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The What works best: 2020 update audio paper outlines eight quality teaching practices that are known to support school improvement and enhance the learning outcomes of our students. The themes are not an exhaustive list of effective practices, but are a useful framework for teachers and school leaders to consider when deciding how to tackle student improvement.

Read by Rachel Smith, Samuel Cox and Vicki Russell.

Read the What works best: 2020 update publication.

Wentworth Public School case study (PDF, 750kB)

Wentworth Public School case study (PDF, 750kB)

This case study is part of a collection

 

Full paper

This case study forms part of a series on inclusive education in schools. The NSW Department of Education is committed to building a more inclusive education system, one where all students feel welcomed and are learning to their fullest capability. Inclusive education means all students, regardless of disability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, nationality, language, gender, sexual orientation or faith, can access and fully participate in learning, alongside their similar aged peers, supported by reasonable adjustments and teaching strategies tailored to meet their individual needs. Inclusion is embedded in all aspects of school life, and is supported by culture, policies and everyday practices (Disability Strategy (2019)).

The department is committed to building the capacity of our mainstream public schools to meet the needs of their local students unless there are compelling individual reasons why a different option would better support the student. We acknowledge that this needs to be balanced against parental choice regarding the most appropriate setting for their child, and will continue to work with parents and education experts to individualise support so that every child can be engaged with learning and flourish at school (Progress Report: Improving outcomes for students with disability 2019).

Introduction

Wentworth Public School is a small primary school on the NSW and Victorian border, located on the banks of the Darling River. Wentworth is approximately 30 kilometres from the Victorian city of Mildura. The school currently has 109 students enrolled, 43% of whom are Aboriginal and 58% of whom have disability. There are no support classes at the school. The school has a lower than average Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) of 838, with more than two-thirds (67%) of students in the bottom quarter of socioeconomic status and only 3% in the top quarter1. Wentworth Public School manages a student population that is decreasing in size but increasing in complex needs.
At Wentworth Public School every student is provided with what they need to achieve their best outcomes. The school summarises this as “equity, not equality” and emphasises that the support required for each student is likely to differ from student to student. The nature of inclusive education at Wentworth Public School is well illustrated by the language and approach used by staff and parents when discussing the school’s students. Students are not defined by their disability or cultural differences, but rather every student at the school is seen as an individual with strengths to be nurtured and needs to be supported.
Wentworth Public School has been able to achieve this inclusive approach through taking a whole-school approach to inclusive education, embedding a common framework throughout the school, having innovative learning and support structures, and focusing on meeting the needs of all students.

“What [parents] have got here is a totally unique experience that's tailored to their child.”
Cath Eddie, Principal
“Inclusive education … is every child getting what they need, [it] might not be the same as everyone else but getting what they in particular need to achieve to the best of their ability.”
Jodi Garraway, Learning and Support
Wellbeing Teacher

What has worked to improve inclusive education at Wentworth Public School

• A whole-school approach supported by collaborative and highly effective leadership, with the school’s strategic directions driving all decisions and activities at the school.
• A framework for inclusive education to ensure a common language is used and students have an understanding of expected behaviour.
• Effective learning and support structures, including having a dedicated, full time learning and support wellbeing teacher.
• A strong focus on understanding and meeting the needs of students to ensure each student reaches their potential.

A whole-school approach, strong leadership and a commitment to inclusion

Wentworth Public School has had a whole-school approach to inclusive education for many years and it is noteworthy how embedded the notion of inclusive education is in the school. Every aspect of the school, including the staff, structures, systems and culture, is geared toward inclusive education. This ranges from, for example, the principal being visible in the playground and knowing and engaging with all students, to various community members (students’ grandparents to recently graduated high school students) volunteering as additional support people to help students feel known and included.
Underpinning all aspects of this whole-school approach is the highly effective and collaborative leadership from the school’s principal and assistant principal. The school’s leaders set the tone for staff and students, by emphasising to staff that they are part of one team, with responsibility for all students. This approach was exemplified by a decision made at the beginning of the year to remove letters (denoting the classroom teacher’s surname, for example 6‘M’) from class names because the class is not the sole responsibility of the classroom teacher. Rather, all staff within the school are responsible for the students in every classroom.

“We also make a point that it may be [one teacher] has a year four class, but it's not her class, we're all responsible for those kids. So, we're all responsible for all the students in the school, not just our set group…”
Sandra Marziano, Assistant Principal

The school’s three strategic directions – as identified in the school plan: ‘I Learn’, ‘We Learn’, ‘We Learn Together’ – sum up the emphasis on inclusive education at Wentworth Public School. These strategic directions are evident in the language and practice used throughout the school. ‘I Learn’ is evident in the way the leaders and staff prioritise students’ individual needs. ‘We Learn’ means ‘developing skilled teachers and support staff who have a passionate commitment to lifelong learning’. This is seen in the significant investment in staff professional learning at Wentworth Public School. ‘We Learn Together’ focuses on ‘developing positive community partnerships that recognise the requirement of all stakeholders’. This can be seen clearly in the way Wentworth Public School engages the school’s complex parent body.

“Professional development has always been a really big focus here. As a temporary teacher, I’ve been given every opportunity to upskill in any way that I sort of wanted.”
Brian Gray, Teacher

The whole-school approach and culture of inclusive education are driven by the school’s principal and assistant principal. Parents noted that staff are high quality, motivated and engaged with the school’s strategic direction and overall vision. Staff work together seamlessly, with all staff having a role to play in the leadership of the school. Wentworth Public School has low staff turnover. Staff take a personal interest in students in their class and communicate regularly with families about their children. One parent noted, for example, if she is concerned about her child being picked on, she can speak with the class teacher and the teacher is always very willing to have an open conversation, does not get defensive and works collaboratively to come up with solutions.

“Staff very supportive and … teamwork is pretty good. The kids are really good, most of the time, we do have challenges but we work together as a team to overcome those.”
Patricia Jones, Aboriginal Education Officer

The cohesive nature of the leadership and staff team at Wentworth Public School creates a welcoming, positive, inclusive culture. This culture is noticeable when visiting the school. For example, one carer emphasised that she specifically chose to send her children to Wentworth Public School – one of whom has Autism Spectrum Disorder and one of whom has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – due to its inclusive culture. She said her children are always excited to come to school and that they even try to convince her to let them come when they are sick because they enjoy attending school so much. The carer believed the children’s positive experience of school was due to the highly communicative, high quality and hardworking staff as well as the school’s welcoming atmosphere.

“They just do so much here… I’ve pulled up in the morning. They’ve got music playing… The teachers are out there playing with the kids.”
Parent

A common framework for embedding inclusive education

Maintaining the focus on inclusive education over the years has required continual improvement and refinement. Integral to embedding inclusive education at Wentworth Public School in more recent years has been the adoption of Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL). While PBL is primarily a behaviour management tool and does not in and of itself create inclusive practice, it has been used at Wentworth Public School to embed existing inclusive practice. PBL was introduced in 2018 after staff noticed an increase in student behavioural issues. The values and expectations of the PBL framework were developed collaboratively between staff, students, parents and the wider community. The PBL values that the school has adopted are: ‘safety’, ‘respect’ and ‘persistence’. Posters outlining these values, and the behavioural expectations which relate to each value, are displayed throughout the school. The three values are consistent throughout the school, but the behavioural expectations differ depending on the situation. For example, in the technology room the ‘safety’ poster lists behaviours that are relevant to using technology, for instance ‘I am aware of my surroundings when using equipment.’ The behavioural expectations were developed by students to give them a sense of ownership and use positive language, for example ‘I am an up-stander, not a by-stander.’ Having explicit values and expectations means there is a common language across the school, which supports cohesiveness in the school’s inclusive education strategies, particularly when supporting the students with a cognitive disability. Since the introduction of PBL at the school, the data shows that there has been an improvement in socioemotional skills among students and fewer behavioural incidents. Staff have also noticed a calmer atmosphere in the school.
The school’s Aboriginal education officer (AEO) also explained that the PBL framework is deliberately inclusive of everyone. For example, the artwork used for the posters has a cultural aspect, with the artwork for ‘respect’ showing a canoe tree or boundary tree, ‘persistence’ is accompanied by artwork of ants, and the ‘safety’ poster has artwork to represent the river, emphasising to students the importance of being safe around the river that borders the school.

“I think everyone has a say… students, staff, parents and we’re all speaking the same language.”
Patricia Jones, Aboriginal Education Officer

Innovative learning and support structures to meet the needs of students

Integral to the success of inclusive education at Wentworth Public School are the innovative learning and support structures the school has in place. For example, the school has made a commitment to having a designated full time learning and support wellbeing teacher. This strategy is a critical part of maintaining a focus on inclusive education at Wentworth Public School. The role of learning and support wellbeing teacher is a variation of the traditional learning and support teacher role, with a key component of this role being assisting families to get support for their child. Accessing appropriate support can be particularly difficult in Wentworth because families are often ineligible for the many health services located over the border in Victoria since they live in NSW. There are fewer services available within the immediate NSW region. Many families also lack confidence or knowledge about how to access health services, or how to apply for funding from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The learning and support wellbeing teacher navigates these challenges with families, and connects families with services. For example, the learning and support wellbeing teacher arranged for an NDIS caseworker to attend the school so that families could meet the caseworker and begin the process of accessing services under the scheme.

“We… link parents with [an] agency, so if a parent is struggling or something, we’ll link them with counselling or this service, or their child is struggling in school sometimes we link them with a paediatrician.”
Jodi Garraway, Learning and Support
Wellbeing Teacher

The learning and support wellbeing teacher also undertakes administration and coordination, for example, coordinating staff professional learning, managing data, collecting information about services and best practice, and daily class visits to check for any absences. She also upskills teachers about providing learning support for students by team teaching, observing lessons and acting as a sounding board, for example, to discuss an action plan for a particular student. Classroom teachers are also aided by school learning and support officers (SLSOs), who are trained by the learning and support wellbeing teacher to work with students to support their learning and engagement. Each classroom has one permanent SLSO and additional SLSOs are employed for extra support when required. Classroom teachers noted that by having a designated learning and support wellbeing teacher performing these tasks, it frees up their time for teaching and learning. Before the role of learning and support wellbeing teacher was established, classroom teachers were responsible for undertaking all administration, family engagement and navigation of services to support students with additional needs in their classrooms.

“[The learning and support wellbeing teacher] picks up all the information for me. You can’t go wrong. Especially when you’re out of your depth. I’ve always got someone here, if I’m out of my depth, that can put me on the right path.”
Parent
“[The school’s] learning and support team [is] really on the ball… Really organised systems and thorough systems, and no one falls through the gap…Kids are immediately channelled to learning and support team meetings where their needs are identified really early and just acted on, and plans are made.”
Parent

The learning and support and PBL teams are also crucial to Wentworth Public School’s inclusive approach. The learning and support team, consisting of the principal, assistant principal and learning and support wellbeing teacher, focus on students that have additional needs and how to meet these needs. The PBL team, consisting of all teaching staff, the principal and assistant principal, most of the SLSOs and parent representatives, discuss data related to the expected PBL behaviours and decide what actions need to take place based on the data. Students are also involved in these structures, for example, Year 5 and 6 student leaders provide input to the regular PBL team meetings to ensure there is a student voice. Wentworth Public School’s principal emphasised the importance of being ‘relentless’ with making sure these teams meet regularly, so that the focus on learning and support and PBL remains strong.

Identifying and meeting the needs of students using data and targeted support

Using data to monitor progress and inform tailored education planning

Wentworth Public School places a large premium on understanding the needs of every student at the school to ensure each student reaches their potential. Students’ needs are identified using a range of data, including school assessment data, social and emotional data and PBL data. Formative assessment and diagnostic tests provide a solid basis to guide decision making surrounding supported teaching and learning programs at an individual, small group and whole class level. Teachers work with students and their parents to develop a learning support plan for students with disability and a personalised learning plan for all students; and they use differentiation in class to ensure each student is able to access and benefit from all lessons. One carer whose child has Autism Spectrum Disorder stated that through the emphasis on effective differentiation in class, her child can learn at his own pace and is not left behind. Support staff in classrooms also ensure all students receive personalised support at the point of need.

“[My children, one of whom has ADHD and one of whom has Autism Spectrum Disorder] are included in all the activities, even though they might have issues and they’re not handling things the same way, which my boys sometimes don’t, but they are included with everything and they can learn at their pace but also they’re not left behind with other children…going ahead of them.”
Parent

An emphasis on the whole child is also important at Wentworth Public School and a critical part of their commitment towards inclusive education. This focus is emphasised in Wentworth Public School’s school plan which has as its first strategic direction ‘I learn’ which means ‘to develop self-regulated, self-responsible and persistent learners who are socially and emotionally aware’. Under this strategic direction, the school is currently focused on developing the social and emotional skills of students. This became a focus at Wentworth Public School after data showed that there were behavioural issues in the playground; and a new numeracy program for students was not getting the expected outcomes. The result was a focus at the school on social and emotional learning and wellbeing to ensure students are ready for learning. To provide this support to students, the learning and support wellbeing teacher undertook training in the Berry Street Education Model and zones of regulation2, and developed a school-specific curriculum to deliver social and emotional skill lessons. These lessons teach students to identify their own and other people’s emotions, and to manage their emotions. Every class across the school now has dedicated time each week with their teacher and the learning and support wellbeing teacher co-teaching these skills. The learning and support wellbeing teacher also acts as an advisor and coach to teachers who may be unsure how to support the additional needs of a particular student.

“In this school [inclusive education] means making sure that as a teacher I deliver the best outcomes for all of my kids and that across the school, making sure that all kids are getting the best that they can given their circumstances or what they bring to the table, what we can support them with, whether that’s extending or supporting to get kids along.”
Brian Gray, Teacher

Meeting the needs of all students

Wentworth Public School provides students at the school with a range of opportunities to make sure their needs are being met. For example, the school has a large vegetable and fruit garden which is part of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. The Program provides school staff with professional development and support to deliver food education to students. All students in Kindergarten to Year 6 participate in regular kitchen/garden lessons which promotes healthy eating and the development of cooking skills. It has also provided social learning opportunities, increased oral language learning and the development of social protocols. Another example of the school meeting identified student needs is the introduction of spelling and speech intervention programs. These programs have been introduced after data and teachers’ observations showed that students were having difficulty in these areas. The spelling program has proved to be successful, with 80% of students involved making the growth that was expected over the period of time. Students are now also being supported by a speech pathologist, supplemented through additional school funds, to assist with speech. Deficiencies in receptive and expressive language is an issue across the school.

Meeting students’ cultural needs is also particularly important at Wentworth Public School given almost 60% of the students with disability at the school are Aboriginal. The school’s AEO plays a vital role in connecting the school with local Aboriginal communities. She speaks to Aboriginal families on a regular basis, and has also introduced an innovative strategy where the relevant teacher joins in these conversations on a consistent basis to promote engagement between families and the school. Staff state that this strategy assists with bridging cultural gaps between teachers and families. The AEO also supports a designated teacher to run lessons to promote understanding of local Aboriginal culture. These lessons are run every fortnight for students in Kindergarten to Year 6 and focus on a different theme each term (for example, ‘shelter’). A key feature of this program is accessing local knowledge and understanding, comparing and contrasting local culture with other cultures. This results in cultural awareness and understanding among all students.


“[Inclusive education is] equity and not equality, so it's different for every student, and that's sometimes a hard sell for our community. They think that some kids are getting more than others, but it's not a level playing field, never has been.”
Cath Eddie, Principal

 


 

CESE would like to thank the Principal, Cath Eddie, as well as other members of the school’s staff Sandra Marziano – Assistant Principal, Jodi Garraway – Learning and Support Wellbeing Teacher, Brian Gray – Teacher, Patricia Jones – Aboriginal Education Officer and parents from Wentworth Public School, for their valuable input into this study.

 

1This is compared to an even distribution in all Australian schools, with 25% of students in each ICSEA quarter

2The Berry Street Education Model focuses on trauma-informed practice in schools. Zones of regulation is an approach in which students are taught strategies to become more aware of and skilled at managing their emotions and impulses, using four coloured ‘zones’.

The Ponds School case study (PDF, 770kB)

The Ponds School case study (PDF, 770kB)

This case study is part of a collection

 

Full paper

This case study forms part of a series on inclusive education in schools. The NSW Department of Education is committed to building a more inclusive education system, one where all students feel welcomed and are learning to their fullest capability. Inclusive education means all students, regardless of disability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, nationality, language, gender, sexual orientation or faith, can access and fully participate in learning, alongside their similar aged peers, supported by reasonable adjustments and teaching strategies tailored to meet their individual needs. Inclusion is embedded in all aspects of school life, and is supported by culture, policies and everyday practices (Disability Strategy (2019)).

The department is committed to building the capacity of our mainstream public schools to meet the needs of their local students unless there are compelling individual reasons why a different option would better support the student. We acknowledge that this needs to be balanced against parental choice regarding the most appropriate setting for their child, and will continue to work with parents and education experts to individualise support so that every child can be engaged with learning and flourish at school (Progress Report: Improving outcomes for students with disability 2019).

Introduction

The Ponds School enrols students with moderate to severe intellectual disability and is located in Sydney’s north west. In addition to intellectual disabilities, many students also have physical or sensory disabilities and other health care needs. The school opened in 2012, with 24 Kindergarten students in demountable buildings. In 2019, the school had grown to 110 students in Kindergarten to Year 10 who attend school in a new, purpose-built site. Half of the school’s students (51%) are from a language background other than English and almost one in ten (8%) are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
The Ponds School provides inclusive education to its students through a focus on building the knowledge and skills of the school’s staff, using data and evidence to support student achievement, providing access to the curriculum through adjusting for the learning needs of individual students, community connections, working closely with families, deeply embedding Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL), and emphasising a culture of innovation.

What has worked to improve inclusive education at The Ponds School

• A strong focus on building the skills of staff, particularly early career staff.
• Using data and evidence to support students to achieve their goals.
• Providing access to the curriculum through adjusting for the learning needs of individual students.
• Strong links to local community organisations, businesses and schools to provide opportunities for students to participate in educational opportunities comparable to their peers in mainstream settings.
• Close partnerships with families, exemplified by intensive, open communication.
• Embedding a common, school-wide framework to achieve positive behaviour to support learning.
• Openness to innovative approaches and collaboration to meet students’ needs.

Building the capacity of staff to meet the needs of students

The Ponds School supports staff to develop the skills they need to provide an inclusive environment for all students. One way this takes place is through having an assistant principal whose designated role is to build the capacity of staff and mentor new teachers through the accreditation process. The assistant principal meets with beginning teachers weekly to work on their teaching strategies, support them with their accreditation and provide relevant professional learning. The school provides release time from face-to-face teaching for experienced staff to mentor and work with more junior teachers. This includes time spent in classrooms, observing and team teaching, support with planning and programming, support with parent meetings and time to develop shared resources. The school also funds external providers, such as a speech pathologist and an occupational therapist who focus on student behaviour and communication and upskill teachers in best practice in working with students with disability. These efforts lead to a greater emphasis in teachers targeting skills their students need, greater use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices and more confident, supported staff.
The Ponds School is also involved in sharing practice with the local school community. The Ponds School staff deliver professional learning with other schools. For example, staff share practice as part of the Special Education Principals and Leaders Association (SEPLA) and as part of an early career teacher network where beginning teachers visit other schools and learn from each other. The Ponds School started TeachMeets specifically for SSPs, after attending a TeachMeet at the Department of Education office in Parramatta, and wanting the same opportunity for teachers in special education settings.

Effective use of evidence and data to support students achieve their goals

The Ponds School uses data and continuous reporting in all aspects of a student’s education. The school has developed a school-wide Data Wall, based on the Visible Learning model, with which to analyse student progress and achievement data. Teachers use data for planning, to adjust programs to suit a student’s learning style, to investigate why a student might not be achieving as expected and to identify and provide appropriate adjustments and direct support. The school collects individual student data through a range of assessments adjusted to meet students’ needs, for example, portfolios and observation. This data is used in conjunction with the University of Melbourne’s Students with Additional Needs (SWANs) program. SWANs aims to be an integrated program of assessment, planning and teaching advice that is easy for teachers to access and use and helps them realise the learning potential of students with additional needs. Student assessment data – available at school and class level in SWANs – are used to inform teaching programs.
The school also uses data and engages students in their own learning, goal setting and outcomes by having visual ‘Bump Up’ walls in each classroom. These walls display a student’s progress toward achieving their goal in a way that students can understand. Each student has a personalised learning plan that identifies three goals under the headings of safe and caring, life-long learner and valued member of the community. For each goal, teachers work with students to identify five steps that the student needs to work on to achieve that goal. Students are praised and rewarded each time they complete a step and a goal. Teachers reported that the visual element of the Bump Up wall enhances student focus on their goals and helps with classroom management.

“I think this can be a very challenging role to be in for teachers. Our staff show up. They’re happy. They work together and that shared ownership of all our kids is… a plus… their biggest impact is seeing our kids achieve goals.”
Anne Bennett, Deputy Principal

Providing access to the curriculum through adjusting for the learning needs of individual students

The Ponds School ensures inclusive curriculum practice by adapting the syllabus to the different needs of the students. Teachers modify learning programs through differentiation and scaffolding to allow each and every student to access the full curriculum, learn a range of skills, and access the key learning activities. An example of differentiation in the classroom as provided by the school, was the use of robotic equipment/resources in STEM classes. In this example, students with high support needs learn the basis of coding through understanding cause and effect by seeing that what they are operating on their iPad matches the robots’ actions. Some of the higher functioning students, by contrast, use their robots to compete in races and use their mathematics skills to calculate the time taken by the first, second, and third robot to complete the race. In this way, teachers at the school are able to teach a range of skills across the curriculum. Individualised learning is a key plank of the learning approach at The Ponds School. The Ponds School supports individualised learning through using a person-centred planning approach to develop and review personalised learning plans (PLPs). By working in collaboration with families, therapists and other key stakeholders, the school formulates PLPs that are individualised, innovative and achievable and are also developed for each student. The PLPs ensure students are continually working towards achieving their own individual goals and outcomes from the syllabus.

Reaching out and inviting in the local community

One way the school implements inclusive education is through strong, purposeful links with the local community. The Ponds School welcomes National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) providers, however, one of the biggest challenges currently facing students and their families at The Ponds School is navigating the NDIS and getting access to services. Due to the school’s strong connections with the community, and with NDIS service providers, the school is able to support students and their families by linking them to NDIS service providers. For example, the school works closely with the NDIS coordinator for the region and brings in therapists who work with students in the school environment.
The school works closely with local businesses and community members to provide students with opportunities to build their skills in engaging with the community, to introduce parents to different services that are available to support them and their child, and to raise awareness of disability within the community. One example of this is that the school engages local businesses to provide work experience opportunities for students. The school also provides students and parents with information about post-school disability service providers where appropriate. In addition, The Ponds School is known throughout the community for their annual markets and Christmas carols.
The school also engages the community by inviting students from other local schools to help with activities such as the athletics carnival, creative arts and STEM events. In addition, identified students from The Ponds School regularly attend other schools to support the development of skills such as social interaction and/or an eventual transition to mainstream schools. One of The Ponds School students will attend a local high school in 2020, for example, and so in 2019 that student was regularly attending the local high school to assist with the transition.

“We’re a very visible school in our community. We’re very much part of the surrounding areas…every time we have anything here, they ask the community to come in here and then the community spends time with our kids rather than us always having to go out.”
Parent

Working closely with families

The Ponds School principal, Leonie Donaldson, believes that in inclusive education, students should be given opportunities to build the skills to be actively, meaningfully engaged with their family. To achieve this The Ponds School works with families in a range of ways. For example, when a student is setting their personalised learning plan goals, and the school is programming adjustments, the family is consulted to establish consistency at school and home. The school supports parents to consider future options for their children, with one parent noting that the school encouraged her to think of a five-year plan for her daughter who is in Year 8, something the parent had not previously considered. The school also has a culture of open communication, with parents commenting that two-way communication takes place on a daily basis. This open culture is further enhanced by The Ponds School promoting parent engagement through volunteering opportunities and facilitating a support group for parents, as well as cooking nights where families come together and eat dinner cooked by the students.

“…Communication here is on a daily basis, so we know what’s going on from one day to the next…this school…draws our family into the school family too. So we’re part of that inclusion as well, not just my son.”
Parent
“I think getting the whole family involved…is paramount because what happens here affects what happens [at home] and what happens at home affects here too.”
Parent

Embedding Positive Behaviour for Learning

The Ponds School has been implementing Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) since the school was established in 2012. PBL is deeply embedded in every aspect of the school, including programs and routines. It is used by the school to encourage and support the behaviour of students throughout each school day, with a focus on caring, learning and being safe in every situation. The school’s PBL teaching matrix guides explicit and incidental teaching of appropriate behaviours specific to each area in the school. The school community discussed and agreed on a common language to be used in all locations within the school. The common language ensures positive behaviours are explicitly taught and consistently reinforced and the school values are embedded. A focus behaviour is identified at the beginning of each month and reinforced by all staff members. Six key behaviour support strategies are depicted on posters and displayed in every classroom. These are used as a basis for supporting student behaviour. The strategies include giving choices, redirecting, reteaching, paying attention to positive behaviour and ignoring inappropriate behaviour, providing time and space to calm down and communicating. Accident/injury and minor/major incident data is collected on a weekly basis to track the impact of PBL on student behaviour over time.

“We use a lot of positive verbal praise, labelled praise…so we’re always framing things in a positive light. Instead of saying, ‘Don’t climb on the table,’ we would say, ‘Feet on the floor.’ Everybody in the school is using that common language.”
Linda Hess, Assistant Principal

Another way the school embeds PBL with students is through clear expectations, individual goals and rewards. The school has a multi-level reward system that is used across the whole school. Staff can give students stamps, stickers and awards in categories of learning, caring and being safe. Staff are encouraged to reward students frequently. Students who have received an award are then in the running to receive a prize at the weekly assembly – as is the teacher who gave them the award. Having the teacher prize box encourages teachers to be ‘fast and frequent’ in giving positive feedback to students. In addition, the assembly awards are delivered by the school’s student leaders, who are chosen as positive role models of the school’s PBL expectations.
The structure and common approach of PBL is considered by staff to be “the thread that runs through the whole school” (Linda Hess, Assistant Principal). Since PBL is widespread in schools, the use of this approach also means that when students go to mainstream schools for visits or integration, there is often a common language with the other school. This helps students with inclusion because the language and expected behaviour is common even if the environment is different.
Using the PBL approach has complemented other strategies the school has in place to manage behaviour, for example, engineering the environment, sensory breaks and activities, flexible timetables and break out spaces in each classroom. Another important strategy in teaching students positive behaviour has been the So Safe program. The school chose the So Safe program because it is research informed, and suitable to the needs of students at The Ponds School, since it is designed for people with an intellectual disability. The program uses communication books and a common language to help students build relationships and develop positive social skills. Before implementing the program, the school gave parents the opportunity to give feedback and provide input as to whether the program should be used at the school.

Culture of innovation and collaboration

A common theme that emerged when visiting The Ponds School is the school’s culture of innovation, particularly a willingness to try new strategies with students, in collaboration with parents. One example of this is that parents share information or techniques that are working at home, and the school embraces these suggestions and uses them in the classroom. One student was earning virtual coins at home to reward positive behaviour, and the school is now informing the child’s parent of how many coins the student earned in the school day so that these can be added to her at-home reward system.
Teachers at The Ponds School have also introduced technology and creative arts programs that are suited to students with additional needs. This includes a dance program that uses innovative techniques so that students with severe physical disabilities can experience dance, for example, using facial expressions and eye movements to respond to music. The school also has a signing choir, which participated in the School Spectacular in 2019. Parents are engaged in these activities, for example, Aboriginal parents are involved in the school's Aboriginal dance group.
Another significant innovation the school undertook in 2019 was to offer elective subjects to the high school-aged students. To ensure students are given the same opportunities as their peers, the school developed an elective program where students participated in a different elective each term. This gave students opportunities to work with other students and staff that they had not previously worked with. The school intends to extend the program to offer more electives in 2020.

“We have to be taking on board new things that are happening in the education realm, and finding the very best way and the very best programs for our students.”
Leonie Donaldson, Principal

 


CESE would like to thank the Principal, Leonie Donaldson, as well as other members of the school's staff Anne Bennett – Deputy Principal, Alicia Stroud, Morgan Costa, Linda Hess, Sharon Stone and Carolyn Heffernan – Assistant Principals, other staff, and the parents of students attending The Ponds School, for their valuable input to this study.

Narrandera High School case study (PDF, 870kB)

Narrandera High School case study (PDF, 870kB)

This case study is part of a collection

 

Full paper

This case study forms part of a series on inclusive education in schools. The NSW Department of Education is committed to building a more inclusive education system, one where all students feel welcomed and are learning to their fullest capability. Inclusive education means all students, regardless of disability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, nationality, language, gender, sexual orientation or faith, can access and fully participate in learning, alongside their similar aged peers, supported by reasonable adjustments and teaching strategies tailored to meet their individual needs. Inclusion is embedded in all aspects of school life, and is supported by culture, policies and everyday practices (Disability Strategy (2019)).

The department is committed to building the capacity of our mainstream public schools to meet the needs of their local students unless there are compelling individual reasons why a different option would better support the student. We acknowledge that this needs to be balanced against parental choice regarding the most appropriate setting for their child, and will continue to work with parents and education experts to individualise support so that every child can be engaged with learning and flourish at school (Progress Report: Improving outcomes for students with disability 2019).

Introduction

Narrandera High School is a secondary school located in the town of Narrandera in the NSW Riverina region. Located adjacent to the Murrumbidgee River, the town is at the centre of a productive agricultural region. Narrandera High School is currently experiencing a growth in enrolments. There are 304 students enrolled at the school, an increase of 22% between 2015 and 2019. Approximately one-quarter (24%) of students identify as Aboriginal. Narrandera has a lower than average Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) with approximately 50% of students in the bottom quarter of socioeconomic status. Students with disability make up approximately 20% of the student population, and the school has two multi-categorical support classrooms (MC). Students move between mainstream classes and the MC class depending on their needs.
Narrandera High School has embedded inclusive education in the school through building the capacity and confidence of staff, having a focus on behaviour management, providing individualised support for all students, and fostering links between the school and the community.

What has worked to improve inclusive education at Narrandera High School

• Building the capacity and confidence of staff in inclusive education through professional learning and teacher learning communities.
• Focusing on positive relationships and high expectations to improve behaviour.
• Having a clear focus on individualised learning needs, providing adjustments or differentiated teaching for students, and monitoring progress.
• Fostering links between the school and the local community to provide services and additional opportunities for students with disability.

“Inclusive education is [that] fair isn’t always equal … it’s about making sure that we are able to provide whatever support that students need to be able to learn and access education.”
Marni Milne, Principal

Building the capacity and confidence of staff to embed inclusive education

In recent years, Narrandera High School has made a significant investment in building the knowledge and capability of the school’s staff to embed inclusive education. The staff have been open to new ideas and learning how to better support students with disability. Capacity building began by examining the school’s legal and ethical responsibilities towards students with disability, including looking at the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), the Disability Standards for Education (2005) and reviewing the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. The principal then worked with material provided by NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) staff, to develop resources and professional learning for teachers and support staff targeted at inclusive education, suited to the context and needs of Narrandera High School and its students. A particular focus of the resources and professional learning was shifting the mindset of teachers away from teaching all students the same way. School staff learnt from the school’s principal and deputy principal how to ensure all students can access the curriculum and achieve learning outcomes through the use of differentiation and adjustments. This included a strong emphasis on helping teachers understand that not all students need to demonstrate their knowledge in the same way. For example, English teachers could have one marking criteria for a task, but allow students to demonstrate that they had achieved the learning outcomes using different text types.

“Staff professional learning … is crucial. I mean, you can put all the resources in the world into things, but if your staff aren't on board and aren't speaking that language, it's a bit of a waste of time.”
Marni Milne, Principal

In order to make sure inclusive education became embedded in the school culture and not just a temporary focus, the school introduced ongoing strategies, such as teacher learning communities (TLCs). The TLCs involve teachers working together on targeted areas of the school’s inclusive education strategies, undertaking classroom observations, providing peer feedback and participating in mentoring. Teachers have had their teaching load reduced by one period per fortnight to allow time to work with a teaching partner, reflect on feedback provided to them and set individual goals for improving their inclusive education practice. The principal sees the TLCs as a key support structure for teachers to embed the inclusive education focus at the school. There are plans to expand the TLCs in 2020 by introducing coaching for teachers in order to ensure the professional learning is sustained, ongoing and having an impact on teaching practice.

“It's really important to make sure that staff are supported to be inclusive and understand that every student is different and unique and that's okay.”
Marni Milne, Principal

Supporting students through a focus on positive relationships and high expectations

Narrandera High School’s staff identified ‘restorative practice’ as a critical component of inclusive education at the school. Restorative practice at Narrandera High School involves a focus on positive relationships and high expectations as a means to support students and improve behaviour. For example, if a student acts in an inappropriate way, once everyone is calm the student and others involved have a conversation to understand what happened and why it happened rather than immediately jumping to consequences. The principal summarises restorative practice as, “connect before correct”, meaning staff focus on connecting on a personal level with students before discussing behaviour issues. Every student identifies one staff member, and students with disability identify multiple staff members, to act as trusted adults and their advocates at school (that is, their designated ‘go-to’ person). The initiative aims to make sure every student is known, has their needs met and has someone to speak to when things are not going well, in order to prevent the escalation of issues into challenging behaviour and to avoid withdrawing students from school (such as through suspension). Restorative practice was initially introduced due to staff concern about data showing a large number of suspensions and violent incidents at the school. The school indicated that since the introduction of this approach they have had a significant decrease in the number of student suspensions.

“It’s about knowing each other’s story and being able to talk through that … So, those relationships have been [a] really important part of our practice …”
Marni Milne, Principal
“[Positive relationships between staff] comes down a lot from Marni too, she filters down that care and nurture approach, so leadership’s huge.”
Krystin Metcalf, Intervention Centre Coordinator

A commitment to providing individualised support for all students

Narrandera High School believes that all students should be provided with the individualised support they need to be able to learn. The individual learning needs of students are identified and monitored through early and regular testing, particularly testing in numeracy and literacy. For example, the school uses the York Assessment of Reading for Comprehension (YARC) to determine students’ literacy levels when they first arrive at the school. If students require extra support, they participate in literacy intervention program MacqLit (Macquarie Literacy program) or literacy and numeracy intervention program QuickSmart.

Staff highlighted the principal’s open-door policy, solutions-oriented approach and willingness to support new ideas as particularly helpful when considering different ways to support students’ individual needs. Staff noted that both the principal and relieving deputy principal work with teachers who need extra support to incorporate inclusive education strategies for students with disability in their classrooms. For example, the relieving deputy principal reviews all assessment task checklists (where teachers note adjustments made for individual assessments for students with disability), and adjustments coversheets (which outline the teaching and learning adjustments made for students with disability). The executive team also use the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers during discussions with teachers about how they can best support individual students’ needs. The involvement from the school’s executive in these processes is particularly important given staff are still learning about best practice for students with disability. This additional layer of review encourages good-quality practice and provides teachers with opportunities to build their skills.
Every student at Narrandera High School has an individualised learning plan. Plans are developed in partnership with the student, their family and the student’s year advisor and identify student strengths, needs and learning goals. Individualised learning plans allow each student to have a voice and take ownership of their learning. For example, during the development of their plans, students are given the opportunity to talk specifically about the support they need to succeed, which is then built into their plan. Regular meetings with the student and their family ensure that individual goals are reviewed, any adjustments can be arranged and relevant support can be provided.

Narrandera High School provides additional support for students’ individual needs through two dedicated spaces: the Intervention Centre and the Aboriginal Learning Centre. These spaces were created by the school to cater for the increasing support needs of students. The Intervention Centre – designed to be a calm and homely environment for students – focuses on supporting wellbeing and learning, and managing students with challenging behaviour. The Centre offers a number of programs for students, for example, student social groups, reading programs, a breakfast club, homework help and volunteer groups who participate in community projects. Staff can refer students to the Intervention Centre if they believe the student needs additional support or is having difficulties with behaviour. The Intervention Centre’s coordinator has been trained in the Berry Street Education Model, and uses trauma-informed practice and wellbeing practices to support the individual academic and socioemotional needs of students.

“There are processes but there's room in the process for the individual needs of all of the students to be catered for.”
Parent

The Aboriginal Learning Centre supports Aboriginal students of Narrandera High School with their wellbeing, learning and assessment tasks. The Aboriginal Learning Centre is a classroom space designed to be calming and culturally sensitive, where students can access extra support. The Aboriginal Learning Centre is staffed by one teacher and one Aboriginal education officer (AEO) who provide individual support to students as required, and work with families to keep them informed and engaged through telephone calls and home visits.
The school’s commitment to providing individualised support for students includes asking for student feedback regularly to ensure the support is meeting students’ self-identified needs. The school uses student survey results to help staff determine whether their practices are effective, and also more broadly to provide student feedback on the school’s activities and inclusive education practices. The school’s leadership team uses this data to support any staff who may need further professional learning on how to improve their teaching for students with disability. The principal stated that emphasising student input and giving students ownership of their learning has contributed to a reduction in suspensions and negative behaviour.

“[Inclusive education means]… every person regardless of ability will have the support that they need to become the best version of themselves.”
Krystin Metcalf, Intervention Centre Coordinator

 

Fostering links between school and the community to meet the needs of students

Narrandera High School engages with the community to provide services and additional opportunities for students with disability. The school has links with community agencies, government agencies and other services, including disability support agencies, family referral services, health and medical services and therapists, PCYC, mental health support, and government agencies such as Family and Community Services and Centrelink. The school also works with National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) providers from the local community. One example of how students’ needs are catered to through community links is through the school’s life skills cooking group. Some of the students in the group are uncomfortable in the large commercial kitchens at the school. To meet these students’ needs, the school has engaged a local community organisation that is able to provide access to their ‘home style’ commercial kitchen, where students can cook in a more comfortable environment.

“We go above and beyond, and I think it’s because we love where we work and we love our community, and we just want these kids, students to achieve and be as successful as they can be.”
Joy O’Hara, Aboriginal Education Officer

Narrandera High School also works with the community to prepare students for life after school. Students with disability are engaging with employment agencies to develop work-readiness skills. For example, Kurrajong Waratah, an NDIS provider which offers supports and services for people with disability in the Riverina and Murray regions, employs some students in Years 11 and 12 to work two days per week while completing their studies. Links to the local TAFE have also increased student readiness for transition out of school. Some students, for instance, are completing a Certificate III course or are on alternative pathways with the local TAFE.

“When you're in a small town like Narrandera, your school is not your school 9:00am to 3:00pm, and that's it. It is… a trusted place for a much broader support for families.”
Marni Milne, Principal


CESE would like to thank the Principal, Marni Milne, as well as other members of the school’s staff Helen Langley – Relieving Deputy Principal, Jamie Gawne – Learning and Support Coordinator, Krystin Metcalf – Intervention Centre Coordinator, Joy O’Hara – Aboriginal Education Officer, Glen Borg – Aboriginal Education Officer and parents from Narrandera High School, for their valuable input into this study.

Girraween Public School case study (PDF, 1MB)

Girraween Public School case study (PDF, 1MB)

This case study is part of a collection

 

Full paper

This case study forms part of a series on inclusive education in schools. The NSW Department of Education is committed to building a more inclusive education system, one where all students feel welcomed and are learning to their fullest capability. Inclusive education means all students, regardless of disability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, nationality, language, gender, sexual orientation or faith, can access and fully participate in learning, alongside their similar aged peers, supported by reasonable adjustments and teaching strategies tailored to meet their individual needs. Inclusion is embedded in all aspects of school life, and is supported by culture, policies and everyday practices (Disability Strategy (2019)).

The department is committed to building the capacity of our mainstream public schools to meet the needs of their local students unless there are compelling individual reasons why a different option would better support the student. We acknowledge that this needs to be balanced against parental choice regarding the most appropriate setting for their child, and will continue to work with parents and education experts to individualise support so that every child can be engaged with learning and flourish at school (Progress Report: Improving outcomes for students with disability 2019).

Introduction

Girraween Public School is a large primary school in Sydney’s western suburbs. The school has 1,273 students, with 96% of students coming from a language background other than English. Over half of Girraween Public School’s students (63%) were born in Australia, and the students represent many different language backgrounds, the largest being Tamil. Students with disability make up approximately 10% of the student population. These students are supported both in the school’s three support classes for students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities and in mainstream classrooms. Students transition between support classes and mainstream classes as their needs change.
At Girraween Public School, staff work with students and families to develop strategies so that all students have equal access to education and can reach their potential. Girraween Public School has a calm atmosphere and organised nature – despite the very large number of students and the challenging physical environment as a result of student numbers putting pressure on the school’s existing infrastructure1. Girraween Public School has been able to achieve an inclusive environment through strong, collaborative leadership, effective use of data, individualised student support, close partnerships with parents, the implementation of rigorous structures and processes paired with flexible use of resources, and investing in school staff to increase their ability to meet student needs.

What has worked to improve inclusive education at Girraween Public School

• Strong, collaborative leadership with a visible commitment to inclusion.
• Coupling student data with conversations with students and families to identify and meet students’ aspirations and needs.
• Teachers and school learning support officers (SLSOs) working together to deliver individualised support for students with disability.
• Partnering with families as early as possible and communicating regularly to keep them engaged in their child’s learning and wellbeing.
• Clear, consistent, embedded learning and support processes that are applied throughout the school.
• Creative, flexible use of resources to make sure student needs are identified and met.
• Building the capacity of all staff, including teachers, SLSOs, and casual teachers so that they have the knowledge, skills and confidence to support all students’ learning.

“Inclusive education, I believe, is the school and… an education system where children will be observed really closely by the school, and then they get to know their children… get to know their abilities as well as where they need more help, so that they can reach their full potential and the school would support and guide the child, so they can be their best.”
Parent

“[The processes we have in place to support inclusive education are] processes that most schools – I would say all schools – would have, in regard to having good learning support teams, using flexibility of funding, utilising the expertise. I believe…it’s not so much what we do but how we do it. And…making sure that the processes are rigorous. That there is documentation. And then, when we say that we are communicating with parents, we have actual processes in place to do that. It’s written communication. It’s meetings and it’s electronic communication.”
Cecilia Parada, Deputy Principal

Strong, collaborative leadership creating a shared responsibility and a common culture

The leadership team at Girraween Public School, consisting of the principal, three deputy principals and seven assistant principals, take a strongly collaborative approach to running the school. The three deputy principals, in particular, have complementary skills and responsibilities in inclusive education. For example, one deputy principal is responsible for learning and support for Kindergarten to Year 2 students, one for Year 3 to Year 6 students and one for other learning and support programs, including staff wellbeing. This shared responsibility is extended beyond the executive, with part of the school culture being that all staff are expected to be involved in the provision of learning and support. The collaborative leadership approach creates an environment where all staff are engaged in students’ learning and support and can identify students who may need additional support.

 “[Responsibility is] not just sitting with Learning and Support; it’s sitting with everyone, for all of those students. So, I think our processes are fantastic… when you’re working with children for inclusive education, everyone needs to be on board.”
Kathy Needham, Deputy Principal

The school’s counsellor noted that leadership of learning and support by the school’s deputy principals also raises the profile of inclusive education from a parent’s perspective. This leadership is formalised through the Learning and Support team, which is led by the three deputy principals, and also includes the learning and support teacher and the school counsellor. Girraween Public School parents are generally focused on academic results, and there has sometimes been hesitation among some parents to meet with the school counsellor or to investigate whether their child might have a disability. However, the strong leadership shown by Girraween Public School’s executive team and the focus on supporting all students and catering for all needs, has assisted to make parents more comfortable to discuss their child’s learning and support requirements with the school.

“It’s really important that the parent community sees that that’s a school approach, it’s not just me in an isolated role talking about social emotional wellbeing of children. Particularly having the deputies run those programs, the parents still give permission, they’re still aware that it’s occurring, but it’s a school approach, and it’s to help those children build strategies that will have an impact, a positive impact on their academics.”
Emily Nash, School Counsellor

Using data and consultation to identify student needs

Girraween Public School couples student data with conversations with students and their families to identify and meet students’ aspirations and needs. At multiple points throughout the year, the school collects and analyses at least four types of data: school-based data, which is gathered twice each term; NAPLAN data; Best Start data; and specialist literacy data. Students with disability are given differentiated assessments which support their individual needs. In this way, students are not compared against other students but against their own expected educational growth. The school uses this data as a basis for conversations with students and their families, and to develop the student’s personalised learning plan (PLP). The PLP process gives the school, the student and the family the opportunity to agree on student goals.
The student data and outcomes of the consultation with the family are also discussed at learning support meetings. The historical data from the school-based tests is compared with NAPLAN results to determine whether there is alignment, and to examine growth over time. If the data shows inconsistencies or lower than expected growth, staff consult with parents and implement strategies to support the student. Another way this data is used is to help determine allocation of learning support resources and strategies that will be used to support students. Since data is collected so regularly, teachers and support staff use the data as a form of feedback on the effectiveness of the agreed support strategies, and alter their approach when required.

“I think it is a matter of us looking at our data, drilling down through the data, and working [on] areas of improvement required in students. There's no point collecting the data, sitting on the data and doing nothing, because we [would then] have the same result [year after year].”
Jason Ward, Deputy Principal
“Formative assessment is more individualised. So, the child is not competing against other children in the class. The child is looking at their own personal goals and their progress… Children with additional needs or disability – that’s what they need…[you saw a student who] was able to articulate that today… she knows her goals.”
Cecilia Parada, Deputy Principal

Individualised support for students

Girraween Public School’s school learning support officers (SLSOs) are effectively integrated into the classroom and provide essential and specialised support to teachers of students with disability. In consultation with the classroom teacher and the Learning and Support team, the SLSOs employ specific, evidence-based strategies and adapt these as students grow and develop. For example, one student with Autism in a mainstream class could not differentiate appropriate behaviour when she began at the school. To develop her understanding of appropriate behaviour, the SLSO wrote and illustrated ‘social stories’ or picture books featuring the student to teach her what to do in various challenging social situations. The books explicitly outlined the school rules and consequences for not following the rules. Over time, the student wanted to take charge of the social stories and write them herself. The characters and content of the social stories changed as the student’s skills developed and needs changed. The social stories have since been phased out as the student is now a thriving Year 6 student and no longer requires this support.
Another strategy used at Girraween Public School to ensure students receive quality individualised support is the continual emphasis on students as lifelong learners, whose needs will change as they leave school and go into the workforce. Despite being a primary school, Girraween Public School has a persistent focus on HSC completion and employment outcomes for students with disability who attend the school. This means teachers consider what needs to happen for each individual student now to support their learning in the future. For example, to support the transition of a Year 6 student with Autism to high school next year, since the beginning of the year her SLSO, the school counsellor and a deputy principal have accompanied her visits to the school. Girraween Public School staff have worked with the student over many years to develop her ability to know what to say if she is feeling uncomfortable and to put in place coping strategies to avoid inappropriate behaviour. The school is now working with the student to adapt these strategies to the high school context, for example, slowly introducing the student to new situations that she will encounter that may be challenging. Parallel to this, staff from Girraween Public School are supporting staff at the high school to develop their expertise in working with students with Autism so that the intensive, individualised support this student has received can continue and the student is set up to succeed in high school.

“Yes, we’re working with a kindergarten child, but that child is going to go to high school. How are they going to work in high school? What opportunities are we giving them?”
Cecilia Parada, Deputy Principal

Close partnerships with families and support services

Girraween Public School partners with families as early as possible and communicates regularly to keep them engaged in their student’s learning and wellbeing. Partnerships with families often begin before the student starts at Girraween Public School, with staff liaising with local preschools about students with disability who will be moving to the school. Upon enrolment, the school uses the language of ‘enrolling the whole family’ and becoming ‘one team’ to emphasise the need for wrap around support for students. This team approach is enabled through intensive communication between the school and parents, including regular phone calls, emails and review meetings.

“We were always updated with what’s happening and what [the] plans are, even which teacher is with [our daughter], the special teacher, all these things.”
Parent

The school also supports families by liaising with external support services that provide assistance for students with disability. For example, the school may provide letters to doctors outlining the student’s challenges when parents are from a language background other than English and therefore may not be able to articulate this themselves. School staff also liaise with students’ therapists and parents so that everyone is implementing the same strategies for the student. One parent commented on the very involved nature of Girraween Public School’s staff when supporting their child with disability, for example, advising on how the student could best travel home from school. The parent noted that the school was involved from the beginning of their child’s experience, identifying that the student was having difficulties hearing in class. The school guided the family through every step of the process to access support services, including providing information on accessing NDIS funding, and the student is now engaged in her learning through the use of hearing aids.

 “The [school] intervened as soon as they saw something that is not right. They give us the feedback. And not only that they gave us the feedback, they were really with us from the beginning up to this point …We’re so proud to be a part of [the] Girraween family.”
Parent

Embedded clear learning and support processes for staff

Girraween Public School’s leadership team has developed and embedded clear learning and support processes to ensure the school is providing high quality inclusive education. For example, the school’s Learning and Support team has a formal, tiered process for staff to request support regarding students with additional needs. The Learning and Support team meet weekly to discuss issues raised as either ‘flags’ or ‘referrals’ and provide teachers with advice, in-class support or specialist referrals as required. Formal processes are necessary due to the large size of the school, however, flexibility is also built in if, for example, a staff member needed urgent support. These processes mean that learning support resources can be managed effectively across all students requiring support. The process also ensures no support request goes unanswered as all requests are tracked, and decisions made and actions taken are recorded. The school recognises that these processes can add additional time to a staff member’s workload, so they employ an additional teacher to cover classes, so that staff have time off class to complete paperwork and plan for teaching students with additional needs.

“Teachers may get overwhelmed when they have certain children in their classrooms that have learning needs that they might not have been exposed to before, so the idea of the Learning [and] Support team is that they can come and have a chat.”
Emily Nash, School Counsellor
“Learning and Support can’t fix everything, but we can support the teachers and students to be the best they can be.”
Kathy Needham, Deputy Principal

Employing flexible use of resources to meet student needs

Girraween Public School employs creative, flexible use of resources to make sure student needs are identified and met. For example, the school supplements the allocated number of executive teachers so that there is one assistant principal (AP) for each year level rather than for each stage. This means that one AP is only responsible for approximately 150 students and 7 teachers, rather than 400 students and 15 to 16 teachers. These smaller groups mean that the AP has time to support teachers develop their skills in working with students with disability, and also provides more opportunities for teachers to identify students who need support. The school is also flexible in its use of SLSOs, who work to a flexible timetable which is coordinated and reviewed by the learning and support teacher. Teachers and SLSOs work together as a team, in conjunction with the executive, to prioritise adaptability so that students’ changing needs can be met. This flexibility is particularly important when new students enrol throughout the year. If a new student has support needs, the SLSOs’ schedules can be adjusted so that the needs of this new student can be accommodated.
Another way the school uses flexible approaches to meet the challenge of providing inclusive education at a large school is through structures and timetabling. The school ensures every student is known, valued and cared for by regularly dividing the student body into small, manageable groups. For example, the school uses a house group structure to allocate students into eight groups (four houses across Kindergarten to Year 2; Year 3 to Year 6); playground time is also staggered for infants and primary students. These smaller groups give students the chance to connect with peers in a structured way, and also ensure teachers are able to identify any existing or emerging student needs that require additional support.

“It’s a bit of a balance of trying to make sure that everyone feels part of a whole, but they don’t get lost in the volume of the school.”
Glenn Walker, Principal

Building the capacity of teachers and support staff to meet the needs of students

Girraween Public School builds the capacity of all staff, including teachers, SLSOs, and casual teachers so that they have the knowledge, skills and confidence to support all students’ learning. The school provides regular, relevant professional learning to staff, for example in behaviour management and literacy intervention programs (such as MiniLit and MultiLit2). Professional learning courses are complemented by coaching and mentoring among the school’s staff, with an expectation from the leadership team that staff will share their expertise with others. The school also offers professional learning to casual teachers and supports them through their accreditation process. This means that the school has a number of casual teachers skilled in inclusive education that can be called upon when required.

“[The Learning and Support team is] a limited resource…we are limited in our time and our money, so we need to build the capacity [of staff]…often teachers are doing great stuff already, and we just need to reinforce that.”
Kathy Needham, Deputy Principal

In recent years, Girraween Public School has had a particular focus on building the skills of its eleven SLSOs. The SLSOs, under the guidance of the teacher, work with students individually and in small groups, and are an increasingly invaluable asset to Girraween Public School’s learning and support systems. SLSOs all have performance and development plans (PDPs), which allows staff to identify their own goals and training needs. Since the PDP process for SLSOs has been introduced, SLSOs have received training on topics such as intensive literacy support, supporting students with autism, Management of Actual or Potential Aggression (MAPA), and supporting students with complex health needs. The school employs an additional teacher to provide cover for SLSOs when they attend training. This training has empowered SLSOs to bring their skills and knowledge in learning and support to the fore when working with students.

“[One lesson we’ve learned from inclusive education is the importance of] supporting our teachers. Supporting them with professional learning because we know, from research, it’s the teacher that’s going to make a huge impact and you need a skilled teacher.”
Cecilia Parada, Deputy Principal


CESE would like to thank the Principal, Glenn Walker, as well as other members of the school's staff Kathy Needham, Cecilia Parada and Jason Ward – Deputy Principals, Debra Ashby and Catherine Dunne – School Learning Support Officers, and parents from Girraween Public School, for their valuable input into this study.

1The school will soon begin a significant building project that will mean that the school buildings and grounds will be purpose built for the number of students at the school, and better suited to meet student needs.

2MiniLit and MultiLit (‘Making Up Lost Time In Literacy’) are literacy interventions for students falling in the bottom 25% for reading.

Inclusive-education-Wentworth-PS-thumbInclusive-education-Girraween-thumbInclusive-education-Narranderra-thumbInclusive-education-ThePonds-thumb

Wentworth Public School case study

Girraween Public School case study

Narrandera High School case study

The Ponds School case study

The case studies outline what has worked in each school to improve inclusive education for students with disability.

The case studies identify six themes that are important in achieving inclusive education:

  • strong and collaborative leadership, including implementing whole-school approaches
  • effective use of data to identify and meet students’ needs
  • commitment to differentiation and adjustments to meet the needs of individual students
  • working closely with families and the local community to support students’ learning
  • high-quality, embedded learning and support structures
  • investment in school staff to build their capacity to deliver inclusive education.

The NSW Department of Education commits to building a more inclusive education system for students with disability in the Disability Strategy launched in February 2019.

schools-students-2019-statistical-bulletin-thumb

Schools and students: 2019 statistical bulletin (PDF, 850kB)

 

The annual schools and students statistical bulletin

Every year, CESE publishes a snapshot of data collected across NSW government schools. The 2019 statistical bulletin presents tables and charts on school characteristics, student enrolments, attendance rates and more.

 

Key statistics

• In August 2019, there were 2,210 government schools and 100 preschools.

• The average class size for Kindergarten to Year 6 was 23.9 students.

• Total enrolments reached 805,672.8 full-time equivalent students, continuing the rising trend which began in 2008.

• 1,698 students were studying part-time, equivalent to 1,109.8 full-time students.

• 25,387 students were enrolled in support classes or schools for specific purposes.

• 2,799.4 students were enrolled in distance education.

• 8.0% of students identified as Aboriginal, totalling 64,692.5 students.

• 35.9% of students (291,544 students) were from a language background other than English.

• 79,704 primary students studied a language other than English, with Chinese (Mandarin) the most popular language.

• Japanese was the most popular language studied by students in Years 7 to 9, at 26,143 students of the 65,363 students studying a language other than English.

• The Year 7 to 12 apparent retention rate was 75.2% in 2019, down from the 2017 peak of 77.4%.

• 36,886 students were awarded an HSC in 2019, including a record 1,296 Aboriginal students.

• The average attendance rate was 90.3% in 2019.

 

For more statistics

Visit the NSW Education Data Hub or read our other statistical publications.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Learning from home snapshots

download the explainer (PDF, 1MB)Remote learning: An evidence-based explainer –  read online or download the explainer (PDF, 1MB)

The explainer summarises the research in relation to effective remote learning and highlights key considerations for learning in the face of COVID-19.

 

Snapshots

Bullimbal School (PDF, 539kB)Caves Beach Public School (PDF, 440kB)Hurlstone Agricultural High School (PDF, 376kB)Lethbridge Park Public School (PDF, 608kB)Rowena Public School (PDF, 525kB)Strathfield Girls High School (PDF, 489kB)Yeoval Central School (PDF, 520kB)

Bullimbal School (PDF, 539kB)

Caves Beach Public School (PDF, 440kB)

Hurlstone Agricultural High School (PDF, 376kB)

Lethbridge Park Public School (PDF, 608kB)

Rowena Public School (PDF, 525kB)

Strathfield Girls High School (PDF, 489kB)

Yeoval Central School (PDF, 520kB)

The snapshots were produced when the majority of students in NSW were learning from home in order to provide examples of how learning could be continued from home. A number of common themes emerged across the snapshot schools, including:

  • prioritising student equity, wellbeing and engagement
  • strategic and flexible use of resources
  • establishing clear expectations for all
  • effective and regular communication
  • understanding the local context and responding effectively
  • drawing on collective expertise to build capacity and manage teacher workloads.

 


 

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This course involves connecting educational theory and research with your own context.

It focuses on the theme 'Collaboration', as outlined in CESE's What works best: 2020 update (page 38-41) paper and What works best in practice (page 33-36). Collaboration is one quality teaching practice that is known to support school improvement and enhance the learning outcomes of our students.

Mode of delivery: online 
Accredited hours: 1.5
myPL course code: RG12069
Learn more about what the course involves.

Enrol on myPL

This course involves connecting educational theory and research with your own context.

It focuses on the theme 'Wellbeing', as outlined in CESE's What works best: 2020 update (page 33-37) paper and What works best in practice (page 29-32). Wellbeing is one quality teaching practice that is known to support school improvement and enhance the learning outcomes of our students.

Mode of delivery: online 
Accredited hours: 1.5
myPL course code: RG12070
Learn more about what the course involves.

Enrol on myPL

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