NDIS and Education – A two-way street

The NDIS and Education sectors meet at a complex and confusing intersection. Clear road rules are necessary to avoid damaging crashes that will most acutely affect people with disability caught in the middle.

School and educational facilities play a vital role in the community. They are a mainstream services where students and families meet, form connections, share values and reach educational goals. The NDIS is designed to complement rather than substitute these services. The success of the Scheme will depend on its ability to work alongside them in harmony.

Schools and educational facilities aim to meet an individual's learning needs. Contrastingly, the NDIS focuses on addressing the functional needs that result from their disability.  So where do these two systems met and how do they divide responsibilities?

The Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education (2005) outlines responsibilities schools and educational facilities have to students with disabilities. This includes a provision for ‘reasonable adjustments’.  The Standards seek to ensure that students with disability can access and participate in education on the same basis as other students. They must be given opportunities and choices which are comparable with those offered to students without a disability.

Therefore, educational facilities are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ at a classroom, whole-school or individual student level. These adjustments are based on the individual learning needs of the student.  An adjustment is considered reasonable if it achieves the purpose of providing access and participation while taking into account the student’s learning needs and balancing the interests of all affect parties. Examples of reasonable adjustments include:

•    Employing teachers, learning assistants and facilitating access to educational resources.

•    Obtaining learning-specific aids and equipment.

•    Adjusting the educational curriculum to enable people with disability to access it.

•    Adjusting campus buildings, including building ramps and obtaining hoists.

•    Transporting students with disabilities on the same basis as other students for educational activities such as excursions.

The areas the Scheme will take responsibility for include:

- Personal supports that the student requires for daily living (e.g. assistance with meals, accessing the bathroom or managing airways/ventilation). However, until full scheme rolls out, personal care supports will continue to be provided by schools. Discussions are currently underway between the Agency and Education systems about how to negotiate different services purchased by different Departments. This includes how to fund self-care in school (the responsibility of the Scheme) when it is provided by the same person who assists the student with their learning (the responsibility of the school).

- Aids and equipment that is necessary for the student's everyday functioning. Generally, these are transportable items such as hearing aid, wheel chairs and personal communications devices.

- Specialist transport to and from the education facility. Again, current transport services provided by the Department of Education and Training will remain in place until full Scheme roll out. The school will still be responsible for transportation to school activities such as excursions.

Specialist support and training for school staff. When funds are allocated to develop strategies outside of school, it only makes sense that these strategies are shared with the school to provide a consistent approach. 

- Specialist support during transitions. A smooth transition into school might be supported by Early Childhood Intervention services. Transition out of school into meaningful activities, further education or the workplace will be addressed by NDIS and may involve School Leaver Employment Supports. 

- Allied health and other therapies. Therapeutic supports will continue to be the responsibility of the school when they are specifically for educational purposes. This includes handwriting and literacy supports. Nonetheless, the NDIS will provide therapeutic supports to improve functional capacity. It is up to the principal's discretion whether external therapists funded by NDIA are able to have an appointment with students during school hours or on the premises. The principal must consider the impact educational programs and curriculum, room capacity, supervision and child safety standards, the number of requests and what is in the best interests of the child and other students.

- Lastly, the NDIS will be responsible for coordinating supports with mainstream educational services. Local Area Coordinators, Early Childhood Partners and Support Coordinators are specifically tasked with ensuring that mainstream services meet an individual’s needs.

Strong relationships between these two parties are necessary to facilitate a consistent and considered approach inside and outside of the school gates. Funding to support learning outcomes in schools is not increasing, but that is an entirely different debate!  Rather the question that we need to ask is how will schools capitalise on the NDIS funds students will receive? The NDIS and schools working together can ensure better outcomes for students with disabilities.