Principals slam private schools for ‘gaming’ disability rules

Students from wealthy families are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities to get special treatment in HSC exams, NSW high school principals say.

NSW Secondary Principals’ Council (NSWSPC) president, Chris Presland, told The Educator that students from wealthier families could afford expensive medical diagnoses required to back claims for “disability provisions” in HSC exams.

“This issue has been happening for quite some time. It’s certainly not a recent phenomenon, but it demonstrates the growing gap in resourcing between the public and independent school sectors,” he said.

Presland referred to recent comments by NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) president, Maurie Mulheron, who accused private schools of “gaming” the system to improve student results.

“The fact of the matter is that this is a game that independent schools are better at playing, because they have more resources than public schools. Public schools know the game, but we cannot play it as well,” he said.

“The Board of Studies is aware of the pattern, and representatives on the board regularly raise concerns about this issue, but it’s not as if independent schools are doing anything illegal – they’re just taking advantage of their superior resourcing.”

He added the figures on the MySchool website showed that it was “logically ridiculous” for private schools to require so many specialist counsellors.

Presland pointed to MySchool data which showed The King’s School in North Parramatta having 98.9 full-time equivalent non-teaching staff compared to just 10.7 at his school, St Clair High School.

“The reality is that the staff at a school like The Kings are working to put together submissions for all kinds of things like specialist support and so on, whereas at my school, of those 10 staff, there is the general assistant, farm assistant and finance office,” he explained.

“The biggest explanation, in my view, is that it’s an issue of time and specialist resources – and it is public schools that are most in need of additional resources. You can’t do one of these disability provisions without a counsellor’s report. We have a counsellor three and a half days a week to help all of our students.”

Presland said that while the NSW Government was introducing over 200 additional counsellors into the state’s public school system, there were nonetheless plenty of schools that could not get access to a counsellor.

“The data shows a massive difference between the ratio of non-teaching staff to teaching staff, so the playing field between resourcing the public schools compared to independent schools still remains very uneven,” he said.