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Almost 40 percent of public school students with learning disabilities had to wait more than six months to be assessed by an educational psychologist last year, according to the education department – some children wait up to two years.
The Australian Education Union has called the waiting times “shocking” and has stated that too many students are not getting the help and support they need. Teachers are frustrated and exhausted after spending “countless hours” writing referral requests only to have many turned down.
However, the Education Minister denies that there is a “waiting list” for assistance, saying that “assessment times” have been shortened over the past two years and that the state government has “committed to further reducing them”.
Education data provided to InDaily shows that 38 percent of students waited more than six months to be seen by an educational psychologist in 2020, two percent two years.
AEU President Lara Golding said it was “appalling” that nearly 40 percent of students waited more than six months for an assessment and “any student who waits two years is simply unacceptable”.
“The waiting times for an educational psychologist to be assessed are shocking,” she told InDaily.
Golding said students who waited six months or less for an assessment had to wait for an application to be written, reviewed, and implemented when funding for disability assistance called the Inclusive Education Support Program (IESP ), was successful.
“While students and their families wait to see if their needs are deemed sufficient to warrant additional funding, they are often left unsupported in large classes,” she said.
“In some cases schools receive funding from other areas of the budget to make up for the deficit. However, this is often not possible and certainly not sustainable. “
Golding urged Education Secretary John Gardner “to take urgent action to address these long waits”.
“It would be irresponsible to continue to allow children and young people to wait months and years for support, thereby wasting valuable study time,” she said.
But Gardner said, “To be clear, there is no waiting list as such in terms of assistance”.
“Once a child has been identified, support will be given,” he said.
“Schools will continue to have access to IESP funding while students are being assessed. During this time, schools can provide learning support to these students to continue their education. “
Gardner said there has “never been more resources, focus, or money to support students who need that type of support, and the extra support we have provided sees improvements”.
“Assessment times for educational psychologists have been shortened over the past two years and we are determined to keep shortening them,” he said.
A spokesman for the education department said: “Waiting times can vary from location to location depending on needs and location.”
“Schools can still access IESP funding support while waiting,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman said waiting times for educational psychologists had been reduced in 2019-2020 by “mobilizing support from various offices, using outsourcing (and) reviewing our service models.”
“We are determined to shorten the waiting times in 2021,” said the spokesman.
The department said it employed 64.5 full-time psychologists in student support services.
“In 2019, when the IESP was introduced, disabled students were allocated $ 255.2 million, compared to $ 230.6 million in 2018, an increase of 10.66%,” the spokesman said.
The department said that for the third semester of last year, more than 21,000 students were supported by the IESP – about 12 percent of all enrollments.
The department said this was a 10.5 percent increase over the previous year and includes students with and without a diagnosed disability.
“Individual grant applications under the IESP take into account the functional needs and adjustments required for the child or student, not the diagnosis or the label. Such a diagnosis or final assessment is therefore not a prerequisite for applying for additional funding,” said the spokesman.
“As part of the system funding for students with disabilities, schools receive upfront funding that they can use at their own discretion and can apply for additional funding for individual students.
“The IESP grant, introduced in 2019, supports schools with adaptations for students as well as for newly enrolled students with immediate needs.”
According to budget papers, the number of students with an identified disability rose by 15.5 percent from 16,534 students in 2018 to 19,111 in 2019, according to Golding.
“Funding only increased 10.66 percent during that time, which means there is actually less funding available per student,” she said.
“Teachers work incredibly hard to make up for the deficit, but in the end kids and teens miss it.
“Teachers who submitted IESP applications without substantive evidence, including assessments by psychologists or speech pathologists, were rejected.”
Golding said the IESP grant replaced a number of other grants already given to schools, including grants for students with learning disabilities.
“Previously, students who were found to need medium to low levels of support received additional targeted individual funding. This has now been added to the IESP fund, which means they will no longer receive individual funding,” she said.
“Some schools use their entire IESP base grant to support students with a language program and leave nothing to support other students.”
Golding provided InDaily with anonymous statements from teachers who were concerned about the system and waiting times.
One said, “Our website is having trouble evaluating students.”
“For the past two years we have jumped through hoops to provide evidence for multiple students,” said the teacher.
“We only had one student who I know was approved in 2019. Even after extensive, school-funded interventions, we cannot get anyone to rate these students.
“We waited until the fourth semester for only a few students to be admitted in 2020. We have been informed that the support services are overloaded and cannot get into the schools because they are doing special internships. “
The teacher said, “all of the students we have recommended have severe and complex learning needs”.
“Despite our best efforts, meeting the needs of all of our students in a normal classroom is a challenge,” said the teacher.
“Teachers are frustrated with a system that does not adequately support all students. It is also frustrating for the families as they fail to understand why their child cannot get the help they need. In the meantime, the gap for these students is widening and affecting their wellbeing.
“There are many students that we don’t recommend because we know nothing is going to happen and their needs are not considered serious enough to warrant support.”
Another teacher said some students at her school had waited 18 months for the assessment.
“There were several examples of students with significant needs – social, emotional, and learning – who, even after massive efforts to complete the One Plan and IESP funding application, asked one category above the base allocation but four categories below that of the school” said the teacher.
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“The school struggled to meet the needs of this particular student.”
Another teacher said: “Once a submission is made, students will have no additional support for months while applications appear to be ‘in progress'”. “
“For example, one of our students has shown extremely problematic and insecure behavior towards his teacher and other students,” said the teacher.
“They clearly need a level of support and regulation that cannot be provided all the time in a class of 25 students. However, their application was denied after waiting almost six months for the application to be processed.
“As a leader, it is heartbreaking to ask teachers to spend hours gathering information, making recommendations for psychological support – it can take more than six to twelve months – while tackling difficult behaviors just to request much-needed assistance that enable students to engage safely and successfully in the classroom that has been rejected for trivial and bureaucratic reasons. “
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