Labor calls for Royal Commission into schools

Labor calls for Royal Commission into schools

Deputy Labor leader and shadow minister for education, Tanya Plibersek, has called for a Royal Commission into the treatment of Australia’s most vulnerable students.

The call came following a meeting with parents in the NSW Hunter Region who shared “shocking and saddening” stories of alleged violence and abuse against children with disabilities.

“It’s absolutely vital to investigate and expose any instances of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities,” Plibersek said.

“It’s certainly as serious as [allegations of child sexual abuse in institutions] and it took a royal commission to understand the extent of those types of issues. Until you have this kind of opportunity I think you’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg.”

Plibersek also spoke with Dr David Roy, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Education, who is a staunch advocate of greater support for children with a disability.

Roy said one of the biggest issues is that the Department has no way of communicating how much of the RAMS loading money that has been allocated for disability funding is being used.

“Department executives from different areas have said this process is simply based on trust alone. In other words, they speak to the principals to make sure this money is being used properly,” he told The Educator.

“And yet, testimony coming from parents and teachers shows that funding is not being used for children with a disability. So why isn’t it being used for its purpose?”

Roy said that even though the Department is getting an additional $35m to deal with special needs students, there is no evidence it is being used this way.

Roy said that when the needs of children with a disability are not being met, parents often have no choice but to home school their child. However, in the absence of funding to support this education, students are left without support.

“What happens to all the funding for those children? The home schooling parents certainly don’t get it. More than $15,000 of standard funding that goes to kids disappears, as does all of the RAMS loading,” he said.

“That’s the problem with Gonski 2.0. While 20% of the Gonski funding would go to the state to fund public schools, 80% comes from state governments, and the problem is that we don’t know what’s happening to that money.”

Calls for a Royal Commission follow the Legislative Council inquiry into the provision of education to students with a disability or special needs in NSW schools, which has raised questions about inclusion; funding for students; and how the Department of Education manages complaints.

“I’ve heard from so many parents and so many young people who have experienced abuse in schools or in educational settings that inevitably I’ve come to understand this is a very widespread problem,” Plibersek said.

“The fact I personally know it’s widespread does not reduce the shock and sadness I feel when I hear these individual stories.”