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25 Mar 2015

South Australian Certificate of Education Board (SACE) – Dyslexia

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 15:53 ): This is going to be a cautionary tale of dyslexia and bureaucracy. I would like to take the chamber on a journey of bureaucratic endeavour at its poorest where process rather than outcomes was the order of the day. It is the true story of a family and its struggles with the South Australian Certificate of Education Board.

The couple are fortunately blessed with children and the father is a corporate lawyer, and the importance of this will become apparent later in this story. One of their daughters was diagnosed with dyslexia in her 11th year of study. Dyslexia afflicts up to 10 per cent of the Australian population. Individuals who suffer from dyslexia have trouble with reading and spelling despite having the ability to learn but, with appropriate instruction aimed towards specific learning needs, many can overcome their difficulties and live a productive life.

However, the ongoing stress and emotional effects that dyslexia sufferers encounter can be more detrimental to the child than the actual dyslexia on its own. Dyslexia is recognised in the Australian federal legislation Disability Discrimination Act and by the Human Rights Commission and, again, that is significant for the purposes of this tale.

The parents, on understanding that their daughter had dyslexia, immediately began to research the opportunities for some sort of assistance during their daughter’s examination period, particularly for the following year of Year 12. They navigated, with the assistance of the school, the SACE Board guidelines and its policies. The SACE policies set out that:

The SACE Board…is committed to providing all students with opportunities for success in completing the South Australian Certificate of Education.

The board also states in its 17-page policy that it recognises that individual students, under certain circumstances, may receive special provisions to access specified learning and assessment requirements. In essence, this is the opportunity for alternative arrangements for their assessments for those students who are eligible, such as extra time or the opportunity to take breaks. It can take many forms.

These parents, both tertiary educated, sought the assistance of their school. The school attempted to manage their expectations. Apparently, the opportunity for children with dyslexia receiving special provisions from SACE is rare, or at least that is what they were advised. They found the application process extremely bureaucratic. This placed extra stress on their child and was despite the fact that their child had a clinical diagnosis supporting their application.

I say to the chamber that this is a parent who had sophisticated qualifications and experience in corporate law. The fact that he found it excessively bureaucratic should give you an indication of how other parents—less educated and probably from a less advantaged family—would find this process with their own children who were suffering dyslexia. Despite this, they proceeded in a situation where the school was trying to manage their expectations that they would not receive any specific arrangements for their child.

In the year of matriculation, they lodged their application, and that was in February. They did not receive a decision until May. One can imagine the stress on the child and the parents. This response back was to deny any extra time in the exams. The response came only two weeks before the child’s mid-term exams. An appeal was lodged: a seven-page intricate and complicated appeal with further supplementary clinical support. It is estimated by the parents that, given all the time of SACE, the teachers of the school, the parents and the doctors involved, the cost of this would probably be around $10,000.

Eventually, the appeal was granted, but the lesson for us all in this chamber is that, despite our best intentions in this place, ultimately our wishes will need to be interpreted by the state bureaucracy. We must be ever vigilant that the bureaucracy’s love of process over outcomes does not undo the good we are trying to achieve in this chamber. Whilst I acknowledge the need for proper assessment processes and policies, I encourage the SACE Board to review its application of its policies and the impact on the families, especially our youth.

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