2023 High Learning Support Needs Funding Guidelines
- New applications are required for all children. This includes children who were funded in 2022.
- Funding for applications supported by preschool observations is now available on an annual basis for eligible applications.
- Cost escalation has been applied, and the new funding rate for 2023 calendar year is $24.27 per hour for the equivalent of up to 600 hours of support per year.
- NDIS plans will now be considered as evidence to support an HLSN application. An NDIS plan alone is not sufficient evidence of eligibility of funding. As with other types of documentation, the responses to the application questions will need to demonstrate that the child requires significant adjustments to be included in the education program.
- The NSW Department of Education has developed a series of optional templates to assist community preschools to make observations. Community preschools may wish to use the templates to support an application for HLSN Funding. Use of the templates is optional and does not determine the application outcome nor eligibility for funding. View the templates here.
Funding for children with high learning support needs is provided for community preschools to develop and deliver the child’s individual learning plan (ILP). The aim of the ILP is to support the child’s specific learning requirements to enable them to participate in the educational program on the same basis as their peers. See Section 10 for further information on ILPs.
Enrolment decisions about individual children, including decisions about enrolment hours, are not determined by the department or this program, and are the responsibility of the preschool in consultation with families.
2. Child eligibility criteria
To be eligible for this funding, the child needs to:
- be at least 3 years old on or before 31 July in that preschool year and not in compulsory schooling (or turn at least 3 years old in the preschool year and can demonstrate exceptional circumstances) and,
- have high learning support needs as defined in these program guidelines.
Children with high learning support needs:
- have constant and ongoing support needs and require significant adjustments to enable them to engage with the educational program on the same basis as their peers, or a temporary illness or injury that requires short term adjustment to enable participation in the educational program on the same basis as their peers.
- require an individualised learning plan (ILP) that identifies individual goals and the specific teaching strategies and adjustments required to achieve these.
- require consistent support and guidance to engage at the same level as their peers.
- may require access to specialised technology, seating and/or standing equipment.
Community preschools can apply for funding for a child with high learning support needs up to a total of $14,562 (ex GST) per child per year. This funding is provided at a rate of $24.27 (ex GST) per hour for the equivalent of up to 600 hours of support per child per year.
Decisions regarding the application of indexation under the Disability and Inclusion Program are made annually by the department. If indexation is applied, the department will be guided by a NSW Treasury-mandated percentage applicable to all Government agencies.
Please note: Enrolment decisions, including decisions about enrolment hours, are not determined by the department or this program, and are the responsibility of the preschool in consultation with families.
4. How to apply
All applications and variations to applications are made on a per child basis in the Early Childhood Contract Management System (ECCMS).
Applications should be made when the preschool has a good understanding of the child’s educational needs and the systemic adjustments required to support the child to participate in the preschool program on the same basis as their peers.
In addition to submitting applications for new children, preschools are required to make new applications for children funded in 2022. Applications should be reviewed and updated to reflect progress made and any changes to the level of systemic adjustments required.
Where a child attends more than one preschool, each preschool can apply for funding.
Under the Early Childhood Education Grants Programs Terms and Conditions, preschools are required to complete two types of consent forms, one for each staff member and one for each child upon enrolment. It is good practice to seek a renewal of the consent form every year the child attends and a new form should be completed if any of the details in the original consent form require an update or adjustment.
This form consents to the use and disclosure of personal information that is used by the department for reporting and funding purposes.
Provided this form has been completed for each child, additional forms of parent/carer consent are not required for the Disability and Inclusion Program. However, preschools are strongly encouraged to maintain ongoing dialogue with families regarding the submission of HLSN funding applications and the development and adjustment needs of individual children.
HLSN applications require:
- a written diagnosis and/or developmental assessment and/or NDIS plan or preschool observations.
- a description of how the child functions in the preschool environment. Consider the child’s strengths and needs in relation to the developmental domains and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) outcomes.
- a description of adjustments that enable/would enable the child to participate in the educational program on the same basis as their peers. This may include adult guidance, teaching strategies, or environmental modifications.
- notification of the number of weeks the child is enrolled at the preschool, excluding the weeks the preschool is closed for school holidays.
There are three types of supporting evidence for HLSN applications:
- written diagnosis and/or development assessment
- NDIS plan; and
- preschool observations.
Documentation requirements for a written diagnosis/developmental assessment
- Documentation must be on letterhead and signed by the relevant specialist.
- Documentation should be from the relevant specialist rather than an alternative specialist referring to the original specialist’s diagnosis. Relevant specialists are an audiologist, registered psychologist, paediatrician, psychiatrist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, a professional qualified to administer psychometric assessments, or other relevant medical specialist.
- Where a document refers to a speech and language delay/disorder only, a moderate to severe diagnosis must be demonstrated and made by a speech pathologist.
- Documentation should be relevant, accurate, and as recent as possible.
A child may have a NDIS number without having a NDIS plan. A NDIS number without a NDIS plan is not a sufficient form of evidence. As with other types of documentation, a NDIS plan alone is not sufficient evidence of eligibility of funding. The responses to the application questions will need to demonstrate that the child requires significant adjustments to be included in the education program.
In circumstances where a child has been identified by the preschool as having high learning support needs, and a written diagnosis or NDIS plan is not available or in place, services are able to submit an application supported by preschool observations.
Observations provide data about the child’s functioning in the preschool environment. Observations must be recorded by educators at the preschool and must be dated.
Observation can be recorded as:
- running records
- time samples
- frequency tally
- scatter plots
- anecdotal observations
- Antecedents, Behaviour, Consequences (ABC) recordings
- language samples
- learning stories or narratives of key events.
Observations must sufficiently demonstrate the frequency, intensity and duration of the concerns across the preschool routine and should be taken over the course of at least a week.
The dated observations must be a description of what is observed, and not contain analysis or evaluation.
Preschool observations are not:
- letters of support for funding from professionals, including therapists and SCB providers
- professional reports indicating concerns and the requirement for further investigation
- screeners such as Ages and Stages
- developmental summaries or developmental milestone checks written by preschool educators
- Individual Behaviour Plans or Individual Learning Plans.
Please note: Funding for applications supported by preschool observations is now annual for eligible applications. Preschools are still encouraged to support families to obtain a written diagnosis and/or developmental assessment for the child.
Eligible applications supported by written diagnosis/developmental assessment or a NDIS plan or preschool observations will attract annual funding, except where it is determined that adjustments are only required on a temporary basis or where school exemption documentation is required (see section 4.6).
Applications eligible for quarterly funding will require the submission of a variation to be considered for payment for another quarter.
Changes in a child’s circumstances as the year progresses should be indicated through an application variation. Variations can be made to eligible applications in ECCMS.
To complete a variation, preschools should select the pencil icon next to the child’s name in the list of child applications in ECCMS, select the reason for the variation and follow the prompts.
Preschools should select the reason for variation that best suits the child’s change in circumstances. Where a child’s circumstances have changed in a number of ways, more than one variation should be submitted.
Variations should be made as soon as possible where:
- the child leaves the preschool
- the child’s learning support needs change, and the preschool needs to request an increase in HLSN hours
- the child’s learning support needs change, and the preschool needs to request a decrease in HLSN hours (including reducing HLSN hours to zero to inform the department that the child no longer requires HLSN funding)
- school exemption documentation is obtained or a progress update about obtaining school exemption documentation is required
- the child has returned from an absence of more than five weeks.
Variations may result in a change in a preschool’s funding allocation throughout the year. In such cases a funding adjustment will be applied to the preschool’s next payment.
The Education Act 1990 mandates that all children must be in compulsory schooling by six years of age. Where an eligible child is turning six before 1 October and is still attending preschool, a Certificate of Exemption must be included with the child’s application to receive annual funding. Preschools that are still in the process of obtaining a certificate will be funded for one quarter and must submit a variation to an eligible application for continued funding until a certificate of exemption is provided. Preschools can submit the variation to their eligible application – ‘provide school exemption documentation’ in ECCMS - to report progress towards obtaining a certificate, and/or to submit a certificate once obtained. Variations that demonstrate progress towards obtaining a certificate will receive one quarter of funding per eligible variation per quarter until a certificate is obtained.
For further information on the school exemption process, please contact the child's local school or the local educational services team. Your local educational services team can be contacted on 131 536.
Corrections to submitted applications can only be made when an application has been returned to draft by the department. Preschools wishing to make corrections or add information to their applications should contact the department.
Applications that have previously been assessed as ineligible cannot be edited and resubmitted in ECCMS. A new application should be submitted when new information becomes available.
5. Applications and payment dates
|2023 application cut-off dates for HLSN funding||Notification of outcome and payment|
|Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 2 December 2022
|Quarter 1 - February 2023
(Funding is for January to March)
|Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 10 March 2023
|Quarter 2 - April 2023
(Funding is for April to June)
|Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 26 May 2023
|Quarter 3 - July 2023
(Funding is for July to September)
|Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 18 August 2023
|Quarter 4 - October 2023
(Funding is for October to December)
|Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 13 October 2023
|Final adjustments* - December 2023
*Only certain types of variations (increase in hours, decrease in hours, extended absence and child has left) and applications for children enrolled after the Quarter 4 application cut-off date will be considered for payment.
The deadline for backdating for the period from 1 January 2023 to 30 June 2023 is Friday 30 June 2023.
Funding for eligible applications submitted up to and including 30 June 2023 will be backdated to the child’s enrolment start date for 2023.
Funding for eligible applications submitted on or after 1 July 2023 will be backdated to 1 July 2023, or the child’s enrolment start date for 2023, whichever is the most recent date.
Preschools that submit applications on or after 1 July 2023 to support a child with HLSN for July-December 2023 can receive up to 300 hours of funding. This condition also applies if the child’s enrolment start date is after 1 July 2023 and the preschool submits the application prior to 1 July 2023. Under very limited and exceptional circumstances, applications that would otherwise be subject to this rule may be considered for more than 300 hours of funding.
Where a preschool believes that a child enrolled from 1 July 2023 requires adjustments supported by greater than 300 hours of funding, exceptional circumstances can be indicated in the application. All exceptional circumstances funding requests will be considered by the department on a case-by-case basis.
In the application please state:
- a clear justification of how the circumstances are exceptional., i.e. what circumstances mean that more than 300 hours are required to implement the proposed adjustments for this child in the final six months of the year
- how many hours above 300 are needed
- a description of the proposed adjustments i.e. what adjustments will be provided using the 300 hours and what adjustments will be provided with the additional hours being requested.
Exceptional circumstances requests will not be considered where an application could have been submitted earlier, or to reverse the impact of the backdating rule on funding allocations. Funding adjustments for approved variations to increase or decrease hours submitted by 30 June 2023, will be backdated to the variation start date.
Funding adjustments for approved variations to increase hours submitted on or after 1 July 2023, will be backdated to 1 July 2023, or the variation start date, whichever is the most recent date.
Funding adjustments for approved variations where the child has left the preschool and to decrease hours will be calculated on a pro-rata basis, according to the variation start date (i.e. the date the child left the preschool).
A HLSN application can be considered for a priority payment where assessment determines that there is an urgent need to support and supervise the child due to:
- significant safety concerns for the child and/or other children, and/or staff at the preschool,
- AND the application is submitted within the first four weeks of the Quarter 2, 3 or 4 application periods.
Examples of safety concerns may include, but are not limited to:
- injuries to self and/or other children/staff.
- absconding from environments and/or the preschool premises.
- aggressive actions such as hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, climbing on or throwing furniture.
- staff require additional resources to manage aspects of the child’s condition to support full enrolment.
A priority payment is made outside of the regular quarterly payment schedule. Subsequent payments for these applications will return to the normal quarterly payment schedule.
Where exceptional circumstances exist, the department may also consider a priority payment for other eligible applications on a case-by-case basis.
6. Assessment and feedback
The department will individually assess all applications. Where required, the department may seek further information from preschools about their application.
Service providers will be notified of assessment outcomes for each application, and their funding allocation via email. Preschools will be informed that funding notifications have been sent to providers via the 'Early Childhood Education Weekly Update' email.
Feedback on the outcome of a funding application can be sought from the assessment team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and providing the following information:
- child’s application ID
- preschool name
- contact person at the preschool and contact phone number
- the question/s you have about the child’s application.
Once you have provided this information, a member of the assessment team will contact you to discuss your application.
Note: please do not provide sensitive information (including diagnostic reports and developmental assessments) via email.
7. High numbers of eligible HLSN applications
Where a preschool has a large number of children with disability and additional needs enrolled, HLSN applications must only be made for the hours of support that the preschool can use in accordance with the program spending rules.
Where a preschool is seeking funding to employ an additional worker to provide support to several enrolled children, the support hours requested should be directly related to the number of support hours an individual child will receive. In other words, where a preschool submits applications for multiple children, the preschool should consider individual child funding requests in the context of the funding request for all other children.
Where a preschool has a large number of eligible HLSN funding applications, the department may contact the preschool to gather further information and clarify the program spending rules. The department may also cap funding in consultation with the preschool to ensure the funding allocations provided can be spent on the individual children.
Where a child is enrolled over several days, HLSN funding should be used to support adjustments across their enrolment. Additional supports to assist with the inclusion of children with a disability are also available through the Sector Capacity Building program.
8. Spending rules
HLSN funding must be used to support the individual child.
Funding can be used to employ additional staff to:
- increase the adult to child ratio during identified periods of the child’s attendance, enabling the child to participate in the education program and achieve the outcomes documented in their ILP.
Staff support hours requested to increase the adult to child ratio should be reflected in the ECCMS funding application form in the table that indicates enrolment details and support hours being requested.
- complete other activities directly related to the development, delivery and review of the child’s ILP, including:
- collaboration with specialist providers working with the child.
- engaging with educators through the Sector Capacity Building program on matters related to the child.
- attend professional development but only where this type of training cannot be provided free of charge by the preschool's Sector Capacity Building provider.
Staff support hours outside of increasing the adult to child ratio should be reflected in the 'other support hours' section in the ECCMS funding application.
Funding can also be used to offset the cost of professional development where this type of training cannot be provided free of charge by the preschool’s Sector Capacity Building provider.
The hours of funding required to offset professional develop costs should be included in the 'other support hours' section in the ECCMS funding application.
Funding cannot be used for:
- payment of fees
- employment of therapists for children
- specialist medical consultations (for example, paediatricians)
- medical equipment
- early intervention supports that are most appropriately provided through the NDIS
- any other functional supports that are provided through the NDIS or other programs
- to offset existing staff costs
- paying for professional development (including course costs related to the inclusion of the child) where this type of training can be provided free of charge by the preschool’s Sector Capacity Building provider.
HLSN funding provided by the department is a contribution to the possible expenses associated with implementing systemic adjustments to enable children with disability and additional needs to be included on the same basis as their peers.
The department encourages preschools to meet any additional expenses required to support systemic adjustments, above and beyond that provided under the HLSN program, rather than requiring families to pay enrolment fees above the regular fee structure. The department also encourages preschools to seek support from their Sector Capacity Building provider to explore how barriers to inclusion may be removed or adjusted without additional funding.
Approved HLSN funding cannot be transferred between preschools when a child withdraws and enrols in a new preschool. The new preschool will need to submit a new application.
HLSN funding allocations must be expended in the calendar year in which it was allocated to an individual child.
9. Reporting requirements
A formal acquittal process for any funding allocation will be undertaken in the calendar year after the funding allocation is made. Preschools will be invoiced for any outstanding funds in the same year.
The acquittal process includes completing a statement of expenditure and performance. The statement of expenditure requires preschools to report to the department what proportion of the funding allocation has been spent in accordance with the payments received. The performance accountability statement requires preschools to report to the department how the funding has been spent.
Preschools may be audited to confirm the accuracy of data provided in their performance and financial accountability statements, which includes ensuring that the funding provided has been used to support the achievement of educational outcomes for children with disability in accordance with these guidelines.
Records of consent to share information with the department must be kept on file by the preschool, along with documentary evidence of the child’s disability and/or additional needs.
10. Individual learning plan
An individual learning plan (ILP) must be developed for each child approved for High Learning Support Needs (HLSN) funding. It should have the following characteristics:
- a written document that details what the preschool will do for the child.
- a working document to help the preschool record each child's developmental progress.
- developed in consultation and agreement with the child's parents/carers.
- does not need to be lengthy or complex.
- updated regularly and reviewed at least every six months.
- forms part of the planning/documentation of the child's educational program and progress as part of the National Quality Framework.
- must address the following:
- assessment information reports.
- information about the child's disability.
- roles and responsibilities of team members and other services that may work with the child at the preschool (e.g. early childhood early intervention providers under the NDIS)
- summary of the child's strengths, interests and needs.
- long term goals and outcomes.
- specific short term objectives.
- teaching strategies.
- ongoing evaluation.
- documentation of the transition process (either transition within the preschool or from preschool to school).
A preschool can use it to:
- document consultation with the child's parents/carers and the reasonable systemic adjustments being made to support the child.
- complement the goals and aspirations expressed in the child's NDIS support plans, and the potential for integrated assessment and planning should be taken into account.
11. Application support
Under the Disability and Inclusion Program, Sector Capacity Building (SCB) providers are available to all community preschools to support the delivery of inclusive education practices and enhance inclusion readiness.
SCB providers can help preschool staff apply for HLSN funding. For example, an SCB provider can review reports to identify whether a diagnosis has been provided by a relevant specialist and can support preschool staff to take observations as evidence for HLSN funding applications.
Preschools are encouraged to contact their SCB provider for support or to contact the department if they do not have the contact details of their SCB provider.