Victoria’s private school students are getting better access to government disability funding while many students in state schools go without. This is due to the state’s strict eligibility criteria.
State school students with severe language disorders are now migrating to private schools where it is easier to secure language support due to a more lenient funding model.
Some studies have shown that up to 9% of students have language disorders, an issue that can have a major impact on their education.
In a paper tabled at the Senate inquiry into students with disabilities last month, researchers from Charles Sturt University and Speech Pathology Australia found that children who struggled with language disorders were up to 17 times more likely to be excluded from NAPLAN exams altogether.
Compounding the issue, very few state school students are deemed eligible for government funding due to public schools’ strict criteria. Figures have shown that less than 0.1% of students in the state are eligible for funding for severe language disorder in public schools.
Gaenor Dixon, national president of Speech Pathology Australia, told The Educator that the issue is nuanced and criteria for funding for targeted disability support varies depending on state and school sector.
“A child that might attract additional support in Queensland state schools for a language disorder is unlikely to meet Victoria’s eligibility criteria,” Dixon said.
“In Victoria the education department argues that the money that would be spent on individual targeted support for students with language disorders is spent on a ‘language support program’.”
However, Dixon said there is “no accountability” that the language support program money is being spent on providing support for students with language disorders – nor is there any evidence that the program is effective.
So what can be done to bridge the access gap between public and private students who require language support?
Dixon said the key is uniformity.
“Eligibility criteria that are the same across Australia would ensure that there is no gap between public and private students who require language support,” Dixon said.
“Using a Response to Intervention approach to identify and provide support to all students who have speech and language disorders eliminates the need for artificial cut-points of eligibility, but will rather be responding to a students’ need for intensity of support.”