National partnership promises help for students with disabilities

The $200m in federal funding for students with disabilities announced in last year’s federal budget has been formalised into the More Support for Students with Disabilities National Partnership Agreement (NPA).

The QTU has received a briefing on the agreement, the key points of which are as follows.

  • Queensland state schools’ share of the funding is more than $32.5m over three years ($13m + $13m + $6.5m). This is the equivalent of less than 2 per cent of current recurrent expenditure on students with disabilities. The Queensland non-government sector will receive approximately $8m.
  • The funding is not ongoing.
  • This NPA is described as a “project” NPA and is significantly different from the Low Socio-economic Status School Communities or Literacy and Numeracy NPAs.
  • Federal funding is generally provided after the states implement the agreed measures and is contingent on meeting agreed benchmarks. However, in this case, states will receive the first payment once the federal government accepts their implementation plans.
  • The federal government has stipulated 12 outputs on which the funding can be spent. States can negotiate which ones they will do and how they will do them. The funding will be used to build existing workforce capacity, rather than simply providing additional teacher-aides or teachers or providing funds directly to parents.

Queensland has identified five possible activities for which the funds might be used.

  • Creating a “centre of expertise/excellence” in the educational needs of students with autism spectrum disorders. This would be separate from the existing centre for excellence for students with disabilities and would focus on providing support to existing teachers rather than teacher trainees. It would probably operate as a virtual centre.
  • Providing online professional development for school leaders on how to support teachers in creating differentiated learning for students.
  • Creating an online student-focused planning tool to help coordinate individual support plans for students with disabilities, which will help school staff adapt relevant resources to meet the requirements of the Australian curriculum.
  • Provision of professional development to teacher-aides and paraprofessionals to strengthen their capacity to  work with students with disabilities.
  • Provision of professional development to teachers on the effective use of assistive technologies with students with disabilities.

Sign off on the NPA is expected in early 2012.  The Prime Minister announced the finalisation of the NPA with New South Wales on 24 January.

The NPA was negotiated between the states and the federal government and is not at this stage available for perusal. Consistent with the provisions of the certified agreement, the QTU will insist that any features which impact on teachers’ work or school organisation be the subject of negotiation with the Union. It will be necessary to clarify accountability and workload implications.

While there will perhaps be some disappointment that the funding cannot be used to provide more teachers or teacher-aides, the relatively modest amount of money provided and the fact that it is not ongoing suggest that more strategic focus on “capacity-building” (to use DET’s term) is justified.

John McCollow
Research Officer

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 1, 17 February 2012, p20