A day after the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Education Minister Tony Buti has given a heartfelt apology to WA students with disability who have been failed by their school experience.
“I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that there have been occasions where students with disabilities and their families have had experiences where the education system has let them down. For that I am sorry,” he said.
Dr Buti used his platform at the WA Education Awards presentation on Monday to express his regret that his government, and past governments had simply not done enough to create a level playing field for students regardless of their post code or particular needs.
“I want every child in WA to reach their full potential and reach for the stars. I want the WA education ecosystem to encourage our students to pursue their dreams and aspirations,” he said.
“I don’t want any student to face what I did as a year 10 student, where the guidance officer said I should lower my aspirations of wanting to study physical education at UWA.
“I want every parent to have hope for their children. I want every student to have hope, hope that no matter what their circumstances, they can achieve to their capacity.”
He said more resources for teachers, in combination with cultural and attitudinal change, were the ingredients needed to achieve this goal.
He also apologised to the teachers in the room with him, that the $564 million allocated to support students with disabilities in WA this year fell short of what was needed.
“So, the truth is that as the Minister of Education I may not be able to secure the totality of investment I want to fund students with disabilities. But I will give it a good red-hot go,” he said.
The apology was a preamble to the announcement of a review into the 1999 School Education Act, in an effort to improve access, inclusion, and service provision for students with disability and learning difficulties.
Telethon Kids Institute autism researcher Professor Andrew Whitehouse has been enlisted to provide expert input and strategic guidance during the review process.
“Schools provide the connective tissue that helps children grow into adults who are capable of pursuing their dreams,” Professor Whitehouse said.
“These laws are critically important to how we create an education system that can support that goal.”
In addition to the review, a $2.26 million trial of 16 Complex Behaviour Support Coordinators has been announced to help school leaders develop tailored and inclusive approaches that suit the specific needs of students with disability.
“The School Education Act 1999 has not been updated for almost a quarter of a century and in those years so much has changed,” Dr Buti said.
“With Professor Whitehouse’s advice and expertise, I am confident we will be able to come up with strategies to safeguard the education of students with disability and strengthen our ability to provide the ongoing access, inclusion and services they need now, and into the future.”
Dr Buti said the review formed part of his response to the recently released Facing the Facts report commissioned by the state school teacher’s union (SSTUWA) and chaired by former Premier Carmen Lawrence, which highlighted the dire situation the industry is in, with teachers “at breaking point” and ready “to leave the profession”.
The review’s findings were released in October and paired with a list of 46 recommendations which included reductions to class size numbers – especially where teachers are engaging with children with complex needs, and the provision of “adequate levels of local support to address the workload implications of the growing student complexity”.
“The report has highlighted what our members have been telling us – teachers are facing increased workloads and stress due to the demands of managing student behaviour, higher class sizes and the increased use of Individual Learning Plans for children with ASD, ADHD, dyslexia and other neurodivergence,” he said.
“To ensure that all children can get the individual attention they need to thrive, we need a carefully considered and fully funded plan to tackle the significant issues in WA schools, that ensures we have both the teachers and the classrooms we need to make positive changes.
“With many families working longer hours to make ends meet due to the cost-of-living crisis, it has never been more important for them to be able to rely on their kids getting a quality education through the public system,” SSTUWA president Matt Jarman said.