From the President: Early intervention: crucial to learning success

The imperative to maximise the benefits of education over a lifetime by ensuring quality early childhood education has again come into sharp focus with the advent of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

A position paper released by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) on 26 February describes a new NDIS early childhood early intervention approach (ECEI): the implications for Queensland are stark and concerning.

Queensland currently provides unique, high quality, limited, early intervention services for children from birth until they enter the prep year. The locations for this program vary, but they are generally referred to as early childhood developmental programs (ECDPs) and are often attached to special education programs in mainstream schools or special schools. ECDPs provide a blend of education, therapy and socialisation aimed at ensuring the best outcomes for students once they enter mainstream education.

The ECEI approach proposed by the NDIA will see all intervention services provided by the NDIA, i.e. the NDIA intends to take exclusive possession of the ECEI space. Claiming research, “best practice” and inclusivity as justification, the NDIA’s ECEI approach will be trialled in New South Wales and at the early launch site in Townsville before further implementation.

After initially raising the prospect of this change in December, the department moved quickly to consult the QTU once the official position of the NDIA was announced on 26 February. A “heads of agreement” document signed by the previous Newman LNP government in 2013 commits Queensland to implement the policies developed by the NDIA in return for a multi-billion dollar injection of resources in support of people with disability.

The Palaszczuk government is bound by this agreement at the risk of delaying or cancelling the potential benefits of the NDIS for the broader population. The formal agreement finalising roll-out arrangements for Queensland was signed by the Prime Minister on 16 March 2016.

Let’s be absolutely clear about this: NDIA wants ECDPs to close. The department’s initial response was to move to close ECDPs from as early as mid-2016, but the QTU and some parent groups opposed this move. In the few short weeks that have passed since the announcement of the ECEI approach, the QTU has been actively working with government and stakeholders to find a different approach to this issue. The roll-out of NDIS for Queensland was only finalised on Wednesday 16 March, and on Sunday 27 March, the Minister for Education formally announced that the government would commit to keeping ECDPs open until the end of 2020.

Critically, the Minister’s announcement means that ECDPs will continue to operate across Queensland up until 2020 while there is even a single student registered (enrolled) in the program. This decision means that students, parents and teachers have certainty while the NDIA attempts to roll out its new approach. Provided that ECDPs continue to register students, then no child should be worse off as a consequence. If, as many predict it will, the market-based approach of the NDIS fails to deliver for Queensland children or the NDIS provides a truncated service devoid of education services, the 2020 horizon provides clear ground for a campaign to preserve ECDPs and other early intervention approaches in Queensland schools in their current form.

The QTU acknowledges the significance of early intervention as provided by ECDPs and we will stand with parents and early childhood educators to protect and grow this vital service.

Kevin Bates

President


Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 121 No 3, 15 Apr 2016, p7