Today, The Daily Telegraph reported that the NSW Teachers Union president claimed that independent schools, such as ours, are gaming the system and using the special disability provisions to give students an unfair advantage in exam situations such as the HSC. It implied that many of the students receiving these provisions in independent schools were not entitled to do so and that the school was ‘rorting the system’.
This article represents the annual festival of attacking independent schools because of the disproportionate number of our students who are granted HSC Disability Provisions.
At St Andrew’s Cathedral School, we follow careful procedures to support students with disabilities to access adjustments so that they can participate ‘on the same basis’ as students without a disability both in the classroom and the exam room. We are compelled to do this by law in accordance with the Disability Standards for Education (2005). It is parents, not schools, who apply for these special disability provisions; schools process the applications and forward them to the relevant authority – the Board of Studies Education and Teaching Standards (BOSTES). It is not possible to rort the system as applications need to be supported by robust medical evidence or specialist documentation that verifies a diagnosis or functional disability. Expert BOSTES assessors must then make the decision as to whether the application is legitimate.
Numbers of applications across the state are growing. Some reasons for this are an increasingly inclusive diagnosis, the extension of disability categories by psychiatric and psychological professional associations, and the increasing evidence of mental health issues across young people generally. The latter is a major societal issue.
The answer to the disparity in the proportion between independent and government school students is not to deny the former their legal entitlements, but to facilitate more applications from government school parents whose children meet the criteria. Many students across the state do not access disability provisions due to the expense of diagnosis or the lack of awareness around providing effective adjustments. This is an issue for the government, not the independent sector.
Schools such as St Andrew’s Cathedral School, which provide a comprehensive pastoral care programme, also attract a greater proportion of students who need more support than is offered in the public system.
To all parents of students at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, I would like to say, please rest assured that despite adverse media attention designed to represent this issue in terms of a class or sector war, SACS will endeavour to foster the best possible support for all of our students. Any disability support will meet rigorous tests of definition under the Disability Standards, and so will have integrity.
Dr John Collier
Head, St Andrew’s Cathedral School