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Public hearing 24 - The experience of children and young people with disability in different education settings, Canberra - Day 5

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CHAIR: Good morning, everyone. This is the fifth and final day of this Public hearing 24 on education for children and young people with disability. We shall commence with Acknowledgment of Country, and I invite Commissioner Mason to make the Acknowledgment of Country. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Thank you, Chair. We acknowledge the First Nations people on the land on which this Royal Commission is sitting. We pay respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. Their land is where the city of Canberra is now located. We also pay respects to the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, where the city of Melbourne is now located. We pay deep respects to all elders past, present and future and especially elders, parents, young people and children with disability. Thank you, Chair. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Dr Croser Barlow, thank you very much for returning to continue your evidence today. I shall now ask Ms Bennett to continue the questions that she wishes to ask you. Thank you.

MS BENNETT: Thank you, Chair. Before we begin, Dr Croser Barlow, I would like to clarify a few matters from yesterday's evidence. You told the Commission that the Chief Executive's power to direct a student to be enrolled in a particular school hadn't been used. Under Notice produced in March, South Australia indicated in response to a question about that power that a manual review of the data held by the Office of the Chief Executive for the period between 2015 to 2020 was undertaken. One event was recorded during this period, and that was for a student with disability. Is that the correct position? 


MS BENNETT: Thank you. And that manual review, are we to take it from that that there's not a central repository of the data concerning the use of that power? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: The central repository is through the correspondence system and so it requires a manual examination of the correspondence system. 

MS BENNETT: There is not a tag for the use of that power specifically? 


MS BENNETT: Thank you. There was another correction that you wanted to make in relation to the review process that you described. Can you tell the Commissioners what you would like to correct about your evidence from yesterday? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes, absolutely. So yesterday I think you asked me about how do we make sure that special schools are engaging with peer-aged and community in general, and I said that that would be looked at through the external school review process. It can be looked at through the external school review process, but the external school review process involves the selection of particular areas to inquire in and so it may not always be looked at. So it can be, not would be. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you. Dr Croser Barlow, have you been following the evidence of the Royal Commission this week generally. 


MS BENNETT: And have you been following the earlier hearings as they relate to education? 


MS BENNETT: So you watched the evidence of Ms Kim Langcake and the person we referred to as Isabella. 


MS BENNETT: Are you able to offer reflections on how that evidence impacted on your perspective of your role and the importance of your role? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes, I think one of the things that I really took away from the evidence of Ms Langcake and Isabella was the extraordinary challenge of achieving a consistently high-quality experience and that language around sliding doors moments and the markedly different experience between teachers and then between different settings really crystallised for me the significant challenge that the department has in ensuring a high-quality experience in every classroom, in every school. 

There were also some other reflections that I had in relation to specific matters that were discussed where, on the evidence that was presented, I thought that the experience of Ms Langcake and Isabella was not consistent with our expectations and fell below our expectations as a system. 

MS BENNETT: And is it part of your aim to shift the system so that experiences like that aren't repeated into the future? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Absolutely. 

MS BENNETT: And is the framework that you've provided overnight, the indicators framework for children and students with functional needs, is that a key piece of work in that transition, if I can call it that? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes, absolutely. 

MS BENNETT: Did that arise out of an independent inquiry or review? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: No, it arose out of the work that I initiated on entering into the role on what we call the One in Four Reform Agenda. If you would like, I can speak a little bit more about that. 

MS BENNETT: What prompted the One in Four Reform Agenda? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So on entering the role, I observed that we had a very wide range of ambitious reforms underway within my division, including, I think as I mentioned yesterday, the introduction of the new inclusive education and support program funding arrangement, which came into place just before I joined the department   joined in this role, sorry, not joined the department. And the   we were just finalising the rollout of One Plan as the   as the mandatory tool for planning. So there were a range of kind of big system things that were happening. 

My observation was that those levers were necessary but not sufficient. I think you asked me yesterday kind of what my preparation for the role was. My expertise is in thinking about how to drive system change. So how can you get a consistent change in every classroom, in every school. The department in general has been on a journey in relation to this, and I'm happy to talk about it in relation to the broader school improvement journey. 

My work on entering into the division, which crystallised into the One In Four Reform Agenda   which you can see a summary of that in attachment 4, in Bundle D, I think   was about how do we take those lessons, about what we know works or what we think works, in improving practice, and how do we apply them for students with functional needs. And so the indicator framework is one of 10 projects that were identified as really critical enablers of that change. 

We conducted   we constructed a program logic that would talk through why we thought those particular 10 projects were the 10 projects that we thought were the first ones to go after. An indicator framework   and I think we attached a short paper about why we are doing it. It's about providing us with a consistent base of reference for conversation about performance in relation to students with functional needs. And so it's a foundational piece. It's in our built foundations. But I certainly don't think that an indicator framework on its own would drive the change that is required. And that's why   

MS BENNETT: I'm sorry. When do you anticipate that the   sorry, if I understand correctly, the indicator framework includes and incorporates measurable outcomes that will indicate whether you are meeting particular domains, like inclusion, family and community engagement and so on. 


MS BENNETT: When do you expect to have all of those indicators operational   measurable? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So the document that you have before you identifies those where we already have measures that we can use. So the grey shaded ones. The ones that are not grey and shaded are divided roughly into two categories. There are some that will be relatively easy for us to build indicators in relation to them because we can add them to existing data collections. So there's an existing data collection, for example, in the Wellbeing and Engagement Census. There is an existing data collection in the Parent Engagement Survey. 

Some of them have a longer timeframe. The department is working on the rollout of an electronic management system, EMS, or maybe it's education management system, which will provide for a consistent student view across all students in the South Australian Department. So some of the data that we might look to extract will be more readily available once that EMS is rolled out. We are just starting that. I think we did the first round last year and we are expanding it this year. I'm happy to get more info if you need. 

MS BENNETT: I will just pause you there. I don't seek to interrogate each and every data point. Is there a date by which you seek to have all of the indicators in the framework operational? Or have you not yet been able to identify a date? 


MS BENNETT: So there are some in the shaded boxes currently in place   all of those are currently in place. 


MS BENNETT: And there are then some that you imagine will be available in the medium term and some that have no fixed date at present?  Is that fair? 


MS BENNETT: Thank you. We spoke before about the witnesses who have given evidence this week, and you will recall the evidence of Isabella. And she talked about the concern that she has around starting the transition planning for her child. At what stage does the department start planning transitions from school to post school life for children with disability or functional needs? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So the department has a careers strategy that outlines the department's expectations for thinking about the future for all students, including students with functional needs. And it articulates that from the very entry into high school, there should begin a process of thinking about   about a child's destination, but obviously it's quite small at the beginning and it grows as students go through   through their high school experience. 

We would expect those conversations to be captured in a student's One Plan, and we would expect that certainly those conversations would be happening in year 10 as you begin to translate into what, in South Australia, is referred to the South Australian Certificate of Education, which is the year 11 and 12 program. 

MS BENNETT: So year 10 is when the process should start?  Is that right? And you've got a document at tab 21 of your statement that is entitled 'Pathway to post-school life.' That is NDIS branded, if I can put it that way, and it says in the subtext "co-design and engagement team." Can you   I won't bring this up on screen, Commissioners, but could I ask Dr Croser Barlow to go to page 0189 of that document headed Transition Programs. 


MS BENNETT: And, if you like, the branding changes at this point and we go from NDIS branding to perhaps not NDIS branding. Is this contribution to the document from South Australia? 


MS BENNETT: And so is this document co-authored by NDIS and South Australia together? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: I would need to check with the team that produced it. I'm not sure whether the document is co authored, but certainly the parts that are branded South Australian are authored by South Australia. 

MS BENNETT: Well, they are branded Student Pathways. Is that South Australia? 


MS BENNETT: I see. So that's the South Australian specific element to the transition pathways. Is that right? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: In this presentation, which I understand was a presentation provided, then   to a group of students, then, yes, in this presentation. 

MS BENNETT: And who is that given to? Who is that distributed to? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: I would need to refer to my statement to check which particular students this was given to, but I see from the cover that it says, "A session for young people in Years 10 to 12 and the people who support them." 

MS BENNETT: But you're not sure, as you sit here now, whether that's rolled out consistently or if it's a one-off presentation? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So my understanding is that there are offers made for those presentations across all of our special settings. So, yes. 

MS BENNETT: All of your special settings. Is it made across mainstream settings? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: I'm not aware. 

MS BENNETT: You don't know or is that   

DR CROSER BARLOW: I don't know. 

MS BENNETT: You don't know. Okay. Is it something that should be made available across mainstream settings?

DR CROSER BARLOW: It would depend, I think. So we do other pathways planning and conversations with children in mainstream settings. So it would depend if that was the particular element that they were looking for. So I think it's about a personalised response. 

MS BENNETT: And the non-mainstream settings you're talking about, is that the disability units   which settings are those?

DR CROSER BARLOW: The special classes, disability units and special schools. 

MS BENNETT: Okay. All right. You talk in your evidence about the allied health assistance that's provided to students throughout South Australia and you talk about the SSS assistance. Now, the SSS practitioners are part of the group that report in to you; is that right? 


MS BENNETT: And, broadly speaking, they are allied health practitioners. 

DR CROSER BARLOW: It's a mix of allied health practitioners and specialist educators. So there's about 100 FTE of behaviour coach and special educators. 

MS BENNETT: And what are their qualifications? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So they usually have either a qualification in special education or they have advanced experience in that. 

MS BENNETT: I see. And the SSS group are available to assist other schools in the delivery of services across the state. Is that right? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: They are available to assist government schools, yes. 

MS BENNETT: Yes. And are they   where are they located, those 100 FTE? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So there's about 480 FTE. 100 is the educators. So we have 15 regional offices, and most of the FTE are allocated   are located in those 15 regional offices. We also have a small number of small state wide teams. So we have a SWISS team which provide emergency response. Post mentioned kinds of responses. We have an EALD team who coordinate EALD. We have a children in care team. They are not located necessarily in the 15 regional offices, but most of   most of them are. 

MS BENNETT: So there are offices located in regional areas? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes, absolutely. 

MS BENNETT: And remote areas? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Not in remote areas, no. 

MS BENNETT: How is the access for remote areas to these services managed? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Depending on what you mean by remote areas, so, for example, on the APY Lands, which is probably the most significantly remote area in South Australia, we have a fly in fly out presence but we also provide intensive support to the education staff on site. So it sort of depends on where you mean. 

MS BENNETT: Well, taking that example, you've got a fly in fly out presence. Does that mean the SSS fly in fly out on demand or do they do that proactively? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: I would need to check. 

MS BENNETT: Okay. And is the document at tab 9, that's the document that identifies and outlines that   the model of delivery by those SSS officers? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: That's the overall service model. If you're looking to understand the actual specific services that are offered, the better document is at 23, which provides the catalogue of services. So that's the forward facing document that schools would look at in determining how to seek advice and support. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you. You heard Commissioner Galbally talk about, I think, flying squads and zap units, I think are the two phrases that have been used. Is that something that's contemplated in the structure   rapid responses to crisis might be another way of raising it? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So we have two existing teams that can perform that function. It sort of depends for what purpose. So as I say, we've got a SWISS team, which is a Social Work Intervention Support Service, and they   they might provide intensive support in relation to mental health in particular, following an incident on site. So they are a fly in fly out kind of zap squad in that context. 

We have recently established a self-regulation team, which is a really interesting model that we are trialling to see the impact of. They are about providing intensive proactive support to schools who have identified that they have a real challenge with supporting children to co-regulate and then self regulate as they get a bit more capable of that. 

In addition   and I have been thinking about Commissioner Galbally's suggestion, because I think there's some real   there is something really interesting in it   one of the things that we offer out of our IESP team is that when a school is really struggling to identify and implement adjustments for learning, we will often have a senior member of the IESP team go and sit down with the school leadership and support the school leadership in thinking about how are you planning out your waves of intervention, if we are using the RTI language. 

So what are your universal interventions, what are your targeted interventions. How are you doing that and what upskilling would you need to provide to your teachers to support that. And then what external assistance might you want to access from Student Support Services in support of that. Now, we do that in a largely reactive way. We do do it in response to what I would refer to as cries for help, so schools saying   often it comes with a request   a very urgent request for funding for a particular child. 

And we will sort of suggest that perhaps the complex behaviour being exhibited by this particular child might suggest that there's a need to think through the broader structures in place in the school and so we will sit down and support the school to do their planning in that way. I think there's an opportunity to be more proactive about that and we are actually just about to launch on a pilot of that with relation to preschools, who are also serviced by my team. Is that   the point   

MS BENNETT: I suppose   I   I'm sorry, we are getting feedback at this end. It seems to have resolved. Thank you. What does ISP stand for? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: The Inclusive Education Support Program. That's the funding program. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you. And is information about that service provided behind tab 23 of your statement? I   

DR CROSER BARLOW: No, because that IESP team sits in a different part of the division. 

MS BENNETT: So how are schools told about the existence of that team? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: They are told about the existence of that team when they apply for funding. So   

MS BENNETT: Okay. And perhaps if they are watching today? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: They all know about the IESP team. But, yes, if they are watching today they will also have another reminder about it. 

MS BENNETT: Sorry, how do they all know about the IESP team. 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Because every school applies for funding. 

MS BENNETT: I see. So they know about the existence of this capacity to provide that intensive support? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes, so it's referenced   it's referenced  

MS BENNETT: It's referenced in the application. 

DR CROSER BARLOW: In the covering information in relation to the application. 

MS BENNETT: I see. Broadly speaking, the SSS service is there to upskill schools and provides limited therapeutic intervention for children one to one. Is that fair? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: It depends on which discipline you're talking about. So I would find it hard to generalise in that way. For example, in social work, really, the work that they are doing is in relation to students and is much less in relation to schools. 


DR CROSER BARLOW: For behaviour coaches and special educators, absolutely much more the focus is upskilling educators and leaders. So it depends on the discipline, but it's not an unfair characterisation. It's just   it's a bit discipline specific. 

MS BENNETT: Yes. So speech pathologists, for example, when there's a need for assistance with communication   and you've heard the evidence of Mr Percival, no doubt, about his view about the importance of communication   is that a view you share? 


MS BENNETT: You would agree that communication is the starting point for students engaging in their education? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Absolutely. 

MS BENNETT: And so where is the school environment providing access to those sorts of speech pathology services one to one or does that come elsewhere? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So I think as you heard from Mr Percival's evidence yesterday, it is somewhat of a complicated landscape and depends a little bit on what services a child is accessing outside via NDIS. And I think that's referenced in the catalogue of service. It talks about the role of the speech pathologist in considering and navigating external service providers. In general, as described in the   in the catalogue of services, we do provide some intensive one on one therapeutic support for particular priority one cases in relation to speech pathology from Student Support Services. 

But that largely   the focus of the work is around upskilling teachers as well to be able to provide that support ongoing. In addition, schools will engage speech pathologists by what we call commissioned services or school buy-in services, and those speech pathologists will undertake a range of duties. Sometimes individual intensive therapeutic duties and sometimes, again, a more capacity building duty, and often small group work is a particular area for the school buy in speech pathologists. 

MS BENNETT: So a school can elect to buy in some speech pathology assistance for small group work or to upskill teachers in communication; is that right? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes, and I believe they can also elect to buy in for individual therapeutic intervention, yes. 

MS BENNETT: Right. And that buy-in comes from their general school budget? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: I assume that it comes from their   what we call their tier 2 allocations, which are the allocations provided to schools for   for a range of different student cohorts, including for example, if you are in a low SES school you get top-up funding. The IESP grant that I referred to yesterday. There is some complexity funding that comes through. There's a range of different tier 2 funding sources that schools might use to do that. They might also aggregate individualised IESP funding to purchase a speech pathologist. 

MS BENNETT: So continuing with the speech pathologist example, the school could use its generalised bucket of funding, which includes additional funding for some complex needs within the overall community. 


MS BENNETT: Or, if there's a particular student, they could buy in speech pathology support for that particular student from an individual allocation. Is that a fair summary? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes, they could. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you. And is the position any different for an NDIS participant? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So, I understand from our catalogue of service that the position is somewhat different from an NDIS participant, because if an NDIS participant has an external provider then there is a need to   to work out kind of who is doing what in what ways. And that's referred to in the   in the catalogue of service, the function of the speech pathology service in navigating that is referred to. 

MS BENNETT: So if there is an external provider already working with the child who is NDIS funded, is the child more or less likely to get that support brought into the school? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: I do not know. 

MS BENNETT: Okay. And if a child is not an NDIS participant, but is self-funding speech pathology services, can they bring that allied health person into school?

DR CROSER BARLOW: That's a different question. 

MS BENNETT: Yes, it is a different question. 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes. So the Department doesn't distinguish between NDIS or self-funded allied health providers when it's considering access of external providers to school. 

MS BENNETT: Okay. So leave aside who's funding the external support. Can somebody who has been working with a speech pathologist since they were 3, in their home environment, bring that person into their primary school environment when they are 5 and do speech pathology assistance there? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So I can refer you to the Department's policy on this, but the short answer on it is that it's a matter for the principal to decide. 

MS BENNETT: Is it a case by case basis, like we heard from Mr Percival? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: It should be a case by case basis. 

MS BENNETT: And if schools are saying a blanket no, would that be inconsistent with your policies? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes, it is inconsistent with our policies. 

MS BENNETT: So if the school website, for example, said, "We just don't accept that", that would be something of concern? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Yes, and I believe in the hearing bundle you have identified for us a school website that does do that. And my team has reached out to that school to talk about changing the language on the website. 

MS BENNETT: And how   so what's the process for identifying whether the schools are complying with this other than the Royal Commission? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So we don't conduct routine audits of that matter. 

MS BENNETT: And is that   so do you have any way of knowing whether there might be other schools who are telling parents that they can't bring allied health into the school? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: We hear feedback from parents about that. And when that comes to us, then we follow up with the schools to understand their decision-making process. 

MS BENNETT: And is there a process that doesn't depend upon the parents to do that? 


MS BENNETT: Okay. Is that something that might need to be looked at? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: There is a constant challenge in systems like education in thinking about how tightly do you audit every single policy at every single moment versus how much do you do a sampling audit. So I think there is an opportunity to do a sample audit in relation to this. Do I think it would be a good use of the Department's time to conduct an annual review of this particular process? I'm not convinced that that would be the most effective use. 

I would prefer to spend the time working with schools, talking to them about how to better provide supports and services. So I think it's a balance. But I do think there's an opportunity to include in our audit process. 

MS BENNETT: Is talking to families about the way that you can improve the processes something else that you think would be a good use of time? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: I think that's a much better use of time and I think that's been something that I also reflected on listening to the testimony this week and then thinking about your questions yesterday. I do think that there's opportunity  

MS BENNETT: Sorry to interrupt you. Is that something that you've had the opportunity to do so far in your role? Speak to families? 


MS BENNETT: At the times   you spoke yesterday about visiting various sites. Have you spoken to the families at those sites? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: The families weren't present when I   when I visited the sites. No. 

MS BENNETT: So it's just the students in class? 


MS BENNETT: And so have you had the opportunity to speak to families in the   in what environment have you had the opportunity to speak to the families? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So as I said to you yesterday, I had extensive opportunities to talk to families of students with disability in my previous role, in the Year 7 to High School role. And in this role, I haven't had any formal opportunities to speak to families with   because the various forums where I might have had those opportunities have not been face to face forums. 

MS BENNETT: Commissioner Mason might have a question around that. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: I just have a question. Have you had a chance of speaking with families on the APY Lands? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: No, I haven't. 


MS BENNETT: Is that in your agenda for the next little while? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So it can be. I think one of the   one of the questions for us is to think about where the decisions are being made and who the right people to engage is. I'm really conscious of not kind of just walking around and engaging with communities without a purpose on that engagement. So we have a formal structure in relation to the APY Lands. It's called PYEC. It's a formal structure for engaging with families and communities in relation to the APY Lands. So if I was in the APY lands, of course, I would want to talk to families while I was there, but I would want to have a purpose for that engagement. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: And, of course, the members of the PYEC are also family members of children on the lands as well. 

DR CROSER BARLOW: They are. They really are. 


MS BENNETT: The identification of the kinds of adjustments that might be supported by the school and might be support by NDIS is an area where some confusion can arise. Is that fair? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Some confusion for who? For families and for   

MS BENNETT: Well, for you, for the state. Is there any confusion at times about what the obligation is for the state to fund supports as against the NDIS? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So the state's obligations are reasonably clear. We are required to fund adjustments to support the inclusion in school. So we will do that. The question   I'm not quite sure I understand the question    

MS BENNETT: So it's not something that   

DR CROSER BARLOW: From that obligation. 

MS BENNETT: So that's not something about the identification of where the line is between a reasonable adjustment and a support provided by the NDIS hasn't caused South Australia any concern? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: I'm aware that families find it really clunky that we might be able to fund an adjustment in the school that doesn't translate to the home environment, and that the NDIS might fund an adjustment in the home environment that doesn't translate to school. So I am aware of that clunkiness. I wouldn't want to suggest that South Australia is not aware or clear about its obligations in relation to funding adjustments for all students   NDIS funded or not   to ensure that they can access their education. 

MS BENNETT: I think you tell us   it's at tab 14 of your statement. There's a   which is the Non-Education Service Providers Procedure. You tell us   or the State tells us that: 

"All reasonable adjustments provided in a preschool or school to ensure a young person or child can access their education must be provided at the expense of the preschool or school." 

Skipping a few lines, you say: 

"Examples of reasonable adjustments can include but are not limited to curriculum adjustments, strategies included, and learning plans, behaviour plans, but do not include therapy." 

So what   what is it that is therapy there   does that include speech therapy or speech pathology? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: That is a challenging question. So I can see how that particular question arises. I would refer you to our Student Support Services catalogue of service to describe the kind of therapy that we would provide. 

MS BENNETT: And so there's a kind of therapy that you do provide as a reasonable adjustment? 


MS BENNETT: And so it's not universally NDIS only? 


MS BENNETT: So there can be some areas of grey around those issues? 


MS BENNETT: And do you have a communication process with the NDIS around how those issues are resolved? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: I understand we have operational communication arrangements with the NDIS, but I'm not familiar with the contents of what we   what we talked to them about. 

MS BENNETT: Who's responsible for raising issues of concern around where the funding is coming from with the NDIS? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So it would   it would relate to the particular instance with   

MS BENNETT: If a school said, "We can't fund that. The NDIS should fund it", the parent said, "I don't think that's right", whose responsibility is it to resolve that issue? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So the school should seek advice from the director of inclusive teaching and, learning. 

MS BENNETT: And if that needs to be escalated to the NDIS, who has responsibility for doing that? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: The Director of Inclusive Teaching and Learning. 

MS BENNETT: And does that person report to you? 


MS BENNETT: Thank you. I wanted to   finally, I want to ask you about the transfer from special school setting to a mainstream setting. Is that something that can happen at the election of a parent at any time? 


MS BENNETT: And so in your   in your policies, you tell us – the document we discussed yesterday with the Chair at D24, at page 276, it refers to the transfer of a student from a special setting to a mainstream setting. And it says   it says there at 5.1: 

"The student may exit a special option for a number of reasons." 

Skipping a few words: 

"In these instances, the parents, school staff, special educator and psychologist may meet to review the student's One Plan or like document." 

Do you see that at the end of 5.1? 


MS BENNETT: And that's the departmental psychologist we have spoken about? 


MS BENNETT: So that's not the person with the therapeutic relationship with the child? 


MS BENNETT: Would the departmental psychologist have necessarily met the child? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So in this   it's worth saying this document is an internal guide for my division, and so it's written from the lens of the practitioners within my division. It's not a formal procedural policy. I am expecting that when they write this   but I can confirm with it   that they mean the psychologist who made the assessment of the child. 


DR CROSER BARLOW: The best place to make   so the reason why the psychologist is involved is that they are the one who makes the assessment in relation to eligibility and suitability. 

MS BENNETT: So the person who's made the assessment is the person who makes the decisions that follow from that assessment; is that right? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So this doesn't talk about a decision. 

MS BENNETT: No, no, the Chair spoke with you yesterday – recommendations made by the departmental psychologist. In each instance, the departmental psychologist has met with and examined and assessed the child when they are making the recommendation. 

DR CROSER BARLOW: The departmental psychologist or a psychologist procured through our external provider panel when we are unable to provide service in sufficient time. 

MS BENNETT: Perhaps I just   the departmental psychologist who makes the recommendation as to suitability and eligibility has always met the child. Is that right? 


MS BENNETT: Yes. Thank you. It goes on to say at 5.2: 

"The special option recommendation changes following a review by a psychologist." 

And then: 

"... eg special class to disability unit or disability unit to special class. A new document is signed. Information is collated into a student package. The local office must decide on whether the student package must be lodged." 

Et cetera. Does there need to be a recommendation for the transfer before the transfer to a mainstream setting is effected? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: No, I do not understand that that does. A parent can enrol their   seek to enrol their child or seek to transfer their child without a recommendation from Student Support Services. 

MS BENNETT: I see. So the reference there to   if the special option recommendation changes following a review, that's not a necessary precondition to the change. It's just one option for the change. Is that right? 


MS BENNETT: And so the parent can at any time decide they would like to now go into a mainstream setting? 


MS BENNETT: Are there any barriers to that happening? Are there any assessments that take place in the mainstream setting? Does the principal need to agree? 


MS BENNETT: Chair, those are the matters, and I would like it noted three minutes ahead to what I promised. 

CHAIR: Yes, but you've got a few more minutes to make up. All right, should we take a break now. 

MS BENNETT: Unless there are questions from the Commissioners. 

CHAIR: All right. Well, let's take questions from the Commissioners and then we will have our break. First, Commissioner Galbally. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you for your evidence. Just picking up that last point, so the Inquiry into Suspension, Exclusion and Expulsion Processes in South Australia that was completed recently   so principals can't exclude? That if a parent says they want their child to go to a mainstream class, the parent   the principal can't say no. Is that what you're saying? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So acceptance of enrolment is subject to the enrolment procedure and a principal cannot deny enrolment on the basis of disability. It's a part of the requirements under the Disability Standards for Education. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: So this report, which   what's the status of it and what's happening with it? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So Professor Graham undertook that report in 2019 or 2020, from memory, and made a series of recommendations. The former Minister made a public statement in response which included committing $15 million in additional funding over four years to implement some but not all of the recommendations of Professor Graham's report. The best summary of that is available, if you look at the document at page   document 4, on the back of that kind of one-pager   or document 3, sorry, in the back of that kind of simple summary of the support and inclusion work. 

You will see there are two halves of the work. So there's the One in Four Agenda which I spoke about earlier, which is our promotion of learning in mainstream settings for children with functional needs. On the right-hand side is the Behaviour and Engagement Reform. Now, most of the projects articulated in that are projects that are a part of the government's response to Professor Graham's review. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Right. I would love to see the details of that, if that's possible. Yes. 

DR CROSER BARLOW: Absolutely. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: When you said the indicator framework on its own won't drive change and you referred to 10 other. Without going into the detail, what are the other factors that would drive change? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So the way   our kind of theory of change involves, one being very clear about what good practice looks like. And I think the Commission has heard that in a number of different ways. And so we are building a range of universally available, on demand good practice guides for mainstream teachers in particular in thinking about how to provide appropriate adjustments for students with functional needs. They are called practice guides. 

Then there's the second thing which is around the supports. So what supports are you wrapping around schools to make sure that their planning and that their interventions are effective. You mentioned yesterday you were interested in the autism lead teacher initiative, which is something that the new government has committed to. So every primary school will have a teacher with point 1 or point 2 FTE allocated to spend time first upskilling in understanding teaching students with autism and then time in supporting improvements in practice in their classroom. 

I am really interested in the effectiveness of this as a model. So the challenge that we face as a department is scale. So it's   you can get five schools doing great, you can get 20 schools doing great. Once you are trying to get 500, there's a real question for us. So I think there's something quite interesting in this autism lead teacher initiative which we will be tracking to see what is the impact. And particularly we are looking to track to see if it impacts on the rates of exclusionary discipline for R to 2. 

So one of the findings of Professor Graham's review was that we are increasingly excluding children in years R to 2, and almost always those are a function either of the communication concerns that we've discussed previously in the Commission or in relation to issues around self-regulation. And so we are interested to see if the professional development of teachers in primary schools in relation to strategies that work for kids with autism will actually lead to improvements in practice and capability that benefit all children and, in particular, that group of children that we are excluding in R to 2. 

So there's supports. There are other things that we are doing in relation to supports. You know, obviously putting in extra resourcing in Student Support Services and mental health. I think, for me, if you think systemically it's universal good practice of information, it's targeted supports and using data   to the point that you have made a number of times, Commissioner, using data to identify where the support is required and so we are building our   the indicator framework is a really important part of that so that then you can go and target the schools that need the extra support. So providing extra support and then building the capability of individual teachers and leaders, because that's ultimately what will make the biggest difference. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And so my last question is about the wall between segregation and inclusion. And your   you sort of said you could do sample audits to check whether that wall is coming down and whether there is much more interaction and even transition. 


COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Am I correct? Thank you. Thanks. 

CHAIR: Yes, thank you. Commissioner Mason. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Yes. Thank you also for your evidence. I just had a question about the work done by Professor Graham and content around First Nations students. And I understand there is a bit of information there in that document. And also interested in how that has informed the indicators framework because, just looking at it, the non-shaded areas are very ambitious and thinking about the settings where First Nations students with disability are in South Australia and metro and regional and remote areas. Just your feedback on that. 

DR CROSER BARLOW: So Commissioner Lawrie, who is the Chief Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, has been providing very effective advocacy in this space and so the document that you have at tab 3, there is an updated version that was released subsequent to this and incorporates some of the election commitments, and it includes specific reference to the work that we are doing to ensure that all of the reform initiatives for undertaking are undertaken with a lens of considering culturally responsive practice. 

But also thinking through how we work with families and communities. So we have got some specific project leads, some specific Aboriginal advisors who are working across the whole reform program to help us do that. I think there's   the Professor Graham's report indicated what I think is probably completely unsurprising to you, that students with a disability are overrepresented in our exclusions, Aboriginal students are overrepresented in our exclusions, children in care are overrepresented in our exclusions, and kids with all three are really overrepresented in our exclusions. And I think that provides us with a really pointy marker about where we need to be focusing our efforts. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Thank you very much, and I wish you all the best at your role. Thank you. 


CHAIR: Did Professor Graham address the role of the departmental psychologists in assessing and determining recommendations for the placement of children with disability? 

DR CROSER BARLOW: No. Her review was about exclusionary disciplines. So it wasn't looking at special settings. 

CHAIR: So it was confined to exclusionary discipline. All right. In that case, thank you very much for your evidence and for the assistance you have provided, including your written statement. We appreciate you're being able to come to the Royal Commission virtually instead of coming in person, as I'm sure you wanted to do, but we do thank you very much for your assistance. Thank you. 


CHAIR: I will just check before we finish, just to make sure   if Mr Simpson is online, who represents   there you are. 

MR SIMPSON: I am present, thank you, Chair. 

CHAIR: You have no questions? 

MR SIMPSON: No questions. Thank you, Chair. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much. In that case, again, thank you very much and should we now   

MS BENNETT: Until 11.15, if it pleases the Chair. 

CHAIR:   take an adjournment until 11.15. Yes, thank you. We will adjourn now and resume at 11.15. 



<RESUMED 11:23 AM 

CHAIR: Yes, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners. The next witnesses, you will see on the screen, Katie Koullas and Alexa which is a pseudonym. And, Commissioners, you will recall Katie Koullas participated in Public hearing 17.2, our Hobart hearing. And you will remember that Katie represents the Yellow Ladybugs. The Yellow Ladybugs is an autistic led non-government organisation with strong bridges to the community, and the Yellow Ladybugs are dedicated to the happiness, success and celebration of autistic girls and women. 

The Yellow Ladybugs has been running the ADHD and Autistic Minds Conference over the past two days and we are very grateful that they, after a number of   or three days conference, I think, to be able to join us this morning. Commissioners, we have put up a content warning, and the evidence that you're going to hear this morning from Katie and Alexa may be confronting and distressing for some people. 

They have given their affirmations and the way in which we are going to conduct this part of the evidence is I will hand over to Katie, who has prepared a presentation she would like to read. Then we will turn to Alexa. Then we have a short video that the Yellow Ladybugs would like to share with the Royal Commission with some concluding comments which I will   you will see when we get to that. And then to the Commissioners if you have got any questions. So that's the proposal. So, Katie, a very warm welcome. Do you want to   

CHAIR: Just before we start, can I   can I thank you very much, Katie, for coming back to the Royal Commission to give evidence again. We very much appreciate your doing that, as you did, I think, in Public hearing 17. And, Alexa, thank you, too, for coming today and for giving evidence, and we look forward to hearing what you have to tell us. So thanks again, and I will now hand over to Katie, as Ms Eastman indicated. 

MS EASTMAN: Thanks. So and just   and we've pointed out that Commissioner Galbally is also on the screen. 

CHAIR: I'm sorry. 

MS EASTMAN: As well. And there is two Commissioners here in the hearing room in Canberra. 

CHAIR: Yes, Commissioner Galbally is joining from the hearing from Melbourne. You can see her on the screen. And, of course, Commissioner Mason is here with me in the Canberra hearing room. 

MS EASTMAN: Katie, over to you. Thank you. 

MS KOULLAS: Thank you, Kate, and thank you, Commissioners. I have previously introduced Yellow Ladybugs and our mission, so I'm going to jump straight into the evidence for today's hearing. So, on behalf of Yellow Ladybugs, we are drawing on the schooling experiences of our extensive community of autistic girls and gender diverse students and parents and carers. And Yellow Ladybugs considers that, a high level, we continue to fail this community across Australia in their education. 

Autistic girls and gender diverse individuals are often particularly disadvantaged due to their more internalised autistic presentation whereby they mask well and appear to be coping. Their disability and specific needs are often hidden, which serves as a further barrier to accessing the supports they are absolutely entitled to at school. 

No doubt you have heard from many people throughout this hearing of extreme injustices throughout your week. And extreme examples of failing autistic students. And whilst these stories are imperative, we want to share a different perspective, about the everyday injustice of being overlooked, the trauma that comes from having invisible needs and not being disruptive enough to get support in these common situations that cause long term trauma which takes decades to unpack. 

And I am angry. I am determined to change things. Especially as you said, Kate, three days of listening to 40 neurodivergent people share their stories at our conference. Do you know what our common theme was? Trauma. One after the other, we heard from brave autistic women and gender diverse people share their experiences growing up in a school system that favoured the neuromajority, that was designed and set up to change who we are naturally. 

They shared their experiences of being doubly marginalised as growing up or socialised as girls, often overlooked because we are just less disruptive, but we are holding so much under the surface that came at a cost later years, ten fold. What else did I hear? I heard that when we know better, we do better. There were parents, teachers, even autistic individuals there crying out of guilt. And I said, "No, don't cry. Let's not be guilty about what we may have done wrong in the past. Let's only cry if we still do it knowing better." So, yes, I'm angry but I'm also hopeful. 

I felt the collective energy in the room, and I sensed an uprising. We won't be overlooked anymore. We won't be forgotten. We will not accept any types of neuroconversion therapy. The ABA or social programs designed to make us less autistic and more neurotypical. Why should we stand for this any more than our gay communities should who were subjected to gay conversion therapy so many years ago. We are saying no more. I know there's a groundswell growing. 

We are changing things from the bottom up. We are coming together and saying enough is enough. Things have to get better. And like any other movement on inclusivity and acceptance, we need to make the neurodiversity movement understood on a curriculum level. When students are young. We need them to understand and celebrate different brains just like any other difference they learn about at school. We need to make unique the norm. And we need to teach the teachers this so they understand it before they even step foot in a classroom. And it needs to be neurodivergent led and informed and consistent across all of Australia. 

I fear I'm wasting my breath, though, because we talk and we talk and we share and we explain, but what will actually be done? What will change in a system that is already overloaded? But I am going to keep going for the autistic girl who's sitting in the playground with only a tree as her friend. And for the autistic teenager who is in detention every week and on a behaviour management plan, when they really should be on a connection plan. Like in my children's case, for the autistic girls who don't get the support they need in mainstream school. Don't get access to a specialist school, have to go to a Catholic school when they are not even religious to get support and even that fails them and then ending up in a community school which does not   which does support them on some levels but puts them in a very vulnerable position. 

I will always keep fighting, and at Yellow Ladybugs, we will always keep representing a community that's been ignored for generations. And we will be breaking this toxic cycle. And through our regular communication with our community we are aware of many cases where individual educators and education providers continue to fail to understand, apply and comply with the rights, obligations and measures for our students in every region of Australia. And on some level all of these cover off forms of neglect, abuse, and exploitation. 

So that's my introduction. I do now want to go into some specifics with you today on some of the issues that we have found throughout our community, and it is formed through our extensive reach in every corner of Australia and through a survey we conducted where we did have 1,500 responses on education. 

So the first thing I want to introduce is enrolment. Many schools continue to engage in active gatekeeping to prevent autistic students from enrolling in their school. This practice is often subtle. For example, the school office claiming they are unable to schedule a meeting with the principal because they are fully booked for the next months   or they don't have places when you say that your child is autistic. This is happening and it needs to stop. 

Student supports and adjustments. Many schools continue to claim that there is no funding. For example, in program for students with disability in Victoria, they are not able to provide any additional supports for autistic students, including things like education plans, student support group meetings, and particularly for our community, autistic girls miss out on these fundamental supports because they are not seen as disruptive enough to warrant them. 

This is a consistent message, as I said, across all regions of Australia. All autistic girls and gender diverse individuals, whether they have funding or not, need access to additional supports. Schools need to be providing families and autistic students with more consistent information about what adjustments they should be able to have and what their legal rights are. 

So from our survey we found 34 per cent of respondents felt their daughter needed access to an aide but were ineligible due to funding requirements. And one quote said: 

"My daughter has strong language skills so missed out on funding. She just didn't get funding because she is not outwardly disruptive to other students. But she is imploding internally. Not performing to her potential and I'm concerned on the impact this will have in her teen years and adult life." 

Many school teachers still refuse to make accommodations, modifications or reasonable adjustments to the curriculum or to meet the sensory needs of autistic students on the basis that it's not fair to other students. Schools are minimalising the extent of need, concerns are often dismissed, and there is a lack of preventative support. 

I want to now bring up behaviour management, discipline, and the CPS model. This is a very big topic for our community. Behaviour management and managing behaviour is not trauma informed. We want to draw your attention to the work of New South Wales based disability advocate Louise Kuchel, who is working with Ross Greene to bring the CPS model   Collaborative, Proactive Support was what it stands for   to Australia to replace the currently implemented PBIS model, which stands for Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports which is Australia wide. But we do want to note that this does stem from ABA. 

We strongly endorse Lou's requests that it is time to move beyond the harmful and outdated principles of behaviourism, and towards neurodiversity affirming teaching practices and classroom behaviour support. This would bring students and families improved access to learning and a sense of safety and belonging. 

The emphasis of the CPS model isn't on kids' challenging behaviour, just the manner in which they are expressing the fact that there are expectations that they have difficulty meeting. In the CPS model, the goal is to foster problem-solving collaborative partnerships between adults and children and to engage them. It's non-punitive and non-adversarial. It decreases the likelihood of conflict, enhances relationships, improves communication, and helps children and adults learn and display their skills on a more positive side of human nature. 

It's empathetic and appreciates how one behaviour is affecting others, resolving disagreements in ways that do not involve conflict. So at the conference we heard this amazing quote: 

"You wouldn't consequence a student who was asthmatic who needed to take Ventolin so there shouldn't be penalties for autistic students needing regulation time." 

And that was Rhiannon Lowry who spoke. And another quote from one of our speakers Frances Brennan said: 

"As an autistic health professional, I often think back to my teen years. It's not only the supports I wish I had received but those supports I wish I hadn't. The damage caused by the implementation of behaviour management plans and contracts should not be underestimated. At a time when I needed adults to help me understand a world I was struggling to navigate, I was given a contract to sign stating I would behave appropriately in class, as if my emotional response to my struggles were some commodity to be traded and signed away. 

My difficulties regulating were treated as a choice rather than an expression of my struggles. Whilst staff were developing a plan of how my behaviour should be managed, I was sitting in a classroom wishing I didn't exist. Wondering if the world would be better if I didn't exist. A behaviour management plan focuses on symptoms of an underlying struggle. We owe it to our young people to spend time with them and help them develop skills to succeed, not simply manage the expression of their struggles. We owe it to our students to see them as people, not just as behaviours they display." 

And I thank Frances for that beautiful quote. But we have heard hundreds and it's not an unremarkable story, from a community being subject to disciplinary measures, being punished due to their disability, in direct contravention of human rights legislation. We have heard specifically at Yellow Ladybugs of autistic students being kept in at lunchtime to finish work, when no effort was made by the school teacher to modify or support or give reasonable adjustments to meet their challenges. 

Autistic students being suspended or out on reduced hours for behavioural reasons when underlying causes of their behaviour is their disability and failures of the system to meet their needs. Schools using the IEP process inappropriately to place behavioural expectations on autistic students and failing to engage the autistic student. It just doesn't stop; it's endless. So we call on an action for that and that is one of our recommendations. 

The next thing I think I want to introduce, and it's really important for our autistic girls and gender diverse individuals who do have a more internalised presentation, is participation and restricted access to education. So I want you to think about every student has a right to an education, but many autistic students continue to be the victim of exclusion practices, including subtle exclusions that greatly undermine their right to participate fully in all aspects of their schooling. 

Examples include autistic students being told that they can opt out of extracurricular activities such as school concerts, grade 6 gradation ceremonies when no actual effort has been undertaken to genuinely include or accommodate these students in the activity. Autistic students not being allowed to attend excursions or camps unless their parent accompanies or they learn to "pack up", when that's an executive functioning struggle. 

From our survey, 18 per cent of parents have been unable to access education for their daughter due to suspension, exclusion, or being sent home. 39 per cent have had to change school due to their daughter not having their needs met. One quote was: 

"My daughter is only attending school for half days. This comes after a term of multiple calls each week to pick her up due to distress, absconding. 

So we are getting these phone calls daily and it is making a big difference to their access to education. 

So I'm going to change gears now and I'm going to talk about bullying. And we know this an issue for many, many children. But school bullying policies often fail to meet the specific needs of autistic students, who statistically are higher and likely to experience bullying at school. From our survey, 71 per cent of students have received bullying in some form. 48 per cent were verbally abused, 20 per cent physically, 52 per cent have being socially excluded. 

So particularly for autistic girls and gender diverse individuals, we want you to be aware of the different types of bullying. It can be less obvious for this cohort and often takes a more covert form, hidden out of sight actions, including making up stories to get someone in trouble, spreading rumours, being ignored. Autistic girls and teens have a higher risk of exploitation from peers, making them more vulnerable to manipulation, not understanding their peers' motives and intentions of others. 

And I spoke about this at the previous Royal Commission and the link to mental health and the risk of violence and abuse. Because what this does is it leads many of us to masking or hiding who we are, and this has a massive impact on our mental health. And as I explained earlier, the toll it takes decades to unpack. 

How can we change this? Well, firstly, we need to positively actively promote inclusive attitudes towards neurodivergence through a whole school approach. But actively involve students, staff and parents and their neurodivergent voice. We need teachers to understand how much internalisation occurs for us. Sometimes she may not be able to articulate how she is feeling so it may be seen that she's coping when she's literally not. She may be good at internalising her emotions, but we need teachers to check in more regularly, especially if there is a change in her usual behaviour. 

And at the conference we heard about two really good things   we heard around DBT skills, that is very good for autistic individuals and we heard about intraception. And I know the    government   the Department of Education in South Australia has done a lot of work on this and we encourage all departments across Australia to look at these two areas that will help not only autistic girls, all students. 

Many schools adopt the restorative practice approach to bullying where perhaps she's been involved in an incident and then needs to discuss this with her bullies and needs to express or share her version of events. But this isn't always accessible. It can be traumatic. It can be difficult to remember what to say, and, further, we can get in trouble for interrupting when we want to share our experience. We need lunchtime structured activities such as drama, music, art, reading groups which they can participate in when they are not coping in the schoolyard or need time out from friends. 

We see that autistic girls have low self-esteem and they think that they are being excluded and it's because it's their fault. We need to help her understand that she's not doing anything wrong and that repetitive bullying or exploding behaviour is never her fault. We need to ensure she has a safe person and a place, a teacher, principal or support staff or trusted friend she can access if she is being bullied. There's a lot more I can talk about this, and we've spoken to, as I said, around this so if you do want to look up our previous talks, please do so. 

I'm going to shift gears again and talk about flexible education. Because we want a national approach to providing more flexible options for education for autistic girls and gender diverse students. And home school is one of the options we see our community access, and whilst many parents choose this because it's right for them for a variety of reasons, we know that some of our families are forced into this option as a last resort to protect the interests of their child. 

There are many examples of children particularly who have experienced rapid improvement in mental health because of this. We want to make sure that there's more support for this community. We want more flexible options. And during lockdown, Yellow Ladybugs surveyed our community on the experiences of remote learning and the submission, based on 57 responses, was that it highlighted a lack of specialised support for their child in the classroom. 

The experience put a spotlight on the extent on which the current education system is failing to provide flexibility, particularly those with hidden needs who are being disadvantaged both academically and in terms of their wellbeing and engagement. The survey also highlights that some autistic girls experience less social anxiety and sensory overwhelm in not having to deal with the classroom pressures. Some parents observe that they have been asking for a more flexible home-based approach to education for their child for many years, but it only took a pandemic to receive it. 

The remote learning experience has demonstrated that this type of schooling option is feasible and should be made available going forward. Remote and flexible learning has highlighted the fact that there is not a one size fits all approach when it comes to supporting our students. It has confirmed the need for more flexible and individual needs-based approach. We need to do a lot better at understanding and supporting autistic girls and gender-diverse individuals at school, and this commitment to action needs to occur at a national level. 

I'm nearly finished so thank you for hanging in there with me. It needs to be consistent across all states. I know we do, at Yellow Ladybugs, a lot of work with the Department of Education in Victoria, but we need buy-in from all states. If work is to be developed on a national level, it is critical that autistic input is prioritised throughout the development of the strategy, and that autistic led organisations such as Yellow Ladybugs and many others like us have a seat at the table. 

This representation is needed to ensure that the principle of nothing about us without us lies at the heart and centre of any strategy developed and to ensure that the full diversity of autistic experiences, including marginalised groups such as autistic girls, women, the autistic LGBTIQI plus is represented. Equally   and BIPOC community. Equally critical is that autistic representation includes   sorry, I'm getting really tired and it's my last sentence, but I will say that   

MS EASTMAN: Take your time. 

MS KOULLAS: Equally critical is that the autistic representation continues into strategy, implementation, including policy and program development, and delivery. There's a lot of research about us, but we want more programs to support us. Our recommendation is to fund, involve and partner with organisations like Yellow Ladybugs to implement these stages. We need to see an education system so our community can reach their full potential. 

That is it for me. Thank you so much. I now want to introduce you to our case study, Alexa, who is    

MS EASTMAN: Thank you very much, Katie and Alexa. Are you ready? 

ALEXA: Yes. 

MS EASTMAN: Ready. So, Commissioners, Alexa is going to tell you about her daughter Bridget, and Alexa has looked at our Terms of Reference and wants to speak to the Terms of Reference on the topics of neglect, abuse, and exploitation. So Alexa has prepared some notes and, together, we will work through the material, and, Alexa, if you need a break or a deep breath, just say and we will take it slowly. 

So let's start. Alexa, you wanted to tell the Royal Commission about Bridget and who she is, what she likes doing and then we are going to talk about some of her experiences at school. So over to you. 

ALEXA: Thank you. Yes. About Bridget. I would say she has a hilarious sense of humour. Her number one goal most days is to meet people and talk about life. No topics are off limits. During isolation of ongoing lockdowns, she taught herself how to play guitar. She's proud to be autistic and is intuitively a social justice warrior. Although sometimes delivery can be a bit like a sledgehammer, similar to myself. She loves school and always has. Even when things have been dark in the schooling arena, she would wake up excited to get to school. 

She's not far off 14, and still has not been granted her pen licence. The controversy on pen licences at mainstream schools has been a topic for us off and on over the years. The dogmatic approach of the system that you are only due a pen licence when you can satisfactorily use cursive writing. The pen licence crusaders will say, well, you don't get a driver's licence unless you can drive a car. So stop asking for a freebie. In our opinion this is just another show of othering. 

On some days we roll our eyes together and laugh, and on other days she asks why can't the system be kinder to those that learn and do differently. The system is telling her that she's different and that it's not good enough. So that is one    

MS EASTMAN: So you wanted to start on the first topic of neglect and you wanted to focus on systemic neglect based on some of the experiences that Bridget has had. But also what you've observed generally. So the first topic is the lack of options within public schooling system and needs not being met. What would you like to tell the Royal Commissioners? 

ALEXA: Yes. So, yes, I will take you through, I guess, our journey, which is fairly long, but when we engaged with the education system and started touring schools before prep, most schools in our region had about 60 to 80 prep students in one open plan area. We knew that this would escalate difficulties for our child in a noisy, overcrowded environment. We were always open with leadership when we were looking at schools, about what supports we might need. 

At the time, transitions were tricky, sensory sensitivities, crowded, noisy places and traditional reciprocal play with kids her own age. If she did become distressed it could take a long time for her to recover and she may need adult support. During the recovery phase, she would often need reduced demands and expectation. So we picked a small independent school which offered small classes of about 12 kids, and we were told that they had a more gentle approach to education. 

Part of the curriculum was a small daily meditation which, at the time, we discussed with her daughter and we agreed she might enjoy, and we were focused on the small class sizes. I never thought in a million years this would be our path in alternative typesetting, as some of the alternative philosophies do not appeal to me. We   but we knew that we needed to try and find a smaller class for her. To be clear, we never wanted to change anything about her way of being. We only wanted to help her find a way of settling into the education system. 

Looking at the school   the public school options we had, despite being decent schools, it was terrifying. Our daughter was diagnosed as autistic in prep at age 5 and a half, although her behaviour was not so much internalised, so it was somewhat less difficult to have her assessed and diagnosed. Our paediatrician was very experienced and she suggested the assessment. Support offered at this independent school was almost non-existent after diagnosis. Leadership really refused to engage regarding any disability supports. No formal policies and procedures, as far as I'm aware of, existed at this school. 

We had our own private therapeutic support staff, but we were not allowed to bring them on site. There was no individual learning plan given. Honestly, I don't think they even knew what it was. No meaningful accommodations for school mandated meditation sessions, which were five minutes in the morning and afternoon. Instead, we were advised by leadership that happiness leads to resilience and that my child must be very unhappy if she's unable to cope with the demands of school, and she should meditate more. And advised by school wellness staff to purchase alternative medicines like massage oils for feet and to avoid eating hot foods to help settle down periods of dysregulation. 

She had started to form new friendships and we were hesitant to move her from the school connections. Eventually, our daughter began to wet themselves before meditation, which had never been an issue before. Our psychologist wrote to the school and said that she should have a period of not joining those meditations   which would have been an accommodation, obviously   and that was not allowed. She was allowed to do meditation at home for a period, but it was not to be ongoing. Her distress continued to escalate. 

I asked to meet with the principal and I said, if she cannot participate to your standard in that meditation, what does that mean? And I asked what do you normally do in this situation, given that she's autistic and needs support? And they said they had never come across this before. They advised she could not attend the school if she could not complete the meditation to the required standard in class, in class, silent, as she liked to hum. 

Bridget says that she would ask for extra support for various things and was told to stop being dramatic. Knowing that she was clearly distressed, at the end of term we left the school and, due to the quick transition, we went just to the local school in our zone. 

MS EASTMAN: So just pausing there. You are now going to talk about the first public school that Bridget went to, and you are going to tell the Royal Commissioners that the support offered at the first public school was, from your perspective and experience, pretty poor and you had no funded support at that time. What would you like to tell the Royal Commissioners? 

ALEXA: Yes. So at the first public school, our daughter was quite dysregulated at school and was considered disruptive most days. Some accommodations were allowed, but no real understanding of how to support autistic students. So often, as a parent, you are in a crisis, you are trying to manage your child within the ed   but then you are also educating, you know, the teachers and the staff and it's a lot. So some accommodations were made regarding uniform and schoolyard. 

There was a retreat drawing area. But given her impulsivity, it was almost impossible for her to self direct when she was overwhelmed. We had no funding at that point, so moving schools also meant disrupting peer connections, which leaves a student more vulnerable. She was allowed to attend the office for support, but that meant sitting in the hallway alone. The idea that break times are for social learning and should not involve any staff support is outdated, in my opinion. It doesn't consider the complexities some students face which can build into extreme anxiety and school phobias. 

Some allowances in class were allowed, such as movement breaks on occasion, but despite having the autism diagnosis and ADHD, there was no formal documentation in an ILP. They were open to trying an ILP, but I don't think they really knew what to put in it. So my   as I recall, I don't think anything was ever signed off. 

Absconding from school began, hiding in the yard at bell time when breaks finished. Altercations in the playground increased as kids learned she would react. Punishment based approaches to her behaviours. She had to write apology letters to other students that had sought her out and set her off, which is a common theme in our community. At one point, she was taken to the grade 5 class when she was in grade 1 to apologise in front of the class. 

We were told the new teacher had a tough approach and was great with kids like Bridget. So treating autistic meltdowns and general behaviours as deliberately disobedient is what that means, basically. We left a week into the new year, knowing it would only decline with the new class teacher. You've got to know when to call it, you know. 

So one teacher said directly to my child, "I don't know why you're changing schools. It's not going to help you, changing school." Suggesting that the behaviour was out of control, and no fault of the school. We never said it was any fault of the school. The school tried to support her, but we could see it was simply beyond them. 

MS EASTMAN: So you left that school. You then start a second public school with a specialist autism program. 

ALEXA: Yes. 

MS EASTMAN: And there were funded supports that improved over time. You felt welcome by the leadership, but these programs turned out to be applied behaviour analysis, ABA, and that actually ended up escalating her distressed behaviours over time. So how old was Bridget at this time? 

ALEXA: About 7. Yes. So we sort of did a year and a half at the first independent school, six months at the second school and then   yeah, about grade 2. So she would have been about 7, yes. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. So you want to talk to the Royal Commissioners about these therapies, and you've got quite a bit that you want to say on that. So I will invite you to speak and read to your notes on this issue. Thank you, Alexa. 

ALEXA: Yes. So, obviously, we did a ring around. We found this school. We were told that the program supported autistic students. We didn't want her to not be in education, so we were lucky to get a place. Off we went. We knew nothing much about these programs at the outset. In the end, for our child this type of compliance based therapy, the demand reward cycle, did not have any positive impact for Bridget and, in fact, became quite damaging and continued to compound school based anxiety and her response to flee school. 

On two occasions, she was nearly hit by a bus out the front of the school where she had escaped the school campus and was in flight mode with no ability to grasp risk or danger when in that escalated state. Leadership eventually applied for severe behaviour disorder funding, which was a gruelling process for Bridget, us as a family, and the staff. Often taking four members to complete paperwork over months, ensuring every little deficit was pinpointed and ranked in the hope we were lucky enough to secure funding. 

This type of funding is rarely granted. I noted in Gi's evidence on, I think, Tuesday, they mentioned that these assessments are often dehumanising and we would agree with that. The first application was rejected, and with continued commitment from staff to reassess and seek to list more deficits and a reapplication, we had some funding approved at that point. In our state, an autistic student cannot access funding support under autism alone. There must also be either an intellectual disability, a severe language delay, or what is deemed to be severe behaviour disorder. The label itself is obviously horrendous. This is an autistic child that just needs tailored supports. But at that point, you know, you are like, "Call it what you want. We just need support. Thank you for the funding." 

So throughout school, we had various private therapies to help learn strategies for her to make sense of the world and the demands of life and school, including psychology, occupational therapy, speech pathologists and our paediatrician. Eventually, medications were trialled with specialist support through our regional mental health service, CAMHS. Although the build-up of increased demands at school general trauma of not fitting in anywhere and then the added new medications resulted in a peak of absconding from home and school, extreme risk-taking behaviours, self-harming and suicidal ideation at age 8. 

This finally started to fatigue the school as well at this point. She's not learning anything here in her allocated six hours a week. That was all she could be on site at that point for over a year. Was six hours a week. Two hours for three days. And I had to pick her up then. This all accumulated in my child becoming very unwell and ending up in a mental health crisis at age 8. 

CAMHS were concerned about disassociation, and we were admitted for a four-week impatient stay with one parent always with her on site. This was at the state-wide impatient unit at the Austin for observation, medication, review as well. The paediatric psychiatrist then discussed with us the relevance of pathological demand avoidance, which is recognised in some countries as a specific autism profile. This helped explain to us why compliance based therapies   reward charts is a very basic form   would likely be very difficult for our child and may lead to escalated behaviours rather than supportive measure. 

Instead, we should try to work collaboratively and offer options around demands. Our first night sleeping at CAMHS, I emailed our local specialist school, in the dark, sitting in the dark, and asked if there was a vacancy when we were discharged from hospital. That happened fairly quickly, and we were accepted without   and without the funding already in place by the previous leadership, we wouldn't have been accepted with   I don't know what we would have done. 

MS EASTMAN: Okay. So this is then the next school. So, Alexa, I've got a reminder to slow down for our interpreters. 

ALEXA: Sorry    

MS EASTMAN: So there's   now you've got the next step in Bridget's schooling journey, and she starts to attend a specialist school. So what would you tell the Royal Commission about the specialist school for Bridget? 

ALEXA: So, from the outset, I would say she would not have access to an education at all without this type of placement. Putting aside debates about segregated schools, if a child is going to miss out on education altogether, then there is a need for specialist schools, in my opinion. Knowing that the staff could help work through behaviours with her rather than sending her home built trust that the school and the staff would not give up on her. 

This was her school, and they would not ask her to leave. She found this incredible. She really did. This was the first time that she spoke positively about her learning experience. And it seemed to ignite a fire in her that she realised she was actually able to learn at that point, albeit at that stage she had missed out on years of learning. When advocates say that segregated learning needs to be abolished, it's my opinion that they don't always consider those students that need the safety of a locked gate. 

I realised maybe that pulls into restrictive practices, but gates are not allowed to be locked in a mainstream setting and, for us, my daughter explains if that when you're fighting an invisible obsessive compulsive urges, sometimes to run for a variety of reasons, sometimes she needs the knowledge of knowing that they are secure with a locked gate. This is how my daughter describes them. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Alexa, for talking us through the different schools that Bridget has been involved in. The next topic you want to talk about is some features of the way in which education works for Bridget and what you've seen for other people as well. Can we move to the topic of reduced school hours during formative years, the prep to grade 3, results in ongoing learning disadvantage. So this is picking up on that theme that you've just spoken about, about having missed out on years of learning. What would you like to tell the Royal Commissioners about that? 

ALEXA: Yeah. So I would just say that for all of her formative schooling years, she had restricted access to schooling, which escalated over time, and by grade 2, she was only allowed to do six hours per week. And that went on for about a year, maybe longer. And the only schooling program for autistic students in mainstream school at that stage, I think, yeah, was ABA. I can be corrected on that but I think that's right. And which turned out to be quite detrimental for us and really compounded the feelings of distress, leading to that mental health crisis. 

So, in my opinion, ABA should be replaced with a more modern collaborative approach. Listening to the autistic community on this, both children and adults that have been through the system, should be central. 

MS EASTMAN: And you wanted to also speak about funding for students who are autistic but have an average language   an average language score is limited. What does this mean in terms of how they are assessed? 

ALEXA: Yes, so I would just say, again, putting aside, I guess, the overarching debate about whether there should be specialist schools as part of the structure, access to these schools is severely restricted anyway, so getting that funding   we were lucky that we had leadership that said, "We are going to stand by you and help you with this." Most schools, if you asked for severe behaviour disorder funding, would either say, "What is that" or they would laugh at you and say, "There is no way you are going to get that funding." 

The leadership that took it on for us knew the system and changed our lives, really, by   and knowing that potentially we were going to have to move if things weren't going to work out at that second public school. So, for us, without specialist school setting, our child would not be   have access to education due to the extreme risk taking in the mainstream setting. 

MS EASTMAN: Katie has spoken about your conference for the last few days and that very strong theme of trauma and the importance of a trauma-informed approach. And, Alexa, this is a topic you wanted to talk about, is trauma relating to school exclusion, the lack of community and that sense of belonging. And self harming at school. What would you like to tell the Royal Commissioners about the importance of a trauma-informed approach? 

ALEXA: Yes. So, I mean, I appreciate, you know, staff are already under-resourced and, you know, the pandemic hasn't helped that. So, you know, but as far as trauma-informed approach, understanding where the child is coming from and what they've been through potentially feeding into whatever behaviours they are seeing, I think there needs to be some sort of training or   you know, higher understanding of what some of the kids have been through, and even if   you know, you don't know anyone's story, basically. You don't know what's going on. 

And self-harming within the education setting is really masking and a coping mechanism for a lot of   a lot of people that   a lot of kids that do self-harm. So telling a child to stop or to punish the behaviour with sending them home or the idea of suspension isn't going to have a positive impact. Driving this behaviour underground is more dangerous, in my opinion. Encouraging open dialogue and support for the student is more important. I know it can be confronting for the school staff, and there needs to be proper training, potentially a mental health officer   I'm not sure. 

But self harming is a fairly significant issue for our community. And it's distressing and people look the other way. They don't really know what to do   as far as school, yeah, addressing it   when it's happening at school is very, very difficult for staff. So treating this behaviour as deliberate is a huge area of concern for us. A distressed child is not deliberately trying to upset anyone and is not attention seeking. 

Understanding meltdowns and shutdowns and self-harming behaviours fall into the realm of having a panic attack. And many students like Bridget end up in mental health crisis, and self-harming can be an extreme form of self-regulation. Providing alternatives for her and ensuring the student knows they are supported and that they are not in trouble is important. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. Thank you. So we now want to turn to the topic of abuse, and some of the matters that you are going to talk about now are quite confronting. And you've, through Bridget's experience, had a number of experiences that you look at as a form of abuse. The first one you want to speak about is the use of unreasonable restraint and the use of force in relation to children. What would you like to tell the Royal Commission? 

ALEXA: Yes. On   well, on one occasion when she was in meltdown, two program staff   not teaching staff, not educators   but on site, on campus, pushed my child to the ground and pinned her to the floor from behind. Two adult staff members in an equipment room where she had been separated from other students and staff during a meltdown. During that incident, she was pushed face first to the ground and hit her head with some force, enough for her to say that her face hurt the next day. 

She was   this was reported to school leadership. So she told me; I told leadership. It was taken seriously and was dealt with swiftly and to our satisfaction. In that instance, open and direct communication in the follow up was important to the situation. School leadership being accountable and not attempting to cover up anything and not attempting to blame the child at all is a huge part of maintaining trust within the school setting. 

Listening to the child involved, letting them know that they are believed and this is not acceptable and that it's not their fault at all. They should be safe at school. Staff dealt with it accordingly, and school processes were improved to reduce the chances of a repeat issue. But it's something that, you know, you don't forget when you send your kid off to school every day. And I   it's   yeah. Other reports within the community of similar things. Unfortunately, it happens. 

MS EASTMAN: Next topic you want to talk about is the experience of girls and sexual harassment by their peer male peers. What would you like to tell the Royal Commission about sexual harassment? 

ALEXA: Yes. So I would   gender imbalance at some specialist school, some autism specific schools have about 80 per cent male enrolments. This is not accounting for any gender diversity within this cohort of students, which it should account for gender diversity, but this sets the tone. 80 per cent males, and in a high school setting where they are teenagers, the female or gender diverse students are often   well, are the minority and there might be one   one kid in the class and the rest is teenage boys. 

Sexual harassment with graphic sexualised language and objectification of females by male peers can form toxic ideas of friendship and relationships and have life long effects. And I would   yeah, this is one of our biggest concerns at the moment, in that, yeah, there will be sexually explicit and violent   sexually violent language used probably most days   yeah, I would say. And it's just full on, to be honest. 

So she loves going to school. It's the only option that we've got, that's for sure. We feel supported. But it is a fact of her day that   and this can lead to episodes also of physical violence, whether   if one of the older student   male students is having a meltdown themselves or challenging behaviours, she   you know, she could be kicked or hit with a chair. Those sorts of things. As much as   it's contained as much as it can be by the school. 

It can flare up and, again, it's something that's on her mind when she goes to school every day. She   that she's more vulnerable as a female student. And after years of discussion and asking, I'm pleased to say the education programs around consent and healthy relationships has now begun at the school. But, yeah, I am   

MS EASTMAN: I think you've said this is a really big concern. She's now almost 14, and you are concerned, as she becomes a young woman, how does she manage the sexual harassment at school and does she have the tools to be able to deal with that. Is that right? 

ALEXA: Yes. That's right. And, to be clear, I mean, the language is pretty horrific. It's not   I mean, I realise on any level it's obviously bad, but I don't want her to think that that is just acceptable, that, "Oh, well, they didn't mean it." It needs to be mirrored by, obviously, the staff about not only is it not okay but why the language is not okay. Not just   you know, it's not just swearing. You know. And it has a bigger impact on a young, vulnerable teenage girl, young woman and, yeah, we're   it's a huge area of concern for us. 

MS EASTMAN: Okay. The next was punishment-based responses to autistic behaviours. And you've, you know, addressed this as we have spoken through. But there is one particular point you wanted to make here about public shaming. 

ALEXA: Yeah, yes. I would just say   so off and on over the years, you know, if there is meltdown, shutdowns or stimming when a child is trying to self regulate, that   their natural autistic behaviours whilst learning, that public shaming and punishment for those behaviours needs to change. It's just so outdated. But, yeah, I mean, I would say it probably goes on in most schools. But now is the time to, I think, really start to accept the broader community and how that may present if a child is nervous or worried about a certain thing or simply   or happy. Stimming   it's not hurting anyone. I don't   I don't know why it's, you know, "Stop, sit still. Hands to yourself." That sort of thing. 

MS EASTMAN: So the third topic is exploitation. And I   can I just cover the topics that you've raised in that first paragraph, saying that: 

"Often students do not have their needs met within the mainstream schooling system and are pushed to consider other schooling options, including Catholic schools, private schools, and other independent schools. Regulation of these schools is somewhat less than the public mainstream schools ..." 

From your personal experience: 

"... and this can open up a vulnerable group of families and students to exploitation on various levels. This can be damaging but it is often built on the fear of the child being excluded from school entirely." 

And you wanted to make some recommendations based on your reflections of Bridget's schooling journey so far. 

ALEXA: Yes. 

MS EASTMAN: Concerns about her into the future. And what would you like to tell the Royal Commissioners about your recommendations? 

ALEXA: Yes. So I just think there needs to be consideration of more flexible options in delivering education to this cohort of students, and also around the curriculum and actually just in general. If you look at   our community tells us there's a Future Schools Alliance, which is a couple of schools that I know of, offer generally more flexible   less demands, less expectations, more interest-based programs, whether that be animals or sewing or whatever it is that the child   children might be into. That helps engage children with their learning, if it's special interest based. 

I realise, you know, maybe that can't be done at every school, but there should be an increase   if the feedback is those schools are working, then I don't understand why, I guess, there's not more of those schools. And, you know, the way that my child learns   and I've been into the classroom during education week, a week or so ago. It's six desks, six large desks in one classroom, and, you know, the teacher is close up. There's no clutter, there's no noise, there's no   there's not too many people. 

I don't know how you can   how you can create that environment in the current mainstream setting. So if you are to remove specialist schools where this is the schooling that the child is getting, then I don't know, do you look to other   they have other classrooms but then it's still segregated. It's still "them and us", those classrooms. So I don't   I don't know what the answer is, but it's   the other thing, also, is the schoolyard. In a mainstream setting, my daughter describes a schoolyard as just unbearable to navigate. Despite her   

MS EASTMAN: So jumping in there, just taking you down to   you often speak to Bridget about how she feels going to school and beyond. What has she told you? 

ALEXA: Yes. Well, she is resolute that she would not feel safe anywhere but a specialist school. They're her words. But that she hopes there will be more options available to students in the future. Currently, there are limited options to socialise outside of class with peers. Community based excursions help but this is not building long term friendships or support networks. Engaging with Yellow Ladybugs has helped to fill this need. 

Building ongoing confidence, support and positive friendships regardless of school changes, Yellow Ladybugs has helped always be a supportive environment that welcomes differences, and helps to build a positive autistic identity. This is literally the only group or activity that has helped our child to build and maintain peer connections and a sense of value in the community setting throughout the turmoil of school changes. 

She also just began going to minus 18 events which supports LGBTQIA plus young people, and this is her first experience of a supportive successful socialising in a non-segregated setting where she is immersed in the general minus 18 community and not only her autistic peers. We do have concerns for her wellbeing once formal school ends. As Gi has described in their evidence, it was like falling off a cliff. I can see that this could be the case for many young people that are somewhat cocooned in the specialist setting. 

Our child sees school as everything. The most form of social connections and routine. Gi mentioned how important it is that young people hang out together, the community of young people in all their diversity. Sometimes across school settings. Dual enrolments between schools are generally discouraged due to mixed routines and having to split funding and, in my opinion, this limits community exposure for students in the specialist setting where they could build peer connections rather than just having offsite excursions in the curriculum. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Alexa. And Bridget has done a drawing that she wanted to contribute as part of this hearing, but before we show the drawing to the Commissioners, Katie, can I come back to you. And you've prepared some slides for the Royal Commission which reflect some comments from your members. Do you want to tell the Royal Commissioner about the slides and then we will play the slides. 

MS KOULLAS: Yeah, thank you, and thank you, Alexa. We asked our community this year to send us   current students and past students, what message they wanted to send to the community regarding their education. And what the profound messages back was the internalised and hidden experiences and the profound impact it's having and had on their life. And it's very moving and powerful, and I hope that everyone can share it because every teacher, parent or anyone in a decision making setting needs to watch it. So thank you. 

(Yellow Ladybugs slide presentation plays)

SPEAKER:   I wish my teacher knew directly from autistic girls, women and gender diverse students past and present. 

I wish my teacher knew how good I am at masking. 

I wish my teacher knew that I was trying so hard it hurt. 

I wish my teacher knew that just because I'm quiet and well behaved, that doesn't mean I'm okay and not dying on the inside. 

I wish my teacher knew how much I was struggling, and that their quiet dux was secretly drowning.

I wish my teacher knew how unsafe school was for me and how much more I could have achieved if I had felt safe. 

I wish my teacher knew that I don't always know what's wrong and how long it will be until I'm ready. 

I wish you could show a visual demonstration because when you verbally tell me what to do, it makes no sense. 

I wish my teacher knew I take longer than others to learn new skills. Please be patient with me, I don't work well under pressure. 

That every sound and movement was an assault on my senses and sent me spinning into fight, flight, shut down. I couldn't learn in that environment. 

I wish my teacher knew that I didn't get the handbook. I felt and said and did everything in chaos, and when you told me nobody loved me, I believed you. 

When I'm being chatty and disruptive, it's because I'm distracted and dysregulated. Not because I'm a mischief maker, attention seeking or intentionally naughty. 

I wish my teacher knew I was being who I thought she wanted me to be. 

I wish my teacher knew I had no friends. 

I wish my teacher knew how lonely I was. I had no friends. 

I wish my teacher knew how much energy it takes just to show up. 

I wish my teacher knew that I know the right answer, but sometimes my brain doesn't cooperate with my mouth. 

I wish my teacher knew just because I'm quiet, I have an IQ of 138, and I read very well, I still struggle to complete assignments after eight hours in school. 

I wish my teacher knew that when she made me stand in a corner until I explained why I was rude, I had no idea what I had said that was wrong. Then I got a desk around the corner from everyone behind a filing cabinet for the rest of the year for my crimes. 

I wish my teacher knew that my struggle to speak or make eye contact was more than just shyness. I wish my teacher knew that I was autistic. 

Isolating me from my peers would not force me in her box. 

I wish my teacher knew that bullying a little kid would create a life long trauma. 

I internalised the shame about my inability to self-regulate and be more normal in front of my peers. It wasn't a choice. 

I wish my teacher knew I was happy sitting alone during class time and I actually learnt better this way. 

I wish my teachers knew I'm not trying to be difficult; I'm trying to survive in a world built against me. 

I wish my teachers knew that I can't fix my slow processing or writing speed with practice. 

I wish my teacher knew how hard it was for me to stand in front of the whole class to answer questions or do presentations. 

I wish my teacher knew I needed real life connection to the learning. 

I wish my teacher knew that punishing me makes me feel worse about myself. 

I wish my teacher knew how desperately I wanted to be chosen for things. My arm ached from stretching my hand up so high. 

I wish my teacher knew that me not speaking didn't mean I had nothing to say. I wish my teacher knew I want to but sometimes I just can't. I'm not deliberately trying to disobey you. 

I wish my teacher knew that I took the hall duty job to stay inside and away from social situations. 

I wish my teacher knew that everyone thinks I'm annoying. 

I wish my teacher knew how much her support not only changed my life but saved it. I wish my teacher knew that she was my only friend and I will always remember her. 

Thank you to all the wonderful teachers who make a positive difference in our lives.
(Yellow Ladybugs slide presentation ends)

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Katie, for those slides. And I think the last words go to Bridget. And Bridget has prepared the following drawing for the Royal Commission, and so I will just put that up, and I will read. So you can see on the drawing Bridget has drawn a heart with two sides: 

"This side represents all of the anger I had built up. All of the things I didn't know about myself." 

On the other side you will see there is friendship, a love heart, music, I assume that's a yellow ladybug. 


MS EASTMAN: And a teddy: 

"This side represents all the things I have gained from the school I go to now and Yellow Ladybugs. All of the friends I've made and all of the things I've learnt about myself." 

Thank you, Bridget. Thank you, Alexa. Thank you, Katie. I know you've had a very big week, and I'm just going to ask the Commissioners if they've got any further questions they would like to ask you. 

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you, Katie. And thank you, Alexa. I will just ask Commissioner Galbally, who's in Melbourne, whether she has any questions for you. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you, both, very much for that evidence. And, no, I have no questions. Thank you so much. 

CHAIR: Commissioner Mason? 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Yes, I would also like to thank you, Katie and Alexa. And also Bridget for just powerful evidence today. That slide   is it going to be made available? 

MS KOULLAS: Yes, it's currently on our socials and on YouTube because, like I said, we would like every single person that can to watch it. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Yes, thank you so much. No questions, Chair. 

CHAIR: Thank you, Katie. Thank you, Alexa, and thank you, Alexa, particularly for telling us about Bridget and for allowing us to see Bridget's artwork. And that slideshow, as Commissioner Mason said, is very powerful. The children who contributed to that, where did they   where do they come from? 

MS KOULLAS: So the people who contributed that are all from our community. So we have got a strong reach online and our members. So it's either past students who access Yellow Ladybugs or current students. 

CHAIR: Yes. Well, thank you so much, and I think, like Commissioner Mason and Commissioner Galbally, we would certainly encourage you to distribute that as widely as you can. Thank you so much for giving evidence today. We very much appreciate it. Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners. That takes us now to an earlier lunch adjournment than we have had on previous days. So if we could adjourn now and return at 1.15. 

CHAIR: 1.15. Yes. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you. 

CHAIR: We will adjourn until 1.15. Thank you. 

MS KOULLAS: Thank you. Thanks for all your support. 


 <RESUMED 1:15 PM 

CHAIR: Yes, where are we? I will get myself organised here. Okay. Yes, Ms Dowsett. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Commissioner, the next witness will be Mr Peter De Natris, Strategic Advisor Early Childhood Intervention and Autism, National Disability Insurance Agency. 

CHAIR: Mr De Natris, thank you for coming to the Royal Commission today to give evidence. We appreciate your attendance, your assistance, including the statement that you've provided. If you will be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, she will administer the affirmation to you.


CHAIR: Thank you, Mr De Natris. Now Ms Dowsett will ask you some questions.


MS DOWSETT: Mr De Natris, you have prepared a statement for the purposes of this Royal Commission? 


MS DOWSETT: And that's dated 31 May 2022. 


MS DOWSETT: And also a corrigendum to that statement dated 6 June 2022. 


MS DOWSETT: Have you had an opportunity to read your statement in preparation for giving evidence today? 


MS DOWSETT: Are there any corrections, alterations or additions you would like to make? 


MS DOWSETT: Commissioners, you will find Mr De Natris' statement at Bundle F, tab 1 and the corrigendum at tab 1A. Now, in introducing you, Mr De Natris, I gave you a title as Strategic Advisor Early Childhood Intervention and Autism, and you have been in that position since January 2017. 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And is it fair to say, in summary, that your background is in early childhood intervention? 


MS DOWSETT: You seemed to hesitate there. Is there something you would like to add? 

MR DE NATRIS: I have a broad background in disability that would cover what I would call the earlier years through to sort of the   sort of the early adult years, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you. You would   have you been following this hearing? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, I have. 

MS DOWSETT: And so you would have heard Ms Eastman in opening on Monday talk about the three themes that we in particular wish to examine in your evidence today? 


MS DOWSETT: So I'm going to leap straight into the first issue, if that's convenient for the Commissioners. And that is the question of what constitutes a reasonable and necessary support. Now, you've said in your statement that the NDIA's functions are governed by the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act. That's correct? 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And also by rules made under that Act. 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And those functions include delivering the National Disability Insurance Scheme? 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And if I just call it NDIS, you will know what I mean? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, I will. 

MS DOWSETT: And part of the functions of delivering the NDIS include deciding what supports will be in a statement of participant supports? 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And the statutory requirements around that decision are set out in section 34 of the relevant Act? 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And they include, in paragraph F, you have to consider whether the support is most appropriately funded or provided by the NDIS and is not more appropriately funded or provided by another system as part of a universal obligation or in accordance with reasonable adjustments required under a law dealing with disability discrimination. 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And there are particular rules, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Support for Participants Rules, which deal with this concept of the assessment and determination of what supports will be funded. 


MS DOWSETT: And you've also mentioned in your statement   and we heard reference in some evidence earlier this week   to the APTOS, the Applied Principles and Tables of Support. 


MS DOWSETT: Could you please explain to the Commission what APTOS, in summary? 

MR DE NATRIS: In summary, the APTOS serves the purpose of explaining to all relevant parties what is funded or considered as a responsibility of a mainstream service and what   and how that would interface with reasonable and necessary supports. It does that by stating the types of   types of outcomes or the types of inputs that would be required, and it's enshrined in principles that talk very strongly to the concepts of collaboration, both at a system and at a practice level. 

MS DOWSETT: And so there are six general principles in APTOS, and then there are 11 specific service areas. Is that a correct way to understand it? 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: And those service areas include early childhood development? 


MS DOWSETT: School education. 


MS DOWSETT: And higher education and vocational education and training. Or VET. 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: And within those 11 specific service areas, there are   the tables provide indicative roles for the NDIS. 


MS DOWSETT: And for other parties. 


MS DOWSETT: And so in relation to education, the other party would be the school education system? 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: The state or territory bodies. 


MS DOWSETT: And consistent with the statutory test that we spoke about earlier, these tables make reference to reasonable and necessary supports being things that are additional to reasonable adjustments required under disability legislation. 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. They are described in a way to move the   remove the barriers, if you like, for that young person in the learning environment beyond reasonable adjustment. 

MS DOWSETT: We asked you some questions which you responded to in providing your statement about training for decision makers. And we didn't specifically ask about training on the reasonable and necessary support decision, but as I understand it, that process is covered in what you've described as the Planning Essentials training? 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And there are also targeted training modules, practice guidance, operational guidelines and relevant legislation that would guide the reasonable and necessary supports decision making?


MS DOWSETT: Can you   are you able to explain to the Royal Commission how, in summary, that training addresses reasonable adjustments required under a law dealing with disability discrimination? What decision makers are told about what is a reasonable adjustment? 

MR DE NATRIS: With all of the guidance material as outlined in my statement, decision makers or delegates, as we call them, receive guidance around individual circumstance. That is consistent with the APTOS and the principles of reasonable and necessary as outlined in the rules and section 34. They are supported to do that in the context of a person's goals and the discussions they would have with the participant and the participant's family in the context of how that would support the goals taking into, taking into account what is the role of, in this case, education versus what is the role of reasonable and necessary in that. 

MS DOWSETT: You did mention in footnote 2 in your statement   you've cited the Disability Standards for Education as the source of the definition for a reasonable adjustment. Do you see that in your statement? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. Yes. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: You also   sorry, I should have dealt with this earlier. You indicate in paragraph 7 of your statement that it was prepared with assistance of lawyers and officers in the NDIA. Can I just ask, how much of the statement did you prepare and how much was prepared for you? 

MR DE NATRIS: I was fully involved in the preparation of it. There was drafting that would have been done for me and I would have read through that, checked it for its accuracy and my understanding of it being   it being a representative of my understanding of it. 

MS DOWSETT: Why did you select the Disability Standards for Education as the source of the definition of reasonable adjustment? 

MR DE NATRIS: The Disability Standards enshrine   enshrine that all of the aspects that you would consider as reasonable adjustment as a starting point. And you would consider them as a base   a base guidance to go to. 

MS DOWSETT: You didn't cite the Disability Discrimination Act definition? 

MR DE NATRIS: No, I didn't. 

MS DOWSETT: Is there a reason for that? 

MR DE NATRIS: No, there's no reason for it. I felt the Disability Discrimination Act was assumed. So it may be a shortcoming. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: And isn't the same true of state and territory discrimination legislation? 


MS DOWSETT: And the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, which refers to reasonable accommodation rather than reasonable adjustment. 

MR DE NATRIS: Adjustment, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: So the training that we spoke of a little earlier, the Planning Essentials training, delegates who undertake that training, are they trained in the Disability Standards for Education? 

MR DE NATRIS: They are made aware of the standards. 

MS DOWSETT: And that   does that include being made aware of that definition of reasonable adjustment? 

MR DE NATRIS: I would imagine so, but I would need to check. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: In your answers to questions 4 and 5, which you've addressed in the statement beginning on page 8 at paragraph 34, you were asked a series of questions about the nature and extent of funding provided to an NDIS participant attending early childhood education and care   referred to as ECEC   primary school, secondary school, special schools or SSPs. Do you see that there? 


MS DOWSETT: And just for the record, SSP, Schools for Specific Purposes? Is that correct? 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Now, I would like to just   if I could direct your attention to paragraph 45, and just step through briefly what it is that NDIS does fund, doesn't fund or may fund. And so we see in paragraph   in fact, the heading to paragraph 45 is Specialist School Transport. 


MS DOWSETT: Now, the question that you were responding to was about travelling to and from school. 


MS DOWSETT: So just to be clear, it's the transport that's specialist, not the school that's specialist in this answer. Is that correct? 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And you say in 45 that the NDIS may fund specialist school transport and you mention this again in paragraph 62, if I can just jump to the end. I will come back to the bit in the middle. And you mention it here in the context of "in-kind support". 


MS DOWSETT: And as I understand this paragraph, in-kind support is something that the state provides that would otherwise be funded by the NDIS. 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And so the NDIS pays the state for this service, and it doesn't come out of the individual participant's budget. 


MS DOWSETT: Did you have an opportunity to hear the evidence of Mary Sayers on Wednesday? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. I did. 

MS DOWSETT: And you may recall that Ms Sayers referred to perverse incentives for segregated schools, and she gave transport as an example. Do you recall that? 


MS DOWSETT: What she said was that education jurisdictions will pay for transport to special schools but not to mainstream schools. And if the NDIS doesn't fund the transport, you're left in a situation where if you go to a special school, you get transport; if you go to a mainstream school, you don't. Is that correct? That if you are an NDIS participant who goes to a mainstream school, you don't get funded for transport? Or are there circumstances in which you may? 

MR DE NATRIS: There are circumstances in which you may. 

MS DOWSETT: And are you able to provide generally what those circumstances would be? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, where school transport is required that isn't in kind, that would be considered on a case by case basis. There are instances of reasonable and necessary decision making where the in-kind arrangements don't cover emerging new arrangements, and those   in those instances the delegate would consider the circumstances of that individual and their   the choice they have made in schooling. 

MS DOWSETT: And how is it that the delegate becomes aware of what is provided in kind? Is the parent of the participant applicant to tell you that? Do you get it from the state? Where does the information come from? 

MR DE NATRIS: No, the information would come from the family themselves. Yes. 

CHAIR: I don't quite understand the significance of in kind in this context. Are you suggesting that there are in kind arrangements, for example, with Western Australia that enable the state to provide funding for transport to mainstream schools and that in turn meant, for that, the state gets compensation from the Commonwealth?  Is that what you are talking about? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, Chair. The in-kind arrangements were put in place in recognition that   

CHAIR: Yes, no, I understand the notion of in kind arrangements. I'm just trying to work out why there's something special about in kind arrangements as far as transport to mainstream schools is concerned. 

MR DE NATRIS: I think they are historical anomalies rather than any specified difference in why they would or they wouldn't. 

CHAIR: Can we take a step back and can you explain to me, at least, how it works as far as in-kind arrangements for transport to mainstream schools. In which states does this operate, for example? 

MR DE NATRIS: It operates in all states, Chair. But there are individual cases where the arrangements may not be sufficient or cover the unique circumstances of an individual. They were a historical funding methodology rather than a contemporary one. 

CHAIR: Yes, maybe I'm slow today. But I'm still not clear. With in-kind arrangements operating in all states, are those arrangements   do those arrangements provide transport for all children with disability going to mainstream schools? For some? Is it a matter for the state to determine? How does this work? 

MR DE NATRIS: It would be in all instances, you would hope. There's some instances where it has become apparent that the transport is unique to that family circumstance. 

CHAIR: I'm still trying to work out whether children with disability who go to mainstream schools   let's say in New South Wales   will they be paid to be transported from home to school and, if so, what are the criteria for that entitlement to arise? If you don't know   

MR DE NATRIS: I would have to take that on notice. 

CHAIR: All right. 

MR DE NATRIS: It's very rare, though. 

CHAIR: What's rare? 

MR DE NATRIS: That the in kind arrangement wouldn't cover the transport to school. 

CHAIR: That doesn't appear to be what we've heard, but maybe Ms Dowsett is about to clarify. 

MS DOWSETT: I wonder, Chair, if perhaps you and Mr De Natris were speaking at cross purposes, and perhaps, Mr De Natris, correct me if I'm wrong, but you're referring to State Governments providing transport to school and the   that does include mainstream schools, but the issue is whether there is specialist transport. So if the child can   the child with disability can get on the bus, then there's no specialist transport. 

But it's the specialist transport, as I understood Ms Sayers evidence. She was saying, well, the states provide that to special schools or segregated schools, but they don't provide specialist transport to mainstream schools. And that was what the Chair, as I understood he was asking you about, but you were answering a different question. 

CHAIR: Very good. That clarifies it. Thank you. 

MR DE NATRIS: That is correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Excellent. 

CHAIR: Excellent. We are all on common ground. 

MS DOWSETT: So back to your statement, if I can. Paragraph 46. You've indicated NDIS does not provide funding for uniforms. It may provide funding for personal care supports. And this is another of those arrangements we see in paragraph 62 which is an in-kind support. 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And so, again, like the transport example, it's provided by the state. So through the school. 


MS DOWSETT: It doesn't come out of the participant's funding. 

MR DE NATRIS: It's stated as an in kind arrangement within the plan. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes. But the participant doesn't need to effectively pay for it; it's noted in the plan. 


MS DOWSETT: The participant has no choice over who provides that in-kind support? 


MS DOWSETT: It's just whoever is providing it at the school? 

MR DE NATRIS: It's an arrangement that's made with the school. 

MS DOWSETT: And if the participant or their parent has any issues in respect of that, the NDIA says please take those up with the school. At least at first instance. 

MR DE NATRIS: At first instance, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: And after that, who would they take that issue up with? 

MR DE NATRIS: If they were dissatisfied or had some level of concern, the NDIA would support them to raise that up through the educational systems' mechanisms. We may provide additional support to do that, whether that be through support coordination or local area coordination. And in some instances, they may be assisted to access advocacy on behalf of their child, in relation to their concern. 

MS DOWSETT: Are there any circumstances of which you are aware that where a participant could exercise choice and control over who is providing their personal care at school? 

MR DE NATRIS: Not to my knowledge. 

MS DOWSETT: So back to the statement, paragraph 48, the NDIS does not provide funding for modification to school curriculum. 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: It doesn't provide funding for excursions and activities outside of school? 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: If you were somebody who was receiving NDIS funding for specialist school transport   so leave aside the in kind examples, but you were one of those examples of getting NDIS funding for specialist school transport, could that be used for education? Sorry, excursions? 

MR DE NATRIS: Sorry, could you ask the question again?

MS DOWSETT: If you are a person, a participant, who receives NDIS funding for specialist school transport, could that funding also cover school excursions? Transport to the excursion? 


MS DOWSETT: So although you've written here that you do not fund school excursions within school hours, there may be exceptions to that? 


MS DOWSETT: NDIS doesn't fund additional coaching and homework? 


MS DOWSETT: It doesn't fund school fees?


MS DOWSETT: It may fund aides and equipment at the school? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, if it's personalised. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. And you've added in   you've stated in paragraph 53, hearing aids, wheelchairs, personal communication devices. 


MS DOWSETT: And so that would include things like iPads that may be needed for communication? 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And the cost of apps to use on the iPad? 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: NDIS doesn't provide funding for after school or before school care? Paragraph 55. 


MS DOWSETT: But you can have plan funding for capacity building activities outside of school hours? 

MR DE NATRIS: That's right. 

MS DOWSETT: And you note that that may be used instead of before or after school care. 

MR DE NATRIS: Care, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Now, in respect of the next paragraph, paragraph 57, which is participation in school sport and physical activity, you state that it is the responsibility of the education system to make reasonable adjustments in this area. Do we take it from that paragraph that the short answer is NDIS does not fund these activities? 

MR DE NATRIS: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Moving, then, to work experience. You've stated that it's the responsibility of school curriculum to provide it? 


MS DOWSETT: But if the participant needs extra support to do the work experience, that can be funded. 

MR DE NATRIS: That's right. 

MS DOWSETT: Could that extra support be transport to the work experience site? 


MS DOWSETT: Because we heard from Ms McAlpine on Wednesday, she spoke about the reasons why work experience   I think she referenced in particular grade 10 work experience   sometimes fails. And she gave two reasons. She said an inability to organise one on one support and the transport issue of getting there. So I would just like to have a little bit of a focus on those. 


MS DOWSETT: The transport, you're saying that that can be provided? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, if it's reasonable and necessary and it provides   it provides for the work experience. That is a barrier to being able to access the curriculum, and that would be considered a reasonable and necessary from a point of view that that would be a type of transport that is stopping the educational experience. 

MS DOWSETT: And what about the provision of one on one support for the student during that work experience period? Let's say it's a week. The teacher has got maybe 20 children in their class who are all doing work experience in various places. The teacher can't be getting around all 20 of them to provide the support that they might provide when the 20 are in the classroom. You would accept that's fair? 


MS DOWSETT: And so in that circumstance, could it be a reasonable and necessary support for the work experience person to   student participating in work experience to be provided with one on one support for that week of work experience? 

MR DE NATRIS: If that one on one support was due to the functional impact of their permanent impairment and was a blockage to them accessing the curriculum, it could be considered, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: It could be considered? 


MS DOWSETT: And presumably the participant or their family would need to provide some kind of evidence to support this request? 


MS DOWSETT: And that   that may be to say   to provide why it is that the functional impairment exists? 


MS DOWSETT: And if they were able to do that, then there would be no legislative impediment to the plan including that funding? 

MR DE NATRIS: That's right. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Moving on to school-based traineeships, paragraph 60. The NDIS will not provide funding for supports that are the responsibility of the employer, the school or the traineeship provider. That's correct? 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And you do say that if there are extra disability-related supports, they may be provided. 


MS DOWSETT: And so similarly to what we've just discussed in relation to work experience. 

MR DE NATRIS: Experience, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: If there's a need there, it   it may be able to be met? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. The reasonable and necessary consideration is in the context of the impact of that person's impairment. 

MS DOWSETT: And we will come back to this idea of work experience and work exploration in a bit, but I just want to finish off this list. So, paragraph 61, you refer to   well, were you asked about training for teachers and you refer in your answer to the APTOS. And it outlines that other parties are responsible for the provision   for providing general support, resources, training and awareness building for teachers and support staff. But, again, the fund may include that if there's some aid or equipment that the teacher needs training in. 


MS DOWSETT: And so if there's the iPad, we spoke about earlier, that's been provided and there's the communication app that the child is using, could the plan include funding to teach the teacher how to support the participant using that? 


MS DOWSETT: And then we finish off with in-kind supports, and the two are the example   two examples you cite are the ones we have already spoken about: Personal care in schools and specialist school transport. In his evidence yesterday, Mr Percival appeared to indicate that there is some provision of therapy   allied health professionals, speech therapists and the like, in Western Australia that he seemed to be describing as an in-kind support. So it's something provided by the school but, really, he was saying, it was an NDIS responsibility. Did you hear that evidence? 


MS DOWSETT: And are you able to comment on that? Is that correct, that in Western Australia they provide in kind allied health support on behalf of the NDIS? 

MR DE NATRIS: Look, I couldn't comment. It's not   I'm not aware of it and it would be highly unusual. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: I want to move now to the second topic and direct your attention to paragraph 29 of your statement. And you say in paragraph 29: 

"The NDIS and the school education system work closely together at the local level to plan and coordinate streamlined services for individuals requiring both school education and disability services, recognising that both inputs may be required at the same time or that there is a need to ensure a smooth transition from one to the other or across service systems." 

I would like to ask you, how does the NDIS do that? What do you do? 

MR DE NATRIS: The NDIS   so that's taken directly out of the APTOS. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes, I recognised it. 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. And the NDIS is   in its best practice guidance and in its construct seeks to work with other systems as a team around that individual. When you're providing capacity building supports through therapies or other types of services that are developmental, it's important that those strategies are consistent across all parts of the young person's life and that those specialists are working as a team around that individual. 

The NDIS promotes that as its best practice and its preferred model. It works with other systems to ensure that that collaboration, wherever possible, is reached. It also recognises that within the interface with the school system, there are some limitations because of the autonomy of schools. Families in those instances are supported through support coordination or local area coordination to make those services as streamlined as possible so that they collaborate. 

MS DOWSETT: You might recall Ms Langcake's evidence when she described Mitch's experience as being in a silo, where school didn't connect to other parts of his life. But she said the experience of Mitch's younger sibling is different. There's collaboration and team work. And she spoke about everyone being on the bus. Is that an example of what you hope best practice would achieve, the everyone on the bus? 

MR DE NATRIS: The premise   the NDIA would support the premise of Ms Langcake's   the underlying premise of Ms Langcake's evidence. When collaboration is reached to a level where everyone, as she put it, is on the same bus, consistency in the young person's learning environment, along with all other environments   at home, in recreation; whatever it may be   would be optimised. And that's quite clear in the evidence and research around what works best for young people with additional needs. 

MS DOWSETT: In his evidence yesterday, Mr Percival spoke about   spoke positively about the idea of allied health professionals being involved in the transition conversation. So in particular in enrolment conversations. But   and he observed that it's a great opportunity but it might occur   it's less likely to occur in the NDIS context because of the financial impost. Do you recall that evidence? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, I do. 

MS DOWSETT: In the planning decision, can funding be allocated for the allied health professional to attend those kinds of transition meetings so that the parent is not faced with a choice between an hour of therapy and an hour of being in a meeting? That the meeting is separately provided for? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. It can. Although we would   we would express that in a plan in the terms of goals, and those goals would identify that a transition   a transition was to be supported. Whether it was explicitly outlined that one hour of direct therapy versus one hour of transition meetings, it's more expressed as capacity building supports. In the implementation of that plan, though, the guidance, the NDIA would give through plan implementation would indicate that that is better practice, that   and it's encouraged that that type of activity take place. 

MS DOWSETT: So if a participant's plan included speech pathologies, would it be common to see that expressed as a number of hours per week of therapy or a total number of   

MR DE NATRIS: A total number, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. And so would you see a separate entry somewhere, whether in a goal or in the funding part of the plan, that had that total number of hours and a total number of meetings or non face to face   so not therapy with a child, but attending these meetings. 

MR DE NATRIS: The more detailed plan would be the plan that the provider or the speech therapist would have with the family and that would be expressed in that, if that was   if that was the sort of agreed approach. 

MS DOWSETT: Sure. In her evidence Mary Sayers said: 

"The NDIS has no overarching policy that will encourage participants to pursue inclusive education." 

Firstly, do you agree that that's accurate, that there is no policy to encourage participants to pursue inclusive education? 

MR DE NATRIS: No. I do not agree with her.


CHAIR: Are you agreeing or are you disagreeing? You said no. 

MR DE NATRIS: There's no overarching policy? No, there's no overarching policy, as I understand it. There's a lot of direction about inclusiveness and about encouraging NDIS participants to be part of mainstream services wherever possible, and that's certainly enshrined in the Convention of the Rights and the Act.

MS DOWSETT: The Conventions of the Rights of the Act? 

MR DE NATRIS: No, the Conventions of the Rights and the Act. 

MS DOWSETT: And the Act. Thank you. Noting that the NDIS objectives includes supporting the independence and social and economic participation of people with disability, do you think it would be appropriate to have such an overarching policy? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, we   we   the agency's policy role is focused on implementing the Act, and policy would be considered in relation to operational guidance and, more broadly, the implementation of the NDIS to reach its objectives, where we would   where we would look at operational policy that would assist that type of outcome. And certainly, you know, the formation of that in a more public way would be useful, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Do the operational guidelines speak to the inclusive education goal? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: The NDIS collects a lot of outcome data; that's correct? 


MS DOWSETT: And it collects outcome data in relation to school or education goals? 


MS DOWSETT: And does that data differentiate between mainstream education, mainstream schools and segregated settings? 

MR DE NATRIS: I would need to check, but I think it does. I would need to check. 

MS DOWSETT: That's okay. You can take that one on notice.

MR DE NATRIS: On notice, yes. 

CHAIR: What sort of outcomes are you referring to, Ms Dowsett?

MS DOWSETT: So the outcomes of students having a goal around school or education. So whether it's to be   do the goals differentiate between being in school or being in a particular school setting. 

MR DE NATRIS: I don't think they had that level of granularity. Again, I would need to check. Yeah.

MS DOWSETT: And do they have   in relation to the goals, does it go beyond attending the   so, sorry, perhaps rather than guess what the outcome data you collect, what outcome data do you know that is collected in respect of schools or education goals? 

MR DE NATRIS: So schools and education goals would be that they have the choice of the schooling environment that they are after, that they are able to attend school and participate at a level that's satisfactory to them. 

MS DOWSETT: And so when you say that they are able to have the environment they are after, it is there that you're perhaps   you're not sure but maybe the granularity is in there. 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: I want to turn now to the transition. And I want to ask specifically about the transition from school to life after school. 


MS DOWSETT: We did ask you in the notice to talk about the transition into school and out of school. And you have addressed both, but I just want to focus on transition to life after school. You would have heard Gi Brown's evidence where they described their experience as being pushed off the edge of a cliff. That the school, Gi said, kept promising sessions about transition but they didn't happen. Do you recall that evidence? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, I do. 

MS DOWSETT: And Gi also spoke about their sibling's experience, saying that there is next to no discussion from the school, from the NDIS or from anyone about the next stages of support. Do you recall that evidence? 

MR DE NATRIS: I do, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Were you surprised by that evidence, that there's no conversation from the NDIS about the next stages of support? 

MR DE NATRIS: No. No, I wasn't surprised. 

MS DOWSETT: You wouldn't expect the NDIS to be   

MR DE NATRIS: No, I would expect, but I know that it hasn't been a strength of the NDIS thus far, and we are addressing that issue. 

MS DOWSETT: Now, I have   

CHAIR: Sorry, how are you addressing it? 

MR DE NATRIS: The NDIA has   has developed a post school strategy where it was identified through some of the trials that we did early in the NDIS that this was an area that was of great concern, transition to post   the post school was not optimal for many, many students with disability. While the NDIA recognised that schools had a role in that, we felt that the evidence was clear that additional support was required, that that needed to start earlier, that it needed to be more   need to be better supported and more focused to give young people with disability leaving school real options in the post school environment. 

Therefore we have looked at a comprehensive strategy, upon going out on broad consultation with people with disabilities and their families themselves, with service providers, with sector leaders, with peak organisations to design an investment strategy that would encourage school leavers to have a better planned transition, a more thoughtful transition and one that is more on their terms rather than what the system was currently affording them. Yes. 

CHAIR: Is that strategy in writing? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, it is. 

CHAIR: This is a strategy to develop a proposal or plan. 

MR DE NATRIS: It's a strategy that invests at various levels in   in focusing on developing the individual plan through our LACs, through our planners, through earlier engagement through the school system with students with disability, and to work with the post school environment to develop service offerings that were of use to that individual. It also follows the research and evidence that was viewed, that that is a highly individualised choice, that people with disability need to move at their pace rather than some system imposed pace, and that that investment needs to be highly individualised for them to be able to choose real options in the context of their life. 

CHAIR: Given the structure of the NDIS and individual plans which form the core of the support that is provided to participants, how does the NDIS bring or the NDIA bring this about other than by drawing the attention of participants and their families to opportunities for funding of particular strategies to facilitate the transition? 

MR DE NATRIS: The NDIA is currently now very actively engaged with all school systems to raise awareness of   this type of opportunity. It is investing further in   further in its training of its own staff, the investment in disability employment champions and general awareness raising through the planning process of how important this transition planning is on the individual level for our participants. 

CHAIR: But, ultimately, it's up to the participants and their families to take advantage of this by seeking funding through their plans? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, that's correct, Chair. 

MS DOWSETT: Is that strategy that you've just been referring to what you reference in paragraph 84 of your statement, where you talked about finalising an improved model of support for school leavers? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, that's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And it will be in place for this year's school leavers, you've said? 

MR DE NATRIS: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Is there a document that   I think you answered this for the Chair there. There is a written strategy? 

MR DE NATRIS: There's a strategy   a written strategy under development. There is   there is internal documents and artifacts that have been developed to get this implemented, but a more wholesome strategy for publication is yet to take place. 

MS DOWSETT: And have you developed a system or a mechanism by which you will be able to assess whether this new strategy succeeds in addressing the deficiencies that your consultation identified for you? How do you know it's working? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, we are looking at an evaluation framework for this. This will include the collection specifically of outcomes data, of information from participants on their experience of this type of approach. We are looking at quite purposefully constructed provider information and reports back on progress and certainly, longer term, a full evaluation of the success or otherwise, opportunities for improvement in this type of approach. 

MS DOWSETT: You also spoke to the Chair about working with schools to provide information. I asked that your attention be drawn to a couple of documents that were produced by South Australia. Did you have an opportunity to look at those documents? 


MS DOWSETT: They are tabs, Commissioners, in Volume D, tab 7 and tab 21. So, Mr De Natris, the document at tab 7 is a one-page flyer branded for the NDIS and then it says 

"SA NT Pathways to post-school life. A session for students in years 10 to 12." 

Do you have a copy of that to hand or you have had an opportunity to   

MR DE NATRIS: I've had a chance to view the document, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: And it says: 

"The National Disability Insurance Agency would like to invite SA NT students with a disability in years 10 to 12, their parents, carers, and education professionals to attend a virtual information session on building skills and paving a pathway to post school life." 

Is this a new program? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. It's not   it's not a program. It's a strategy. And we don't   we don't fund programs, but yes. 

MS DOWSETT: This is a new strategy. This is part of the work you were referring to with the Chair before. 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Is this the first year that it's been offered? 

MR DE NATRIS: It has been trialled in a number of states pre COVID, and this is the   this is the improved strategy that we consulted on. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: And is the improved strategy offered in all states and territories? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, it is. 

MS DOWSETT: And we see from this document that information sessions are held monthly from 20 April 2022 to 29 September 2022. That is for South Australia Northern Territory. Is the same timeframe applicable to every other state and territory? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, it is. 

MS DOWSETT: How did you select years 10 to 12 as being the target for this strategy? 

MR DE NATRIS: The feedback in the consultation clearly indicated from the trial of this type of approach that waiting to year 12 was too late, that that was not suitable to everyone and that the earliest we   the NDIS could engage would improve the capacity of our participants and families to plan longer term. I think the second   the second point within that was that many families expressed that if they started to think about post school life earlier, they could do extra activities outside the school environment that would include volunteering, work placements, part-time jobs; all which were proxies and indicators of work post school for all children. 

It's not just children with disability. There's a lot of research that shows if a young person has a part-time job they go on to employment. So there was those types of considerations and feedback. 

MS DOWSETT: And starting at year 10, Ms McAlpine in her evidence suggested that it   this kind of pathway conversation should happen in year 9 because by year 10, year 11 and 12, you're making subject choices and making decisions that affect your pathways. So the planning needs to start before you start making those decisions. Firstly, did you hear that evidence? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, I did. 

MS DOWSETT: And so the NDIA has selected year 10 as the starting point. Are you able to tell us why it was year 10? Taking into account everything you've already said about starting early is good. 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. Look, year 10   year 10 was the consistency in the feedback across all of the school systems and views of many of the stakeholders. Nothing precludes a family starting earlier. Nothing stops them from having vocational or in some form of other goals in their plans earlier for exploring their strengths and their likes and dislikes in this area. Many of our local area coordinators, services, who assist in the planning process may see individual cases where it will start earlier. Year 9. 

MS DOWSETT: So it could just be a session for young people and the people who support them without the "years 10 to 12" in there. 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. It could be. 

MS DOWSETT: The document at tab 21 is   it appears to be a copy of a presentation and it is largely NDIS branded, though this one has some South Australian specific information inside. Is there a   an equivalent for every other state and territory? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. There is. 

MS DOWSETT: And are you able to provide those to us? Are they something the NDIA has? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, we would have them. They are prepared in conjunction with our community engagement and education counterpart   counterpart project teams. So I'm sure we could ask each state and territory if they put specific information in them to provide that, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: So the branding on the front of this one refers to the Co Design and Engagement Team. Is that an NDIA team? 


MS DOWSETT: In this document at page 15, it talks about   the slide talks about preparing for post-school life and capacity building. And makes the point that you made about preparation being the key. And then it goes on to describe the supports   NDIS supports available while in school and then on   through the South Australian state specific, so I won't read those out. And then post school options, and it is in post school options that we see a reference to work experience, specifically under the heading To Get and Keep a Job: 

"NDIS can help with funding for work experience, on the job support and employment, or capacity building to manage in a work setting."

Noting what you said earlier about the school based work experience and the support that could be available there, and your answer about part-time jobs, are we correct to understand that the NDIS can fund for a participant who is still in school, some employment exploring supports like work experience before they finish school? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, that's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And so they can do that   that test and try different work activities while they are at school? 


MS DOWSETT: It's not limited to, like, SLES funding after they finished school? 

MR DE NATRIS: No. They can express through their capacity building funding a broad range of extra activities whilst still at school, which could include part-time work, volunteer work or exploring their strengths and likes and dislikes. Yes. 

CHAIR: Ms Dowsett, how are we are going for time?

MS DOWSETT: I have three questions left, Chair. 

CHAIR: Good. As long as they are nice short questions. 

MS DOWSETT: I can only speak for the questions. 

CHAIR: I'm sure the answers will be equally brief. 

MS DOWSETT: In her evidence, Isabella spoke about the support coordinator, and she described the coordinator as being able to point her to agencies or support providers but she said it was still up to her to make the contact and to talk about Emerson and to do what she described as trial and error in terms of finding a support provider. Do you recall that evidence? 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes, I do. 

MS DOWSETT: Is that description of the support coordinator's role consistent with the NDIA expectation? 

MR DE NATRIS: Support coordination has clear guidance. Some organisations do it better than others. The expectations would be set by the family that were requesting the type of support. I would expect that support coordinators would play an introductory role as per the   as per the sort of guidance. The trialling and erroring, as I understood it there, was for her to then go and find which one sort of suited her son or daughter the best. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Does the NDIA have any oversight of relationships that might exist between support coordinators and the providers they recommend, to make sure there's an appropriate degree of separation? 

MR DE NATRIS: Do we regularly monitor conflict of interest and those sorts of things? No. I think it's assumed in the ethics and standards of practice that declared conflicts of interest would be disclosed at the time of giving of that advice. 

MS DOWSETT: And my final question, Chair, in her evidence, Ms McAlpine spoke about gaps in transition planning, and she proposed that perhaps the NDIA could do an internal assessment of the risk of a person going into segregated work or activity settings and then provide information to that participant and their families about mainstream options. Do you see a role for the NDIA in that kind of process? 

MR DE NATRIS: I think promotion of the options for that individual should very much be explored, particularly in the pre planning phase where   where the individual would be working with the infrastructure of the NDIS. Our local area coordinators would and should have more aspirational conversations, but that's individualised. I would say that the NDIS needs to uphold its   its commitment to the Act and the objects of the Act where we would be encouraging and providing information to our participants of the possibilities beyond just the segregated options. So I think it would be a   you know, it would be a lost opportunity if we didn't explore that on a case by case basis. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you. Thank you, Chair. Those are my questions. 

CHAIR: Very good. Thank you. Fortified by Ms Dowsett's splendid example of limiting herself to three questions, do the Commissioners have equally brief and limited questions? First, Commissioner Galbally. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes, very brief. Thank you. 

CHAIR: Excellent. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: I would like to ask you about the early childhood approach, in particular in relationship to rural and remote, the tailored program you're developing, and also to the hardship and vulnerable groups that are in your new strategy. 

MR DE NATRIS: Yes. It's recognised that early childhood intervention is very important. In many rural and remote areas and for disadvantaged areas, engagement early is not a strong feature of the current system. The tailored strategies and approaches are about meeting families and children where they're at rather than trying to get them to access services that don't exist. 

The early intervention also is predicated on engagement in a positive way where the child and family don't have to   don't have to wait for   wait for not only being made   made eligible for access to those services and then being passed on to a service system, in rural and remote areas and in some communities, it's been identified that if those things were to happen holistically and naturally, without starts and restarts, it would be an advantage. So those types of strategies are being explored. 


CHAIR: Thank you. Commissioner Mason? 


CHAIR: Commissioner Mason, you are doing very well. In that case, now I will just check whether counsel for the Commonwealth has any questions. 

MR ARNOTT: No questions.

CHAIR: Very good. Thank you. Mr De Natris, thank you very much for coming to the Commission and giving your evidence, which has been very helpful to us. We appreciate your assistance. Thank you. 

MR DE NATRIS: Thank you. 


CHAIR: Ms Eastman?

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. I will hand over to Ms Eastman. 

CHAIR: Ms Eastman, I think there will be some directions, will there? 

MS EASTMAN: There will. They have just appeared. So, Commissioners, I   

CHAIR: I will just check if they are the same ones as I've already got. No   

MS EASTMAN: That concludes the evidence for Public hearing 24. 


MS EASTMAN: And we have provided you with some directions. We've consulted with all of the parties with leave to appear, and I think there's broad and general agreement on the directions. I'm not quite sure what you've just been provided. 

CHAIR: I think I've been given with larger type. That's very considerate. May I then proceed to make the directions on the basis that they have been provided to all the parties who have been given leave to appear. I will read the directions, and unless there is any objection to any of them, they are the directions that can be taken as having been made. 

1. Any witness who took questions on notice during this hearing should provide his or her answers in writing to the Office of the Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission by 24 June 2022. The answers should be targeted and concise and not address additional or unnecessary matters. 

2. By 1 July 2022, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will provide a list of documents she wishes to tender into evidence, including responses to questions on notice, on a confidential basis to the parties with leave to appear at this hearing. 

3. Parties with leave to appear should advise the Office of the Solicitor Assisting by 8 July 2022 if they wish to suggest any additional documents for tendering by Counsel Assisting. At the same time, they should identify any parts of those documents that they consider need to be redacted before the documents are made public. 

4. Counsel Assisting will tender those documents into evidence which she considers appropriate and will do so in chambers by 15 July 2022. 

5. Counsel assisting the Royal Commission will prepare written submissions following the hearing. By 19 August 2022, these submissions will be provided on a confidential basis to parties with leave to appear in preparation for this hearing. 

6. Any responses to Counsel Assisting's submissions should be sent to the Office of the Solicitor Assisting by 23 September 2022. Those responses should be concise and should not include any additional evidence. 

So on the basis that no party has any objections to those directions, they are the directions that will be made. They are made. I should indicate that, for this public hearing as I have just indicated through the directions, there will be submissions prepared by Counsel Assisting, but it is not proposed to produce a Commissioner's report for this hearing. Counsel Assisting's submissions will be taken into account, of course, in the preparation of the final report and also, of course, any responses to Counsel Assisting's submissions by parties who have been given leave to appear at the hearing. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Chair. 

CHAIR: Ms Eastman, is there anything else that you wish to say? 

MS EASTMAN: No, only on behalf of the Counsel Assisting and the Office of the Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission, just to thank our colleagues who have represented their witnesses during the course of the week and also to thank all of the witnesses who have appeared at the hearing. Thank you. 

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much, Ms Eastman. I would like to add my thanks, of course, to Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, all parties who have been represented here today and their representatives. All of the staff who have contributed to the preparation for and conduct of this hearing and all others who have done so, for example, Law in Order. We have a number of parties outside the Royal Commission who assist with the conduct of the hearing. 

As I indicated in the opening these are extraordinarily difficult and complex hearings to organise and to conduct, and it's a great tribute to all those who have been involved, that this hearing, like so many of the hearings we have held for the Royal Commission, have proceeded so smoothly, and we are very grateful to all those who have contributed. 

I would like to express also the thanks of the Commissioners who have been participating in the hearing to all those who have given evidence, particularly the students with disability from whom we heard and their families. We heard from Brittney Wilson, Britt, who gave evidence about her own experiences and the experiences of her younger sibling. Britt's evidence highlighted the aspirations of many students with disability, to be supported without fanfare so they can participate in school alongside their peers and feel as though they are part of the school community. 

We heard from Ms Langcake, Kimberly Langcake, who gave evidence about her son Mitch and the significance of collaboration and a team approach in supporting a child, a young person with disability, during transitional periods and throughout the child's school life. In her own words, as we heard just now, it's important to get everyone on the bus and to ensure that there is a collaborative process between the school and the family, and that all people involved in the child's learning and development can share information and expertise and, in this way, the burden on parents of children and young people with disability seeking support for their children can be reduced. 

We heard from Gi Brown, who gave evidence about their personal experiences in school, as well as evidence about their younger sibling's experiences in school. Gi's evidence emphasised the significance of school to the life of a child or young person with disability, not just in terms of academic development, but also social and mental health, life skills and the routine of everyday living. Gi said that insufficient supports throughout their school life meant that leaving school felt, in their language, like being pushed off the edge of a cliff. "I had no idea what my next step was meant to be."  Gi's evidence was very powerful. 

We also heard very powerful evidence from Mr Ed Croft. Mr Croft is a teacher himself and clearly is dedicated to his profession. He gave evidence about his son Ryan and the severe impact on Ryan's life caused by insufficient supports and by teaching staff who did not necessarily understand his needs. Mr Croft felt that Ryan did best when provided with supports that he needed when his   and, in particular, when his behaviour was treated as a normal expression of his self, and the support system around Ryan worked as a collaborative team focusing on Ryan's needs and preferences. Ryan's present position is very difficult, as we heard, but the Commissioners very much hope that it can be improved in the near future. 

We heard from Bas. Bas told us about his experiences as a young person with cerebral palsy, who uses assistive technology with a considerable degree of skill to participate in school, in his words "just like everybody else." And he showed his ability to use the assistive technology in this hearing room. He reinforced the message that we heard from many young people with disability, that their key aspiration is to enjoy school and life alongside their peers. One might have thought not a terribly difficult aspiration to meet. 

Now, Bas we were told has an aspiration of   is it 500 followers on his Facebook page? And one of our counsel has dedicated herself to attempt to reach this goal. I don't know whether we have quite reached it   well, or whether Bas has reached it, more accurately, but I hope he can get to the 500. 

We heard from Bas' mother, Julie. Her evidence related to her vision of schools and she saw education authorities as proactively preparing for a diverse cohort of students, ensuring schools, curricula and other activities are universally designed, rather than being tweaked at the edges each time that a student with disability enrols or seeks to enrol at a school. She expressed her views very clearly and forcefully about her vision for inclusive education. 

Isabella gave evidence about her son Emerson, who's currently in year 10. Isabella told about the challenges that she experienced trying to obtain support for Emerson in mainstream schools. Once Emerson began receiving the support he needed in school, particularly in the form of consistent communication supports, and Emerson's teachers saw him through the lens of his strengths and not his deficits, he made significant educational and development achievements. 

We heard today from Yellow Ladybugs, Katie and Alexa, and Alexa told us about her daughter Bridget, and each of them gave us their experience and their views about education for children and young people with autism. And, of course, we saw the slides that incorporated the feelings of students with disability in schools. 

We have also heard from representatives of Western Australia, South Australia, and the National Disability Insurance Agency. We are very grateful to them for their contributions to the hearing. So I again express on behalf of the Commissioners our deep gratitude, particularly to the students with disability and to their families and to their supporters for the contributions they have made to this hearing. 

I think it's very clear that the material we received during the course of this hearing will be exceedingly helpful for us in preparing our final report and formulating recommendations on education for children and young people with disability. I am told that Bas now has 353 YouTube channel subscribers.  His channel, for those who are interested, is Bas Tech Aus. He's got only 47 to go. Thank you very much, everybody. Ms Eastman, is there   

MS EASTMAN: May I also thank CYDA and Inclusion Australia in the contribution of Ms Sayers and Ms McAlpine. 

CHAIR: Yes, I'm sorry. I should have mentioned Ms Sayers and Ms McAlpine. I express our gratitude to both of them for the evidence that they gave, and I echo the thanks that have been expressed by Ms Eastman to CYDA for assisting in providing witnesses to us who have enriched this hearing. So our thanks to them very much. Thank you very much. We will adjourn. Our next hearing is 11 July in Alice Springs, which happens to be Commissioner Mason's home town. We will adjourn until then.