Private schools that misrepresent disability enrolments could face fraud charges

Private schools that misrepresent disability enrolments could face fraud charges
Private schools that misrepresent disability enrolments could face fraud charges

Private schools that misrepresent disability enrolments could face fraud charges, the deputy head of the education department has warned.

The government’s allocation of per-student disability funding came under fire from the Catholic school sector this week, with the Victorian director of the Catholic Education Commission, Stephen Elder, claiming independent schools were “raking in millions” from the scheme because of “subjective teacher assessments” of students.

The Catholic sector released figures showing a sharp increase in the number of disabled students at independent schools across the country since changes to reporting requirements which allow teachers to identify students with a disability.

In a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday, the deputy education department secretary, Alex Gordon, suggested misrepresenting data to the commonwealth could be considered fraud.

Gordon said the government would increase oversight of the system, with officials visiting random samples of up to 200 schools to verify the information provided by each school.

The Australian reported this week that Alphington Grammar school in Melbourne’s north was forecast to receive a disability loading for about 40% of its students, compared with 8% under the previous model, which relied on assessment by a medical professional.

Elder said the scheme allowed teachers to effectively decide how much disability funding their schools would receive, where previously schools received disability loading at a flat rate.

“The number of [students with disability] claimed by some wealthy independent schools, now that funding is based on teacher judgment, is highly questionable,” Elder said.

“There are only two coherent explanations. Either the new data collection method for SWD [students with a disability] is deeply flawed, or wealthy independent schools are manipulating it.”

The independent sector has denied schools are gaming the new system.

Under questioning on the changes to the scheme from Labor senators in estimates, the education minister, Simon Birmingham, said “the government takes noncompliance issues seriously”.

The Catholic sector has blamed the government’s Nationally Consistent Collection of Data system, which allows teachers to apply an “imputed disability” to a child without medical evidence, for the increase in disability loading for private schools.

Guidelines for the NCCD state that teachers and other staff should use their professional judgment to determine the level of adjustment students with disability receive, as well as the broad category of disability of the student.

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