Parents, teachers write to inquiry

A NEW England mother has called for an overhaul of the state’s disability education system, claiming regional students with a disability are far more disadvantaged than their city peers, and teachers are struggling to cope.

In an emotional, and raw, submission to the parliamentary inquiry into students with a disability or special needs in New South Wales schools, Rachael Sowden said regional students are forced to travel up to three-hours a day to get a needs-based education.

Ms Sowden, a mother of four, is one of 170 individuals and organisations to make a submission to the inquiry, and will front a public hearing this year.

“Any services supplied to the town we lived in, had to come from another town,” she wrote. 

“In 2007, when my son was in kindergarten, he required the support of the regional autism outreach teacher, however, she was based in Tamworth.

“The lack of access was something that I have witnessed, both personally and for other families. 

There is also less ability to access supports, as people with specialist skills required often don’t stay in, or are not attracted in the first place to, non-metropolitan locations.

“This sadly is not confined to education, but also to the allied services that would make education better for these students.” 

Ms Sowden said her son, who is on the autism spectrum, was unable to access a reading class as it was in another town and the disruption to his other education needs was “deemed too great.” 

She said the hurdles to access funding and means testing for specialist education were too high and teachers struggled to deal with the extent of behaviours children with a disability display, while they were also responsible for, and had a duty of care to, other students at their schools.

“I feel like I live at doctor’s appointments just to access services for my kids. I don’t want anything more for him than equal access to an education,” she wrote.

“A friend of mine has to get her child re-diganosed every transition point with Down’s Syndrome, it is insulting, and degrading, and expensive. 

“My son went to school after being at early intervention and had just transition support. He ran away from kindy and ran zigzagging across the New England Highway, while I tried to catch him. The school weren’t looking for him out of the grounds – it was just that I saw him. I had to ring them to help me catch him before he was hit by a semi trailer. I still have nightmares about it.”

Mrs Sowden’s submission was one of 170 public and private submissions to the inquiry. Within those submissions teachers also spoke out about stretched resources, a shortage of teacher’s aids and funding shortages to adequately care for and cater to students with special needs or disabilities. The Department of Education did not want to comment, pending the review outcomes.