Inclusive Education WA funding ends without renewal

Inclusive Education WA (IEWA), Western Australia’s rebranded version of the Safe Schools program, will no longer be funded after October 31st 2020.

In 2018, the program announced a new name following criticism from conservative groups after its initial launch, state election campaigns and throughout the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.

The WA Department of Education has confirmed that the professional development and support initiative that was administered by the WA AIDS Council (WAAC) – which provides training, resources and curriculum support for school staff, psychologists and parents to better understand the needs of LGBTIQ+ students – will not receive funding from the end of this month.

“The Department of Education has valued its work with the Inclusive Education WA program to provide professional development and advice for school staff to support the needs of LGBTQIA+ students,” Department of Education Assistant Executive Director Catherine Shepard told OUTinPerth.

“This included producing content for an online module that would allow staff to have greater access to this important information and advice and ensure continuity of information.”

“While the contract ceases as planned on 31 October 2020, schools will continue to be able to access support through the Department of Education’s School Psychology Service and will have access to the online module from the start of the 2021 school year.”

WAAC CEO Lisa Dobrin told OUTinPerth the organisation appreciates and greatly values the strong and close partnership that has grown over the past three years between the organisation and The Department of Education.

“The program has achieved outstanding community mental health outcomes and impacts for at risk LGBTI+ young people across the breadth of WA since its launch three years ago,” says Dobrin.

“IEWA is so much more than a suicide risk response, it is a preventive service able to respond to the social, emotional and physical needs of transgender students, by upskilling staff in the form of providing specialist professional development supports.”

“Under the program we have delivered development sessions to over 3,000 school staff, we have provided individualised support to 58 transgender or gender diverse students, and have responded to requests for support from half of the government high schools in the state.”

“WAAC understands that the close relationship will be coming to an end as per the original agreement, but is equally disappointed by the Department’s decision not to be in a position to extend funding for the program any further.”

WAAC notes that since IEWA’s launch, the program has delivered professional development sessions to 3,014 school staff, distributed 15,259 resources and records a 95% success rating from feedback on presentations.

“We are very proud of the program’s outcomes and have commenced seeking other funding partners and avenues to be able to continue to offer this vital, life-saving service in WA, long into the future.”

TransFolk of WA have issued a statement to OUTinPerth on the funding wind up, declaring that “all students deserve safe, inclusive and affirming education environments.”

“TransFolk of WA highly values the work Inclusive Education WA (IEWA) does training school staff in how to support trans and gender diverse young people,” TransFolk of WA’s statement reads.

“Affirming trans and gender diverse students is vital, and supportive school environments are a key aspect of ensuring their wellbeing.”

“TransFolk of WA is extremely disappointed with the decision of the WA Education Department to not renew the funding of IEWA. This choice will have a direct negative impact on LGBTI+ students.”

TransFolk of WA also raise that the decision runs contra to WA’s LGBTI Health Strategy and the McGowan Government’s recent investment in the Youth Pride Network.

“The department’s choice to rely on online modules and school psychologists to train schools on LGBTI+ inclusion, will not suffice. School psychologists are inadequately trained with regards to LGBTI+ issues and are unable to provide specialist support to teachers wishing to affirm trans students.”

“IEWA provide tailored training and expert guidance that is adjusted to the needs of each school (particularly in regard to affirming trans and gender diverse students) – this is something that cannot be achieved by an online module.”

TransFolk of WA draw attention to The Telethon Kids Institute’s Trans Pathways research, which found that a staggering 89% of trans and gender diverse young people have experienced peer rejection, while 74% have experienced bullying.

“Furthermore, trans and gender diverse young people are twenty times more likely to attempt suicide than the general adolescent population, with nearly 1 in 2 (or 48% of) young trans and gender diverse people attempting suicide.

Minus18’s latest report Queer Out Here, which focuses on the experiences of students and teachers in regional and rural Australia, highlights that students and teachers currently witness regular, negative verbal and physical actions towards LGBTI+ people in schools.

“Additionally, 74% of students and teachers believe there is not adequate support for LGBTQIA+ people in their region, and 91% of students and teachers expressed a need for more LGBTQIA+ education and awareness.”

“IEWA is an invaluable resource for regional communities, delivering a large proportion of their training outside the Perth metropolitan area. The evidence highlights the significant and urgent need for expanding the services IEWA delivers supporting schools in regional and rural areas.”

“TransFolk of WA requests that the WA Education Department extends the funding of IEWA so that it can continue to provide specialised expert training and advice to Western Australian schools on LGBTI+ active inclusion. We regard this matter as critical to the health and safety of WA LGBTI+ youth.”

Local LGBTQIA+ youth advocacy group Youth Pride Network have shared their disappointment with the news, praising the work of Inclusive Education WA in supporting LGBTQIA+ students.

“When we talk to LGBTIQA+ young people they consistently tell us that they experience discrimination and violence at school from teachers, staff and their peers,” a spokesperson for Youth Pride Network told OUTinPerth.

“We’ve also seen the amazing impact that the Inclusive Education WA program has had to transform schools into safe and inclusive places.”

A 2019 community survey conducted by the YPN found that many students, particularly in religious schools, felt the need to stifle or not reveal their identities, faced threats of expulsion for their sexuality or gender expression, and were not included in anti-bullying policies.

“Attitude changes don’t occur over online modules, they happen through tailored and meaningful conversations with LGBTIQA+ people.”

“It is crucially important that schools drive change from all levels of leadership and the specialised consulting that Inclusive Education WA does is well placed to achieve this.”

National LGBTIQ+ advocacy group just.equal’s WA spokesperson Brian Greig says the the decision to “effectively cut the Inclusive Education program is deeply concerning for two reasons.”

“First, it is a complete contradiction of the government’s approach to LGBTI youth announced on 26 September. Just two weeks ago, Minister for Youth, Dave Kelly MLA, called on politicians to ‘listen to young people’, as he endorsed the Youth Pride Network to advise him on relevant issues,” Greig said.

“It seems the first piece of advice they might offer would be not to scrap the only inclusive education program in the state or downgrade it to a digital afterthought.”

“Young people have made it very clear that improving the school life and mental health of LGBTI students and ensuring that their learning environment is conducive to education should be a policy that is expanded, not contracted.”

“Second, this decision relies heavily on school councillors and psychologists doing the heavy lifting. But it fails to take into consideration that the ratio of qualified councillors to students is 1:1500,” Greig continued.

“This is very worrying when just yesterday the Federal Government announced a further $61.4 million for chaplains in secular schools, none of whom are required to have training in sexuality and gender issues and whom many LGBTI students would seek to avoid.”

During the 2017 state election campaign, then Opposition Leader Mark McGowan pledged WA Labor’s support for the Safe Schools program here in WA. Education Minister Sue Ellery reaffirmed that commitment after Labor’s election win.

“If the Federal Government withdraws funding a McGowan Government will provide funding over four years to allow public secondary schools in WA to use the program if they choose,” Education Minister Sue Ellery told OUTinPerth at the time, though she did not mention future funding.

“This will not be mandated; it is up to WA public secondary schools to choose if the program is right for their school community.”

Leigh Andrew Hill

WA Education Minister Sue Ellery has been contacted for comment.

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