adjustments are adequate?

Mr Cook : No. I do not know how teachers could actually—well, they might make that decision, but then having to moderate that decision nationally could be complex. They are providing factually what information is available at the moment.

CHAIR: Doesn't that show a flaw in the system, then—if we cannot measure this concept of adequacy?

Mr Cook : I am not sure how we could. You would have to require every teacher in every school in Australia to consistently be able to apply—

CHAIR: Given that every student with disability is required to have a plan, surely the plan would be able to be judged against what the teacher inputted into the NCCD.

Mr Cook : I am not sure how that could be done and be moderated in a way that would be consistent.

CHAIR: How are teachers making the decision now?

Mr Cook : They would know what the level of adjustment is.

CHAIR: But they are not making a judgement as to whether that is adequate or not. We have heard that most students with disabilities, despite there being a requirement for them to have an individual education plan, do not have one. It seems to me that it may well be the teacher's best guess as to whether the support is adequate.

Mr Cook : I do not think that is a requirement under the disability standards. I think states and territories have policies, and that is individual for those states and territories.

CHAIR: So if you have a policy you do not have to worry, then—you do not have to bother about whether it is implemented?

Mr Cook : That is a state and territory issue, not a Commonwealth issue.

Members of the audience interjecting

CHAIR: But if there is a state education department policy that says that there should be IEPs—

Mr Cook : Sorry—I was distracted by the laughing behind me.

CHAIR: They are parents of students with disability who, along with other parents, have told us that most children do not have an IEP.

Mr Cook : Sorry, Senator—these are questions for a state and territory education authority. I do not keep policies in relation to it.

CHAIR: I am trying to get to this issue of adequate support. That is not being judged through the NCCD collection.

Mr Cook : I think what has been collected in NCCD is what teachers are aware is being provided in the classroom.

CHAIR: So it may or may not be adequate? That is a question that is not being addressed by the data collection.

Mr Cook : The adequacy? That is right. The challenge around that is to moderate that at a national level.

CHAIR: You say in your submission that the government has committed that its funding for students with disability will be informed by the NCCD from 2016. Is that still the case?

Mr Cook : That is correct.

CHAIR: What happens if the data from the NCCD is not robust?

Mr Cook : I do not think we would release—

CHAIR: Will it still inform your—

Mr Cook : Part of informing us would be whether the data is robust. You would not want to put a funding model in that is based on data that is not robust, I would imagine.

CHAIR: So if it is not robust that is not your funding model?

Mr Cook : That is a decision for government as to the way we do that. The department will provide advice about the robustness of the data.

CHAIR: Tell us what you really mean when you say that funding for students with disability will be 'informed by the NCCD'. What does that mean in terms of student rate or overall numbers? What do you mean by 'informed by the NCCD'?

Mr Cook : All those things will be taken into consideration. It is not what I mean; it is what the government means.

CHAIR: Just list the things.

Mr Cook : That is based on advice we will give to government. We will advise the government on how that could happen. I would not normally provide that advice to a committee until I have provided that advice to government.

CHAIR: Why did you put it in your submission if it is not something you can share with the committee?

Mr Cook : Because it is a fact.

CHAIR: If it is a fact—

Mr Cook : How that will happen will be a government decision.

CHAIR: Will it take into account any change in the per student rate of funding for students with disability in special schools and mainstream schools in 2016 compared to 2015?

Mr Cook : The rate of funding will increase in 2016 compared to 2015 because the funding is increasing every year to 2017. So already the model is taking that into account. The breadth of the information that we provide government will have to consider a range of things, including what the data tells us and what it looks like in terms of the adjustments. There will be a data analysis of the broad dataset that is available to us, and we will provide that information.

CHAIR: Can you be specific about the actual number of students with disability you have funded in 2015 and what you are projecting for 2016?

Mr Cook : We can and we have provided that on notice already to the overall Senate committee as part of the budget process.

CHAIR: You provided it at Senate estimates?

Mr Cook : That is right.

CHAIR: And that number has not changed?

Mr Cook : That is the 2015 data that we have used.

CHAIR: I am asking you the number you are projecting for 2016.

Mr Cook : I think we provided that one as well.

CHAIR: So that is still the same?

Mr Cook : As always, we update based on enrolment and census data. We do that every year as part of the normal process. I think I can even give you a number.

CHAIR: When will any revised arrangements for 2016 be discussed with state and territory ministers?

Mr Cook : That will be a decision of government. In SQ15000581 we provided the projected numbers of students with disability for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 broken down by state and territory.

CHAIR: Can you give an undertaking that parents and the general public will be informed of any revised funding arrangements before the end of the year?

Mr Cook : Again, that is a decision by government.

Senator SIEWERT: When we are talking about education plans—and whatever the different states call them—are they required to report on what percentage of students with disabilities have those plans?

Mr Cook : Not to the Commonwealth government, no. That may be a requirement at the state level, but it is not a requirement at the Commonwealth level.

Senator SIEWERT: What level of reporting is required? We got to the level of those different participating and non-participating and how they report back. What else do they report back?

Mr Cook : It is really the funding.

Senator SIEWERT: That is it?

Mr Cook : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: So we do not then get an idea about how the states are performing? We are hearing about the high degree of variation when it comes to the quality of education, access, exclusion, outcomes and the support students are getting in the classroom not only within the states but also between the states. So none of that is reported back to the council?

Mr Cook : No.

Senator SIEWERT: Therefore, is it fair to say that we do not have an overview across Australia consistently for students with disability and how they are faring in the education system?

Mr Cook : It is fair to say that there is no consistent assessment in the sense of student outcomes. Some states and territories have their own. I think Victoria has been developing something with the University of Melbourne and I think New South Wales developed something, but there is nothing nationally consistent. Some students with disability participate in the NAPLAN process and some students with disability do not. But we do not report that at a level of 'student with disability', for example, as we do with Indigenous students. So, in that sense, there is not a national picture. We do not have a picture of enrolments or students who have moved schools and that sort of thing. That is only kept at the state level.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of your participation through the NDIA/NDIS process, how actively are you engaged with them at a Commonwealth level?

Mr Cook : We have some involvement with DSS, but basically we work around the principles that COAG agreed a couple of years ago. There are principles around education which talk predominately in terms of school needs effectively still being met by the education sector and education budget and other needs—life skills and things like that—outside the school environment being met by the NDIS/NDIA process. We want to learn from the trials that currently exist to see whether there is a better intersection between some of those areas, but it is pretty early days for us at this point.

Senator SIEWERT: So there is a group of students who will get NDIS individualised packages and those who fall outside that that still will have specific needs.

Mr Cook : Funded through the education system.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you know what proportion of—

Mr Cook : No, I do not. I am happy to take that on notice, but I do not think we will have that data.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could take that on notice—

Mr Cook : If we can provide it, we would be very happy to.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be very much appreciated.

CHAIR: Mr Cook, you said earlier that you have the Catholic data and that you expect the government data fairly soon—I think you said October. Given that, if there is to be a change in the loadings for next year, how do we get there on time when we are nearly at the end of the school year?

Mr Cook : We will provide our advice to the government as soon as we possibly can for the government to meet its commitment.

CHAIR: But if there is a change, how much time do you need?

Mr Cook : We pay money to schools in the government sector every month and it is three times a year for the non-government sector. We do not need much time at all.

CHAIR: So when you say that you do not need much time at all, what sort of time frame are we looking at?

Mr Cook : It depends on when the government makes the decision. Once the government has made that decision, the department is pretty good at implementing things pretty quickly.

CHAIR: What do you mean by 'pretty quickly'?

Mr Cook : I mean pretty quickly.

CHAIR: Is that a week, a month or two months?

Mr Cook : It depends on what the decision of the government is.

CHAIR: Let us assume that the government makes a decision. How long do you need?

Mr Cook : I am sort of going to go around in circles here, I am sorry. Unless I knew the depth or the extent of the decision by the government, it is hard for me to talk about the work that we would have to do. We have a funding model, and that funding model is electronic. Mr Pattie, next to me, is the man who owns that, basically, and he does a very good job of putting things in very, very quickly as soon as we possibly can.

CHAIR: If we get it in October, we have only got weeks of the school year ahead. If you cannot tell me the time frames I can only conclude from that that some students who need support will simply miss out because there is not enough of a lead time there.

Mr Cook : I would not necessarily agree with that, Senator. We are used to adjusting models all the time. We provide additional funding for schools all the time based on all sorts of decisions, and we have the processes in place to do that.

CHAIR: Do you expect there to be some interim programs? What happens if the data is not robust?

Mr Cook : It will be decision for government as to how they will then implement their commitment.

CHAIR: Here we are in October and we are still waiting for the school data and then a decision has to be made about whether that data is robust. So are you telling me that, with weeks towards the end of the year, there is no contingency in place?

Mr Cook : No contingency in place?

CHAIR: If the data is not robust.

Mr Cook : The contingency is that schools and students will receive an extra $100 million in Commonwealth funding for disability next year. That is what is in the model. There is always going to be additional money, year on year, for students with disability.

In terms of the issue about 2016, we will provide advice to government as soon as we can for government to make a decision as to how to implement that.

CHAIR: Yes, and the question I asked you was about those students who need more support—there is potential for them to simply miss out. If we have data that the Education Council decides is not robust and/or you do not have enough lead time—

Mr Cook : We will have sufficient lead time.

CHAIR: They are possibilities.

Mr Cook : Again, it is a decision by government. Once that decision is made we will implement that decision as quickly as we can.

CHAIR: For a student who was in year 1 when the NCCD process started, is there any guarantee they will still be in primary school by the time there is robust enough data to support changes to the funding system to meet needs?

Mr Cook : Any guarantee? Well, that is based on a decision by the Education Council.

CHAIR: Those children are now in—what?—year 5? Year 4? Going into year 5, are they?

Mr Cook : Year 5, I think—yes.

CHAIR: So they have almost only one more year of primary school left?

Mr Cook : That is correct, yes. The decision is by the Education Council, which owns the process. The time lines are exactly the same time lines as were agreed effectively in 2012. There have been no changes since those time lines.

CHAIR: Except commitments given to unity tickets and so on that have come undone.

Mr Cook : For the Education Council and for data. The Education Council decides when to implement.

CHAIR: Has the department done any modelling on the lifetime cost of the missed opportunity for students who might have unmet need?

Mr Cook : Considering that we do not need data to be able to advise that, we have not done any modelling.

CHAIR: So you are not able to say how many children are simply being left without the support they need?

Mr Cook : We do not have data on every school in Australia. We are waiting for that. That is the process between—

CHAIR: We are waiting for the data which, if it is not robust, you will not be able to use?

Mr Cook : We will have data. The question for the Education Council then is to decide, as I indicated, whether they believe that data is robust.

CHAIR: Mr Cook, it is not me putting the caveat of 'robust' on it—it is you.

Mr Cook : No, it is the Education Council.

CHAIR: All right, but you are reporting that to us.

Mr Cook : That is correct.

CHAIR: I do not have a lot of confidence that we are going to have a 'robust' model with which we can go forward, because we have this big caveat: 'Well, if we don't like it or if it doesn't meet our expectations we won't use it.' Where I am feeling even less confident is that it does not seem that your department has put in place, or even discussed, any kind of contingency plan. Surely, you must do some, 'What if this happens?' It is October now; schools finish in about the second week of December—that is not very far away.

Mr Cook : We have developed, and we are developing, our advice to government. That advice will go to government when we have the full data set that will enable us to finalise that advice.

CHAIR: Okay. We are heading towards the end of the year, schools are supposed to provide for students. You might be able to react quickly, but now you expect schools to react within a month for planning for 2016. At the end of the day—

Mr Cook : Planning in what sense?

CHAIR: For students with disability.

Mr Cook : These children exist in these schools already.

CHAIR: Sure, but there might be unmet need and there might be new need—we do not know. Or, in your case, there might be less need. So schools have to plan. This is ultimately about enabling students with disability to get the education they are entitled to. We are heading to the end of the school year—it is weeks away now—and we have no plan in place for what 2016 will really look like.

Mr Cook : The plan is the advice that we will provide to the government. I am sorry—I am a little lost on schools. If these students currently exist in schools then I assume these schools have a plan for their students, whether they receive funding or not. I am not sure what every school is doing—

CHAIR: That is the whole point—nobody is really sure.

Mr Cook : That is why we need the data—that is right!

CHAIR: And the caveat keeps being put onto it that if the data is not robust we are not going to use it.

Mr Cook : That is a decision for the Education Council, as I have said.

CHAIR: Well, whoever makes that decision at the end of the day—

Mr Cook : The federal government has said—

CHAIR: it will be students with disability who continue to miss out.

Mr Cook : The federal government has said quite clearly that they will use the NCCD process to inform 2016.

CHAIR: Whether it is robust or not?

Mr Cook : Well, we will provide advice to government as to how they might be able to do that.

CHAIR: Okay, so you intend to use the data whether it is robust or not?

Mr Cook : We will provide advice to government about what the best way is of implementing their commitment to use NCCD in 2016.

CHAIR: Okay, thank you. Thank you very much for coming along today, Mr Cook, Mr Pattie and Ms Edmonds.

Mr Cook : No problems, thank you.

CHAIR: We appreciate your submission and your evidence here today. The committee stands adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 16:10