Release type: Speech


A national conversation with principals


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

[Check against delivery]

Good morning everyone, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

Rarely a week goes by where I don’t visit at least one school—perhaps it’s a Case Study school, a school receiving funding under the More Support for Students with Disabilities initiative, and so on.

Reflecting on those visits I realise how refreshing it is to walk into these schools where they are on a reform path—striving for more and striving for better—and to see the energy and vision in these environments.

Chatting to principals, teachers, parents and students you can see the positives from all their perspectives, thanks to a whole school culture that is focused on high expectations and high achievements.

I worked in vocational rehabilitation before entering Parliament and, for me, it’s not unlike the experiences I had visiting so many workplaces—you could just tell the culture and environment, the mood, from the moment you entered. I really do commend you all for your energy and dedication in serving your school communities and I look forward to being able to visit your schools and learn about the reforms and improvements you are making—all for the benefit of your students and their futures.

As you know, the Australian Government provides substantial funding to education authorities to help meet the needs of all students, including those with disability.

However, more needs to be done to ensure equity for people with disability. 

One of the areas where we know we can improve is in inclusive education.

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

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

The independent Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling confirmed that currently, funding for students with disability is a complex mix of historical programs from the Australian Government and the states and territories, and there are different approaches to supporting these students. It recommended a national plan for students with disability.

All levels of government share a desire to move away from the inconsistent and limited eligibility of existing targeted programs for students with disability, to new funding arrangements that support all students with disability. The development of future funding arrangements for students with disability within a new schools’ funding model is a big task.

Additional funding needs to be:

  • robust and evidence-based to ensure it will appropriately provide for reasonable adjustments for students with disability
  • distributed fairly and transparently.

We are working collaboratively with state and territory governments and non-government education authorities through COAG to develop appropriate settings for future funding of students with disability.

A key element of this work will be the nationally consistent collection of data, which the Gonski Review has identified as potentially providing the evidence-base to support the development of future funding arrangements for students with disability. I’ll talk more about this later.

The transition to full implementation of the new funding arrangements, including for students with disability, is expected to take six years. Even before responding to the Gonski Report, the Australian Government is providing $200 million of additional funding to government and non-government education authorities under the More Support for Students with Disabilities initiative.

This additional funding is being provided in the 2012 and 2013 school years to support services for students with disability or learning difficulties. As I am sure you are aware, as 89 per cent of students with disability aged 5–14 years attend mainstream schools, the vast majority of Australian principals have students with disability in their communities. Many of these principals report that if they had additional help, such as training and extra resources, they would be able to educate these students more effectively.

A focus of the initiative is supporting principals and school leadership teams to work with their teachers to assist students with disability—around 2820[1] school principals, leaders and leadership teams will be targeted. All education authorities are involved in the initiative and early feedback has been positive.

But while it’s one thing to judge the success of a government initiative through benchmarks and targets, 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 visited all school sectors and most states and would like to share with you a couple of examples of where the funding is making a positive difference to school communities.

Firstly, all government education authorities and the NSW Catholic Education Commission are funding the University of Canberra to develop an e-learning resource to improve the capacity of schools to enact their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education (DSE) 2005.

The e-learning resource will be designed to develop the learner’s practical skills through interactive, experiential learning such as scenario-based problem solving. The training is being progressively rolled out this year, beginning with the first three educational leaders’ lessons which are expected to be released shortly.

The Victorian Department of Education and Training is developing the Specialist Schools Leadership Program which is being delivered in partnership with the Bastow Institute.

The course is equipping leaders with the knowledge and skills to develop emotional intelligence and resilience, work effectively with stakeholders, and design and evaluate curriculum and assessment practices that meet the needs of specialist school students.

The WA Association of Independent Schools has begun delivering professional development workshops for principals covering areas such as individual learning plans and building whole-school capacity.

Let me read you this comment from the principal of The Quintilian School:

I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the Inclusive Leadership project in 2012. I have gained a lot of knowledge from the experts and feel very inspired by the amazing school leaders I have had the opportunity to network with. I would highly recommend the project to any school leaders.

These are just some examples of the excellent work underway in jurisdictions as part of the MSSD initiative.

The report and Australian Government response to the first five-year Review of the Disability Standards for Education (the Standards) were released on 1 August 2012.

All jurisdictions and education sectors are covered by the Standards which are subordinate legislation under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

The review found the Standards provide a good framework for students with disability to be able to access and participate in education.

However further work needs to be done to ensure the Standards are implemented effectively. The review makes recommendations about:

  • promoting greater awareness of the Standards across all members of school communities
  • providing better guidance and clarity for both users and education providers on implementing key requirements under the Standards
  • developing training tools for teachers and support staff
  • improving complaints and compliance processes.

The Australian Government has begun working with the states and territories and the non-government sector on priority actions to address the school-related recommendations of the Disability Standards for Education review. This work will also help to improve inclusive education practice.

In 2013 the focus will be on raising awareness of the Standards, providing better clarity about the provisions and importantly for schools, developing guidance, training and tools for teachers to make necessary adjustments for students with disability.

Under the More Support for Students with Disabilities initiative, many of the funded activities will help to improve the effectiveness of the Standards in practice.

I would now like to return to the nationally consistent collection of data on students with disability.

We already collected information about most sub-groups of students at the national level—but we don’t for students with disability. This is a significant gap in the national schools dataset. It means we are unable to get a clear picture on where these students are located, and perhaps more importantly, develop a proper understanding of what they require in the school community and any adjustments that need to be made.

On 7 December 2012, the Australian Government and all state and territory governments agreed to a phased implementation of a nationally consistent collection of data on school students with disability over three years.

A working group of education officials from all government and non-government education authorities and sectors, DEEWR, and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority is overseeing this important work.

As you may know two trials of data collection models have been conducted—the first in 2011 and the second in 2012. I want to thank the principals and staff involved in both trials, including the 209 schools selected at random—from all states and territories, sectors, education authorities and levels of schooling—for agreeing to participate.

I know I am not telling you anything new … but it’s a big ask of a school community to run with an exercise of this magnitude and importance at short notice. It also demonstrates the commitment of staff in schools around the country to supporting students with disability.

Education Ministers have agreed that 2013 and 2014 will be transition years so that all Australian schools and sectors have time to prepare for the data collection, including undertaking professional learning and refining processes, prior to full implementation in 2015.

Fundamental to the nationally consistent collection of data is the legislative requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005.

Equally important is the focus—of the data collection method—on the level of adjustment that is provided to the student based on their functional needs, rather than the student’s disability type.

The data collection begins in selected schools this year and will progress to full implementation, including professional learning and support materials for schools and data quality assurance processes, by 2015. It is expected that data collection in 2015 will be published on the My School website and in other national reports on schooling from 2016, subject to the confirmation of data quality.

Implementing this data collection at the national level over the next three years (2013 to 2015) is a big challenge, but an important one.

The Government agrees with the Productivity Commission that fundamental reform is needed to improve support for people with disability, their families and carers.

We are currently working with states and territories to lay the foundations of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Stage 1 of the NDIS will commence in July 2013 and be implemented gradually in launch sites around the country. The simultaneous development of the National Plan for School Improvement and NDIS provides a valuable opportunity to improve support for students with disability across school, at home and in the community. The Government is keen to ensure that the interaction of the NDIS with school education is effective and as streamlined as possible.

It’s an exciting time in school education.

The Government is implementing once-in-a-generation reforms which will have a legacy for decades to come. For these reforms to become a reality many of you here today need to embrace the changes—the power of your leadership should not be underestimated.

I encourage you to continue your tremendous work on behalf of your schools and communities.

It’s not lost on me that this national forum is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to have a say and discuss what’s working and what isn’t—and get on a path to better delivery.


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