Release type: Speech


Deaf Australia National Summit: Towards better deaf education


Senator the Hon Jacinta Collins
Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations

Thank you Karen [Lloyd, Executive Officer Deaf Australia] and good morning everyone, it’s good to be with you.

Can I also acknowledge the President of Deaf Australia’s Board, Ann Darwin, and other Board Members.

Senator Jan McLucas will address this gathering later in the morning, can I also acknowledge her attendance.

I would like to begin by thanking Deaf Australia for inviting me to speak at this national summit on early intervention and education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

For over 26 years, under the stewardship of Karen, Deaf Australia has lobbied relentlessly for deaf people.

And the list of achievements is impressive.

  • National Auslan Interpreter Payment and Booking service for private health appointments
  • Captions for Pay TV and Free-to-air TV and as I saw in your last newsletter captions for selected cinemas
  • The National Relay Service
  • Establishment of a Legal Defence Fund for deaf people.

However as most of you will agree, more needs to be done to ensure equity for deaf people.

And one of the areas where we know we can improve is in education.

I’m looking forward to hearing what comes out of this national summit, and as Parliamentary Secretary for School Education, continuing to explore ways of improving the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Today I would like to give you a snapshot of what the Australian Government is doing to improve disability education.

The Government is committed to lifting the assistance provided to students with disability to make sure they benefit from a fulsome education and meaningful careers.

One way we are working to achieve this is through the More Support for Students with Disabilities initiative.

Providing opportunity for students with disability

Starting in 2012 and continuing through 2013 the $200 million program is designed to provide that extra level of support to open up opportunities for students with disability.

All education authorities are involved and early feedback has indicated that the program is progressing well.

But while it’s one thing to judge the success of a government initiative through benchmarks and KPIs, it’s another to actually see its impact on the ground.

Over the past few months I’ve been travelling across the country to see how schools are using the money.

I’ve been to all school sectors and most states but I just wanted to touch on a few examples.

Several weeks ago I visited St Michael’s on Palm Island, in Queensland.

St Michael’s, Palm Island

This is a school that faces immense challenges.

Children suffer from a number of conditions which hinder learning and present unique behavioural challenges.

The principal spoke to me about how many of the children suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and ear disease.

As you would be aware these diseases cause the children to have low attention levels and also poor hearing.

Watching the children interact in a class with hearing loops, it was clear how the learning environment had been improved.

Combined with targeted literacy programs, St Michael’s has drastically improved its NAPLAN scores.

And for the first time since testing started, a number of children are now reading above the national minimum standard.

If this trend continues, more and more children from Palm Island will go on to forge meaningful careers which will hopefully break the cycle of disadvantage.

Elsewhere across the country MSSD money is being put to good use.

MSSD examples from across the country

In Victoria, the Department of Education is providing deaf captioning technology to improve access to programs for students with hearing impairments.

Also in NSW the Catholic Education Commission is assisting in the development of processes for managing devices and assistive technology packages at a school level, including portable sound field systems (Lightspeed Classroom Audio) for students with hearing impairment.

And the Tasmanian Department of Education is using MSSD money to gain access to a range of online professional learning modules, including Vision and Hearing Impairment in the coming year.

These real-life examples demonstrate how the More Support for Students with Disabilities initiative is making a positive difference to people’s lives.

Once in a generation reform

While projects like MSSD are important, they are all temporary.

That is not good enough, and as David Gonski told us in his review of the education system, there needs to be a reliable funding source for students with disability.

Central to the Government’s National Plan for School Improvement is the idea of equity in our school system.

What is the point of having the best performing students in the world if there is a long tail of under-performing students?

That is why we have committed to implementing a disability loading as part of the school funding reforms.

Before we can do that there is a lot of work to be done.

We know that there are about 172, 000 students with extra needs, most of whom are in the government system.

But what we don’t know is the level of adjustment they need.

For example how much funding is required for a student with a mild hearing impairment compared to a student that is profoundly deaf?

Funding should be determined by how much money a school needs to deliver a great education for a child based on their level of need.

The nationally consistent data collection on students with disability will give us this evidence.

The 2012 Trial of the nationally consistent data collection has been completed in more than 200 schools right across the country.

This collection is about more than just counting the numbers of students with disability in Australian schools.

It represents a paradigm shift in the way we report on and understand the needs of students with disability.

And it will further support schools to better recognise and implement their core responsibilities under the Disability Standards for Education.

Building consensus / Conclusion

This really is an exciting time for educators and disability advocates.

The Gillard Government is implementing truly once in a generation reforms which will have a legacy for decades to come.

Reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Plan for School Improvement, in years to come, will be mentioned in the same sentence as Medicare and the minimum wage.

However these reforms aren’t a done-deal. We are still negotiating with the states on the NDIS and talks are commencing with education authorities on the National Plan for School Improvement.

For these reforms to become a reality, those who are leading the debate, including Deaf Australia, need to continually push for change.

I encourage you to continue your advocacy and good work.

Thank you for your time today. [Ends]