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Education – Speech Pathology

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Tags: Speech Pathology, Education

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, this has been the most disrupted year of the education system for students in Tasmania. It seems a long time ago since parents were schooling their children or looking after their children while they were schooled at home.

In this period it is important to fund student support, school psychologist support, social workers, youth workers and also people to help with literacy and numeracy education. The Australian Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools association says the recommended number of speech pathologists is 500 students to one speech pathologist. I understand the AEU says that there is around one speech pathologist for 1250 students at the moment funded within the education system. Could you confirm that is the number? Do you have plans to address that appallingly high ratio and the wait times that exist for appointments and assessments?

Mr ROCKLIFF - I recognise the question; thank you very much. We are employing record numbers of professional support staff to assist students with participation, engagement, early learning, wellbeing, literacy and numeracy and also to support schools in managing responding to critical incidents. This increases the number of professional support staff funded by the Department of Education to 219 FTE including 38.7 FTE school health nurses, 12.8 FTE specialist staff dedicating their time to support vulnerable children through the Safe Homes, Safe Families and Strong Families, Safe Kids government initiatives. Those are the figures of 31 March 2020.

Dr WOODRUFF - What was that an increase from?

Mr ROCKLIFF - This equates to more than 70 additional professional support staff since 2014.

Dr WOODRUFF - Speech pathologists?

Mr ROCKLIFF - Professional support staff.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay, I was asking just about speech pathologists.

Mr ROCKLIFF - A further 2.4 FTE speech and language pathologist's positions were allocated to support the 12 Child and Family Centres in the 2018-19 budget. As part of the 2019 2022 Literacy Implementation Plan, the Department of Education has also employed one full-time equivalent speech and language pathologist in a project role for 2020 to build collaborative approaches between speech and language pathologists and teachers.

We have spoken about student wellbeing, and you have raised this issue. It remains a priority and is being reflected through the delivery of associated evidence-based services. Professional support staff have continued to provide services to students and schools during COVID-19. This has included developing and implementing online services everywhere appropriate. A 1.0 FTE speech and language pathologist has been appointed to a project role in 2020 to enhance collaborative approaches with teachers as part of a 2019-22 Literacy Implementation Plan.

Learning services and professional support staff continue to collaborate with other agencies and stakeholders to address departmental priorities. For example, the Child and Student Wellbeing Strategy and whole-of-government priorities such as Safe Homes, Safe Families.

Professional support staff were integral in leading the collaborative development of a statewide critical incident response model which has been operating in schools since 2018. You would be aware of our Student Wellbeing Survey, which we recently announced, highlighting a number of areas around student wellbeing. Are you aware of that survey we released?


Mr ROCKLIFF - There were really pleasing results in that sense given the circumstances which you alluded to your question about the disruption of COVID-19 for the 2020 year. A slight dip in wellbeing in some areas but actually pleasing results in people's connections with adult staff within schools.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. In that list of information I do not think you alluded to anything in this Budget for an increase in speech pathologists. It went up by 0.04 of a full time equivalent in 2020. In the most disrupted year we have ever had in the educational system there was effectively no more resourcing that was put in the last financial year. That is understandable possibly, given that budget year had been accounted for, but in this Budget I do not see anything additional for speech pathologists across the school, despite the fact that you haven't disagreed with that ratio which has been presented of one speech pathologist for 1250 students when the recommended ratio is 1 in 500.

The Greens, in our alternative budget, despite funding all the things in Education that you have funded, on top of that we have prioritised 50 full time equivalent speech pathologists over the forward Estimates. It can be done. Can you confirm that your Government has not put any more money into speech pathologists? Are you concerned at how you are going to increase your literacy rates with the target that you have? How are you going to get there?

Mr ROCKLIFF - We are putting an enormous amount of activity and support into literacy and numeracy. We released our literacy strategy last year if my memory serves me correctly. As of March 2020 there were 48.4 FTE speech and language pathologists in our schools. We are committed to building on the collaborative culture between educators and speech and language pathologists as outlined in our 2019-22 framework. An additional one FTE allocation has ben made for the 2020 year in relation to action 2, which -

Dr WOODRUFF - That is not this year, is that correct?

Mr ROCKLIFF - This is 2020.

Dr WOODRUFF - That was last year's budget.


Dr WOODRUFF - Can you point to anything in this year's Budget that is specific to speech pathologists?

Mr ROCKLIFF - Our support for professional support staff across our schools since 2014 has increased by more than 70 so we are investing in this area. Educators draw on the expertise of speech and language pathologists who use fine-grained assessment to identified learners to assist with the design of additional support and intervention. Educators may also collaborate with speech and language pathologists to make adjustments for some students in areas of spoken language development, listening, comprehension and literacy skills. Speech and language pathologists have been involved with the year 1 phonics check pilot during 2020 which is rolling out amongst 33 Tasmanian schools and will guide our future teaching of phonics as part of literacy learning.

We are working with the University of Tasmania's Speech Pathology Advisory Committee to explore the introduction of a speech pathology qualification to increase the core of professional support staff in Tasmania. There is a lot of activity and work underway. Do we have anything further to add?

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, how many schools is each speech pathologist responsible for on average, and what is the average time a student will get with a speech pathologist each year?

Mr ROCKLIFF - That's a good question and one of a more operational nature. I call Trudy Pearce back to the table, please.

Ms PEARCE - Sorry, could you to repeat that question?

Dr WOODRUFF - Sure, how many schools is each speech pathologist responsible for on average, and what is the average time a student will get with a speech pathologist each year?

Ms PEARCE - I would have to get back to you on the number of schools that are allocated as an average. It varies in relation to the number of cases that are identified in a school, the size of the school and the complexity of the cases that a speech pathologist may be working in. Some speech pathologists may have 18 schools in their case load; others may have a smaller number due to the size and the complexity of the cases in the school. I can get an average for you.

Dr WOODRUFF - Can I take that question on notice? You did say there's variation, so when you provide that could you provide the outliers?

Ms PEARCE - Yes, absolutely.

CHAIR - To clarify - minister, were you happy to take that question on notice.

Mr ROCKLIFF - Yes. The Department of Education has released much data in last six years about performance and everything else. I want full and frank engagement and discussion in education. Evidence and data is critical, so of course we are going to provide information if that is the wish of the member.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, minister. On speech pathology, you have set a very ambitious target of 100 per cent literacy for Tasmanian students. That is a laudable target, but the budget papers show on page 77 that there are problems with achieving that. The expected literacy outcomes for prep students are sharply declining and reading rates to the national minimum standard for years 7 and 9 students are also declining. Not sharply, but they are declining.

They are very concerning trends, particularly among young students. Your investment went up last year only 0.04 full-time equivalents (FTE) to, as I understand it, 49.65 FTE speech pathologists who are employed by the department of Education across Tasmania. This is a very small investment when we know speech pathologists could drastically improve student access as well their ability to learn to read.

If the Government is serious about achieving 100 per cent literacy, then why are we going backwards and why aren't you investing in speech pathologists? You cannot expect to reverse that trend if you do not put more money into speech pathologists, as well as other areas.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I am pleased you raised the 'other areas' because we are investing in our teachers' professional development. It is not only about the resource of speech pathologists, as important as they are for the high-needs students we have in our schools, but it is a whole range of areas that we are investing in and trying to address the very issue that you have highlighted.

I see the same data as you see, that is why we want to build an education system that is based on equity of access to support, irrespective of the child's circumstance or background. Our Launching into Learning program, which has been around for some time as you would know, engages families to ensure a positive transition of young people into kindergarten. Funding of $6.3 million was allocated to schools for Launching into Learning in 2020.

Learning in Families Together, the LIFT program, builds on the success of LIL and further supports young children and their families. In 2020, 30 new schools received LIFT funding, bringing the total number of LIFT schools to 109, helping to engage families to support their children's learning in the early years. Funding of $4 million was allocated to LIFT schools in 2020. That program commenced around 2016.

All Tasmanian Government schools have access to a literacy coach. They are supporting schools to build an expert teaching team, working with teachers and their students to improve literacy outcomes. In 2020, funding of $10.4 million is allocated for in school literacy coaches plus six lead coaches.

With regard to the lead coaches that guide the work of in-school literacy coaches, in 2020 the focus has been to align professional learning and resources for literacy with the department of Education teaching and learning guidance on curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

The Middle Years Project has focused on the successful transition of students from primary to secondary school education. Over the four years of the project, associations involving a total of 70 schools have worked in partnership to develop and improve literacy teaching and learning practices across years 4 to 8.

In 2020, funding of $1.9 million has been allocated for the Middle Years Project. In 2019 and 2020 a focus has been underlying the middle years work with the role of literacy coaches to support the sustainability of quality teaching and learning practices, collaborations across schools as well as the successful transition for students from primary to secondary school. As I have mentioned, the 2021 25 numeracy framework and plan for action will focus on the quality teaching of mathematics to support numeracy outcomes for learners.

In the whole-of-school sense, a lot is happening. I recognise your need and advocacy for speech pathologists, but there's a whole systems approach that we are engaging in here.


Mr ROCKLIFF - I have an answer to a question on notice I can report to Dr Woodruff about South Hobart. The $3.6 million investment commenced in the 2015-16 year and included general learning areas. One FTE speech and language pathologist works between four to eight schools maximum.