Independent schools lash out at Catholics over 'gaming the system' claims

Victoria's independent schools body has hit back at claims from the Catholic sector that its schools are inflating data on students with a disability to gain extra funding.

It follows a Fairfax Media report that revealed Victorian independent schools were set to receive more than half the national funding increase for students with a disability in 2018.

Photo: Erin Jonasson

Photo: Erin Jonasson

Catholic Education Melbourne accused wealthy independent schools of "gaming the system", while the Australian Education Union said there appeared to be "gold-plating of the private system at the expense of children in public schools".

Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green said the allegations were "unfounded, unfair and false".

"When the data on students with disability that the article refers to was collected from schools, it was explicitly not linked to Australian government funding," Ms Green said.

"Schools reported this data in good faith, with the sole aim of identifying students with disability ... to suggest they were doing this to gain a financial advantage is not true. It's a slight on the professional integrity of the teachers involved."

On Monday, Fairfax Media provided Independent Schools Victoria with federal government data, obtained by the union under Freedom of Information, showing that Commonwealth funding for students with a disability at its schools would almost double next year.

It showed that disability loadings for Victorian independent schools would rise from $63.7 million in 2017 to $123.3 million next year, while Catholic schools would lose $16 million.

Disability funding to Victorian government schools is expected to increase by 11 per cent next year to $162.5 million.

Fairfax Media gave Independent Schools Victoria almost five hours to respond to questions about what had led to the large funding increases and allegations from Catholic Education Melbourne that the data was "dodgy" and biased in favour of wealthier schools who had the resources to make adjustments for students with additional needs.

Funding was previously based on medical assessment, but under the new system it is based on teachers' assessments of students' needs.

A confidential 2016 report obtained by Fairfax Media shows that Victorian independent schools reported that 26 per cent of their students had a disability.

This was the highest figure in any school sector in the country. Victorian state schools reported that 17 per cent of their students had a disability and Catholic schools reported 13 per cent.

Ms Green said the new definition of disability was much broader and the "number eligible to receive funding support has increased dramatically".

The report revealed that 12.7 per cent of Victorian independent school students were eligible for disability funding, compared with 10.6 per cent of state school students and 8.9 per cent of Catholic school students.

Catholic Education Melbourne executive director Stephen Elder reiterated his calls for an independent audit of the new data.

"It seems from the data collected to date that some independent schools have written themselves very large cheques indeed," he said.

"It strains credulity to say that one in four students in independent schools in Victoria has a disability."