Excellence for students with disability and additional learning needs

Students with disability and additional needs have diverse needs, and can be enrolled in a variety of learning environments with a range of different supports.

Image: Students painting with watercolour

Inclusive education in NSW means all students, regardless of disability, ethnicity, socio-economic 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.

Policy and context

The department is committed to continue building a more inclusive education system, where every student is known, valued and cared for, and where all students are learning to their fullest capability.

For all students in all our schools, we have high expectations. We want to provide students with an education that best meets their individual needs and supports them with learning to their fullest capability.

Strategy and standards

The Disability Strategy 2019 sets the vision for a more inclusive education system for students with disability, and commits us to an ambitious agenda for achieving strong educational and wellbeing outcomes for students with disability in our schools.

In 2020, the department released the Inclusive Education Statement for students with disability. This statement builds on the commitment to inclusion set out in the Disability Strategy and was developed with educators and families of students with disability. The statement sets out six principles of inclusive practice to guide schools in continuing to improve practice:

  • Student agency and self-determination
  • Parent and carer inclusion
  • Social and cultural inclusion
  • Curriculum inclusion
  • Workforce capability for inclusion
  • System inclusion.

The National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 is Australia’s overarching policy framework for disability reform and the key mechanism for driving inclusive policy and program design across all levels of government. This policy is underpinned by law, including the:

Further resources and policy links can be found on the Disability, learning and support webpage.

Disability standards for education

The Disability Standards for Education (2005) set out the obligations of education providers to students with disability and additional needs under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Compliance with the Standards is considered compliance with the Act.

All of our schools have an obligation to comply with the Standards to ensure that students with disability and additional needs can access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers across every stage of their school life. This includes making reasonable adjustments for your students with disability.

The obligations under the Standards apply to all principals, teachers and other employees in all schools. The Standards broadly define disability, including students:

  • with intellectual, physical, sensory and social or emotional disability
  • with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and behaviour disorders, as well as medical conditions
  • who are gifted and talented and impacted by disability
  • who may or may not have a formal disability diagnosis.

The definition is not limited to students with a medical diagnosis, or who are eligible for targeted supports under the department's disability criteria, but focuses on the functional impact of a student’s disability or impairment.

Professional learning

Professional learning on the Disability Standards for Education enables all staff to develop an understanding of their obligations under the DDA and the Disability Standards for Education.

These lessons are highly recommended for all school staff, and are mandatory for school leaders, as of 31 January 2021, for Directors, Educational Leadership (DELs), principals, deputy principals, assistant principals and head teachers. There are 7 modules available on MyPL tailored to different staff roles.

There is also specialist training available in assistive technology, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, speech language and communication, supporting behaviour, dyspraxia and motor coordination, hearing loss, personalised learning and support, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and supporting student wellbeing and mental health.

Further information about specialist training can be accessed at Professional learning.

The Standards underpin and inform the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data – School Students with Disability (NCCD), making this training important to support your schools’ ability to understand your obligations as you prepare data for the national collection.

School data

Principals are responsible for verifying the accuracy of school data and validating that there is evidence at the school to support the inclusion of a student in the data collection. Schools should know who the students with disability requiring additional support are, and how to effectively support and track their learning through evidence-based practices.

Each school has a unique set of characteristics and challenges that can impact on student wellbeing and learning. Understanding complexity can help schools make effective planning decisions to address specific areas of need.

Identifying those factors is the first step in being able to ensure that appropriate supports are in place in the school for students to learn and grow. Principals and school leaders can access additional information in Scout, on the School Dashboard, to inform their planning.

Understanding students with disability and additional needs

Students with disability have diverse needs and some experience multiple disadvantage. In NSW, we meet the best interests of students, by working in consultation with their parents or carers and by providing a range of different educational settings to best cater to the needs of the student. Students with disability and additional needs can be enrolled in a variety of learning environments with a range of different supports.

The current education settings we provide include mainstream classes in a local school, support classes, or a placement in a school for specific purpose or selective school.

Around 97% of students with disability learn in mainstream public schools, and around 80% of students with disability learn in mainstream classes within mainstream schools.

To support your students with disability in mainstream classes in schools, funding is allocated:

  • Low Level Adjustment for Disability equity loading is calculated on the basis of your school’s data from the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD), student learning need index derived from 3 years of NAPLAN data, and total enrolments. There is no requirement for a student to have a diagnosis or confirmation of disability to access this allocation in their school.
  • Integration Funding Support provides targeted funding to individual students with moderate to high learning and support needs, as defined by the disability criteria. Funding is allocated based on need determined by each student’s confirmed disability and their profile developed through a functional assessment by the school’s Learning and Support team in consultation with parents or carers.

Under the Disability Strategy, we’ve committed to improve measures and track outcomes around all students’ learning growth, wellbeing (physical, emotional and mental) and independence at regular intervals.

Assessment for Complex Learners project

As part of this work, the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) is currently leading the Assessment for Complex Learners (AfCL) project. The project aims to understand and describe what learning looks like for students with complex learning needs and disabilities through researching and trialling new assessment tools.

The project trials several assessment tools and is intended to support the inclusion of all students in NSW schools by focusing on the progression of key skills required to achieve independence, wellbeing and learning outcomes based on student capability rather than a deficit model or disability diagnoses.

The project is an avenue for mainstream schools and schools for specific purposes (SSPs) to trial new assessments for complex learners and students with additional learning needs. The findings of the trial are expected to provide research-based information for schools on different assessment tools and may offer different improvement measures to inform school planning for students with disability. For further information go to the AfCL project webpage for additional detail.

See more information on developing improvement measures and effective strategies for students with disability and additional needs.

Learn more

Find out more about School Excellence in Action.


  • Teaching and learning


  • Access and equity
  • Accessibility
  • Additional needs
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Educational accountability
  • Health, safety and wellbeing
  • Teaching

Business Unit:

  • School Performance – South
Return to top of page Back to top