Human rights and international law expert Professor Hilary Charlesworth, says that Australia's appointment to the UN Human Rights Council gives the country an opportunity to examine its own human rights record.
The Working Paper study, commissioned by the Victorian Department of Education and Training (VDET), was conducted by Professor John Haisken-Denew, Dr Cain Polidano and Professor Chris Ryan from the Melbourne Institute, Applied Economic and Social Research to examine the effectiveness of the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD).
While the low numbers of funded students taking part in NAPLAN limited the researchers’ scope to make conclusions about the relationship between PSD and academic achievement, the study highlighted the need for further research to determine the barriers to these students participating in NAPLAN.
The PSD provides funding to Victorian schools to support the learning outcomes of children with disabilities who meet a specific criteria.
“Our results show that students who receive continuous PSD funding from prep are about 28 per cent less likely to participate in Year Three NAPLAN compared to similar students with disability who are unfunded,” researcher Dr Polidano says.
“Under the current rules, all kids are encouraged to sit NAPLAN, but can be given an exemption for specific reasons, including if they have a disability. While we need further research to be certain, our study suggests that schools may see PSD funding as a visible label of disability and therefore choose to exclude funded students.
“Exempting these students not only hinders our ability to see whether this funding is effective, but is also likely to impact a student’s own academic motivation - by emphasising their impairment over their capacity to learn.”
Researchers based their findings on data that compared the 2015 NAPLAN participation of around 600 PSD recipients with almost 5,400 Victorian mainstream government school students who did not receive PSD, but were identified by their teacher as having a disability that affects their capacity to do work in their first year of school.
Dr Polidano says the results suggest that any move to an alternative model of funding that is based on learning needs, as defined by student capabilities when in their first year of school, is likely to be associated with a large expansion of students who receive targeted funding. Only 17 per cent of prep students with disabilities who had language and cognitive skills in the bottom quarter of the state were funded under the PSD program.
Other key findings include:
• Socio-economic status doesn’t have an impact on a child’s prospect of receiving PSD.
• Students who attend a school where more than a quarter of first year students receive PSD funding have approximately 10% greater chance of receiving PSD funding.