Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful Schools

Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful schools ensures every student is engaged and learns to their fullest capability and ensures all students, teachers and staff are safe in school.

Knowing, valuing and caring for all students

The Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful schools package includes three new policies that help our schools manage the diverse spectrum of student needs to improve outcomes for all students in every public school across New South Wales.

Based on international and Australian best-practice, the policies have been developed with the input of teachers, principals, parents, carers and leading educational experts.

The new policies, framework and procedures aim to strengthen the engagement and participation of all students, including those with disability, complex and challenging behaviours and additional needs. They provide more support to teachers and also ensure all students, teachers and staff are safe in school.

STAFF ONLY: Dedicated resources for schools are available in the staff-only area of this website.

Introducing Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful Schools

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The NSW Department of Education has introduced a range of new policies and additional supports to ensure all public school students reach their full potential.

We want every student in NSW public schools to be known, valued and cared for in all parts of school life. 

Our schools play a critical role in meeting the learning and wellbeing needs of all students.

Our schools reflect our diverse communities. Around 1 in 5 students has a disability.

A growing number of students have additional learning and support needs or display behaviours of concern that require personalised support.

Families, students and schools have told us there is more we can do to ensure every student is engaged, challenged and included.

We’ve heard from school staff that they are committed to providing the best support possible for all students.

We are bringing together resources and guidance for schools to ensure every student is engaged and learning.

We will work with schools so they are well prepared to support changes.

Parents, carers and the broader school community can access resources and further information.

More information on the changes and supports is available on our website.

Why these changes

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

We have heard from students, families and staff that there is more we can do to improve learning and wellbeing in our schools.

These new policies, framework and procedures will help ensure that best practice is consistent across all our schools.

The Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful schools package includes:

These policies work together to support the inclusion and engagement of students. They will ensure schools are in the best position to help all students reach their full potential across the entire NSW public education system.

Releasing these together makes it easier for schools to consider any modifications or changes in an integrated way.

The Inclusive Education Policy for students with disability and the Student Behaviour Policy and Procedures came into effect at the start of Term 4 2022.

The Restrictive Practices Framework and Restrictive Practices Education and Elimination Policy and Procedures came into effect at the start of Term 1 2023.

Key changes

The Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful Schools pack will deliver a suite of improvements for students and staff in all NSW public schools. Key changes include:

  • reducing the length of suspensions
  • more support for students with disability to access the curriculum
  • early intervention and targeted support for vulnerable student groups
  • removing prohibited restrictive practices
  • a new model to help meet the needs of students with complex, challenging and unsafe behaviours
  • increased access by schools and students to an expanded dedicated workforce comprising specialist staff including allied health and behaviour support services
  • improving access to behaviour specialists for schools and students in regional and remote locations..
An overview of the Inclusive, engaging and respectful schools reform

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Inclusive, engaging and respectful schools – an overview. 

The three new policies that form the inclusive, engaging and respectful schools reform are the inclusive education for students with disability, Student behaviour, and Restrictive practices.

Together they set a foundation for inclusive practice and positive behaviour management that enriches our education model so all students are supported, safe and connected to learning at their school, and are part of our broader work to improve learning and wellbeing outcomes for our students.

We’ve already expanded our specialist staff and professional learning and resources to build the capacity of our existing workforce, and have been reviewing all systems, structures, frameworks and procedures, and making changes that strengthen our system-wide approach.  We are also optimising our suspension and tutorial centres against evidence-based approaches and trialling alternative models to suspension.

These policies are just one part of our holistic approach to student wellbeing, and our commitment to ensuring all practices are embedded in evidence and research. In fact, it is through research that we know positive and respectful learning environments promote engagement and improve academic achievement.

There is also a growing body of evidence pointing to the relationship between student wellbeing and learning outcomes, whereby students who feel supported, safe and connected are more likely to be active participants in their learning.

So, we are making changes, and it’s important to understand what is driving this change. We, believe, the case for change is undeniable.

Demand for disability support is growing, yet across our school’s suspension rates are disproportionately higher for students with disability. It is also higher for Aboriginal students, students in rural and remote areas, students in out of home care and students experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.

As a system we have to act to turn around those outcomes by strengthening and improving our practices for all students and this includes more professional learning to help staff feel more confident to differentiate their teaching.

We know we can do more as a system to provide improved guidance, support, training and resources to our schools and teachers, to manage student behaviour positively and consistently as all schools strive to create safe and inclusive learning environments.

There are excellent examples of effective practice across the state. Examples where schools have achieved inclusion for all their students in this ever-growing complex environment. ​

However, we have also seen inconsistencies and opportunities to strengthen inclusive education in NSW public schools.  

International and Australian evidence shows that exclusionary discipline, such as school suspension, is linked to adverse learning and wellbeing outcomes for students; while the best outcomes are reached when students are able to participate in their learning. An outcome underpinned by these three policies.

There are excellent examples of effective practice across the state. Examples where schools have achieved inclusion for all their students in this ever-growing complex environment. ​However, we’ve also seen inconsistencies and opportunities to strengthen inclusive education in NSW public schools, and these statistics remind us opportunities for improvement exist and where we need to focus our support.

Let’s take a close look.

Each of these policies - Inclusive Education, Student Behaviour and Restrictive Practices are separate but are connected and work together in an integrated way. By releasing these three policies together the impact of the changes for students will be realised more quickly and more effectively by schools.

Schools are supported in their ongoing implementation of these by what’s known as a Team Around the School – a multidisciplinary group consisting of Delivery Support staff able to provide expert advice and coordinated intervention to support principals, teachers and school-based mental health and wellbeing support professionals.

We’ll start with Inclusive Education.

Inclusive Education extends to all aspects of school life. Everyone in every schools and across the Department has a role to play in ensuring students can access and participate in the ‘whole school experience’.  That includes designing learning activities, excursions, Peer Support, athletics carnivals, lunchtime clubs and other co-curricular activities so all students can participate meaningfully.

While the formalised Inclusive Education Policy is new, the actions associated with it have always been part of good practice for students in schools.  The policy has no new responsibilities or changes to the definition of inclusive education or our position on settings but it does strengthen practice in our mainstream schools, support classes, and schools for specific purposes, to meet our legislative obligations under the Disability Standards for Education 2005 legislation. And reinforce the benefits of schools and school communities in continuing to work together to enhance the educational experience of students with disability in NSW public schools

There are the six principles of inclusive practice identified in the Inclusive Education Statement for Students with Disability. These are Student agency and self-determination - where students have a voice, and are supported to express their views. The capacity of students to solve problems, set goals, make decisions and self-advocate is valued and developed.

Parent and carer inclusion means teachers and schools work in partnership with support people to achieve the best outcomes for their child’s education, while social and cultural inclusion ensures all students are welcomed and supported to build relationships with their peers.  The school community embraces all learners, has respect for, and values diversity.

Curriculum inclusion means students with disability are supported to access the same curriculum and syllabus outcomes as their peers, in developmentally appropriate ways. Critical to this is student-centred education planning, reasonable adjustments and differentiated teaching, learning and assessment activities.

Workforce capability for inclusion means ensuring equitable access to quality teaching that meets individual needs, delivers excellent educational outcomes and empowers students and their families with agency and choice to improve their school experience, and System inclusion that is embedded in all aspects of school life, and is supported by culture, policies and everyday practices in NSW public schools. Inclusive practice is evident in classrooms, schools, school leadership, and across all staff who support schools.

Inclusion is also centre to the revised Student Behaviour Policy and Procedure, that replaces ​ the Student Discipline in Government Schools Policy. Meeting the diverse wellbeing and behaviour needs of students can be a complex task.

Whole-school practices help when teaching explicit behavioural expectations and address negative behaviours, and using a continuum of care approach will mean different types of intervention are identified and implemented for different needs.

The continuum starts with prevention. Introducing all students into a safe and respectful learning environment with clear expectations and guidance.  Some students will require further direction and positive reinforcement early in their school career or when a negative behaviour first emerges, while a few students with complex and challenging behaviour needs will require more focused intervention associated with a specific behaviour or specific to the individual interventions. The continuum of care operates in both directions and is flexible enough to support a student or class at the point relevant to their needs, and the Student Behaviour policy recognises this need for flexibility and different approaches.

However, there are significant and key aspects of the current policy that don’t change.  This means violence is never accepted in the classroom or on the playground, as the health and safety of our students and staff will remain paramount. Suspension remains an option if student behaviour poses a risk to the safety, health and wellbeing of others.

In addition, the current support approaches to positive behaviour embedded in our schools will continue, and the School Community Charter remains in place.

There are a few new elements: the new School Behaviour Support and Management Plan will remain as a local, operational planning document and schools will have time to develop and update this plan each school year. To support key changes additional staff, tools, resources, professional learning and expanded access to specialist services is available.

There are also new evidence-informed approaches to support strategies to manage behaviours that have led to suspension. This evidence-informed approach takes a focus on the consideration of the student, including context and the impact of their behaviour (with a focus on health and safety).  This is a shift away from a list of categories of behaviour which may lead to a suspension.

Formal cautions to suspend are now time-limited to 50 school days to strengthen procedural fairness for students and families.  Previously there was no time-limit on a formal caution. Formal cautions will remain an opportunity to signal expectations to students and parents, and establish mitigations and support to avoid a suspension. ​

The timeframes for suspension differ between K-2 and 3-12, as evidence shows the detrimental impact of suspensions on learning and attachment to school is far greater in the early years. ​

For Years K to 2, the maximum time for each suspension is 5 days with a total of 30 days within a school year. For Years 3 to 12, the maximum time for each suspension is 10 days with a total of 45 days within a school year.

There are no separate ‘short’ and ‘long’ suspension categories. Instead, the new procedures set maximum days of suspension, both for individual suspensions and over​ the course of a school year. Principals can seek extensions to the maximum time period for suspension with their Director, Educational leadership or DEL approval.  This step is so schools can access system support as needed. It also gives DELs  a clearer line-of-sight across emerging learning and wellbeing needs so the right strategic support can be mobilised. The new touchpoints to extend a student’s suspension means that schools can expect to receive earlier intervention, and a faster consultation and assessment in response to support requests; and the replacement of the school discipline policy as already mentioned.

Finally, let’s take a look at the Restrictive Practices policy.

A restrictive practice is any action that has an effect of restricting a person, with the primary purpose of protecting the person or others from harm.’

There are three key documents that relate to restrictive practices, being the framework, which outlines the planning principles and defines the categories of restrictive practices; the policy which outlines key roles and responsibilities; and the procedures which contain further guidance and include a support directory and planning checklist.

As with each policy, the safety of our students and staff doesn’t change. It’s still and will always be paramount. Our roles and responsibilities under the Disability Standards for Education (2005) remain the same through this policy as does mandatory reporting of a prohibited practice - should one ever be used

What is new, is that schools now have a defined policy and a framework to guide planning of safety-driven restrictive practices, clarity on use and reporting, and increased support, resources and professional learning to maintain a best-practice approach

There will be circumstances when schools determine that a restrictive practice is needed, and the restrict practices framework includes six decision-making principles. Schools must consider if the proposed restraint is student centred, is it developmentally and age appropriate to the needs of the individual student, is the least restrictive option for the need, the minimum time it might need to be applied, how can its use be reduced or eliminated over time, how its use is to be monitored to ensure the student is safe and their mental wellbeing is considered, and a schedule for ongoing review.

This is only a brief overview of the three policies supporting inclusive, engaging and respectful schools. More, detailed information is available on the New South Wales Department of Education website.

Visit … inclusive, engaging and respectful schools

Frequently asked questions

Find detailed answers to the questions we think you are most likely to have about these changes on our Frequently asked questions page.

Where to go next

The Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful Schools package is the latest addition to the department's existing policies, practices and procedures. You may wish to:

Information for schools

Principals, teachers and school staff can visit our (staff-only) Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful Schools pages to find out more and discover the full implementation toolkit.

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