Wednesday 1 December 2010

Disabled students - how many are there really?

It's going to be a long night.

From Maralyn Parker's blog comes this comment from 'John':

Public schools have an acceptance of the full range of students – Government schools enrol 80% of students with a disability.

Between 1997 and 2007:
– 523% increase in students with disabilities in regular classrooms
– 280% increase in the number of students with autism
– 348% increase in the number with emotional disturbance and
– 585% increase in the number with a behaviour disorder

(Linda Graham and Naomi Sweller : International Journal of Inclusive Education titled “The Inclusion Lottery: Who’s in and Who’s out?)

Well Al, it’s easy to see where funding is most needed, however, I’d be pleased to see equivalent percentages in non-gov schools - where’s your data champ?

Right, let's dig into those numbers.

From the DET, we get these numbers:

List of schools with support classes for disabled kids - I count 436 schools.

List of special schools - I count 94.

There are 2230 state schools. That means that only 19.5% can cater to disabled kids with special classes, and a further 4.2% are specifically setup to teach disabled kids (in the private system, 34 out of 916 schools are for special needs - 3.7% of the total).

How many disabled kids are there in the system?

The DET says 18,311, but they include 379 kids in that number who are in kiddie prisons. If we take them out, we get 17,932. As a percentage of the 736,000 kids in the system in total, they amount to 2.4%. If these 17,932 do indeed represent 80% of the total population of disabled kids, then 4,483 must be in the private school system.


State - 17,932 out of 736,000 is 1:41
Private - 4,432 out of 379,000 is 1:85

Let's look at the categories (from page 19 of this report):

Category Total
Mild intellectual - 5026
Moderate and severe intellectual - 4187
Moderate intellectual - 2354
Intensive English - 2241
Emotional disturbance - 1205
Autism - 586
Behaviour disorder - 493
Multicategory - 475
Language - 290
Severe intellectual - 285
Hearing - 240
Physical - 202
Tutorial - 197
Outreach and Access - 46
Moderate intellectual + autism - 36
Reading - 24
Visual - 23
Residential assessment - 18
Deaf blind - 2
Moderate and physical - 2

John tells us that between 1997 and 2007, the number of kids diagnosed with autism went up 280%. There are currently 622 kids in the system classified as autistic - hardly a tsunami.

There has also been a 585% increase in behavioural disorder - we now have 493 of them.

This is the interesting bit - there has been a 523% increase in students with disabilities in regular classrooms.

Of the 17,932 disabled kids, 13,845 are in regular schools. The bulk of these have a mild to moderate intellectual disability, or they require intensive English teaching - these total 9,593 kids. In the old days, unkind bastards like me would have described them as a "bit slow". Schools have always had them - nowadays, we just have nicer terms for it, and I guess there are more social workers and shrinks around to apply a diagnosis.

Those with severe intellectual disabilities or behaviour disorders mainly end up in the special schools - they have 61% of the severely disabled kids.

Here is where the argument gets interesting -we're told that the state system is struggling because it carries the burden of educating disabled kids. However, they only make up 2.4% of the state school population.

How expensive is it to educate a disabled kid?

I had a look at some info from a set of private schools that specialise in teaching autistic kids. From piecing together various bits of data (I won't bore you with the details of that), I am guessing it costs them about $21,800 per year per kid.

How much does the state system get per head?

Primary schools - $14,657 per head
High schools - $18,431 per head

So yes, it is more expensive - but at 2.4% of the school population, it's hardly a budget buster.

Actually, let's add up the extra cost, assuming it costs $21,800 per disabled kid.

Primary schools

$21,800 - $14,657 = $7,143
Disabled kids in primary schools = 5,427
Extra cost = $38,765,061

High schools

$21,800 - $18,431 = $3,369
Disabled kids in high schools = 8,418
Extra cost = $28,360,242

Special schools

Let's just assume these are more expensive to run - I'll pull a figure of $12,000 per kid out of my arse:

Disabled kids in special schools - 4,466
Extra cost = $53,592,000

Total extra cost = $120,717,303

Total state school budget = $11,839,000,000

Extra cost of disabled kids as percentage of total budget = 1%.

My question remains - what the fuck is the DET doing with all the money we give it every year?

1 comment:

1735099 said...

"Right, let's dig into those numbers."

I thought you were going to find statistics about the proportion of SWD in private schools.

Figures on this are hard to dig up, but the most comprehensive I've been able to find are here -

This data supports the contention that SWDs in public schools are disadvantaged.

To me, this is not an issue about money. There is a far more important issue about basic access to education. Why can't students whose parents are prepared to pay to attend "private" schools, be allowed to enrol in these schools? That's the more significant issue.

Incidentally, they're no such thing as a "private" school. They all get subsidised (generally at between 40% and 60%) by the taxpayer, so "subsidised schools" is the more accurate appellation.

I got heartily sick over the years of listening to distressed parents explaining to me (when they were enrolling their child at my special school) that they'd been turned away from their private school of choice even though they were prepared to pay the fees plus any extra on the basis of the disability.

That's why these days I act as a pro-bono advocate when parents are prepared to take the school to the HREEC. They don't take action often - it's a distressing process - but I haven't been involved in a case yet where the Commission didn't find in favour of the parent. For the "private" schools involved, it's been a steep learning curve.

"Let's just assume these are more expensive to run - I'll pull a figure of $12,000 per kid out of my arse:"

It's about twice that, based on my experience as a Special School Principal. The extra costs relate to salaries. Average group size in a Special School is about 5, as opposed to 25 in a regular school. Straightaway there's a factor of five, without counting the extra teacher aide time, therapists' input, and special facilities required.

It's hard to find data, but you can check the ACT figures -

They specify a per student cost of $27310.

Your "extra cost" now becomes $121,966,460

And the total extra cost = $189,091,763, now 1.59%.

Not a major difference, but you might as well be accurate.