Forum calls on more resources for special needs students

A big crowd gathered for the Fairfield Disability and Education Forum.
A big crowd gathered for the Fairfield Disability and Education Forum.

The message was clear. The emotion was real. What they wanted was simple: more resources for children with disabilities.

Last week around 300 people attended the Fairfield Disability and Education Forum at Smithfield Public School.

Representatives from 37 schools joined with parents and members of parliament to bring to light the need for more resources for children with disabilities in the area.

One by one teachers and parents spoke of the daily problems they face.

One parent spoke about the possibility of having to move out of the area because she hasn’t secured a place for her daughter to suit her needs because there are none available.

Teachers shared stories about identifying that a student needs additional behavioural support to assist in learning but not having the resources available to have an additional support teacher develop a new behaviour plan to support their learning.

Smithfield Public School principal Cheryl McBride said there was one solution.

“Fairfield needs its own special-needs school,” she said.

“We don’t have one in Fairfield and we have a lot of kids waiting and they end up getting enrolled in places not appropriate for them. At the moment children have to travel to Liverpool or Merrylands and they are overflowing.” Smithfield Public School has 81 pupils in eight support classes. Six of those classes are for a moderate disability while the other two are for pupils with a more complex disability.

Ms McBride said placing children with high support in mainstream support units is “inappropriate”. 

“A special school can offer so much more than mainstream – bigger playground space, therapy services and purpose built classrooms,” she said.

“Our support unit do a great job with an adapted curriculum, smaller class, specialist teachers and teacher’s aids but then you get to a point where we have no space and they have to go into a mainstream class with 20 or 30 kids. It’s wrong. There are no winners in that situation.”

McMahon MP Chris Bowen was one of the guest speakers.

McMahon MP Chris Bowen was one of the guest speakers.

One parent Danny, whose daughter has autism and attends Smithfield Public School, told the Champion his daughter had seen improvements since being in the support unit and called on more resources for teachers.

“Her eye contact has improved and she’s socially much better off. She was frustrated trying to repeat a word and couldn’t do it and now she’s more willing to have a go,” he said.

“We have a long way to go and there are lot more people worse off than us so we need more support across the board.”

Multicultural Officer/Fairfield Organiser of the NSW Teachers Federation, Amber Flohm, said while the federal government has acknowledged that the number of students with disability has increased by 120 per cent from 212,000 to 470,000 students they have only increased its funding for students with disability by 6.2 per cent.

“The level of passion, anger and deep commitment from Fairfield public school communities to ensure children with disability have access to what they need to thrive was shown by the unanimously endorsed forum communique which called on the federal government to fund the real costs of ensuring all students with disability can realise their rights,” she said.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the Turnbull Government’s needs-based funding reforms for schools would ensure students that need the greatest level of support get the greatest sum of money.

Funding will be informed by the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD) and based on a per student amount at each of the three levels of additional support needed by a student with disability – supplementary, substantive and extensive.

“Our changes are about providing funding that isn’t just a one-size-fits-all approach for students with additional needs, but are tailored to different levels of adjustment,” Minister Birmingham said.

There was a strong show of support from those in attendence.

There was a strong show of support from those in attendence.

“Schools and teachers will be asked to report on the levels of extra assistance that a child requires in the classroom against three different levels of extra support, and that will then determine the support that flows into the school. What we’re backing is the judgement of teachers and the knowledge in schools to ensure we’re delivering support that’s more tailored to personal circumstances.

“As well as the Gonski needs-based plan we’ve put in place, we’ll be using the new nationally-consistent data on students with disability to ensure funding support flows and follows students according to their needs. We’ll use the NCCD to increasingly inform how funding for students with disability is directed and expect that teachers, schools and state, territory or non-government bodies authorities to ensure they’re reporting correctly. We also have review and independent audit mechanisms in place, such as our National School Resourcing Board, to guarantee integrity in the system.”