Changes to disability funding in NSW public schools have sparked fears that nearly 7,000 learning support jobs are at threat of being dramatically cut.
The NSW Every School, Every Student initiative, backed by federal funding of $24 million annually, aims to improve the education experience of roughly 12 per cent of all students who have disabilities.
But despite the investment in disability education, the overhaul could mean the loss of vital learning support staff in public schools. President of the Public Service Association (PSA), Sue Walsh, said learning support jobs are made up of mostly long-term temporary female employees, and because the funding assessment structure has changed, so too will the longevity of these important support roles.
“The jobs are under threat because currently they are employed under assessments for each child with a disability.
Now those assessments won’t be happening.
Under the new system anyone who attracts less than $6,000 won’t get the support,” she said.
NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli has denied that learning support roles are being targeted by the state government, saying that funding will be allocated based on the needs of individual students with disibilities.
“This initiative will not reduce funding. Funding will be allocated to schools annually, according to student learning needs, enabling allocations to schools to be adjusted according to changing needs of schools,” he said.
Much of the $48 million, for the 2012 and 2013 school years, will be spent on re-training existing permanent teachers in the field of special education.
The change to funding could mean thousands employed under temporary contracts could lose jobs as school budgets are altered.
“Basically schools will get two budgets – one for staffing and one for non-staffing.
Schools can then decide how that money is used.
And if they don’t want to use a learning support officer, they can use that funding for other purposes,” Ms Walsh said.
NSW Shadow Minister for Education, Carmel Tebbutt, said more assurances need to be given to teachers, parents and learning support aides by the government to ensure that no child with a disability will be left worse off by the new changes.
“Many teachers, parents and teachers’ aides have raised concerns that the changed funding arrangements will see a reduction in teachers’ aides,” she said.
There are deeper concerns that the changes will put more pressure on teachers to change from being specialists to generalists. The structural change of school budgets could mean that principals will cut support for those assessed by the system as having only mild disabilities.
President of The NSW Teachers’ Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said structured changes to staff systems will only prevent equity among the community.
“Research shows that many school systems go into steep decline and the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged communities widen,” he said.
By SJ Malagre