ACT News

ACT government faces calls for more psychologists in Canberra schools

The Australian Education Union and advocacy groups have called on the ACT government to increase the number of counsellors and psychologists in Canberra's schools.

In an open letter to Chief Minister Andrew Barr, union branch secretary Glenn Fowler is joined by eight co-signatories from education and welfare organisations including the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens' Associations, the ACT Council of Social Service and the ACT Youth Coalition. 

The panel was commissioned after a 10-year-old boy with autism was locked in a cage in a Canberra primary school in 2015.
The panel was commissioned after a 10-year-old boy with autism was locked in a cage in a Canberra primary school in 2015. Photo: Supplied

Together the group has called for a boost in the number of qualified school psychologists, counsellors and other mental health professionals working in the territory education system to better support the mental health and learning of students. 

"There are schools in the ACT with nearly one thousand adolescents where the school psychologist is part-time," the letter said. 

"Most school psychologists are responsible for students across two, three or even four schools. There are simply not enough qualified school psychologists employed in schools to provide children and young people in the ACT the care they deserve." 

The group, which also includes Children with a Disability Australia and the Canberra Goulburn St Vincent de Paul Society, have called on Mr Barr to fund 34 additional school psychologists, in order to meet the ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 students now enrolled in ACT public schools. 

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The letter asks for the community to be told when the adequate ratio will be achieved and for the government to reiterate its commitment to implementing all of the recommendations of an expert panel on students with complex needs and challenging behaviours. 

The panel – led by University of Canberra disability education expert Professor Tony Shaddock – was commissioned after a 10-year-old boy with autism was locked in a cage in a Canberra primary school in 2015.

The panel's report, presented to dumped Education Minister Joy Burch in November, included calls for more counsellors in schools

"Your government told the ACT community that it accepted all of the panel's recommendations," the letter said. 

"However, as the 2016 school year begins this recommendation has not been implemented and there is no indication of when it will be." 

It says an essential second step from the government would be a commitment for the development of cross-sector approaches for students and families to get access to social and emotional support, including outside of school hours and terms. 

Newly appointed ACT Education Minister Shane Rattenbury said he would meet with the Australian Education Union to discuss the letter and assistance for students in need. 

"I want to talk in detail about exactly what we need to help get the best outcomes for our students," Mr Rattenbury told the ABC. 

"We have seen from the findings of the report that we have got more to do to assist our most needy students. It's important we get it right, not just throw money at it, but step through with a careful implementation."