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Schools warned on dodgy disability claims

Posted on 6 June 2018
Schools warned on dodgy disability claims
School officers could face fraud charges if found to have misrepresented the number of students with disabilities to attract additional funding, as the government moves to introduce stringent oversight of a new data-collection model that has been criticised for revealing significant variations between school sectors.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham [pictured above] yesterday defended the government's maligned Nationally Consistent Collection of Data, claiming steps were already under way to improve the system, including incorporating it into the annual school census, which is conducted in August.

Senator Birmingham said participating in the process that ultimately decided school funding outcomes carried with it responsibilities, audits for verification and potential penalties.

He said he would ensure that the independent school sector, which has come under significant scrutiny over the substantial increases in disability loadings it is forecast to receive over the next decade, would be captured in that checking process.

"The government takes noncompliance issues seriously," he told a Senate budget estimates hearing yesterday as he came under fire from Labor senators over the decision to link the NCCD, which relies on a teacher's assessment of student disability, rather than a medical professional's, to the loading.

Department of Education deputy secretary Alex Gordon said misrepresenting data to the commonwealth could be considered fraud.

She said future validation of the data provided would include officials visiting random samples of up to 200 schools to verify the information provided by each school.

While a spokesman for the minister said that it was always the intention to link the NCCD with the school census, confirmation that oversight would increase came after revelations that just 6 per cent of the nation's 9429 schools were contacted by the department about the information teachers provided on disabled students last year.

Of those, 61 were required to amend their statements.

Senator Jacinta Collins said reports in The Australian this week highlighting wealthy independent schools that were set to receive a significant boost to funding under the new system were concerning.

She referred to a 2017 NCCD report that revealed variability across the states and territories and school sectors that warned that until the quality of the data improved comparisons should be avoided.

"What I'm concerned about is reports coming forward and a lack of transparency . (which) leave very large questions of whether (the model) is fit for purpose for this round of funding," she said.

Senator Collins singled out claims about the extent of disabled students in the independent sector - 19.1 per cent in 2017 - the highest of all school sectors: "Do you seriously believe this is a fair reflection?" Senator Birmingham told the committee that the data collected during the 2018 school census would ultimately inform 2018 disability loadings.

But as the 2017 NCCD report shows, the independent sector has been reporting gradual steady growth in enrolments of disabled students for several years - 17 per cent in 2015, 18 per cent in 2016, climbing to almost 20 per cent last year. In Victoria, the figure has hovered around 25-26 per cent for the past three years.

And despite 45 per cent of disabled students in the independent sector falling into the lowest category that does not attract financial support, independent schools are forecast to have the biggest growth in disability-loading funding (110 per cent) over the coming decade. Loadings to government schools are set to increase 98 per cent and 49 per cent for Catholic schools.

Senator Birmingham said there was a high level of commitment across schools to make sure the system was fair and reliable.


From: The Australian, Australia  by Rebecca Urban

01 Jun 2018
Tags: Government Funding Students with Disabilities

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