Background to the inquiry
On 17 June 2015, the Senate referred the following matter to the
Education and Employment References Committee for inquiry and report:
current levels of access and attainment for students with disability in the
school system, and the impact on students and families associated with
inadequate levels of support;
the social, economic and personal benefits of improving outcomes for
students with disability at school and in further education and employment;
the impact on policies and the education practice of individual
education sectors as a result of the More Support for Students with
Disabilities program, and the impact of the cessation of this program in 2014
on schools and students;
the future impact on students with disability as a result of the
Government‘s decision to index funding for schools at the consumer price index
the progress of the implementation of the needs-based funding system as
stated in the Australian Education Act;
the progress of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School
Students with Disability and the findings, recommendations and outcomes from
this process, and how this data will, or should, be used to develop a
needs-based funding system for students with disability;
how possible changes as a result of the Nationally Consistent Collection
of Data on School Students with Disability will be informed by evidence-based
best practice of inclusion of students with disability;
what should be done to better support students with disability in our
the early education of children with disability; and
any other related matters.
On 10 September 2015 the Senate granted the committee an extension of
time to report from 3 November 2015 to 3 December 2015.
On 10 November 2015, the committee received from the Senate a further
extension to table its final report by 15 January 2016.
Context of the inquiry
Australia, as a nation, has allowed educational outcomes for students
with disability to be poor as a consequence of failing to consider what
outcomes we want for children with disability. Without defined goals or
outcomes for students with disability, there has been long-term policy
confusion around expectations of the school system in general and individual
students in particular. What is needed, therefore, is greater consideration
given to what would be the optimal educational outcomes for students with
disability, and then an effort made by governments at both commonwealth and
state/territory level to put into place the policies, practices and funding
that would lead to these outcomes.
While it has long been a topic of intense concern for the families
involved, Australia's funding of additional support for students with
disability in the school system, along with broader questions about the
education of students with disability, has in recent years attracted greater
public attention as the shortcomings of existing systems have become more
The Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling, released in December 2011,
highlighted that disability is one of the major determinants of educational
outcomes in Australian schools (along with socioeconomic background, English
language proficiency, indigeneity, and school size and location), and
recommended an additional loading for all students with disability, based on
nationally consistent data and being sector-blind in its approach.
The Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with
Disability (NCCD), a process recommended by the Gonski Review, in 2015 had its
first full nationwide collection, with a view to informing school funding for
The previous Labor government also established the More Support for
Students with Disability (MSSD) program as a temporary measure until the full
roll-out of NCCD-based funding based on the Gonski Review's model. Designed to
raise awareness and understanding within the education sector of the rights and
needs of students with disability in schools, the MSSD was independently
evaluated by PhillipsKPA, who found that the initiative:
As a modest, short-term investment the MSSD initiative
achieved its major objective to build the skills of teachers and increase
school capacity to better meet the educational needs of students with
disability. There was general agreement across the jurisdictions that the MSSD
initiative was a significant catalyst for change. The initiative provided
opportunities for authorities to get planned activities underway, or more
broadly distributed, and to develop or refine innovative approaches.
Broader context for this inquiry also comes from the launch in July 2013
of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), itself a consequence of a
Productivity Commission review which found that the existing systems for
funding and supporting people with disability, along with their carers, were
inadequate. While the NDIS is not specifically concerned with education and
school funding, it is a central component of the increased attention given to
Australia's policy settings in relation to people with disability.
Given the above policy initiatives and broad context, the Senate saw
that it was an appropriate time to hold an inquiry into the access and
attainment levels for students with disability in the school system, along with
the progress and impact of the various initiatives and models recently
introduced in the area.
Barriers to education
Throughout the course of this inquiry, the committee received
overwhelming evidence regarding the many barriers faced by students with
disability and their families. Access to education is a basic human right, but
for many students with disability in Australia, it is a right which they are
prevented from accessing.
Barriers take multiple forms, including difficulties enrolling, failure
of schools to provide the reasonable adjustments required by students, exclusion
from school activities, a shortage of services in rural and remote areas of
Australia and low expectations of students with disability from school staff
and others, leading to a failure to take seriously the educational needs of
In particular, the committee found that, while educational outcomes for
students with disability are not strong for any students, the experiences of
students in the school system varies widely: the family's financial means,
geographical location and indigeneity all affected what level of education
students with disability could access.
The practice known as 'gatekeeping', whereby families of students with
disability are informally and unofficially discouraged from enrolling their child
at their school of choice is another major barrier. For many families, merely
enrolling their child in a school was the first of many battles they have to
fight in order to ensure their child receives anything like an adequate
This tied in with another major theme that became apparent during the
inquiry: a key determinant in the quality of education students with disability
receive at school was the culture of the individual school, starting with the
principal and manifest in classroom teachers. For many students, the difference
between positive and negative educational experiences could be traced directly
to the extent to which individual principals and teachers understood the
importance of providing real educational experiences for all the students in
the school or class, including those with disability.
The consequences of failing students
The committee heard from numerous submitters and witnesses that barriers
placed in front of students with disability have severe and compounding
consequences – for the student themselves, their family and the whole
Australian society and economy. Neglecting the education of students with
disability at school will have long-lasting effects.
For the students themselves, inadequate education access at school will
result in their diminished capacity for the rest of their lives.
Under-education leads to unemployment, lower levels of health, social isolation
and a lifetime of disadvantage.
For their families, the consequences include significant financial costs
– both through the school years and beyond, if the students are never able to
achieve employment – and an overwhelming emotional burden. Parents told the
committee of their exhaustion and the emotional strain on families and
relationships of having to fight on an ongoing basis to achieve for their child
the level of education that most families take for granted.
Both individual families and the broader Australian workforce suffer
too, when schools fail these students, effectively forcing one parent to give up
the paid workforce to care for, and try to educate at home, their child.
The wider Australian society also pays the price of failing to
adequately educate students with disability, not only from the loss of that
student from being able to contribute as a worker later in life, but often from
a reduced involvement from the families of these students. Beyond that, adults
with disability whose education did not prepare them for workforce
participation will also contribute to government income support spending.
The consequences, therefore, of Australia's low levels of educational
access and attainment for students with disability are serious and
multifaceted. Failures in this area produce long-lasting and severe problems
for the students, their families and the entire Australian society.
The conduct of this inquiry
Details of the inquiry were made available on the committee's website.
The committee also contacted a number of organisations inviting submissions to
The committee called for submissions by 21 August 2015. Submissions
were received from 294 individuals and organisations, as detailed in Appendix
The committee held the following public hearings:
in Sydney, on 18 September 2015;
in Brisbane, on 25 September 2015; and
in Melbourne on 29 September and 20 November 2015.
The witness lists for the hearings is available in Appendix 2.
The committee thanks those individuals and organisations who contributed
to the inquiry by preparing written submissions and giving evidence at the
Note on references
References in this report to the Hansard are to the official Hansard.
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