Public hearing 2: Education and learning, Townsville - Day 4
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes. Ms Eastman.
MS K. EASTMAN SC: If the Commission pleases, Ms Eastman. I appear for the Royal Commission as Counsel Assisting with Dr Mellifont, and with Mr Fraser.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: My task this morning is to deal with the evidence of Deborah Dunstone, if the Commission pleases.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Good morning. You may take – I’m sure you’ve been advised – the oath or affirmation as you wish. If you follow the instructions of the associate. Thank you very much.
<DEBORAH JOAN DUNSTONE, SWORN [10.01 am]
<EXAMINATION BY MS EASTMAN
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Now, I know that there are probably some other things that you would be preferring to do today than be here but take your time with any answers, and if you need any break just let us know?‑‑‑Thank you.
MS EASTMAN: Your name is Deborah Joan Dunstone?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And you’re presently the Assistant Director-General of the state school Disability & Inclusion Branch?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And that’s based in Brisbane?‑‑‑Yes.
And you’ve made a statement for the Royal Commission?‑‑‑I have.
Have you had a chance to read over the statement?‑‑‑Yes.
And are the contents true and correct to the best ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ of your knowledge and belief?‑‑‑Yes.
So I want to start a little bit to help the Royal Commission have an understanding to how you’ve come to your present role. And you’ve included in a statement the CV. But can I ask you this: you started your work with the department back in Rockhampton high school as a teacher in 1990; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And your subjects were home economics and geography?‑‑‑Secondary, yes.
And your whole teaching career has been in secondary schools; is that right?‑‑‑Correct.
And on my count you’ve worked in about five high schools around Queensland?‑‑‑Yes.
And they’ve mostly been in regional areas of Queensland?‑‑‑In rural and remote Queensland.
And so you’ve worked up to the head of a department, followed by an assistant principal and then principal; is that right?‑‑‑Yes.
And in terms of your leadership role in the department, it’s the case, isn’t it, that in 2010, is that right, you assumed a director position as a Regional Director for Far North Queensland?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And what was involved in the role as a Regional Director?‑‑‑At the time, I supervised the early childhood schooling and training components of the then – the Department of Education and Training.
And then in April 2017 you assumed your current role looking specifically at disability and inclusion; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct.
Can you tell the Royal Commission what are the core duties and responsibilities of this role?‑‑‑This role is a new position to the Department created as one of the recommendations of the disability review, affectionately known as the Deloitte Review into, I guess, implementing what was then called the every Student With Disability Succeeding Plan. It was a new role to the Department, and strategically, I guess, to have a really good look across the Agency at problems of practice around our service delivery for students with a disability.
I want to take you to the Deloitte Review in a moment but before we do that it might assist the Royal Commission to have a sense of how education is delivered in Queensland and the number of students. So this is a matter that you’ve covered in your statement. So we are right in understanding there are 1241 state schools and education centres in Queensland?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And if we break those down, that includes 919 primary schools?‑‑‑99.
Okay. That’s paragraph 6?‑‑‑Yes, sorry.
And 185 secondary schools?‑‑‑Yes.
And 43 special schools?‑‑‑Correct.
Have you got that ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
Paragraph 6. In terms of the number of students who are enrolled in full-time education in Queensland schools, as at February this year there were 560,922 students?‑‑‑Correct.
And in terms of the teaching service, there are 53,000 teachers, thereabouts?‑‑‑Yes.
And 19,000 thereabout teacher aides?‑‑‑A very large agency.
And I assume a range of support staff as well?‑‑‑Yes, they would be factored into our workforce.
And in terms of the organisation of the work of the Department of Education, it’s the case, isn’t it, that they’re divided into seven regional areas?‑‑‑Correct.
And each regional area has a director?‑‑‑A Regional Director, yes.
And then the Regional Directors report into the Director-General; correct?‑‑‑That’s right.
So if we then turn to students with disability among that cohort, this is a matter that you’ve also dealt with in your statement. Based on the department’s records, as at August this year it’s the case, isn’t it, that one in five Queensland state schools were identified through the – what’s called the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on Schooling Students With Disability. The abbreviation is used NCCD; is that right?‑‑‑Correct.
So for the one in five schools, there were students who were receiving reasonable adjustments due to disability?
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: I think it may be one in five students rather than one in five schools?‑‑‑Yes, I was going to say.
MS EASTMAN: So is it students or the schools?‑‑‑Students.
Students?‑‑‑So we’ve got about 18 per cent of our students.
That’s what I wanted to ask you?‑‑‑Sorry.
So about 18 per cent of all students?‑‑‑Correct.
That’s over 100,000 students?‑‑‑Yes.
Receive reasonable adjustments; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct. As identified by our teachers in that survey collection tool.
All right. But of that group – so that’s the total for both independent and state schools. And in terms of the state schools.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: I’m not – sorry, is that right? I think the figure, if I’m reading your statement correctly, is 103,000 students ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑For the ‑ ‑ ‑
In the state schools?‑‑‑Correct.
And then another 35,000 or so in non-state schools.
MS EASTMAN: But breaking it down, the majority of students receiving reasonable adjustments are attending state schools.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes, sure.
MS EASTMAN: Is that right?‑‑‑No, that’s not correct. There will be students in Catholic and independent schools that are receiving reasonable adjustments.
But do you know whether or not the majority of students with disability are more likely to attend a state school compared to an independent school in Queensland?‑‑‑A large number, but I would have to find that data for you.
Now, can I ask you a little bit about the NCCD. That’s a Commonwealth program, isn’t it?‑‑‑That is correct.
And it’s a Commonwealth program that seeks to collect data across all Australian schools in relation to students with disability who receive reasonable adjustments at school?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And how does the department in Queensland use the NCCD data?‑‑‑We use that to record and to have teachers make judgments about the students in the categories of the NCCD data. It clearly is information that’s used to calculate our funding arrangements that we receive from the Commonwealth, and then distribute to schools as part of our school staffing models.
So can I ask you about paragraph 16 of your statement. You provide a breakdown of the NCCD records in relation to the different categories of what are described as impairment. Have you got paragraph 16?‑‑‑Yes.
So looking at those numbers, in terms of the data recorded for Queensland state schools, 7.2 per cent of students receiving reasonable adjustment with respect to physical impairment?‑‑‑Correct.
So that’s about 7400 students?‑‑‑Yes.
Then 56.2 per cent for students who are described as having cognitive impairment?‑‑‑Correct.
And that’s about 58,000 students?‑‑‑Yes.
So can I ask you in relation to what cognitive impairment means, what’s your understanding of how that expression is used for the NCCD data?‑‑‑For intellectual disability.
I would have to ask you to speak a little bit louder?‑‑‑Sorry.
So cognitive impairment?‑‑‑For intellectual disability.
Only intellectual disability?‑‑‑There’s some broader criteria. I guess as we look at each student, we’re attempting in the NCCD data to find the category that this represents. Their main area of disability, conscious that there can be students that may have multiple areas of need and we select one.
Then 5 per cent for sensory impairment, and for sensory impairment does that include students with vision impairment or hearing impairment?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And then 31.6 per cent for social and emotional impairment. And what does that mean? What’s your understanding of the description of social and emotional impairment?‑‑‑Yes. For students it could include students with mental health, trauma in their background requiring adjustments to the curriculum to support them to be successful in attending school.
Now, Queensland also collects data as part of an EAP program; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And what’s the EAP program?‑‑‑That’s our Education Adjustment Program, where we identify the students in our State that require the most need for adjustments, and have teachers submit, and we look at that and assess and verify areas of need to provide funding and support and services to those students in our state schools.
And is the EAP data collected by reference to the same four categories used for the NCC data collection?‑‑‑No, it’s not.
So what is the way in which the data is collected and categorised for the purpose of the EAP data collection?‑‑‑Yes. We have been traditionally, in the last number of years, using six areas. Typically – would you like me to go through them?
Yes?‑‑‑ASD, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, physical impairment, and speech language impairment and a vision impairment.
A reference to Autism Spectrum Disorder?‑‑‑Correct.
And is it the case that if one uses those categories, the students in the descriptor group who are most likely to have reasonable adjustment made are those in the ASD category and the intellectual disability category?‑‑‑That’s correct.
So that in that sense, would it be fair to say roughly the EAP and the NCC data align?‑‑‑They certainly do around students that require the most need, yes.
And how is the EAP data then used in a practical sense in terms of any adjustments that may need to be made for students in Queensland schools?‑‑‑Yes. Typically, we would see a student to get to the process, I guess, of submitting documentation to the department about that student. We would see them have an individual plan, articulating the needs, aspirations and goals of that student and the adjustments are likely to be required. And we then have a good look at that and assess that and categorise the resources that may flow, or just simply the adjustments that may need to be – to be made.
Is the EAP essentially used to work out a funding model or is it used to work out the particular types of adjustments that may need to be made?‑‑‑Yes. It’s used to do both, and it’s really important that it does both because it helps us as educators really think through the sorts of adjustments and the expertise that we need to wrap around a student to see that they’re successful in school. But it absolutely also does and has historically done for the last number of years determined some resources that flow to schools, not just students, but to the school.
Now, it’s probably beyond the scope of this public hearing to examine issues around funding, but perhaps can I ask you this question – and it may be something you want to come back to the Commission with some further information – how the two sets of funding through NCCD and EAP work together, and why Queensland continues to use the EAP now that you have the model set out in the NCCD? Is that something you can answer today or ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes, I’m happy to ‑ ‑ ‑
‑ ‑ ‑ want to come back to?‑‑‑No, I’m happy to have a look at that. I guess, importantly, that work sits as part of one of the recommendations that we have
articulated we’re yet to have a good look at. And the reason that we left the resourcing review from the Deloitte recommendations was that we really purposely wanted to have a good look at what happens on the national front in a couple of key areas. One is I was very keen to see the impact of the rollout of the NDIS to have a good look at the NCCD now that it has been moderated by the Federal Government, and all States and Territories have signed up to that. And to then, I guess, absolutely reflect and reform our EAP process in the Department to align that. I guess I have a goal or a desire to see a family tell their story once, and I suspect, as we get more confident around the NDIS, if a family was to present and have their child, say, from birth diagnosed with a disability, then I suspect as a Department that’s the information that we need and we can get on board and make the adjustments. We’ve
been, I guess, historically needing to do a system that helped us to determine the resources that flowed to schools, but there is absolutely a recommendation on the table and a vision in 2020 that we wanted to try and merge all of that together to see that there’s a logical and hopefully a very strong link to support a child from their beginning with us in the early childhood sector, through to their participation in kindy, in throughout ECDP early years programs and then on into primary school and graduating proudly at the end of secondary. So for some students, clearly, across the course of their trajectory, that will change, and we will always need to have a system that reflects and manages that. So that’s part of our thinking. It’s a very, very important recommendation in the review and strategically, with everything that was happening on the national front, we chose quite deliberately to hold that.
Okay. Well, can we now turn to the Deloitte Report. You’ve included a copy of that report – and Commissioners, you find that in Exhibit O. You assumed your particular role following the Deloitte Report. So are we right in understanding that you weren’t actively engaged in the Deloitte Report work yourself?‑‑‑No, I wasn’t.
And in terms of the commissioning of the Deloitte Report, that was commissioned by the Minister in July 2016 and it was to undertake an independent review of the education sector with a focus on State school education; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct.
Was there anything that prompted this particular review at this time?‑‑‑Yes, there were probably a couple of years. And there had been – and I think some of the HOSES yesterday referred to the national partnership program around More Support for Students with Disability, and some of the QSIL training. I will try and be careful on the acronyms today for you. That rolled out as part of that. There had been a very large investment in resources and professional development, and I was a Regional Director at the time and there was a sense of not being sure that that had actually got the traction that we thought it should. And while there were some significant events across the country and, I guess, a highlight on students with disability and how they were performing in schools, there was a – I think a very bold and brave decision by the government to do an independent review and to – to give us, I guess, a footprint of – of what we were good at. And there’s certainly some highs in that report, and what our challenges and future work and areas that we could or should consider to focus on.
And it’s part of your responsibility to implement the 17 recommendations from the Deloitte Review; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct. And I think I’m fondly referred to in one of the recommendations that a position be appointed in the agency at a very senior level to come on board and to help reflect across all aspects of the agency, how our service provision looked. And I think it was a very interesting move, and as you pointed out in my CV, I have no background in special education, and I do have a very strong background in school improvement and leadership and supporting principals to lead the work. So I think it was an interesting appointment at the time, and I think I can talk to some of, across the course of this morning, the lens to which I bring to the work but I am not the expert in disability. I am the expert in helping
schools to implement and the agency to pay attention to a piece of work that’s critical for us as a system to move forward and see year on year improvement for all students in the State.
So the Deloitte Report didn’t touch on the operational organisation of independent or Catholic schools ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑No.
‑ ‑ ‑ in Queensland?‑‑‑It was state schools.
Given the importance of the Deloitte Report to the policy initiatives that have followed in the last year or so, it might be helpful just to spend a bit of time in understanding the methodology used by the Deloitte researchers. So have you got a copy of the report there?‑‑‑I do.
It’s Exhibit O in your statement. So the way in which the Deloitte Review was undertaken was to identify three broad policy or reform areas. Do you agree with that?‑‑‑Correct.
The first was called the Policy Environment?‑‑‑Yes.
And that was to examine the legislative obligations imposed on the State in relation to disability and education; is that right?‑‑‑Correct.
And also to look at expectations with respect to student outcomes?‑‑‑Correct.
And then the next area was the practice environment. And that had a focus, did it not, on looking at empowering the skills for the teaching staff and the school leaders?‑‑‑Yes.
So that had an internal focus in terms of school organisation and capacity; is that right?‑‑‑Yes. We chose to set some very high expectations, publicly announced that we wanted to have a greater partnership with parents and families, and to have some very high expectations for students with disability.
And then the final area was the resourcing model. And that focused on a balance between the need to recognise different educational needs and the costs of delivering those particular objectives; is that right?‑‑‑Correct.
Okay. And the way in which the Deloitte exercise was undertaken was through a consultation process with parents, students and school staff?‑‑‑That’s my understanding.
Involvement with the academy, so taking advice and taking submissions of experts in the field?‑‑‑Yes.
There was a survey process?‑‑‑Correct.
And there was also, obviously, engagement with the relevant teaching staff and the Department of Education; is that right?‑‑‑Yes.
In terms of the key findings of the Deloitte Report, they’re set out in the Report. And the Report indicates that there have been a number of recent reviews and inquiries across Australia but that process had demonstrated that there continued to be a disparity between policy and practice, and that required to inclusively support every student achieving the maximum of their potential. So the government accepted that finding, did it not?‑‑‑Yes.
And the report indicated that Queensland was not unique to the continued challenges that confront recrafting a State schooling system to align with leading contemporary policies and practice, and that finding was accepted?‑‑‑Yes.
And the result was some recommendations to address those three particular areas: the policy framework, effective practice and resourcing model?‑‑‑Correct.
We’ve got up on the screen, if the Commissioners can see, the key recommendations and findings. And this is at the third page of the Deloitte Report. So the process that followed the Deloitte Report – and I will come back to aspects of the Deloitte Report as we go through in the morning – was that there was then a task of converting, in effect, these recommendations into policies that would be appropriate for Queensland; is that right?‑‑‑Policies, practices, school improvement strategies.
And so when you came to the task of examining, well, how do we translate some of the Deloitte findings into policy, from your perspective, what were the key findings in the Deloitte Report that would shape the way in which policy would then be developed in Queensland?‑‑‑I think it’s important to note that as part of releasing the disability review, the Minister and Director-General at the time released what we call the Every Student With Disability Succeeding Plan.
And it was, I guess, a more user-friendly, more accessible summary of the way we saw ourselves grouping the work, and that is that we took what could be seen to be very unfriendly language about what it was that we were about to embark on, and we organised our thinking into setting expectations, focusing on capability and partnering with parents. And what’s perhaps different and is the rub between this not being policy in the way that policy writers might interpret policy of the department is that we combined the policy with the measures, and very clearly and publicly what I think is really important to note and I think is a signature piece to this work is we indicated the four measures of success that we would judge ourselves by and hold ourselves to account. And so this was, I guess, released simultaneously and publicly with the review, and was a way of saying to the broader community, not only do we accept 17 recommendations that people don’t always understand and that’s just become a language and, you know, that there’s a lot in that, but they do understand and work in schools to support those four success measures, which are on the second page of that document.
So I want to come back to this document but I come back to the question?‑‑‑Yes.
Which was for you taking on the role, what did you consider to be the key findings of the Deloitte Report that would then form the basis of the work that you have to do in the policy development?‑‑‑Yes. The policy that we took forward was the recommendation around defining what we meant by inclusive education.
So you saw that as the key finding?‑‑‑I saw that as the key finding. And it was a privileged position I had to actually think through where to start, the – and the mind map of how it would be that we would embark on this work. But what underpins so much of policy is what we all fundamentally believe to be inclusive education. And while we had an Inclusive Education Policy in the department, it didn’t talk to the work that we needed to focus our attention on.
So the document that I think you’ve handed up and Commissioners may see now the second page on the screen, this was a two-page flyer or publication that the department released at the same time as the Deloitte Report was released to the public; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And the purpose of this document was, in effect, to summarise ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ not only the key findings of the Deloitte Report but this is to summarise the key commitments that the government was prepared to make following the 17 recommendations; is that right?‑‑‑That’s right. And I think important to note that this was released at a principals – State principals conference that we hold every two years that the Minister and Director-General presented to every principal in State schools in Queensland at one event and then spoke passionately about what it would look like and the work that we would embark on moving forward.
So this two-page document, would you describe that document as a policy?‑‑‑Probably not in the technical term of a policy, but I guess it was our – and I think it’s an interesting – it’s the policy practice guide. And those two sit together. So it’s not a formal policy of the agency, though it is the document to which we hold ourselves accountable for as a summary of the 17 recommendations.
When you say you hold yourself accountable to this document, what do you mean by that?‑‑‑That we’re committed to those four success measures being embedded into school performance.
And is that commitment one that you accept might have legal consequences? Is it intended to have a commitment at that level?‑‑‑Legal consequences, no, probably not. It’s about good school practice, though many of those recommendations talk to the right of every student to be able to attend their local school.
So this is a document that was provided to principals. Was this document provided to anybody else?‑‑‑Yes, to the public.
When was it provided to the public?‑‑‑That day, I believe.
And is this a document that’s accessible from – for anybody ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes, it’s on our website.
And is this something that has been sent specifically to the 103,000 students with disability and their families?‑‑‑Not explicitly in that layout, I don’t believe, no. But absolutely publicly talked about in all of our presentations. It’s usually the cornerstone of an opening presentation with parents. I do know that most principals across the State following that conference typically take back documents like this that are released at those events and share them with their parent and community body. Some principals may well have attached that electronically to their school newsletters and forwarded that out. There would have been lots of commentary at P & C meetings about the release of that and what that would mean in each school in Queensland.
Did any of that commentary come back to you in the form of a report or any particular feedback?‑‑‑No. Certainly, the Regional Directors and assistant Regional Directors in their visits to schools, there’s always follow-up after our State principals conferences. If you like, they set the tone of what it is that we’re looking at for the next couple of years. We meet together like that in a very large event every two years, having just met for the second time this year, where there was further work around students with disability as part of our goal to see every student succeeding, acknowledged and commented on.
So in terms of then other policies that were developed, this one you say may not be accurately described as a policy, but perhaps, what, information setting out the department’s ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ commitment?‑‑‑Yes.
There was another policy. And this is a policy called the Advancing Partnership. So this is part of Exhibit S. And there’s a policy document and then a one-page summary for the parents. And I don’t know if we can bring this up. So that’s Exhibit S. And the reference number is 0471. So we’ve just put up on the screen, Ms Dunstone, the final page of that document. And this, are we right in understanding, a one-page summary of what’s intended to be part of the Advancing Partnership policy?‑‑‑Yes, this was developed supplementary to that. And it was a piece of work that I commissioned to, I guess, as we thought about parent advocacy in stage 2 of the rollout of the recommendations, it was a piece of work that I sent to every principal at the beginning of this year to really think about and have a new frame of what engagement and successful engagement looks like with families. We were very conscious of the feedback and some of which we’ve heard over the course of this hearing. That typically families don’t always feel heard and families have spent in some cases a lifetime advocating for the rights of their children. And this was a way and a framework that we sent to principals to help them think through all of the elements with a recognition that you might just need to do a little bit more than
what you do with some families. And if you were to engage, here would be a good practice guide around doing all the steps, and one of the important messages that we had, and sometimes where I think we let ourselves down and let families down is we can have a plan but we’ve actually got to come back and keep improving it and sharing it and reflecting and using it as part of, you know, parent/teacher interviews and case management meetings. And if we see the practice that we do the full wheel around what we believe is really effective consultation for students with disability, then we’ve got a much stronger footprint. It’s easy in some of the review and recommendations to have what essentially to me is a one-line item about we need to engage more effectively with families. And so as part of, I guess, what we bring to this work for principals is to not write a policy document but to write some practice frameworks and to give them some tools that visually talk to the work and to best practice, and, clearly, research and evidence-based was an important component of that.
What’s up on the screen is a final page summary. The policy is obviously more detailed than just the summary. But may I ask you this: was there consultation with parents and care-givers in relation to the development of the Advancing Partnership Policy?‑‑‑I believe there would have been. That wasn’t a policy that I developed or was involved in developing.
And do you know whether this policy is available to parents and care-givers?‑‑‑I would need to check but I would believe it would be on our one – on our external internet site.
And you’ve said this has been provided to the principals to give them some practical guidelines, is that right, on consulting with parents?‑‑‑But I – I would like to add or indicate that all of the fact sheets around every student with disability succeeding, parent and community engagement, are all publicly available.
So this went to the principals to assist them on consultation with parents?‑‑‑Yes, absolutely.
And was there any training that accompanied providing them with the document?‑‑‑It would have formed the basis of workshops and reflection and school leadership sessions held in regions, either by Regional Directors or ARDs in small groups, large groups. We’ve had a very strong focus on capability development over the last three years in a variety of ways. And these sorts of documents – I know I workshopped the ARDs around this suite of materials. It was also provided in a poster format for school communities as well to reflect on. I guess at each stage and in sort of, you know, thinking through the journey that we’ve been on, there have been different moments across the three years where we’ve pulled out one of the recommendations and deeply reflected on it in terms of practice, and then provided support materials to the supervisors of schools, to our school reviewers and to principals to say, “Let’s have a really good look at our custom, culture and practice”, and this was a way of pulling that out.
So how would the department know that any principal who had received this material has not only read the material but also then applies the practice suggested? What’s the mechanism for the department of checking or ensuring that there is compliance with these policies or guidelines, however you want to frame them?‑‑‑Yes. I guess we do that in a variety of ways. And, you know, if I think about parent and community engagement, it’s the cornerstone to the work we do in schools. It’s – we’ve, you know, been doing it for a long time. Not always, you know, reflecting on every aspect of, you know, and it’s the bit to me that really stood out here was around the feedback from families that we had had, that you can come up with a plan but then I don’t hear anything else from you. And I’m not sure that that plan is enacted for my child. And what is the communication with the school. Some schools do an amazing job with this and have very sophisticated ways of communicating apps, technology, day books, home books, all sorts of ways that we communicate. And we allow principals as the leader of their school to be accountable for that. When we go and do the school reviews that you heard the principals talk about yesterday every four years, we meet with families as part of that review and review teams talk about the experiences at that school and recommendations are made. And I guess that’s against the domains of the school improvement measures that we’ve articulated in some other documents.
Can I ask you now about a further policy, which is part of a strategic plan. It’s called Every Student Succeeding. And that’s as part of Exhibit F to your statement. So Commissioners, it’s tab 7 in your material. So this is across the board for every student. It’s not just focused on students with disability; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And what’s the purpose of the state school strategy which started this year and takes us through to 2023?‑‑‑Yes. Well, it started probably I think in 2014, and it gets updated each year as we reflect on the work across the agency. This is the document that the state schooling team in the Department headed by the deputy Director-General of state schooling lead to talk to principals about the work of school improvement and what is our focus in the years ahead. This is, I guess, the cornerstone document for schools to consider their school planning around, and to write their Annual Implementation Plan for school improvement. It’s a very dense document and, I guess, talks about not only our focus areas but actually goes to the heart of our school improvement model.
Can I just ask you on that – one of the priority areas is to improve the participation and achievement of students with disability?‑‑‑Correct.
But it doesn’t have as a priority the commitment to inclusive education. Would you agree with that?‑‑‑I would agree with that.
Is there a reason why there isn’t a clear commitment to inclusive education in the whole of school strategy taking us up to 2023?‑‑‑Yes. And, look, that’s because we are in the process, as we speak, of rewriting the Every Student Succeeding Strategy that we plan to release to schools and to principals next year. We recognise that this
for school leadership teams is a very dense document and while it has served us well to focus on school improvement and the work we need to do, there’s a passion around the table to see this reduced to a very clear one page document that builds on our most recent work and positions us for the next few years. If you like, this document Every Student Succeeding Plan each year has rolled and had, I guess, a minor little update. We’re planning, I guess, a major refresh for the start of next year and certainly plan to make reference to inclusive education as part of that statement.
But you’ve had the Deloitte recommendations since February 2017?‑‑‑Yes.
And you have had the carriage of implementing those recommendations?‑‑‑Correct.
And do you agree that in the Deloitte Report they identified which recommendations could be immediately implemented. There was no need to wait. You agree that there’s a ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ series of those recommendations. So why is it that those key findings and Deloitte recommendations haven’t made its way into this strategy by 2019?‑‑‑That’s because, I guess, quite purposely when we used that heading to say that we wanted to improve the outcomes for students with disability, the reference material that is highlighted further across the document with hyperlinks referred to this document here which we saw and knew and had been working with principals was the go-to position. So, if you like, that was a broad heading. You know, less words, not with any intent to not do that but to absolutely talk to, I guess, this document being the subset. And we’ve got other respective documents that are subsets to this Every Student Succeeding Plan. You might notice on the second page of the Every Student Succeeding Strategy we do call out aspects and hyperlink that to the work.
So can I now turn to the specific Inclusive Education Policy? So you’ve provided the policy and a range of documents related to that – the policy in Exhibit N. So, Commissioners, this is tab 15 in your bundle. So the first document is the policy?‑‑‑Sorry, can you just refer to my statement where ‑ ‑ ‑
So that’s – so it’s Exhibit N?‑‑‑Okay. Yes. Thank you.
So this policy has an implementation date of 25 June 2018. And so if we look at the document, the first five pages, that is the policy; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And then what sits behind it are a range of documents that were prepared by the department to explain the policy and provide information about the policy; is that right?‑‑‑That’s right.
So if the Commissioners turn to the Exhibit N.2, there is a brochure-style two-page document called Inclusive Education Policy Statement. We’ve just got that up on the screens, Commissioners.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: So what was the purpose of this policy statement in the glossy form that you’ve got there?‑‑‑I wasn’t confident that principals would read
the word version of the policy and I wasn’t confident that it was accessible
to the entire school community more broadly.
Why was that? This is such an important policy?‑‑‑Yes.
You would agree?‑‑‑Absolutely.
That ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑It wasn’t to make it less or more but we produced a range of materials all released at the same time in a variety of formats inclusive of videos and vignettes that would talk to our high expectations and what it was that we believed defined inclusive education.
So the document that we’re looking at, the two-page document, was prepared for principals?‑‑‑And parents and school communities and is all publicly available.
And how is it – how and when was it provided to principals?‑‑‑It was part of a – when it was released it was a special announcement, I believe. I would have to just check. I think it went out in one of either the Director-General bulletins or the State Schooling strategy at the time. And then the suite of, I guess, more glossy materials was mailed out to school communities for their use.
So this document refers to a commitment and it’s described as:
The department commits to continuing our journey towards a more inclusive education system at all levels.
Just pausing there, that seems to build in some qualifications to the commitment, does it not?‑‑‑I think it acknowledged where we were on our journey towards inclusive education, yes.
And was it – if you go back to the primary policy, so back a few – a few pages, the policy itself describes a commitment in slightly different way. It says:
We have high expectations of all students recognising that with right support all students can succeed.
And then the following dot points and over the page. Is there any particular reason why the policy is expressed in its commitment in one way but the Inclusive Policy Statement’s different?‑‑‑No. And I don’t believe there – it was to make it, I guess, a user-friendly version and to – to pull out the key components. There was no intent to have that any different.
And in terms of providing a copy of the policy statement to parents, was there a mail-out to the parents with children with disability attending the State schools?‑‑‑No, but it was reflected in our social media, our Facebook posts, communication like that. Once again, that sort of communication we encourage principals to forward out to their school communities and to use as the conversation starter for P & C meetings and school meetings with families. We certainly had provided that to all the heads of special education and they, in turn, would have used that with their meetings with staff and families as well, I suspect.
Right. Then there’s a document N4, which is a brochure style Inclusive Education Policy Statement. And that’s a number of pages. So that’s a longer document. What’s that document and how does that fit in with the two-page brochure and the Department’s policy?‑‑‑We developed this one for some workshops that we were doing with staff and it was designed to, I guess, just be able to unpack it in some professional development forums, and, if you like, take notes around it and check their thinking. There was no intent – I guess the intent to have a variety of formats of the same material was for a variety of audiences across the State.
And then at N3 there’s a document which is described Frequently Asked Questions?‑‑‑Yes.
And would it be right in – to understand reading this document that these are Frequently Asked Questions by the teaching staff and principals?‑‑‑Correct.
And so this was not frequently asked questions for the parents or care-givers of students with disability?‑‑‑No.
And has there been a document described something like a Frequently Asked Questions document from the eyes of a child with disability and/or a parent or care-giver with a child attending school?‑‑‑Yes. We tried to capture that in a range of films and videos and vignettes that we’ve published to talk to that. So we had also developed a suite of posters that spoke to those four measures with children with disability and their families as part of that story on our website and downloaded very frequently and accessed by many, and continually uploaded, is the stories of inclusive education across the department, both through student voice and also through parent voice.
So just coming back to the policy which is N.1, the policy is described by a reference to a set of principles. That’s on the second page. And then reference is made to the nine principles adapted from the United Nations Core Features of Inclusive Education. What does that mean?‑‑‑So we looked to the UN work and to, I guess, have a very clear alignment to the nine core features and I would have to say that the consultation around this Inclusive Education Policy Statement was a very long and extensive process across the department.
Sorry to interrupt you. I’m not yet asking you about ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Sorry.
‑ ‑ ‑ the policy?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ was created or the consultation. I really want you to focus on helping us understand what the nine principles adapted from the United Nations nine core features of inclusive education means?‑‑‑Yes, it means we went to the rights of children with disability and to General Comment No. 4. We wanted to define inclusive education in terms of segregation, exclusion and integration. We wanted to make that clear that commitment at a system level. So those nine core features were, I guess, research evidence-based work that we wanted to acknowledge and position Queensland to be leading in.
How do the nine core features as you describe them fit in with the recommendations of the Deloitte – following the Deloitte Report?‑‑‑I think – and probably what you’ve seen from the Deloitte review, 17 recommendations organised in a variety of different ways. This – these principles clearly speak to the work of schools and school leaders. It’s language that principals and school communities understand and can work towards, and I guess we were able to clearly articulate that and then align our school improvement tools and the work that we could see happening to that policy behind that.
All right. So if the Deloitte Report was dealing with disability and the nine core features deal with disability, this policy is not confined simply to inclusive education for students with disability. You agree with that?‑‑‑Correct.
And looking at the policy, this is also a policy intended to address inclusive education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Do you agree with that?‑‑‑It’s not the only reference. I guess we wanted to highlight in our Every Student Succeeding Plan that we’ve referred to earlier, and have some connection for principals. So, I guess, talking to each of those areas in inclusive education of a range of students was to pictorially highlight that when we talk about every student succeeding we are talking about every student. The Inclusive Education Policy Statement was not produced in a way that would only talk to disability.
All right. So it covers a range of ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Correct.
‑ ‑ ‑ areas where there needs to be work done ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ on the broader inclusion. Can I ask you this: was the intention of this policy looking at a range of areas to be part of the department’s recognition of what might be called intersectionality, that a student with a disability might not only have disability but also be from a different background?‑‑‑Absolutely.
The student might also be a student from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background?‑‑‑Correct.
So how does this policy which uses, as you say, the nine core principles from the Disability Convention adequately address that question of intersectionality?‑‑‑It is an
organiser and there are other departmental policies that then deeply talk to each of the other areas in exactly the same way that I guess the every Student With Disability Policy does. I think it’s important to remember that 18 per cent of our students are identified under the broader definition – definition of disability as requiring adjustments. So you’re absolutely right. There are students, you know, in all of those areas that require adjustments.
So turning over the page, you’ve got in this policy a list of legislation, both Commonwealth and State. And then a series of related policies, related procedures, guidelines and additional information. And they’re all hyperlinked?‑‑‑Correct.
Would you agree with me that to be able to understand the full breadth of this policy and to go in and out of each of the related policies would take a very long time and is very confusing. Would you agree with that?‑‑‑Yes. And I guess that was just a – and the policy team will be able to provide some more advice to you around that and I’m happy to take that on notice, but that has been a way of organising where policies in the Department intersect with each other.
Let me put it to you this way: if I’m a parent of a child with disability and my child is about to start school for the very first time and I find this policy on the website, would it be your expectation that a parent in those circumstances would be able to read this policy and know clearly what to expect with respect to inclusive education?‑‑‑No, I wouldn’t expect a parent to read that.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Can I – sorry, may I interrupt and just ask a couple of things so I am clear that I understand. The Deloitte Report was not specifically or only concerned with students with disability, was it?‑‑‑The Deloitte Report was about students with disability but, clearly, identified students right across our department that we required to make adjustments for and highlighted the definition of broader disability.
Did the Deloitte Report consider some of the other issues relating to the classes or categories of students identified on page 3 of the policy for inclusive education? For example, First Nations students, students living in out-of-home care, and so on?‑‑‑Perhaps not but certainly in our experience as educators, you know, we know our students and we know that those areas come, so that, perhaps, is an interpretation that we’ve made to make this policy talk to the work that we do in schools.
When one reads this document, the Inclusive Education Policy, the impression is that – at least that I get, is that it’s a document that has been adapted to cover all categories identified on page 3. So, for example, the principles taken from the United Nations, none of those refers expressly to students with disability. They seem to have been adapted for the purpose of applying generically to all these categories of students. Am I right in thinking that?‑‑‑Absolutely.
And that means, does it not, that a parent with a student with disabilities would read this document and would have some difficulty in understanding what reasonable adjustment means since that is a term that is applied across the board to deal with quite different categories of students?‑‑‑Yes, but you will also find that what we did with that policy and in our internet presence for families have a category called students with disability where families can go in there and read, I think, the very detailed information that you would want to know to navigate as a parent. So we have absolutely tried as part of this work to simplify and make it easier for families to navigate. They would initially potentially go into our internet site under the search of students with disability. This policy is referenced as part of that but is also then simplified and goes into great detail about all the supports that we might provide to students and the additional services that we have with our staff,
including advisory visiting teachers, nurses, etcetera.
And that’s a different document, is it, than document – the document that is described here as Exhibit N.3, that is, the frequently asked questions document relating to inclusive education?‑‑‑Yes. It’s different.
And is that document to which you have referred annexed to your statement, do you know?‑‑‑I probably didn’t capture the internet site presence, no, but it’s publicly available.
MS EASTMAN: I want to now turn to the question of reasonable adjustment. And if you still have the Exhibit N.1 open on page 4 of 5?‑‑‑Of the policy statement, sorry?
I thank Ms McMillan. So in paragraph 23 of your statement, it’s in response to questions asked of you by the Chair, you’ve dealt with the resource ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Sorry, yes, there’s the link.
Is that what you’re referring to?‑‑‑Yes, thank you.
And so when you haven’t – you haven’t included the actual documents in your statement. You have included?‑‑‑The hyperlink.
‑ ‑ ‑ the link?‑‑‑Yes.
So assuming that we have an internet and our NBN connection is working well, we may be able to get access to it, would that be right?‑‑‑Yes. Or I would have a stronger hope that the family was engaging with the school community and talking, and – yes.
So I want to come to reasonable adjustment because this was very much a key part of the findings in the Deloitte Report that inclusive education had to include adjustment. Do you agree with that?‑‑‑Yes.
And I’m paraphrasing the findings?‑‑‑Yes.
So the definition used by Queensland of reasonable adjustment in the context of its inclusion policy is the definitions set out in the table at the top of the page on page 4 of 5 of the report. Have you got that? And if not, I might ask somebody just to turn ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Of which report, sorry?
So this is Exhibit N.1. So probably where your pen is in your bundle?‑‑‑Sorry. Yes. Yes. Sorry, thank you.
So this is a definition that’s used of reasonable adjustment. Do you see that?‑‑‑Yes.
And is this a definition that you’re familiar with?‑‑‑Yes.
And is this a definition that guides the way in which reasonable adjustments are dealt with in a policy setting for Queensland?‑‑‑Yes. And for the nation.
And coordination?‑‑‑And for the nation.
For the nation. That’s your understanding, is it?‑‑‑Yes.
Just let’s have a look at the definition so that we’re clear as to what your understanding is of a reasonable adjustment. So it’s described as:
An adjustment (being) a measure or action taken to assist a student with disability to participate in education on the same basis as other students.
So that’s the first part of the definition?‑‑‑Yes.
So in terms of that definition, the reference to “other students”, can we take that – or do we understand that to mean other students without the particular disability?‑‑‑Yes.
And so when we’re looking at a measure or an action to assist a student with a disability to participate in education, is it right to say that the purpose of a reasonable adjustment is to enable the student with disability to be the same as the student without that disability?‑‑‑To access the curriculum at the year level in which they’re working.
What does that mean, to access the curriculum at the year level that they’re working? Can you, perhaps, put that in laypersons’ language for me?‑‑‑So as part of, I guess, that EAP process that we talked about and understanding our students and we’re wanting them to have reasonable adjustments to access schooling and the curriculum at the year level in which they’re working. So if we have a student attending a mainstream setting who’s in Year 10 and accessing the curriculum – the maths curriculum at Year 1 or a foundation level, then we are looking at the adjustments that we need for that student to be successful in the curriculum according to their areas of need.
Can I ask you what – when you use the expression “accessing the curriculum”, do you mean by that being able to pass exams? Do you mean by that being able to understand the lessons taught in a classroom? What exactly do you mean by “access the curriculum”?‑‑‑I mean all of that. So what we’re wanting to do is have students be able to participate in their learning. So a reasonable adjustment is just that. What is the adjustment according to a student’s need that we need to make as the classroom teacher for them to be able to participate? Sometimes, that might be a physical adjustment like a ramp to get into the building. Sometimes that might be about some assistive technology to help them communicate and using a communication board. It may be as simple as requiring – not simple – an additional half hour in their senior exam because they have dyslexia, and require additional time, which is a reasonable adjustment to complete the assessment task, and they could be, you know – that’s the limit of their adjustment.
So ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑For some students there would be lots of adjustments and for others there may only be a few.
So when we look at the concept of reasonable adjustment you’re looking at it as – for the purpose, the adjustment is made to achieve a particular purpose which you describe as accessing the curriculum; is that right?‑‑‑Yes.
So the second part of this definition is:
An adjustment is reasonable if it achieves this purpose.
So just pausing there. So that qualifier on the adjustment is linked to it being “reasonable to achieve the purpose”, and then you will see:
That has got to take into account some factors, being the student’s learning needs and balancing the interests of all parties affected, including those of the student with the disability, the education provider –
I assume that means the State of Queensland?‑‑‑Yes.
The staff and the other students.
What does that mean?‑‑‑That we teach students in a class of 25 with resources determined at a school level to make the adjustments for the curriculum. So when we say “reasonable”, that is just so individualised for each student. Some parents, for any student and not a student with disability, might think it’s reasonable that their child has a one-on-one teacher, and that, of course, isn’t reasonable in the resources that we have to deliver state education in Queensland.
But this definition of reasonableness tells us that we’re not just focusing on the child with a disability; but one has to take into account the interests of the State, the
interests of the staff, and the interests of other students in making an assessment as to whether an adjustment is reasonable?‑‑‑Correct.
So that shifts, doesn’t it, the focus away from just looking at the child’s need to looking at the child’s needs for the adjustment in the context of the whole of the operation of the school and other people; is that right?‑‑‑Yes, for their participation in class in their school in their community.
Can I ask you this: in Queensland, who decides when an adjustment will be made for a given student at a particular school? Who makes that decision?‑‑‑Typically the classroom teacher supported by some experts like the head of special education in the way that the HOSES spoke about that yesterday.
What role does the child with disability, assuming that they’ve reached a particular level of maturity and understanding, what role does the child play in identifying what a reasonable adjustment might be?‑‑‑Yes. Often a very active role. Typically as they get older, so very common that students are part of. Sometimes their case management meeting about what it is that they need, and how long they think they need and what that adjustment might be. So it’s not ‑ ‑ ‑
Can we find – can we find that situation in any of the Queensland policies that ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑No, that’s ‑ ‑ ‑
‑ ‑ ‑ give a commitment to the child’s voice being heard in determining adjustments?‑‑‑No, I guess that’s a given in terms of how we work in schools. Student voice is what we do every day.
And what about the role of parents and care-givers in determining the adjustment?‑‑‑Yes, and that’s a critical part of, perhaps, on enrolment. As we heard yesterday for a family with a disability seeking enrolment at a school, they will – will typically talk about the adjustments that are successful or are needed or perhaps their previous school experience. It’s certainly part of the everyday assessment that teachers make in the classroom. And the very fluid and exciting nature of teaching is that those adjustments happen without us even thinking about them, and if we’ve got teachers, perhaps co-teaching or with a support person or an expert in the room, then those adjustments can change all the time.
So if a parent says, “I know my child very well. This is the adjustment that I think would be appropriate for this child” in a particular school setting, what weight is given to the parent’s wishes? Would that be determinative of the adjustments?‑‑‑Yes, and, you know, our best practice ‑ ‑ ‑
Would that be determinative of the adjustment?‑‑‑It would be considered. It may not be fully met, because it may be that it’s not within the resource capacity of the school.
And when are these decisions about adjustments made? Is the process one of having at the beginning of a school year, “Here will be the adjustments that are available”, and they will continue during the year or is that process different to that?‑‑‑Yes. It’s – it’s the art and love of teaching, isn’t it? We can make an adjustment for a student at the beginning of the year, and – and we’re done. So a student, perhaps, in a wheelchair who we’ve had to consider the placement of the whole class, and access to rooms and libraries and science. They’re academically brilliant going on to life at university. We’ve made the adjustment that we need to make for that student. So we wouldn’t revisit it until perhaps the following year when we think, “Timetabling classes, where are we going.”
So where can a parent find in any of the policies or the guidelines as you’ve described them, any indication about how that process might work in terms of who makes the decision, how the decision is made, and what role the parent’s voice or the child’s voice has in that decision-making process? Where can we find that in any policy documents?‑‑‑We wouldn’t stipulate that as a policy document as such. So we wouldn’t find it there. We would find it in an individual student’s individual curriculum plan or support plan that’s discussed and typically parents sign as part of that really good case management processes that we heard about yesterday.
And are all decisions made about adjustments documented in some way?‑‑‑Not all adjustments, no.
Why aren’t they all documented?‑‑‑Because we can make so many of them in a given day.
So, what, so in a given day you might make changes to a routine and you’re describing that as an adjustment but it wouldn’t be documented in any way?‑‑‑Correct.
If even those small changes in a given day aren’t documented, how do you have a record of working out what adjustments work, which adjustments are successful, and what adjustments may have been decided at an earlier point in time?‑‑‑I think it’s the art of the teaching and learning cycle. It’s – know our students.
What does that mean?‑‑‑Yes.
What does a teaching learning cycle mean?‑‑‑We know our students we know our pedagogy... and we call that, I guess, our really good teaching and learning – there’s lots of – I think people used the word pedagogy yesterday. There’s a whole range of – we’re putting the student at the centre of our decision-making and then thinking about the adjustments that are needed. But, you know, for some students the ringing of the fire alarm bell, unplanned, sensory overload, will require that teacher to immediately make an adjustment to support that student to transition from A to B. They’re not the sorts of things. We just know that’s what we do.
Can I ask you this: are there any limitations that the department has identified on what adjustments it will make?‑‑‑No. We – we don’t have limitations, but we do work with school budgets and staffing allocations and work with the resources that we have.
What would happen if there was no adjustment that could be made for a particular student in particular school setting? What happens in those circumstances?‑‑‑I – we would use the expertise of our workforce to think that through, and I can’t imagine – and certainly in my role I do at times work with the most complex of cases of students and I’ve – there’s always something more that we may be able to do.
So how does – how does that fit with the definition of the reasonableness of the adjustment? So that definition that we just looked at which is a reasonableness limitation, would you agree, on achieving a particular purpose? So how does that work when you say we would always look at different adjustments?‑‑‑Students’ needs can change across the course of a day, a year and so it’s reasonable for us as educators to be continually reflecting on what a particular student might need.
Does a student – sorry, I withdraw that. Does the department use unjustifiable hardship as any indicator of the limits on making adjustments in a school setting?‑‑‑It’s not terminology we would use, no.
Never? You would never use reasonable adjustments – sorry, never use unjustifiable hardship?‑‑‑We would say to a family that this is, you know, what we can do with the resources that we have.
But that’s unjustifiable hardship, isn’t it? You’re saying we’ve got to the end of our resources, there’s nothing we can do?
MS McMILLAN: With respect, I don’t know that that’s a particularly fair question to ask this witness. I think she has answered it as best she can.
MS EASTMAN: I’m happy to keep going.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: In terms of ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Sorry. There’s a bit of noise.
MS EASTMAN: I’m mindful of the time so this will be the final question, if that’s convenient, before the morning adjournment.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: That’s fine. Can I just ask something again to make sure I understand how these numbers interact? You’ve told us, I think, that there are something like 1,240 state schools of which 43 are special schools. You’ve told us in your statement that the department or the Queensland Government,
however you wish to put it, allocates a certain amount of money to support students with disability. That amount in 2019, 2020 is $1.59 billion?‑‑‑Correct.
Does any of that go to the special schools?‑‑‑Yes.
How much of that money goes to the special schools; do you know?‑‑‑I will be able to find and provide that information to you, yes.
So that part of the funding that is intended to deal with reasonable accommodation goes to special schools for that purpose as well as to mainstream schools?‑‑‑Yes, absolutely.
And who makes that judgment as to the division between allocation to special schools and allocation to mainstream schools?‑‑‑It’s made on the same judgment as students going to State schools. So it is the same EAP process for all students.
Can you just explain that a little more?‑‑‑So we use the same process around EAP. So the Educational Adjustment Program ‑ ‑ ‑
Yes?‑‑‑ ‑ ‑ ‑ to determine the needs of children, and it’s that same process for all students in Queensland state schools.
And since all students at the special education schools would presumably satisfy that definition, then one might expect a fairly significant proportion of these funds to go to the special schools?‑‑‑Proportionate to the student enrolment, yes.
Yes. Well, proportionate to the student enrolment with disability?‑‑‑Yes.
In each sector?‑‑‑Yes.
I think ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑And typically those students, as you’ve articulated, would more than likely fall into the extensive category, and be receiving that pro rata of resource.
I follow that. Thank you very much. And with the funds that go to the mainstream schools, if I could describe them as such, those funds are distributed at the discretion of the principal. Is that how it works?‑‑‑Correct.
The principal will be presumably guided by whoever is on staff that has particular responsibility for dealing with children with disability?‑‑‑Yes.
It’s a question then for the principal as to how the funds that have been made available are to be allocated for the purpose of providing reasonable adjustment for such children with disabilities that are at that school?‑‑‑That is their accountability, yes.
And that’s the – that’s effectively the limit on what can be done. And I’m not suggesting it’s ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ that there’s anything wrong with that. Resources are finite?‑‑‑Yes.
So the finite resources mark out the limit of what can be done?‑‑‑In addition to that allocation, and we use and have published a document called the Targeted Resourcing. I will find that evidence number or someone will for me. That clearly indicates to schools and probably what wasn’t clear yesterday was that schools receive funding based on students according to the profile, plus an additional 25 per cent for the students that we know perhaps will turn up during the school year, perhaps in prep and yet to be formally assessed or it’s not age appropriate to yet do that. So we have a very generous – generous in terms of the spirit of the funding model to say that we recognise the profile of the students that are attending that school, and we provide an additional buffer, if you like, for students that we would know could well be present. That certainly assists schools to meet the broader definition of disability, and the addition of the WSS-SLR funds, the Whole School Learning Support funds. And, in addition, I think they spoke yesterday about those in quite detail, and I would also add that principals in Investing for Success money, needs based money to help students in their school to make those decisions for all learners, and that funding certainly talks to students with disability as a part of the methodology, Indigenous students, students in out-of-home care, etcetera. So principals have at their disposal all of those funding buckets plus the base allocation that all students get attending that school. And I have been, I guess, initially – I wanted to provide great clarity and wrote the targeted resourcing guide because the myths and legends of the department, it’s not uncommon for a family to say, “My child only gets two hours of teacher aide time and that’s all they’re allocated.” That’s not true in terms of funding. That might be about how the timetable looks but no child in a Queensland state school gets money for the child. All money goes to the school and to the staff to make the adjustments that they do. It’s absolutely in recognition of the adjustments that we expect that that school may need to provide but they hold the professional privilege and accountability and judgment to do that on a case-by-case basis with their students, with their staff, and you heard three HOSES yesterday who clearly do a very clever job and the right work for students to actually provide that support across classes with their peers.
Is the – is there information available for each State school in Queensland that specifies the amount of money received from these various sources?‑‑‑Yes, that’s certainly part of their published annual reports.
That’s part of the annual report. Thank you. I’m very sorry.
MS EASTMAN: Not at all. It was very helpful, thank you, Chair. So the – at paragraph 28 of your statement, Exhibit J – and, Commissioners, this is tab 11 in your bundle – that’s the fact sheet you just referred to for targeted resourcing?‑‑‑Thank you.
Is that right?‑‑‑Correct.
I just want to finish just coming back on the decisions about making an adjustment and how that might practically be done in a school setting. At paragraph 21 of your statement you set out what you describe as some examples of supports and services available to schools and teachers to make reasonable adjustments. Have you got that part of your statement?‑‑‑Yes.
All right. And we might put this list up on the screen. So first of all, the list that you’ve set out in the statement, they are only available to the schools and the teachers; is that right? They’re not available to parents or children?‑‑‑They’re requested by schools but they may well have contact clearly with students and parents as part of their role, or conversations, or assessments.
So are we right in understanding if we look at this list, which includes a range of health professionals and other education professionals, if I can just summarise it that way, that there is a pool of these experts who are available to schools and teachers; is that right?‑‑‑Yes.
And the purpose of this group is to identify what might be an adjustment that could be made in a school setting; is that right?‑‑‑Yes. And to provide that expert advice. I think we heard ‑ ‑ ‑
No, just ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Sorry.
Before you launch in, wait with me. So if a principal had received, for example, a request from a parent for a particular type of adjustment and a parent says, “this is what I know will work for my child in a classroom setting”, the principal could accept that request on face value, is that right, and say, “Sure, I agree”; yes?‑‑‑Yes.
But the principal might say, “That sounds complex, I can’t make that decision myself so I need to get some advice and support.” Is that right?‑‑‑Yes.
And in terms of what is then available to a principal or, for that matter, a teacher in that circumstance, these are the resources that the department makes available?‑‑‑Correct.
Are the parents or care-givers told that the resources that are set out in paragraph 21 of your statement, resources that are available for the department?‑‑‑Yes.
And when and how are the parents told that?‑‑‑So that also appears in that link around disability, and there is a fact sheet on each of those services that articulates what that service is about and how families may expect to be involved or talked through.
So practically, how would this advice be used? Does this, for example, require one of the professionals, say an occupational therapist, to have to come to the school and test the child? Does it work like that?‑‑‑No, not always. It may be that the teacher’s not sure, and may seek advice like that. I think we heard yesterday some
commentary about we can receive medical or clinical reports as educators, and, you know, that’s not our skill set. And so it’s very common that this group of specialised staff would come in and work with a classroom teacher to explain what that means and to model to work with the student perhaps with a particular device or seating position that that report is referring to. So often, and particularly now as families are coming to us with NDIS plans and have had access to a greater range of services not dissimilar available to them outside of the school day, then as we receive those plans this is our team of expert paraprofessionals, professionals that work with us to actually help us understand what those adjustments might need and what the best adjustment, you’re absolutely right, is.
Are the members of the team are they employees of the department?‑‑‑Yes.
There are no independent professionals included in the list?‑‑‑In addition to this list is some partnership programs we have with non-State organisations. So, for example, we have a relationship and have funding agreement for specific support from, say, Guide Dogs Australia. And if a student was to present at a school and that was the first time that school was using an assistance animal, we would work with an expert. So we recognise as an agency that there are other partners, absolutely, that we need to have beyond our own workforce, and we certainly have funding support. They’re there, I guess, to provide us with that, as you say, professional advice and expertise.
And if anyone from this cohort or team makes a recommendation, is it the case that the principal has to comply with the recommendation made by one of the members of this team?‑‑‑It’s a recommendation that would be for the classroom teacher around the best supports and adjustments and how to do that.
So if, for example, the occupational therapist said “I think this is the plan that should be put in place”, can the principal say, “Well, I don’t agree with that. I’m going to do something else”?‑‑‑I wouldn’t imagine that, no.
What if the parent says, “Well, I don’t agree with the OT’s assessment”?‑‑‑Yes, well ‑ ‑ ‑
What happens in those circumstances?‑‑‑Well, that’s clearly where we are working with a family and thinking through the plan. We want families to sign off on that, obviously.
And in terms of the cost of these resources, are they costs borne at a local school level or are these sort of general departmental costs?‑‑‑These are provided in addition to the school resourcing. This suite of resources, I have to say, is the envy of other States and Territories. We have over many years developed and have privileged the professional resources that sit on this page as part of our workforce, highly valued, highly expertised. They are all connected typically to their own professional associations, links with Queensland Health, etcetera, and are often the bridge for us as educators between the health provider and they very frequently could be
negotiating or talking with doctors to seek clarification on something that might be very complex in a document that we need to – to understand or interpret or to find the best way forward.
And is there a policy framework for how the cohort of these team members or advisers operate, and what training have each or any of them undertaken in relation to inclusive education? Is that a requirement?‑‑‑No, but it is something we have done. We have recently – we do bring every couple of years our therapist and nursing staff together for a conference in Brisbane. That has happened this year. And, absolutely, inclusive education framework and policy is one of the – has been one of the signature pieces of that work.
If that’s a convenient time, Commissioners, I’m about to move on to a new topic.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Certainly. Thank you very much. We will take a break of 15 minutes and we will resume then at 11:45.
ADJOURNED [11:30 am]
RESUMED [11.47 am]
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you. One follow-up question. If it’s the case that the principal ultimately will determine whether an adjustment is reasonable, where can the Royal Commission find anywhere in the material provided by Queensland some guidelines on how a principal works out whether making an adjustment is going to be reasonable in particular circumstances?‑‑‑We wouldn’t have documentation to that effect.
Is there any guideline issued specifically to principals to help them work through a process of making the assessment of what’s reasonable taking into account the interests of the State, the staff, and other students?‑‑‑No.
Thank you. Now, one issue that I wanted to raise – and I think we will just touch on this because it may be, Commissioners, an issue that the Royal Commission returns to at a later point in time, and that is managing behaviour and restrictive practices in schools. And I think this issue has been touched on a little bit over the course of the last few days, but not an issue that we’ve addressed in detail in this particular public hearing. So, Ms Dunstone, you wanted to make some comment about the work the department is doing in the area of restrictive practices and also the approach to managing behaviour. What did you wish to tell the Royal Commission about those matters?‑‑‑Sorry. Sorry. I guess I wanted to just articulate and acknowledge that this is a very important piece of work and one of the recommendations that is currently
underway. We have for the last 12 months in a piece of work – not that I’ve been leading but that sits in the school operations area of the State Schooling Division – working to clearly define and think about behaviour for all students, and to articulate, based on one of the recommendations, some very clear guidelines to schools about restrictive practices. And we want to be able to provide, I guess, to school communities, as has been raised in the review, very clear and unambiguous advice about restrictive practices and what responsible behaviour plans for students are and best practice.
When’s that likely to – when is that work likely to be completed?‑‑‑We have all but finalised and going through the approval processes and with the DG at the moment for consideration. In the interim, though, we have been conducting workshops and have seconded three senior principals offline working with principals and Regional Director and ARDs across the State around that. I think yesterday we heard about Positive Behaviour for Learning mentioned by a couple of the schools – actually, all three schools spoke proudly about strong supports ‑ ‑ ‑
Sorry to interrupt ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑PBL, yes.
Just coming back to when this is – will be completed?‑‑‑Certainly it is our intent to roll that out in Term 4 in preparation for a strong start of implementation, consideration and thinking for the 2020 school year.
And has that process of looking at the policy development and the work done both on restrictive practices and managing behaviour involved consultation with children and young people?‑‑‑Yes, it has been. Not necessary – probably the first step would probably be to say we’ve actually used an expert panel from across the country to help our thinking around restrictive practices.
Does the expert panel include a child or a young person?‑‑‑No.
And what about parents and the advocacy groups? You’ve been ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ in the Royal Commission ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ watching the evidence over the last three days. There’s some very strong and very capable advocates. Has there been consultation ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ with some of the people who have appeared in the Royal Commission or involved in those organisations?‑‑‑Yes, there has been.
Is there anything else that you wanted to add on that issue of managing behaviour or restrictive practices ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑No.
‑ ‑ ‑ at this point in time?‑‑‑No.
So the Commission can expect to see something perhaps in the latter part of this year, and if the Commission requests that information, no doubt, I assume, Queensland will be happy to ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ provide it. Thank you. I now want to move to this topic. Many people following the Royal Commission will probably want to know and understand how do you translate the policies that we’ve been talking about this morning into practice. And so I want to explore with you now how that task of translating policies from words on a page into action will occur, and how can the Queensland community be assured or know that the commitments Queensland has made in these policies will actually make a difference, and will achieve their objectives. So I just want to explore those topics with you. Can I start by looking from the perspective of a child and the child’s family? Perhaps starting school for the first time in 2020 in Queensland. Against these new policies, what will be different for a child commencing their school life in 2020 in Queensland? What will be different for that child with disability compared to the past?‑‑‑We would and have been working for the last couple of years but for 2020 certainly that all students are welcomed at their local state school.
And how will they be welcomed?‑‑‑Their enrolment will be accepted, that the teaching and leadership teams will support the family around the adjustments and plan for their child. We would hope, going into 2020, that children with a disability in the very early years had previously engaged with us in the Early Childhood Development Program a very strong and effective transition. Likewise, we would hope that they are currently in kindergarten doing their 15 hours of universal access to kindy in addition to their time with EDCPs. I would hope that we actually know who those students are already, and that they are well and truly underway with their transition being ready for school. I think we all acknowledge and have worked hard around early intervention. I would hope that some families have had – and I’m not so sure of this – early engagement with the NDIS and the ECI partners. They’ve been late to be established here in Queensland and are still yet to, perhaps, hit their strides, but that for a family in 2020 starting school, that they would feel very confident, supported, and connected and would already know which local school they’re going to, and be working with our teams of teachers and support staff around what that looks like.
Will there be anything that is quite specific that will be different from what has happened in the past?‑‑‑Not specific. I think it’s acknowledged that there are many schools in Queensland that have been doing this work very well for the last couple of years. So that expectation in some school communities is very high and very, you know, expected. It wouldn’t, perhaps, look too difficult but for other schools, perhaps they have been really reflecting on their inclusive education journey working with their regional team, with their ARD, perhaps with the inclusion coach or the autism coach. They might be thinking about how their support is provided to schools in classrooms alongside their peers. Perhaps there will be some schools that may have had a more traditional and segregated program operating that for the start of 2020 may be looking at a different way of – of supporting students. I think we
acknowledge and accept and have produced documents for schools to have them really carefully consider their process and practice as we move towards a more inclusive system.
Will there be specific information provided to families with children starting in 2020 that sets out the State’s commitment to inclusive education?‑‑‑We have refreshed the facts sheets and information guidelines published on that internet site that I had given you. So, certainly, we have tried to make it much more user-friendly, and able to orientate families. We had a lot of historically very dense information and facts sheets about – you know, it appeared very complicated about what to do and what supports. I think families would find that that is – is clearer and more accessible and, as I said, I would hope that they were already engaged with us ready for a strong start.
So for that child starting in 2020 looking forward to the life of the student in the school system, say, 12 or 13 years, what can that child and that family expect to see that will be different, perhaps, from an older sibling or somebody else they know who has been through the system?‑‑‑I think they would expect to see their student accessing the Australian Curriculum, and as we move to the full rollout of the Australian Curriculum in 2020, teachers right across the state have been very focused on what that looks like for all students. And so I think in the last couple of years the curriculum reform that has been undertaken has been significant, and that, perhaps, will be a little different. Families and students enjoy, you know, accessing that curriculum and teachers are working to – to consider the needs and adjustments that might need to be made.
So you have heard the Commissioners ask earlier in the week about the importance of education in terms of setting up a person for life?‑‑‑Yes.
In terms of ongoing, perhaps tertiary education, vocational education, but also workforce participation. So I want to ask you about that in terms of the expectations. It’s the case, isn’t it, that the department undertakes surveys of Year 12 school-leavers?‑‑‑Yes.
A survey process called Next Steps; is that right?‑‑‑Correct.
And you’ve included some of that material in the Exhibits provided to the Royal Commission. At the present time, the surveys are split in half – sorry, that’s probably the wrong expression. The surveys are split into two groups. The first group is leavers from schools generally, and the second is a very specific survey done for leavers from special schools. So there’s the two sets of surveys. That’s right, isn’t it?‑‑‑It’s not an area I’m particularly familiar with. We certainly have an area of the Department that – that is their core work, and may be able to provide the Commission with more detailed knowledge of that.
Accepting that you’re not familiar with the survey or the process?‑‑‑Well, I – to a level, yes.
But if I can generally say if one looks at the results, perhaps, of the leavers in Year 12 from 2016 up to 2018, you see real differences in terms of workforce participation or ongoing training and education depending on whether the leaver has left school from a period in special school or from what I think we’ve called regular or mainstream schools. So you’re aware of that?‑‑‑Yes.
And would it be your expectation that the child and a family might expect the implementation of these new policies might change the outcomes for children with disability working their way through the system in terms of opportunities to participate in ongoing education, be it vocational or otherwise, or higher participation in the workforce in what the surveys describe as the open workforce as opposed to a specialised service for people with disability? Would you expect to see those sorts of outcomes change by the way in which the policies will be applied?‑‑‑We, certainly for all students, have a focus on high expectations and attainment. When we’re talking about students with a disability on a highly individualised program, like students that may attend a special education – a special school, I would still hold very high expectations of those students’ participation in the workforce or training programs. They study and work on senior curriculum and VET pathways. Our students in special schools are accessing the Australian Curriculum and are also working on senior pathways to be well positioned for work. And that is particularly obviously highly individualised, and, you know, in many ways that support will see those students perhaps start work or a work experience program as part of their Year 12 studies and be well positioned for a life of employment.
Just for the benefit – and I don’t need this to come up on the screen but for the benefit of the Commissioners, behind tab 12 is a series of reports. And if you work through those Exhibits, including the Exhibit which starts at – give me one moment here – described as ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Are you going to – are you going to do a follow-up to the question you asked and the answer you were given?
MS EASTMAN: No, I wasn’t. I was going to move on.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: May I?
MS EASTMAN: Yes, of course.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Ms Dunstone, I think what Ms Eastman was asking you was if there is a rollout of the inclusive education model that the policies suggest or the guidelines suggest, and that you seem to advocate for, it seems to be part of your role to promote, would you expect that the students with disabilities who are educated in mainstream schools in an inclusive education model might have a better outcome in terms of when they leave school finally after their 13 years in school in a Queensland education system, would have better outcomes in terms of mainstream employment or pathways to further education, whether in a trade or in other types of tertiary education? That – I think that’s the question. It’s a predictive
question but what is your expectation?‑‑‑So I’ve got 95,000 students with disability in mainstream schools, and I would absolutely expect that we have higher expectations. The disability review absolutely indicated there were low expectations and some students not accessing the curriculum. I would absolutely expect for that cohort to continue to rise, but I also have very high expectations and – of the programs that some students on a highly individualised programs are doing at special schools, and there are only 5000 students in Queensland in those settings and I hold just as high expectations for their education and acknowledge that they are doing that in an individualised setting.
All right. Thank you.
MS EASTMAN: I might come back to the specific document and findings when we get to the special schools.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Sure.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: I also have some questions but I’m happy to wait and see.
MS EASTMAN: No, of course.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: I just – so there would be no rejection of a family and a child requesting entry to a mainstream school in Queensland now with the policy?‑‑‑I can’t guarantee that. We would absolutely hope that that wasn’t the case, and certainly if families have experienced that we would want to hear about that story.
And so the avenue for complaint and raising concerns is really clear and, you know, people would complain.
MS EASTMAN: Commissioner, can I just jump up there? I don’t want to distract the witness from answering but the complaint procedures and the availability of complaints is a very specific topic that I’m going to turn to shortly, if that assists, perhaps ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: That’s fine.
MS EASTMAN: ‑ ‑ ‑ to answer those questions in context.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: But especially about gate keeping.
MS EASTMAN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. Okay.
MS EASTMAN: Yes, specifically. If that’s convenient. Sorry to interrupt. Can I turn now to translating policies and into practice from the perspective of the school environment. So these are the frontline, the teachers and the teacher aides. What will be different for the teachers and the teacher aides from here on in in terms of the way in which these policies will apply in practice? And I’m interested in what difference will it make to their work, their day-to-day work? What difference will it make to their professional obligations? What difference will it make in terms of any obligations for ongoing training and career development? So what can you tell us about what will be different for that cohort of teachers and also the teacher aides?‑‑‑And I would like to – it’s not so much about the policy, it’s actually about the implementation of the 17 recommendations of the review. So, clearly, capability development of our workforce is a key area. What is different and has been different for the last couple of years is Regional Directors have been working with me around a regional workforce capability package funded out of some of the disability review funding. And each Regional Director and their ARDs and principals and staff have been actively engaged in a range of programs. Online, videos, vignettes. We have engaged with QELi the leadership institute in Queensland to co-deliver and support some leadership programs for principals, for Heads of Special Education, for our directors and managers in regional level teams to think deeply about inclusive education and to think about the role that they play. It would be fair to say that some of our work has been very siloed, and we are aiming to try and bring that together at a regional level and work packages. Principals – and if I think about this region being in Townsville – would typically meet together to talk about their work. An inclusive focus is often the topic of that. They hold particular learning fairs that they reflect on their practice. They will look at their data. So in that State schooling strategy we saw this morning is that hierarchy of school improvement. So the things that we know as educators are – we want to pay attention to and look at in terms of the data.
Professor Carrington talked about education of teachers, so completing their qualifications to become a teacher and the importance of taking inclusive education as part of the course work. Would that be something that the Department would require, any new teacher either transferring from interstate or a new graduate teacher to have those qualifications? Would that be part of what teachers should expect in the future?‑‑‑It’s absolutely what we would aspire to, the Queensland College of Teachers sets the registration requirement for teachers, but certainly I – I would probably go one step further than just a subject around inclusive education. If 18 per cent of our students are in the state and fairly typical figure across the country we need to make adjustments for, then I would see each and every program offered as part of the four-year address differentiation in each of its subject areas. So if I think of primary school educators and teachers, if the unit is about the teaching of reading, then I would want to know that that unit or that semester as part of best practice talks about the range and the ways in which to teach reading to students across a spectrum. And likewise, in secondary programs in teacher education, that, you know, there’s a greater understanding that the Year 10 curriculum and the teaching of English may require the classroom teacher to know and understand the foundational level reading skills so that they can actually differentiate the curriculum for the students that they
have. So in some ways, you know, a bold move is to say that 18 per cent of the university programs of each course offering should talk to differentiation.
Has there been any exchange or consultation between those relevant universities – Professor Carrington talked about her course and the department – about achieving what you describe as ambitious or bold?‑‑‑Yes. So we do meet at a range of levels and have the university sector on a range of boards. I – I think it’s – it will be interesting for the Commission to have a look at the university sector and how course programs are put together. I was surprised to hear that a unit was withdrawn yesterday in the hearing, and I’m not sure of the story there but I – supply and demand is something we hear the university sector talk about. Perhaps in the past they did have programs for some of our low incidence area specialisations, if you like, and we now have to seek some of that expertise elsewhere. So I think that’s a – you know, worthy of further ‑ ‑ ‑
So one thing ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑ ‑ ‑ ‑ conversation.
One thing that has really dominated the evidence over the last three days is the importance of cultural change. And that’s a fairly fuzzy term, you would agree. So in terms of cultural change I think you’ve identified leadership as an important element, but can I ask you this about cultural change: sometimes this expression is used, is that you can’t be what you can’t see. So how do you use teachers with disability in leadership positions in the State school environment so that students with disability can see that not only maybe their age peers have disability but also those around them, their teacher aides and their teachers are also people with disability? How is that part of the cultural change piece, if at all?‑‑‑Look, we employ a very diverse workforce. We certainly have people right across the agency that would identify as people with a disability working for us. There is no barrier to that as an employer. We certainly have teachers in our system with a disability that do role model and portray that. We have a trial that we’re looking at at the moment around the employment of some further staff in the neurodiversity space and are investigating what that looks like in terms of the workforce as well. So, look, absolutely. There is no difference. I think we’ve proudly been an employer that, you know, certainly holds teacher qualifications and the same for our ancillary staff, our teacher aides and cleaners and support staff that work in our schools. So disability is not something we discriminate around.
So finally on this translating policy into practice, there were a few things that you wanted to add, I think, in addition to what was in your statement. So what would you – what would you like to tell the Royal Commission about the efforts of the Department in translating policy into practice?‑‑‑Yes. And if I could refer to Exhibit X, the Signpost for School Improvement document that was referred to quite a number of times yesterday. I think we’ve got that.
So it’s tab 25 of the Commissioners’ bundle. Would you – would you like that to come up on the screen ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes, please.
‑ ‑ ‑ if that’s possible. Just give us a moment. So that has come up on the screen. Have the Commissioners got that?
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes, more or less.
THE WITNESS: They might not be able to read it. It doesn’t ‑ ‑ ‑
MS EASTMAN: All right. What would you like to tell us about this?‑‑‑It probably goes to the heart of the question that you just asked. And while I – you know, we are leading work around a cultural change of our organisation, and you can have, you know, the review and you can have policy but you actually have to, for schools, make that reflect practice. And we found ourselves when people – you know, it was clear that they didn’t know what the look-fors were. So ‑ ‑ ‑
What do you mean by the look-fors?‑‑‑Well, the look-for is about what we would say. It was very – it could be very easy for a school to say, “We’re inclusive.” And have practice that we would define as not being that. So this document here was a way of helping in a workshop environment, typically run by ARDs working with their principals that they support ‑ ‑ ‑
ARDs are the Regional Directors?‑‑‑Assistant Regional Directors that supervise schools, have perhaps 20 to 25 schools that they would work with very closely, the school visits, thinking through their school reviews about their practice, the things they’ve said in their annual plan about improvement. And we use this document to – with a highlighter to actually get school leadership teams to reflect on where they’re at. And the “School A” column is probably the practice that we would suggest is not inclusive.
Why is that? What’s in ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑So ‑ ‑ ‑
Take us very specifically ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑So that’s ‑ ‑ ‑
‑ ‑ ‑ as to why these are indicators of a non-inclusive school?‑‑‑It’s not that it’s non-inclusive. It’s probably a school at the start of their journey.
Not inclusive enough?‑‑‑Yes. So they might have – let’s look at resources. “Resources deployed in isolation from the school improvement agenda. Student data is not used to inform resource allocation.” And what, then, we tried to pull out of – these are the national school improvement tool domains – is to then say, “So, if you were thinking you were more inclusive, in just one particular area” – and we haven’t pulled out all of the measures here, but, for instance, in resourcing we would want to see or we would think that in a school student achievement and engagement data is used to inform collaborative decisions regarding the allocation of resources, reflecting a whole school approach to supporting student learning in line with the student improvement agenda. So this has been a very important activity that principals and their leadership teams including at the Head of Special Education have perhaps been doing and reflecting upon. And it’s very typical and I would expect for
any school that as a school leader I might highlight in terms of, say, school community partnerships, you know what, we don’t do too much. We’re really good at our data and we do a lot and we’re very good at our resource allocation but we’ve got more work to do around school community partnerships and we might use some of those materials that I showed earlier on to actually think more deeply about our engagement with parents and families as part of the journey. So we try to pull out, I guess, as we talk to schools – and these are the areas in which schools are assessed every four years against their improvement journey to which recommendations and commendations are made about their performance. It was – for principals, I guess that, yes, what are we really talking about? So what I – we have been doing is trying to deeply unpack the culture that we are wanting to move towards. I think the three schools that spoke yesterday wouldn’t yet say that they are at “School C”.
So “School C” is sort of ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Just ‑ ‑ ‑
The best of the best practice?‑‑‑A continuum. Yes, a continuum of practice. They would have – and I think they may have provided to them as part of their statements, because they did refer to them yesterday, they may have had, you know, an artefact highlighted and sort of said, “Wow, we highlighted this and it actually pointed us in the direction of where we could do further work.” And I think that’s really important for every school. And what I think we have taken with the disability review and what is, perhaps, underpinning and not as clear from a policy sense, as – as practice is we’ve tried to lead this work with principals about the moral imperative and the cultural change that we want to see. And it’s tools and conversations and workshops and capability development deeply having these conversations. This isn’t a – don’t read me wrong, this is not a quick tick and flick document. These are deep conversations that then have at the bottom some really probing questions around the next steps for that school.
How – how do you work this with, say, urban schools close to the city versus the remote and the regional schools? Is there any difference in terms of the expectation that you have of achieving “School C”?‑‑‑No.
So how do you meet the challenges of the more remote and rural communities? How do you do that with reaching “School C” standard?‑‑‑Some of those schools may well be closer to that than their colleagues in metro – in the metropolitan area I mean by saying that. It’s interesting, and I can only reflect, perhaps, on my own career. You know, in some of our rural and remote towns, everyone in town comes to your high school. And so some of your practice perhaps just by years and years of that being custom, culture and practice, will be closer there. But there won’t be a school in the State that would say, “Oh, we’re there. We’ve made it.”
Is the aim, though, to say by a particular date that you use “School C” as an indicator or a benchmark in terms of what schools should be achieving in relation to inclusive education?‑‑‑I ‑ ‑ ‑
How do you use this document for the future?‑‑‑Yes. This document was designed, as I said, as a workshop, as a point in time. We have continued to develop other documents and support materials for principals as part of workshops. I have another one that I have recently used that I’m happy to provide to the Commission which took, I guess, the – what would be familiar – and you don’t need to read this now but the Signpost document on the back that we’ve just talked about, and then a deep unpacking of their school data. And so the power of the school improvement agenda when you take a school’s dataset and disaggregate the data around the performance of students with disability, provides another layer and a deeper layer to the conversation about school improvement. So it was my experience when we first did this, as a little bit of a, you know, let’s talk about it and let’s talk about it more deeply. And then the second time, or perhaps the third time, as the ARD and as part of the school visit in a non-judging way – this is about our system getting better and better. This is not any sort of tool around judging poor performance or anything like that. This is about improving towards a more inclusive system. It was interesting when I took those four measures that we talked about at the beginning of the day around school improvement and gave each school their data, and then said, “Does your data reflect the practice that you’ve articulated?”.
Is that data publicly available?‑‑‑That data is part of our OneSchool platform, and, look, I think there was certainly a recommendation, as you will have read in the disability review that it was very difficult to get disaggregated data. So we have pulled some of that information. Principals can access it – access it in OneSchool. They would like to be able to do that faster and quicker. And we do, as part of the work and the early work of the disability review, working towards an online reporting dashboard for principals, so that they could, for instance, disaggregate their indigenous data and performance in their school community, they could look at students in out-of-home care and ask those very important measures that we have for success. And that is, you know, are students getting a C or better on the Australian curriculum? Are they positioned to get their QCE at the end of 13 years of schooling? Are they attending school full-time? And, you know, what are the opinions that staff hold around – not staff – parents hold around how their students are performing, and is there a reduction in the school disciplinary absences for those students.
Well, that’s ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: So this is number 2 on your list of the criteria you’re looking at, Signpost. It’s number – Analysis and Discussion of Data. Is that right?‑‑‑Yes, absolutely. Yes.
MS EASTMAN: So can I ask you with this list, is there anything in the school A to C workshop where there’s something that would help a school look at what has gone well somewhere else? So schools that have had successful models of inclusion might be able to share those experiences? Is there anything in the domain improvement tool document here that shows a commitment by the department to enable people to have access and share information when things work well?‑‑‑Yes, absolutely. And in
a range of formats. So we do publish annually the State of Learning Findings of Queensland School Reviews. So those school reviews against that measure. I did provide that in the documents that we’ve done. But we also have sent across the State and have filmed in every region examples of best practice around inclusive education that have formed videos and vignettes that have been uploaded to our site. So that principals had very quick and easy three to four minute snippets of thinking and structure and what that looks like. It enabled us to put student voice firmly on the table and to show principals what to do. In terms of the SIU the School Unit Improvement review, they have released a paper around differentiated teaching where we have pulled out what we see in schools around best practice. So we are systematically and continuing to provide principals with examples of – of practice. Every time we go and film at a school they will say, “It’s not – it’s not – we haven’t got everything”, but we are looking at a particular part of their practice that we’re very proud of. And we are, of course, acknowledging inclusive education in our school awards, and I think Professor Carrington spoke of those and the recent winner of the Inclusive Education Award. But there was one winner but there were 15 to 19 submissions from across the State of people that proudly wanted to talk about the work they’ve done moving towards a more inclusive system.
So was there anything else that you wanted to add in terms of this translation of policy into practice, or have we covered all the points you wanted to raise?‑‑‑It’s such a – I probably never cover ‑ ‑ ‑
I’m mindful of the time. You don’t have to tell us everything?‑‑‑No, I don’t. But ‑ ‑ ‑
But are there any particular points you wanted to raise?‑‑‑I would just really want to talk to the work of the assistant Regional Directors and the Regional Directors who are working tirelessly around school improvement in their respective seven regions. And they are supported and acknowledged to – to be given the resources to actually think about the workforce capability and packages. What is different to this work than what we’ve done in the past, and I think is a significant learning, in the QSIL rollout that we heard about, we did the sort of professional development that was the standard two or three-day program. Everybody come, have a good time, listen, learn, and, you know, go back to your school and – and to think about it. And we’ve seen some examples of schools that absolutely went back and really thought about it and have done some amazing work. But we’ve also had examples of some schools that went back and went, “Oh, yes”. This work is now deeply embedded in the performance of schools. We also took those four measures of success and have a line of inquiry in each of the SIU reviews that are undertaken to explicitly look at how students of disability are across each of those teaching and learning domains. So there has been some things, I guess, put into the system in Queensland that we will never take out. And that is one of the fundamental recommendations that sit in some of those 17, was to actually find the data, disaggregate it, make it meaningful, put it clearly in the hands of principals so they could reflect on how they were going, and then support them with the capability development and the workforce packages across their school community. There isn’t a principal in the State that isn’t aware
that this is the work and every region and Regional Director is highly committed and rolling out very empowering and sophisticated professional learning. Sometimes it’s on site, sometimes it’s in a workshop. Sometimes it’s about the investment they’ve got in their support staff that are out, their coaches, the autism coaches, the inclusion coaches. We’re building a system of school improvement that is absolutely forefront in the performance of all students, but there is a particular focus around the performance of students with disability as one of those lines of inquiry.
Can I move to a different topic now and it picks up the questions that Commissioner Galbally was just about to ask. So I want to ask you about complaints. So you would accept, wouldn’t you, that disagreements are going to arise from time to time about what might be in the best interests of a student in relation to the adjustments that need to be made? You would agree with that?‑‑‑Yes.
And you would agree, wouldn’t you, that from time to time those disagreements may escalate to complaints?‑‑‑Yes.
And in your experience, would you agree that any disagreements or complaints need to be addressed quickly?‑‑‑Yes.
And they also need to be addressed effectively and they need to be addressed in a manner which enables an ongoing relationship between child, parent and teachers. You would agree with that?‑‑‑Yes.
And sometimes these complaints and disagreements can be very difficult and challenging in a local environment, can they not?‑‑‑Yes, they can.
There can be heightened emotions on all sides?‑‑‑Absolutely.
One issue that the Deloitte Report recognised was that there is no central complaints mechanism and there’s no record of complaints relating to students with disability. So Deloitte made that finding and Deloitte made the following recommendation. I will put this up. So the reference number is 0352. So this is tab 16 of the Commissioners’ bundle. And I will just check the page number is 352. That has come up on the screen there. So you’re familiar with this recommendation ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Sorry, what tab was it, Ms Eastman?
MS EASTMAN: Sixteen.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Sorry, thank you.
MS EASTMAN: Tab 16.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Thank you.
MS EASTMAN: It’s up on the screen. So just looking at that recommendation. So this is one of the 17 recommendations; that’s right, isn’t it?‑‑‑Yes.
And this is a recommendation which is addressed to community and parental engagement?‑‑‑Yes.
The monitoring of complaints should be undertaken centrally and should be granted high priority by the department.
Do you see that?‑‑‑Yes.
And there was a recommendation in relation to building consistency in how complaints are treated throughout the State?‑‑‑Yes.
And that was to achieve the purpose of limiting the escalation of complaints and lessening of period of disruption for a student’s participation in schools. And you accept – the Crown – sorry, I withdraw that. Queensland has accepted that recommendation?‑‑‑Yes.
Now, Deloitte indicated that this was a recommendation that could be implemented immediately. You see that?‑‑‑Yes.
That hasn’t been done, has it?‑‑‑We have implemented a complaint – a centralised complaints management process.
You have?‑‑‑In the Department, yes.
In terms of a centralised complaints management process, can you tell the Royal Commission, if a child wished to make a complaint in relation to an issue concerning his or her treatment in school, what are the mechanisms for a child with disability to make a complaint?‑‑‑As they are as per the complaints process which is published online. So it’s not uncommon for a principal to receive a complaint from a student, and to work that through, and I certainly have had students present to me their case as principal ‑ ‑ ‑
These are students with disability?‑‑‑Yes. Yes. And, you know, I guess just like all of our complaints, they’re best managed locally, and so principals or Heads of Special Ed or the Department would engage with that student about their complaint.
Is that complaint process one that’s specifically designed to ensure that a child is able to make a complaint, or is it the same model that’s used for complaints by parents and others?‑‑‑I guess it’s the same model that we use for all complaints, yes.
So in terms of a parent or a care-giver who wishes to express a grievance or perhaps escalate a matter to a more formal complaint, what’s the mechanism that’s available
for a parent or care-giver to do that? Can you walk us through the steps and tell us how we can find how the complaint might be managed?‑‑‑It’s published online. It’s not a piece of work – certainly, you know, have the broad parameters of how parents make complaints. It is published online externally for parents to look at, but typically they would – and I think as articulated yesterday – try and resolve it with the classroom teacher. They may then take that complaint to perhaps a head of curriculum, a head of special education. They may then escalate that complaint to a deputy principal or a principal of the school. And then the complaints process, if it’s unable to be resolved by the principal, is referred and families are given a link to the region – to the regional direct – to the region and the Regional Director and ARD that supervise that school, and the parent is able to progress their complaint to the Regional Office for consideration.
And Commissioner Galbally’s question was in relation to the enrolment or the initial admission. So what can parents do if they have a complaint in terms of that process before starting school?‑‑‑They’re still able to access the principal to formalise that complaint, or to contact the regional office and the Assistant Regional Director of the school that they are attempting to enrol at.
And is there a fixed time in which the complaints must be addressed and attempts made to resolve complaints?‑‑‑I’m not aware of that detail.
Is there a particular process or mechanism for a staff member, be that be a teacher, a teacher’s aide, to make a complaint?‑‑‑Yes.
So if they observe something in the school that they’re uncomfortable with in relation to the treatment of a student with disability, what mechanisms are available for a staff member or teacher’s aide?‑‑‑The same mechanisms, but if it was about the mistreatment of a student there would be mandatory reporting obligations.
In terms of the complaints procedure, has there – is the document that you referred to online, has that been put in a format that’s easy to read or accessible, or is it one – I think you’ve often described some of the policies being dense?‑‑‑Yes.
And I’m not saying that in any pejorative way?‑‑‑No, no.
But again for families they want to know ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ what do they need to do, how do they need to do it? And I’m thinking about the evidence given on the first day of the hearing where you might recall the witness talked about her perception about the way in which a complaint had been addressed, and her sense of the principal blaming her that she had raised a problem. And so I think the Commission may be interested in knowing, well, what has changed in that respect, and how can families know that if they do want to raise issues, be they grievances or more formal complaints, that there’s a way in which they can do that without the risk of a disadvantage to their child or to the relationship?‑‑‑Yes, for sure. And I recently read the complaints steps online and it’s reasonably simple to
follow and hyperlinks you to all of those areas, including escalating to the Ombudsman. So I think that’s – it may not be accessible as it could or should be but it is in a reasonable format.
Do you know if the principals have had specific training on dispute resolution techniques? Not to add to the ever burdens of principals and their duties, but you would know, wouldn’t you, from your own experience, that a complaint can, in some cases, consume a very significant amount of time for a principal. So how are the principals supported in terms of training, advice or assistance in relation to managing complaints of this kind?‑‑‑Yes. So they’re absolutely supported by their regional team.
Are they trained?‑‑‑Absolutely. And, you know, it’s not uncommon that, you know, we would use some of our expertise, so, you know, a senior guidance officer might be involved in – in thinking through and supporting that. Certainly the Autism Hub and Reading Centre around needs of students is another access point for parents and families. We’ve tried to build some systems so that we can talk early. And as you said, you know, complaints are best managed locally and typically students, you know, go back to that school, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to resolve it as quickly and as professionally as possible. You will have heard that we have a partnership and as part of the recommendations that you’re referring to, we did engage CRU in a contract to work across the State to support families on how to advocate and to be heard, and that sat in parallel to the parent and community poster that we referred to earlier this morning. And they’ve been conducting some amazing workshops, co-designed and, I guess, delivered by them for the specific purpose of addressing what was in the Deloitte Review, some serious insights from families about how they felt. And it – that is a very proactive and – I’m not sure and I can’t speak, but I can’t imagine that too many jurisdictions would – would make such a move. We’re effectively, you know, working in partnership to say, you know, we need to support families to – to have the confidence to go and talk to the school leadership team or the HOSE. Perhaps, you know, there are – you know, families here that since birth have had to fight for the rights of their children, and I would hope, and perhaps as an outcome of the Commission, you know, that some of that fight is no longer necessary around a better system. You know, early connection through ECI partners and NDIS services connection to us in schools, good transition, support as we go through, I think we’re building a system that is getting better and better, but I do want to know that families are confident and feel supported (a) to tell their stories, and I think we’ve heard some stories that – that go back many years, but you can still feel for each of those families as they tell their story, and just like I’m sure the Commissioners, some of that was very difficult to listen to during the course of the week and, you know, our hearts go out to families. It’s not our intent to do that but I think we have been very bold in thinking carefully and in a considered way around parent engagement of families with a disability. We have put on the table some very deliberate strategies. We are also in final negotiations around a contract when, for a very small number of cases before they hit, you know, that Ombudsman human rights, we are in – looking at a contract to engage a professional advocate to advocate for families and to open up that communication with us. It’s not our intent
to see matters end up in the legal system, and we want to resolve them as soon as we possibly can.
I know it’s not your particular responsibility, complaints, and this is an issue that you haven’t addressed in detail in the statement but it is referred to in the Deloitte review. If ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Very happy to provide it.
‑ ‑ ‑ you need the opportunity to provide some additional information around complaint handling and ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Absolutely.
‑ ‑ ‑ the matters that you’ve talked to now about trying to avoid complaints of the kind that make their way up to the Ombudsman, as you say, or to ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ a different forum, you’re very welcome to provide that?‑‑‑We will do that.
‑ ‑ ‑ additional information, subject to the Chair’s view.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: May I ask ‑ ‑ ‑
MS EASTMAN: Sorry.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: May I ask a question about the complaints. If the complaint, for example, was about a gateway issue, so the child – the parent was not made to feel that the child will be welcome at the school, and the complaint went to the regional office, what action would the regional office take? If they – if they formed the view the complaint was justified, what action would they take with regard to the principal who made that family feel less than entirely welcome?‑‑‑We’ve got a couple of those happening at the moment. It’s the time that schools are enrolling for 2020, and they are conversations that we are having with each school. And, look, that – there’s always a few sides and lots of things to consider, but I guess we are, as an executive leadership team, committed to having those conversations. We published and, I guess, in the very early days following the first year of the rollout of the disability review, we publicly talked about being welcomed at the State school, and that the adjustments would be made. Some of the – if I could give an example if you wanted me to.
Sure?‑‑‑And a recent one that I’ve sort of managed and it came to me, you know, as we work across the State of Queensland, people know us familiar and we’ve worked with each other and somebody actually rang me and said, “Deb, I just want to get some advice.” And I said, “Sure.” Very unusual for the principal to, perhaps, ring the AGD but in that way it’s not unusual, but it happens all the time. I said, “Do you want me to listen or” – and it was about enrolling the sibling. So it was a school that had taken the first child in the family in an academic excellence program, and the second child in the family is in a wheelchair, and the family had moved, so they were no longer in the local catchment. And so, you know, there was sort of a whole lot of
rules at play. And I just had to say and all they needed for my support was, “Just do the right thing.” And the right thing is for that child to go to school with their sibling. What was complicated was that the family no longer lived in the local catchment area. And that’s a tricky issue for us around, you know, school boundaries and enrolments. We typically want families but understand that that’s their – her second question to me was then about the school is on a hilly slope, and what would that mean around, you know, the Year 1, where are the Prep classes? Where are the Year 1s? And sometimes it’s the confidence to put students at the centre of our decision-making because perhaps that school had already thought about where the teacher’s classrooms would be for next year but the slight adjustment that needs to be made is to rethink where those classes will be. And, you know, it’s a great story and it wasn’t that the principal was – you know, they were just nervous about thinking through all of the work. So, look, I think we are having the right conversations. Are we getting it right in every school? I certainly wouldn’t sit here and say that that’s the lived experience of every family. I would sit here, though, on behalf of the executive team of the department to say that, you know, we want students to go to their local school, supported in their local community. I like to say to principals to live, work and play. And that’s a really important component.
MS EASTMAN: Can I turn to what I hope will be the final topic and that is special schools in Queensland. So this is a matter that you’ve addressed in your statement. And at paragraph 40 you tell the Royal Commission that there are presently 43 special schools operating in Queensland, as well as a campus at the Innisfail State College. That’s right, isn’t it?‑‑‑Correct.
And you make mention of the Cairns State Special School that opened in 2017. And you say:
No State special school has been opened or decommissioned since 2010.
So I assume that’s excluding ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes, yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ the Cairns school?‑‑‑Yes.
Is that right? Okay. So just with that correction, would it be better to read that apart from the Cairns school ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes. Sorry.
‑ ‑ ‑ there have been no schools opened or decommissioned since 2010. I want to come back to the decommissioning shortly, but in terms of the numbers of students attending these 43 special schools, you tell the Royal Commission that as at August this year there are 5133 students enrolled in Queensland State special schools and they represent 5 per cent of students with disability identified through the NCCD. So that’s right, isn’t it?‑‑‑Correct.
And for a student to qualify to attend a special school, and that expression comes from the legislation; is that right?‑‑‑That’s right.
That the legislation sets out the need for the Minister for Education to approve eligibility guidelines and policies; is that right?‑‑‑That’s correct.
And the current policy in relation to qualifying to attend a special school is included in the Exhibits to your statement. It’s Exhibit L. And, Commissioners, this should be behind tab 13 in your bundles. And the first document which is marked L.1 is the Special School Eligibility Person With Disability Criteria Policy. Have you got that? And if not, someone can come and help you turn that up?‑‑‑I’ve got a bundle here.
You’ve got a lot of paper. So we will just help you go directly to the policy. So are you familiar with this policy?‑‑‑Yes.
And do you know the date of this policy? I wasn’t sure that I could see a date for this policy. Is this a policy that predates Deloitte or postdates Deloitte?‑‑‑It’s just been updated. So it was released only about a couple of months ago in its new form.
All right?‑‑‑I can provide the date if you would like me to.
So in terms of the criteria for enrolment, we’ve just got this – turn this up on the screen. It’s the second page of the policy, Commissioners. Now, four relevant criteria. You see that?‑‑‑Yes.
So first, a person has to have a disability defined by the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act?‑‑‑Yes.
Secondly, the person has a severe disability which includes an intellectual disability. And those words are italicised. So are you aware of what this policy means by way of severe disability? There are some definitions?‑‑‑I’m not the expert.
Right. Okay?‑‑‑But I’m aware that ‑ ‑ ‑
All right?‑‑‑ ‑ ‑ ‑ this is clearly an area our senior guidance officers have a deep understanding and assessment of. But keep going.
So severe disability, there’s a table on the following pages under the heading Definition?‑‑‑Yes.
Has a particular definition to mean:
A disability where the impact of the intellectual disability or multiple impairments including intellectual disability results in the student requiring a highly individualised program to access and participate in education.
And then intellectual disability is also given its definition of being:
A disability that’s characterised by deficits in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour requiring significant education adjustments.
So that’s the second limb. The third limb is the person:
Is unlikely to attain the levels of development of which the person is capable unless the person receives special education.
And the fourth is that:
The person’s educational program is best delivered in a special school taking into account the appropriateness of this placement for the individual concerned.
So, those are the four criteria. In terms of the steps in satisfying the criteria, it’s the case, isn’t it, that there are guidelines that accompany this policy, and Commissioners will find that as part of the same Exhibit but marked L.2. Are you familiar with the guidelines?‑‑‑At an overarching level, yes.
If you don’t know and you’re not sure, don’t guess?‑‑‑No, no, I won’t.
Just tell us that you’re not sure. And if you need an opportunity to provide some additional information, I’m sure we can arrange that. Can I summarise this way: these guidelines set out the way in which a decision has to be made, and the obligations of the decision-maker working through a particular process. You would agree with that?‑‑‑Yes.
And the nature of the decision-making process in relation to each of those four criteria rely very heavily on medical advice and health advice; is that right?‑‑‑And senior guidance officers, yes.
And these – these guidelines also set out some timeframes in which the applications and the process have to be considered; is that right?‑‑‑Yes.
So if you are still in the guidelines document and there’s some numbers on the bottom of the page on the left side, if you turn to page 9 of 26?‑‑‑Yes.
This table sets out the process for a student who’s not currently enrolled in a Queensland State Special School in terms of the steps that need to be undertaken and the timeframes for making that assessment. Do you agree with that?‑‑‑Yes.
Now, tell me this. If you’re not familiar with what’s involved with any of the stages let me know, but if you are familiar with what’s involved in any of the stages, can we work through them?‑‑‑Yes.
All right. So stage 1 says that:
Parents are provided with advice about enrolment options for their child as required.
Do you know what advice parents have provided?‑‑‑Yes. We’ve recently updated and rewritten as part of the recommendations of the review a facts sheet for parents. That is available online. I think it’s L.4.
So L4 in the bundle. And that’s – so that’s the final two page – sorry, four pages of the bundle. So, this is provided to parents as a matter of course, or do the parents have to make the inquiry in terms of these options? So how do parents know to look up this information? How do they receive it?‑‑‑Look, they could receive that from just Googling. They could be in conversation with the Head of Special Education about their – their thinking. It could be an early enrolment. There’s a range of ways that families might consider a special school enrolment.
Is the purpose of providing this information at the first instance to steer parents away from special schools into the local school?‑‑‑Yes. So what you might see, which is very different to what we’ve published before, is we are very clear about what special schools do. And then we have indicated and forefronted the policy with, you know, the department is committed to seeing students attend their local State education centre to be welcomed and a link to the Inclusive Education Policy as part of the front end of information and thinking for families about this decision.
From a practical perspective, how does this work? Is it that the parents might receive this information and then the local school says, “We don’t think this is the right school for you, make an application.” Or is this driven by parent choice?‑‑‑It’s our goal that this is driven by parent choice. That historically hasn’t always been the case.
All right. So historically it may be that a decision was made or a ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes, or ‑ ‑ ‑
A recommendation ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ might have been made?‑‑‑Or as parents indicated early in the week, actively encouraged or made to feel that that was, perhaps, their only choice. And we’ve certainly – there are examples of that in the Deloitte Review that weren’t inconsistent with the evidence that was presented to the Commission this week.
Now, is it – is it the case in terms of the decision-making in relation to whether a child attends a special school, that’s taken out of the hands of principals and it’s a decision made by somebody within the department; is that right?‑‑‑Correct.
And do you know anything about the process of that decision-making and what’s involved in the decision-making?‑‑‑It – I don’t know it in detail because that, obviously, is very expert advice and clinical and professional – that is clearly articulated in the guidelines and is an evidence guide, our senior GOs are highly trained in this assessment. I probably, if we’re still at stage 1 of that parent application, I would want to point out to the Commission a very significant change, and that is that at the front end of the process we want the state school that the student is – if they’re currently at school, to be where the parent first talks to the principal about their desire to go to a special school. And we’ve done that so that families get an opportunity to say – or for the principal to say, “What’s not working here? What else do we need to do?”. And to think and be part of that conversation with the family and that – that’s a change to what we’ve done. Just to, I guess, really think through parents, their thinking, is there more we can do, is – you know, what – what’s their thinking and what’s the story about their child, and given that it’s our – our hope and goal that families are talking to us and supportive of that, that was – you know, that’s kind of a signature change to how the forms previously may have come to us.
So it – so rather – I won’t spend time ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑No.
‑ ‑ ‑ on those circumstances going through the decision-making process but let’s jump forward and assume that the application is successful. So within the 22 ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ days or so the parents are notified that their child will be accepted into a special school. What is that at the present time? What does that mean in terms of the curriculum options for that child? You’ve talked – and I will ask you this in the context – we talked earlier about reasonable adjustments to access the curriculum. And one of the issues which has come up over the course of the week is, well, if those adjustments can be made, then those adjustments can be made and there should be no need for a special school. So I want to explore with you is the curriculum different for a child who is attending a special school in Queensland? Is that the reason why you have the separate schemes?‑‑‑No. And the curriculum is the Australian Curriculum. And typically, those students will be accessing the curriculum on a highly individualised program. So that part is – wouldn’t be different. The content might be different based on the unit of work or the organising content that the teacher’s working with, but all students are accessing the Australian Curriculum. Some of our students with an intellectual disability that may well be at a foundation level, but it’s still the Australian Curriculum and they will be working their way towards their next level.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Ms Eastman, I see the time.
MS EASTMAN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: How much longer are you likely to be with Ms Dunstone?
MS EASTMAN: I probably have about five or 10 minutes on this topic but I know my learned friend Ms McMillan has some questions. So if it’s a convenient time?
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Ms McMillan, you wish to ask some questions?
MS McMILLAN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: To cross-examine a friendly witness?
MS McMILLAN: More like re-examination, just about – well, it’s really about other issues from other witnesses and I will be about 10 minutes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you.
MS McMILLAN: So it’s not lengthy.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Dr Mellifont – do you mind if I just ask, Dr Mellifont, how long are you likely to be in your final statement?
DR MELLIFONT: Ten minutes, 15 minutes at the outside, I would have thought.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Ms McMillan do you wish to say something by conclusion after we finish?
MS McMILLAN: No, Dr Mellifont has been kind enough to give me an outline of what she wishes to say, and given that there’s nothing I wish to add to that.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: All right. Thank you. I think perhaps the best course is to adjourn now. Should we take a slightly shorter time for the luncheon adjournment and resume at, say, 2 o’clock.
MS EASTMAN: If that’s convenient. I can narrow down the questions I want to ask on this topic, and I think we want to give Ms Dunstone the same opportunity we’ve asked everybody else as what one wants to seek.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Ms Dunstone has been in the witness box for three hours. So ‑ ‑ ‑
MS EASTMAN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Let us resume at 2 pm and then on the basis of the time estimates given by counsel which are always extraordinarily reliable and precise we shall be ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Inaccurate.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: ‑ ‑ ‑ finished by 3 pm.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you.
ADJOURNED [1.02 pm]
RESUMED [2.00 pm]
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you.
Ms Dunstone, before lunch we were talking about the curriculum for special schools. And I want to ask you now just a few focused questions in relation to special schools. Firstly, can I ask you once a child is enrolled in a special school in Queensland, is there a process of transitioning from a special school into the child’s local school?‑‑‑Yes, there is. And ‑ ‑ ‑
What does that involve?‑‑‑I can report to the Commission that this year we have transferred 95 students from state special schools to a mainstream school.
And what’s the process involved in making that transition?‑‑‑Extremely good case management. Our special school principals are highly committed to supporting the cluster of schools in which they live and work and are often part of professional learning networks. They would be working with the student, the family, the feeder school. I’ve recently visited a special school where I saw that in action, and, you know, lots of dedicated people working to make sure that that would be a highly successful transition.
There has been quite a deal of evidence over the last three days about the utility of special schools in Queensland. And you’ve heard the evidence suggesting that there’s no need, that if the resources are available they should be directed to the local school, and that one of the witnesses suggested that there should be a process of closing down special schools over 15 years. So you’ve heard that evidence?‑‑‑Yes.
It’s the case, isn’t it, that there has, as you said earlier, been no decommissioning of any special school in Queensland since 2010?‑‑‑Correct.
Has there been any particular reason why there hasn’t been a decommissioning over the last nine years?‑‑‑We probably have not closed – we might have closed some schools because there were no enrolments but there has been no active process of closing any schools in Queensland during that period of time.
And is it the case that for special schools, it’s the case over the last few years that the enrolments have increased for those schools?‑‑‑There has been some proportionate
increase to enrolment but that is balanced against the significant increase of students coming into state schooling in this state.
So, what, the reason is because of a higher number of overall students?‑‑‑Proportionately, yes.
And when you say coming from interstate ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑No, no, coming into the state system.
Into the state system?‑‑‑Yes.
Has there been any analysis done as to why there has been increase in enrolment notwithstanding the larger number of students in total in the system?‑‑‑If I point to some data about transfers that I got from mainstream state schools to special schools. In 2015, 388 students transitioned from a mainstream school to a special school. And in 2019, that was only 299 students.
So what – in what circumstance would a student who started at a local school end up, as you say, being transitioned into a special school?‑‑‑Based ‑ ‑ ‑
How and why would that occur?‑‑‑Parents choose – choice, whether that’s a perceived choice or a forced choice, as we’ve heard, but they’re looking for the best – what’s in the best interest of their child. And I imagine for every family, and I think the Commission over time will hear from families that talk about why they made that choice, and I think for every family, as they reflect on what’s in the best interest of their student. Currently in the State of Queensland, we legislate to have special schools, and that’s, you know, the government policy of the day.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: If I understand the figures correctly, there were 95 that transitioned from special schools to mainstream school?‑‑‑This year.
At 2019?‑‑‑Yes, today.
And in the same year 2019, 299 went the other way?‑‑‑Yes. But in previous ‑ ‑ ‑
So that’s a net gain of 204?‑‑‑Yes, but this previous – years we would have seen, perhaps, many more students – at – at the junctures particularly, say, between primary and secondary.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Do you know how you showed us the “School A”, “School B”, “School C” models of the progress and inclusion, and I think you said you wouldn’t even say that the three schools we’ve seen showcased yesterday were yet in “School C” in every domain, but let’s assume they’re getting close to it. Are you aware of any disaggregation of the data which show us of any students from a school that had “School B” or “School C” inclusion criteria and had students transition to special schools?‑‑‑That’s a reflection tool, so not a tool that we would
formally collect data around. So I wouldn’t – you know, that’s a school improvement tool to reflect on the journey. It’s not to disaggregate data around.
Sure?‑‑‑And we would hold no data against that tool.
The reason why the data might be interesting is it would show this Commission, and no doubt the Department, whether or not it was necessary to have students transition – or parents want to transition their children to special schools if they – if the child was able to go to a school that was well on the journey to inclusive schooling. Would that not be interesting and useful as a – when you’re talking about disaggregating data – to see what’s happening with that – not be a useful disaggregation of the data?‑‑‑Yes. And certainly, I guess, that’s why we front-ended the enrolment application process for the family to first present to the school in which their child is currently enrolled, to have that school team (a) firstly, look, there’s many families that apply for a range of reasons and often don’t meet the eligibility criteria. I just remind the Commission that that criteria is very tight.
Sure?‑‑‑And, you know, it represents 5,000 students, as I’ve said.
You have 299 students in this calendar year who started in their local school?‑‑‑Correct.
But, obviously, their parents were not ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑And ‑ ‑ ‑
‑ ‑ ‑ satisfied with the education their children were receiving?‑‑‑No, absolutely not. But it’s a lesser number than what we’ve seen in previous years, and this is a journey for us working towards, and I respect that for some families these are very difficult decisions. And they are making them in the best interest of their child.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Mainstream schools that have a higher – significantly higher than average transition away to special schools might give an indication ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Yes.
‑ ‑ ‑ that those schools are not fulfilling the aims of the inclusion policy, one might think.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Yes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Which is really what Commissioner Atkinson is ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑And that’s certainly data over the next couple of years as we’re embedding this work that we will continue to look at and reflect upon.
Happily that’s within the life of the Commission.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Could I just ask if every child at a special school has a transition plan?‑‑‑No, I indicated a transition plan if there – was their parents’ goal for them to return or transition to a mainstream school. Every child at a special school obviously has a highly individualised curriculum and support plan. And at the junctures, as we prepare for those students to graduate from Year 12, transition will have begun, you know, in – the usually the two years prior, as we think about their set planning, so their plans for post-schooling, as we do for all students.
Do you have data on the numbers of students transitioning from special schools into sheltered workshops?‑‑‑No, I don’t.
Is that available? Could we ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑I’m not sure that we collect that.
And adult programs too?‑‑‑Yes. It would be – some special schools principals may hold that data but many may not.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. So we’re just checking whether there is that material available. I raised earlier the survey called The Next Step Survey which looks at the career intentions and the options for students after completing Year 12. I’m not sure that there’s a survey of that kind before the student leaves school. Are you aware whether the survey captures somebody leaving before Year 12, for example, in Year 10 or Year 11?‑‑‑Yes, no. Principals would certainly have planning and ideas and goals and aspirations co-designed with the family around that student but I would say we see many young people from special schools enter employment. So I wouldn’t be thinking that that was dominating at all.
While we’re on that topic – and I don’t want to waste the Commission’s time – there is some material in Exhibit K which is tab 12, and there’s some pagination. So it might be page 141 or alternatively for the document itself page 29 which has two pie chart graphs – K.4. They’re two pie chart graphs for the main destination of special school graduates from 2014, and then to 2015, then 2014, then survey in 2016. So I just pull that up. And in terms of the Commissioner’s questions about, in effect, the next steps, and in dealing with, Ms Dunstone, your evidence now that many go on to employment, if you have a look at that graph in terms of – say if we take the 2016, the graph at the bottom of the page, in terms of students graduating from special schools who make their way into open employment, that’s 3.5 per cent of those who have responded to the survey. You agree with that?‑‑‑Yes.
And in terms of looking at where most of the cohort who respond to the survey find themselves after graduating from special school, it’s really in that shaded aqua colour which is attending a day service. So looking at the range of options for the graduates of special schools, would you agree with me that you couldn’t say that most of those graduates end up in open employment?‑‑‑Yes. I could absolutely say it based on the graph. What I think is interesting is – and what we perhaps don’t yet have data on is the NDIS services and the transition and pathways that are currently being negotiated and worked through with families. I suspect and I would hope that that is a significant area of work around people being supported into the world of work in a
different way that families and students have had access to in the past. So I acknowledge that that data is – is 2016, and very happy to keep our eye on future datasets, and I would hope that, you know, the plans of the NDIA for people remembering that, of course, these students in special school have an intellectual disability based on their criteria, but certainly work hard towards a world of work where possible.
You’re aware that the – this material’s available on the Department’s website?‑‑‑Yes.
And if somebody checked the website they might see that there is more recent data including ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Is there?
‑ ‑ ‑ the leavers from 2017 ‑ ‑ ‑?‑‑‑Okay, I haven’t looked, sorry.
‑ ‑ ‑ to 2018. Maybe that’s something that can be provided to the Commission?‑‑‑Yes. I certainly know we’ve been doing a lot of work with the NDIA on transition.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Ms Eastman, I think at least at some stage we will have to develop some homework for the Queensland Department of Education which I’m sure being an educational institution they would be more than happy to comply?‑‑‑Yes, we’re very familiar with homework.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Only 30 minutes a day.
MS EASTMAN: Ms Dunstone, I just want to clarify a few things when we’re talking about special schools we’re not talking about special education units in Queensland; that’s right, isn’t it?‑‑‑That’s correct.
You’ve said in your statement that Queensland does not operate special education units?‑‑‑Yes.
They ceased operation in the state school system in 2008. But you still have something called a Special Education Program and that has been operating in lieu of the Special Education Unit since 2008; is that right?‑‑‑Yes. That’s how we program and provide support to schools.
And some of the witnesses who gave evidence yesterday talked about the SEP, is that right, in terms of the Special Education Programs? Finally, can I ask you this: the evidence seems to be leaning to a view perhaps from those giving evidence and perhaps reflecting the community that there’s no longer a need for special schools. Do you agree that there isn’t a need for special schools in Queensland?‑‑‑Look, I think that’s a matter for the Department and the government to consider deeply, and I’m not in a position to reply to that at this stage.
So you don’t want to express any view on the suggestion from the evidence on Monday that a 15-year timeframe might be developed for the closure of special schools?‑‑‑Not at this point, no.
So the final thing I want to ask you is the question that all of the witnesses who have come to speak to the Royal Commission over the week – is, what do you want to see from this Royal Commission? Is there anything you wish to tell the Commission about your wish list?‑‑‑I feel that there’s so much more I could say about the journey that Queensland has been on, but I guess I would mostly like to acknowledge the evidence that we’ve heard from parents and staff about their experiences, both positive and negative this week. The many staff working in Queensland state education system including myself, some of the experiences students with disabilities and their families and carers have cut to the core of our strongly-held values that every student has a right to an education. We acknowledge that education is one of the most important foundations to living a life of choice, not a life of chance. While we are proud of our Inclusive Education Policy and improvements that have taken place, we know we have a lot more work to do. We will continue to build the capability of schools to make reasonable adjustments, address systemic issues, earn parent confidence and continue to transform our state education system. But the transition – transformation is not as easy, as the Royal Commission has heard over the last four days. It touches every aspect of our education system. Our culture, our policy, our infrastructure, our resourcing, our practice and, most importantly, our parent and student engagement. Every change has to involve all stakeholders, many who have competing views and expectations. But we are committed to continuing to our journey towards a more inclusive education where students of all abilities are welcomed at their local state school, feel safe, are valued, learn alongside their similar-aged peers and achieve their full potential in life. Schools have their own cultures set by school leadership and the policies of the Department. But schools are also a part of the community. They reflect the values of the community that they serve. One of the greatest contributions the Royal Commission can make is to raise awareness about inclusive education and the lived experience of students and disability and their parents and carers across the full spectrum of their lives. The journey to inclusive education is difficult and we have been guided by the 17 recommendations made by the Queensland disability review. They provide, I believe, a very useful roadmap to change system, culture and practice. And I’ve been privileged to lead this work for the last three years in the Department and I know the challenges, I know the difficult conversations we’ve had, and I know how hard school teams, leadership teams, and staff work. The vast majority of our workforce turn up every single day to make a difference to the lives of students in Queensland and I’m incredibly proud to be part of that system. Thank you.
If the Commission pleases.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you very much. Ms McMillan, did you have some questions in re-examination.
<EXAMINATION BY MS McMILLAN [2.19 pm]
MS McMILLAN: Yes, I do. Thank you.
Ms Dunstone, you heard the evidence, as you’ve said earlier this week, both from the HOSES, if I can describe them, and also the principals yesterday, and particularly I’m thinking of Ms Prichard, who perhaps we might describe in unequivocal terms indicated her views about the use of teacher aides in the classroom. Now, you’ve addressed at paragraph 24 of your statement something about teacher aides. Could you indicate to the Commission, if you do, your view about the utility of teacher aides and particularly with reference to children with a disability or students with a disability, I should say?‑‑‑Yes. I think our teacher aides are an incredibly valuable resource, and there’s 19,000 of them across the state that work every day as teachers do to value-add to the education and learning experiences. In my experience, teacher aides have been an absolutely integral part of the school communities in which I’ve had the privilege to lead, and I know that principals in the state believe that too. I also probably believe that Ms Prichard also values her teacher aides but in a passionate debate about resourcing and future potential, you know, I acknowledge that, you know, resourcing has been, you know, certainly a topic. But, you know, our teacher aides are highly skilled, this Department commits to significant training. Our teacher aides that work with students with disability, you know, provide some very specialised support, sometimes personal care, healthcare, etcetera, and are an incredibly valuable part of our workforce and will continue to be.
Right. Can I then move on, which is slightly related to that. Ms Prichard also unequivocally seemed to indicate too about the funding model being some 40 years out of date, and she seemed to advocate for a more flexible model. Obviously, this is a very large area but do you have a fairly short response to that?‑‑‑Yes. Look, size of school determines sometimes flexibility, and I guess the Commission yesterday saw three – two fairly small high schools in comparison to the size. And so I acknowledge – and I was a principal of a small high school, that the resources become quite tight. But I think we also heard from a principal who said, you know, “I’ve got a larger school and I’ve got a little bit more flexibility.” What we have been doing and proudly have been providing flexibility to principals with the autonomy and the accountability to – to think about their resourcing, that Investing for Success money, the WSS-SLR resources, disability funding and funding our principals can use to determine the workforce and make up. The traditional funding model and, I guess, the historic model, is historic but it’s also important. It’s how we staff schools and meet the parameters of the budget in which we need to operate.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: As a matter of interest, do all principals get paid the same?‑‑‑No, based on banding and size of school.
Size of school. Is there any provision for incentives for achieving specific goals? In other words, can incentives be paid to principals to those who achieve goals for example integration and students with disability?‑‑‑Not in the ‑ ‑ ‑
MS McMILLAN: I think, Chair, did you mean inclusion?
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Inclusion. What did I say? Inclusion. That would be common throughout Australia.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Can I just ask you and you may not know the answer but yesterday there was a mention of – is there a chaplain in every school?‑‑‑No. But some school communities there’s a range of options for how they might be supported and funded, and high schools ‑ ‑ ‑
But that’s funded by the Commonwealth, isn’t it?‑‑‑Correct, yes.
MS McMILLAN: I think the evidence was that depending on the size of the school, a chaplain may be shared amongst a number of schools?‑‑‑Yes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: That’s right.
MS McMILLAN: Now, the last question I have for you is this – is that – you were asked quite a number of questions by my learned friend Ms Eastman about how parents may be aware of different policies and accessing them in terms of being able to understand what may be available at schools for their children, and obviously particularly concerned with children and students with disabilities. If we’re looking at parents who may not have so much electronic access – and I’m thinking particularly of groups maybe such as people without English as their first language, maybe some of the indigenous population, maybe some people of lower socioeconomic group. You heard Mr Dale talk yesterday about doing some home visits to engage with parents. Can you tell us any more about how schools might, or do they in your experience, engage more broadly if you’ve got, for instance – I will just outline some potential groups that may not have ready access to, for instance, online facilities?‑‑‑My schools are very – live and work in the community they operate so it’s not unusual to see the combination of our workforce reflect the community. So, you know, in some of our EAL/D, English as a second language we will often see teacher aides or ancillary staff employed from those cultural groups or communities, and it is not always often but certainly in some cases we see families, you know, meeting with them off site in places where they can have a quieter conversation. I know that some of our senior guidance officers and people working with a family ‑ ‑ ‑
Just slow down a little bit?‑‑‑Sorry, or school they could well meet at a local coffee shop or the council rooms or a common community safe place in indigenous communities that’s respected by all. So, look, I think we work hard to live and work in the communities in which we have our schools across Queensland, and I think every school principal has a range of strategies, and we certainly have a very open view to do, I guess, whatever it takes to support. There’s currently some lovely work happening in the early years around student access to kindy and collaborative conversations and partnerships, and early identify – identification of students who we think may be vulnerable and access to kindy working with the local council, day care
providers, family groups, cultural groups to say hey, is everyone getting ready to come along and what more do we have to do to make this open and inclusive. So there’s lots of aspects to the work that we’re doing which I think is positioning as well to try and work with all families.
Thank you. Commissioner Atkinson, I think I’m within my time. That’s all I have, thank you.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: That’s very unusual, Ms McMillan.
MS McMILLAN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Perhaps it’s because I’m here.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you very much. Ms Eastman, is there anything else from you?
MS EASTMAN: No, thank you.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Ms Dunstone, thank you very much for your attendance and thank you for giving us your evidence. We appreciate it very much. You can step down, now?‑‑‑Thank you.
You’re free of the notional witness box.
<THE WITNESS WITHDREW [2.27 pm]
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Ms McMillan, I just wanted to put a hypothetical question, not for you to answer now, but perhaps to take on notice. Actually, it’s really a question about the question. Let me ask the hypothetical question first and then explain what it would be helpful to ascertain, if possible.
MS McMILLAN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: You will get a copy of this as soon as we finish.
MS McMILLAN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: The hypothetical question involves a series of assumptions. Assumption number 1 is that the Commonwealth enacts legislation under the Convention by conferring a right to inclusive education in state and territory schools on all children including children with disability regardless of the nature of disability. Alternatively, Queensland itself independently of the Commonwealth, enacts legislation precisely to that effect. That, as I understand it, is the current position adopted in Queensland, in principle.
MS McMILLAN: In the state education ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: In the state education - - -
MS McMILLAN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: - - - that’s what I’m talking about - - -
MS McMILLAN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: - - - state and territory schools, meaning state schools. Secondly, the inclusion of education under this hypothetical situation incorporates a requirement that over a period of time all separate state-funded special education schools – so in Queensland, all Queensland-funded special education schools – would close and that the resources devoted to them would be transferred to mainstream schools. That’s the second assumption. The third assumption is that mainstream schools have to be in a position to provide inclusive education for all children, and inclusive education for this purpose is understood to mean all reasonable adjustments required for each student with disability on the basis that the necessary resources will be available. In other words, they won’t be qualified by limitation on resources. The fourth assumption is that the transitional period is 15 years. Now, I know this hypothetical question makes a whole series of contentious assumptions, for example, about parental choice, but they’re just assumptions. I also know that the question does not deal with private schools, but they may nonetheless receive government funding.
But putting that to one side, the question is this: what additional resources would Queensland require to implement this hypothetical scheme over 15 years? And my question – and if you wouldn’t mind taking it on notice – is whether Queensland would be able to prepare a submission that addresses that question, and also comments on both the desirability and feasibility of implementing such a scheme.
MS McMILLAN: Well, we would need to take it on notice and work out the feasibility but ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: I should add this is a question, or perhaps some variation of it, if it requires amendment, that I would expect might be put to other states and territories.
MS McMILLAN: One would expect with parity ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes.
MS McMILLAN: ‑ ‑ ‑ it would no doubt be. But can I say that one thing that perhaps is troubling, if I can put it this way at this stage, is there really hasn’t been any other side of the debate, if I can put it this way, about special schools. And it probably is not fair, if I can put it this way, not to have heard from – and no doubt we
could provide a statement from a special school principal, if that’s what the Commission would want, and undoubtedly – and I understand there may be a submission coming from an advocacy group about special schools. So obviously, as you say, Chair, you’ve made some assumptions there.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes.
MS McMILLAN: And implicit in that assumption is that special schools should in fact be effectively phased out.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: It’s a hypothesis and by putting the hypothesis ‑ ‑ ‑
MS McMILLAN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: I’m not for a moment suggesting that that is something the Commission should conclude.
MS McMILLAN: I understand that.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: But obviously if that is to be within the realm of consideration, it becomes very significant to identify ‑ ‑ ‑
MS McMILLAN: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: ‑ ‑ ‑ what sort of costs would be involved. I should make it absolutely clear, and no doubt all Commissioners agree with this, that we are here to consider all sides of the argument.
MS McMILLAN: I understand.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: And if – on any given issue, and if there is a further submission or further evidence that you wish to adduce on the question of special education schools, then, of course, you will have that opportunity and that material will be taken into account. The hypothetical question I raised is really directed to ‑ ‑ ‑
MS McMILLAN: The resourcing.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: ‑ ‑ ‑ what sort of money are we talking about.
MS McMILLAN: I understand your question because there’s a lot of implicit assumptions.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: There are.
MS McMILLAN: And I understand that there is other issues at play that I’ve become aware of, that there’s, if you like, a hybrid variety. I understand there’s a particular matter at the moment about there being some specialised schooling for early years with particular type of disability that children would then be phased into mainstream. And I’m not in a position to elaborate more on that but that is a very modern day thinking.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Yes.
MS McMILLAN: So that’s the sort of thing the Commission would no doubt want to hear about, advocated by, as I understand, a group who has obviously clearly thought a lot about that.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: By asking you to take that on notice ‑ ‑ ‑
MS McMILLAN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: It’s certainly open to you to make any comments on whether that’s a feasible ‑ ‑ ‑
MS McMILLAN: Yes, of course.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: ‑ ‑ ‑ question to deal with, or whether there are other matters that ought to be taken into account, but you understand that the concern is to get some idea of resources. So much has been said over these four days about resources, and how adequate resources are fundamental and are an essential prerequisite for certain kinds of inclusive education. It would be very helpful to get some handle on what we are actually talking about.
MS McMILLAN: Yes, and of course the difficulty in terms of legal aspects is what a reasonable adjustment is. And if there’s no limit on reasonable adjustment that would obviously be a very difficult issue to cost ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: You might have to make some assumptions about how one ascertains what is a reasonable adjustment, by reference simply to the needs of the student, without taking into account the cost in a particular case. Now, that may or may not be feasible to do.
MS McMILLAN: That’s something we would obviously have to consider in making any submission.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: But we would all be grateful, I think, if you took it on notice and gave it some thought.
MS McMILLAN: Thank you. We will. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you very much. Dr Mellifont, do you have some closing remarks?
DR MELLIFONT: I do. This brings us to the end of the evidence this week. May I extend my personal gratitude to Ms Eastman of Senior Counsel and Mr Fraser of counsel and to all of the staff of the Disability Royal Commission for their considerable work. Anyone who has ever had anything to do with a Royal Commission knows the enormous amount of hard work it takes to get a public hearing up and running. And staff are already working hard towards our next public hearing which will be conducted in Melbourne in the week of 2 December led by Ms Eastman of Senior Counsel, together with Mr Harding of Senior Counsel. And the topic there to be considered is group homes in Victoria.
As I mentioned in my opening, in the first half of 2020, the Commission will conduct hearings in various places across Australia, continuing the public hearing work on the topics of education and learning and living and home, and starting public hearings on health and justice and issues relevant to intersectionality including a focus on First Nations People.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: By intersectionality you mean?
DR MELLIFONT: I mean ‑ ‑ ‑
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Cumulative disadvantage.
DR MELLIFONT: - - - a combination of factors that may affect some people. So First Nations People with a disability, people of the LGBTQI+ community who have a disability, etcetera. As to this week, may I start by thanking each of the witnesses who gave of their time and their energies to assist us in developing our understanding of some of the issues and challenges faced by people with a disability in respect of receiving an equitable education. As I said in my opening this week, this week is just the beginning. And the Commission is acutely aware that the issues concerning the topic of education and learning are vast, that significant time and effort and resources are required in order to do the topic justice.
The evidence that we heard this week from witnesses AAA and AAC, and the anecdotal accounts through Dr Bridle and Mrs Wilson, and the information and submissions the Commission has received thus far provide a powerful imperative to the Commission to even further steel its resolve to uncover violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, and to use – to truly use the enormous opportunity this Commission has to try and bring about transformational change. As I said, this week is just the start and it is not the last time the Commission will hear evidence including not the last time the Commission will hear from the State of Queensland Government. And as we continue our work we will be looking at all states and territories in Australia, and it will not just be limited to government schooling.
As I also noted in the opening this week, there are a number of topics such as behaviour management, the use of restrictive practices, suspensions and exclusions, amongst others, that are very important topics, worthy and in need of detailed consideration by this Commission, and work which the Commission will be undertaking into the future. The Commission continues to receive information and submissions and we are grateful for that. The Commission staff are working very hard to respond to people who have given of their time and their emotional energy in providing information and submissions to us and they’re doing their best to get back to people as quickly and as meaningfully as possible.
To the people who have been watching this week, whether here or whether at home, if you’ve heard evidence which doesn’t match up with what your experience is, our message to you is you don’t have to sit idle about that. You are invited to tell us if you had an alternative experience, a different experience, so we can understand – start to understand a more full picture. As I indicated in my opening, in the course of our work the Commission has received queries from people wishing to provide information to the Commission and they’ve been asking why they would want or need legal advice and have asked us whether they have done something wrong, and I want to reiterate that the answer to that is absolutely not, and that making legal advice is not intended in any sense to be a signal to anybody coming to the Commission that they have done anything wrong and that they need to have legal advice about that.
The provision of legal advice is to give people the ability, if they wish, to chat about their intended engagement with the Commission with a lawyer. Those watching this week would have seen the Commission use, as a means of supporting witnesses to be comfortable in coming to the Commission, the use of evidence by way of pseudonym, and the protections that non-publication orders have been given by this Commission. What I ought to have mentioned in my opening comments on Monday, but omitted to do so, are the provisions of the Royal Commissions Act which have the very clear object of protecting witnesses before the Commission. In particular, I want to draw attention to section 6M of that Act, which provides that any person – any person who uses, causes, or inflicts, any violence, punishment, damage, loss or disadvantage to any person on account of the person having appeared as a witness before the Royal Commission, or given evidence before the Royal Commission, or producing documents to the Royal Commission, commits an indictable offence.
The maximum penalty for committing such an offence is imprisonment. I note the breadth of what that prohibition prevents. It extends to any damage, loss or disadvantage. So it is extremely important that any person who might be minded to engage in conduct, whether in person or by use of social media or any other cause, that might cause disadvantage, damage or loss to a witness of this Commission, are extremely mindful of that very important legislative provision which makes it an offence.
The continued public hearings will continue to be made available by way of web stream, and as I indicated in my opening, the intention of this Commission is to approach its task in a thorough fashion with intellectual rigour, and that means that it will be necessary for different sides of the debate on contentious issues to be heard, and we’ve had some of that this week. And that debate may be very confronting for some. For some, hearing arguments contrary to your own opinion might be very – might be very stressful. For some, it might be a trigger for trauma. And so the Commission encourages those watching, whether by web stream or whether are here in person, to be mindful that topics might be upsetting and we encourage those to seek support in that respect.
I repeat that the Commission is aware of the right of all children and young persons to be heard. We acknowledge fully that children and young people have a right to express their views and have them taken seriously. And as I said in the opening, the absence of any children and young persons giving direct experience this week should not in any sense be taken as a sign that the Commission does not want to hear from the children or that their voices will not be heard. We welcome these people to engage with us. We appreciate it can be a big ask, but we do welcome and are very, very hopeful to hear from the voices of children and young people in future public hearings.
May I just briefly repeat some observations in respect of the support structures which are now available. The Commission has an internal counselling and support services team made up of social workers and counsellors who are able to provide counselling and support to people engaging with the Commission at face-to-face community forums, public hearings, private sessions. Four of our counsellors have been present this week including an Indigenous male social worker. The Australian Government through the Department of Social Services has funded Blue Knot Foundation to establish a specialist counselling support and referral service for people with disability, their families and carers and anyone affected by the Commission, and their hotline number is 1800 421 468. And they provide professional short-term counselling and support, a gateway to frontline counselling services, advocacy, and legal support services, information and referrals about other useful services in psychoeducation. They have extensive nationwide referral networks to support those who require longer term, face-to-face or case management support.
A range of legal and advocacy services have been funded by the Australian Government, and are being administered through the Department of Social Services and the Attorney-General’s Department which has funded a legal financial assistance scheme to assist individuals and entities with meeting the cost of legal representation and disbursements associated with formal engagement with the Commission, the National Legal Aid and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to deliver free legal advisory services for people engaging with the Commission. Further information about all of these services and links can be found on the Commission’s website, or by contacting the information line, which is 1800 517 199.
I concluded my opening on Monday by stating that the devaluation of some within our society of people with disability can lead them to ask the intolerable and ignorant question of, why does a proper education for a person with a disability even matter? The evidence we have heard this week has made perfectly clear the fundamental imperative that persons with disabilities are treated and recognised in a very complete way as having all the rights that every other person has. It has emphasised the critical importance of not devaluing a student with a disability, of not lowering the expectations of what that student can do or what that student can achieve. It has highlighted the critical importance of having high expectation for all students in our education system. The critical importance of, and to borrow some words of Mr Dale’s, inclusive education becoming the moral imperative and the core business of schools. It has highlighted the critical importance of the opening of the eyes of the Australian people to the profound and demonstrated benefits of equitable education for all students, and a genuinely inclusive culture, not just on paper but in the hearts and minds of our governments, our educators, and our community.
As I said in my opening, some of the information and submissions received by the Commission paint the stark picture that, in some schools across Australia, students with a disability are not only not receiving an equitable education but are also subject to violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation in the most hideous forms. No doubt some of that is due to ignorance and prejudice. And so I finish with an extract, with respect, from the evidence of Ms Swancutt:
We can’t possibly be happy with what we are currently doing because history has reminded us time and again that the segregation and othering of diverse groups of our own human kind results in the most horrific outcomes which linger for many decades and transcend generations. We have known better for an awfully long time. We must act with urgency and do better.
May it please the Commission.
COMMISSIONER SACKVILLE: Thank you, Dr Mellifont. I would like to add to Dr Mellifont’s remarks by expressing the thanks of the Royal Commission to all of the witnesses who have given evidence during this hearing in Townsville. We are particularly grateful to the parents of children with disability who told us of their experiences within the Queensland education system and elsewhere. We understand fully that it is not easy to give evidence in a public hearing about such difficult and sometimes traumatic experiences. We are indebted to the parents for their courage and determination in coming forward and being prepared to share their experiences with the Royal Commission.
During these hearings we have had the benefit of evidence from a wide range of witnesses, each of whom has provided us with valuable insights and ideas for further exploration. We’ve heard not only from the parents of children with disability, but teachers and principals who have worked hard to implement a policy of inclusive education, experts who have shared the results of their research and the opinions they have derived on the basis of that research, departmental officers who have explained
the approaches taken in Queensland under the policy of inclusive education, and a representative of the Queensland Teachers’ Union who set out the Union’s position on inclusive education and related matters.
A very great deal of work goes into the preparation for a hearing of this kind. The legal team within the Commission, particularly the staff of the Office of the Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission have worked prodigiously to ensure that the evidence is ready and can be presented in an orderly fashion. Counsel Assisting the Commission, senior counsel and junior counsel have participated strongly in that prodigious amount of work and have contributed to the hearing. Many other commission staff have worked tirelessly to bring together an astonishing number of moving parts that are necessary to be integrated for the hearing to work effectively. I also on behalf of the Commission want to acknowledge the particular cooperation of the Queensland Department of Education and the legal representatives of the State of Queensland who have been especially helpful in meeting very tight timetables and cooperating to ensure that this hearing could take place in the way in which it has.
I want to express my and the Commission’s admiration for the extraordinary work done by the Auslan interpreters who have been presented with very great challenges by the rapidity with which some of the evidence was given and the equally astonishing work done by those who prepare the real time transcript. I still think there is magic involved in that I don’t quite understand as yet.
I emphasise what I have said on several occasions, namely that the selection of Queensland as the first substantive hearing on education does not imply that Queensland’s approach to inclusive education is inferior to that of other Australian jurisdictions. One very important purpose of this hearing has been to explore not only the failures of the education system when they occur to provide inclusive education for children with disability but also to identify practices that appear to work well and might provide models for the future. Part of the way in which this Commission will operate is to contrast the bad things that happen with the very good things that happen because we do not wish to concentrate simply on what has gone wrong, we also wish to highlight best practice where it occurs.
One of the Commissioners was asked by a Townsville taxi driver in a tone that indicated some surprise, why choose Townsville for the first hearing? This might be the natural reticence and modesty of Townsville residents, I’m not sure, but the answer lies in the Commission’s decision to hold the first Community Forum in Townsville which took place in September. That was not a random selection but it was based on careful analysis of demographic data which suggested among other things that the region has a relatively high proportion of people with disability. About 150 people from Townsville and the surrounding areas attended that Community Forum and provided ideas and case studies for the hearing. We should be holding more community forums very soon, some in Adelaide and Gawler in South Australia, and in Hobart in Tasmania. And we hope that they too will encourage people to come forward with their stories relating to violence against, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability. The choice of these
locations reflects the national character of our inquiry. We intend to go well beyond the capital cities of the eastern states. People with disability live everywhere in this country, including remote areas.
Like Dr Mellifont, I want to emphasise once again that this hearing in Townsville is only the beginning of our inquiry. We have a great deal of work yet to do, not only in relation to education, but all of the other issues that are within our Terms of Reference. We hope that this hearing will have encouraged people with disability, parents and carers, to come forward and tell us their experiences not only in the education system but in other areas that are covered by our Terms of Reference. There are, after all, six states in this country, plus the territories, and we want to hear from people throughout the country. We also hope that this hearing has shown that people who engage with the Commission will be treated with the dignity and respect to which they are entitled, and that they can relate their experiences safely and with appropriate support. This is fundamental to the operation of the Commission.
This Commission can only succeed in changing public attitudes towards people with disability if the people themselves – only if the people themselves are prepared to engage with the Commission and tell us about their experiences as we have heard over the last few days. We want to hear from you, not only in relation to education, which happens to have been the subject of this hearing, but on other issues such as accommodation for people with disability, the response of the health system to people with disability, the experiences of people with intellectual disability in the criminal justice system, discrimination against people with disability in employment, the accessibility of public and private institutions and facilities, the multiple and cumulative disadvantages experienced by First Nations People, a matter with which Commissioner Mason is very deeply involved. We also want to deal with the issues confronted by culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability, and, indeed, all the other matters that are covered by our very extensive Terms of Reference. We invite you to take full advantage of the opportunity this Royal Commission provides. We shall now adjourn.
MATTER ADJOURNED at 2.56 pm ACCORDINGLY