ACT News

P&C voice recalls learning struggles amid autism cage outrage

Hugh Boulter suffered a head injury at age six which affected his eyesight and overnight gave him a moderate learning disability.

As school became a place of frustration, Mr Boulter recalls exhibiting disruptive behaviour and making poor choices in class.

Hugh Boulter at his home in Flynn.
Hugh Boulter at his home in Flynn.  Photo: Melissa Adams

He credits a compassionate fifth grade teacher with bringing him back from the brink, and happily went on to have corrective eye surgery as a teenager, before going on to university and having a successful career in banking.

Now, as the vice-president of the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens's Associations, Mr Boulter is passionate about providing support and educational opportunities for all students, and particularly those with learning disabilities.

When the story of an ACT school erecting a cage to contain a child with autism broke last week, Mr Boulter felt a range of emotions.

He deeply distressed by the child's circumstances, but deeply angered by comments made by federal government ministers.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said he was "disturbed" by the case, while Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield said he was "appalled".

Mr Boulter described the comments as "cheap shots", saying the federal government needed to take some responsibility for the acute strain on schools dealing with children with high needs.

"Clearly Minister Pyne must face reality and take responsibility for criticisms that arise from the ACT government's inquiry, because of his direct failure to support proper needs-based funding in schools," Mr Boulter said.

"The facts are unquestionable. The Abbott government's first budget terminated the More Support for Students with Disabilities program worth $100 million a year. This support was terminated in December 2014."

Mr Boulter said Mr Pyne had promised "more funding for people with disability through the 'disability loading' in 2015", which had not been delivered.

"This failure to properly support needs-based funding creates unnecessary pressures across the whole schooling system and our society as a whole. NDIS is only part of the answer, and I call on Minister Pyne to deliver on what is honest and fair for each child to avoid outcomes such as this that occur to varying degrees throughout Australia each and every day."

The P&C Council knows that many Canberra parents want to mainstream their children rather than putting them into specialist schools, and the council supported this right.

"But logic dictates the resources need to be put in place to support this choice."

Mr Boulter said he understood that "funding does not solve all the problems around this vexed issue".

"However, I call on Minister Pyne to deliver on his promises to each and every child with learning difficulties or disabilities, to stop taking an ad hoc approach to disability funding, and put in place a proper needs-based funding model - and most of all to stop removing funding from this sector, as he has recently done."

He also warned that "if the ACT government's inquiry formed the view that there was a shortage of funding in this area that has impacted on poor outcomes, then the focus should be on Mr Pyne and the Abbott government to redress the funding shortage in the upcoming budget".