This column was published in the NT Suns in May 2017
SPECIAL EDUCATION IS A BIG ISSUE
The ability of education departments and schools to cater for the needs of children with learning challenges is an issue again making headlines. Over the past few days, news has surfaced suggesting that Australia-wide, 270,000 students with disabilities fail to meet criteria for additional funding. They are in schools and mainstream classrooms without being supported by additional funding.
Northern Territory schools are supporting students with special learning needs in the best ways possible. However, additional funding has become harder and harder to obtain. Schools have to manage from within their overall budgets and this is stretching their capacity to manage the specific needs of special students.
Some of our schools have supportive learning units with a teacher and assistant. Staff work within the school by offering some help to special needs students who are in mainstream classes. The special needs assistant often works with students in classrooms or small groups. They move from class to class on a strictly timetabled basis with their additional assistance being for a limited time on each occasion.
Supportive learning teachers often act as school advisers to classroom teachers who have special needs students in their classes. Their prime role is helping with the development of teaching strategies and student management plans. While this support is necessary and valuable, it does not lessen the increasingly diverse and challenging teaching loads placed on classroom teachers.
The Government and Education Department have made special education a priority area within NT education. Special needs schools in Darwin and Palmerston (Nemarluk, Henbury Avenue and Bellamack) have been constructed. Capital works programs have allowed regional units have been developed, with these facilities and programs helping to provide for students needing additional support.
The criteria for enrolment in special schools are quite stringently applied and cannot be met by many students. Special needs students in ordinary schools are often unable to meet criteria for additional in class support. This is happening because the guidelines are changing and being rigorously applied. Stresses notwithstanding, it is expected that teachers will cope.
Educational policies are constantly evolving and it will be interesting to see how future needs for students with special needs are met.