Whitehouse, head of the autism research team at the Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Western Australia, emphasizes the urgent need for reforms as Australian children with disabilities are “struggling now more than ever.” Professor Andrew Whitehouse, a leading autism researcher, has been appointed to the national board overseeing school funding arrangements in Australia.
He points to the growing rates of students with additional needs, stating that while Australia has improved identification of children with additional needs, there are still “more kids struggling now than ever.” Whitehouse’s appointment comes as state and federal governments negotiate a new National School Reform Agreement (NSRA), with a focus on addressing teacher shortages and underfunding in the education sector.
The number of students with disabilities in Australia has steadily increased over the past decade, reaching 24.2% of students receiving educational adjustments in 2023. Whitehouse emphasizes the importance of supporting schools to better cater to the needs of children and families, stating that while considerable funding and research have been invested in the early years, challenges arise when delivering children to an environment that may not be suited for them.
Professor John Firth, a former chief executive of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, has also been appointed to advise on disability funding. The appointments coincide with ongoing discussions about a new National School Reform Agreement. Whitehouse highlights the need for school policy settings and funding arrangements to be addressed, along with the right training for teachers, given the significance of the school environment in supporting the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) ecosystem.
The National School Resourcing Board’s role is crucial in addressing issues related to disability funding and ensuring inclusive education practices. With the public system supporting the majority of children with additional needs, improvements are needed to support a greater number of students in mainstream settings. Whitehouse emphasizes the importance of designing an education system that embraces all children, viewing it as a critical frontier to conquer.
Recent reviews, including the landmark review of the NDIS and the NSRA review, have emphasized the urgent need to embed inclusive education across the system and strengthen links between community and health services. The focus is on preventing children from slipping through the cracks and addressing data gaps, especially for students with disabilities. Professor Whitehouse urges action based on lessons learned from these reviews to create a more inclusive and supportive education system for all children.