Immediate focus areas
The Disability Strategy will address the following immediate focus areas.
1. Strengthen support
1.1 Build on suite of core, advanced and specialist professional learning.
The majority of students with disability are currently supported in our mainstream schools. As the incidence and nature of disability changes, we want to ensure staff in mainstream and specialist settings have the skills and confidence necessary to educate the broad range of children and young people in NSW.
All staff will have access to core training which will help them develop a better understanding of disability, and equip them to educate and support their students. Where they need it, staff will have access to more advanced training to respond to specific circumstances and meet the needs of particular students. Teachers with expertise in supporting children with disability will have access to targeted training on topics such as managing highly complex behaviour, and skills in coaching and co-teaching to enable them to better support their colleagues.
Initially, we will conduct a coaching and co-teaching training pilot in 15 schools, for teachers with expertise in supporting children with disability to coach teachers in mainstream schools. This will be rolled out more widely from 2020.
1.2 Provide funding support for qualified candidates to pursue additional specialist studies.
We need a steady supply of high-quality teachers and support staff with expertise in supporting students with disability to ensure that we can meet the needs of the growing number of students in our system.
This includes increasing the number of staff in mainstream settings with expertise. It also includes addressing immediate staffing pressures in specialist classrooms and schools.
To attract more people to study special education, there will be additional funding, support and benefits available through our scholarship and sponsorship programs, such as flexible work arrangements (for current teachers), completion bonuses and networking opportunities. NESA and universities will be essential partners to ensure we are building teacher capability through all undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
We will increase the number of people studying special education by 50% by 2022.
1.3 Train school and departmental leaders in evidence-based approaches to support students with disability.
We want to be sure all our leaders ultimately are equipped with the tools and techniques they need to build and maintain inclusive learning environments and school communities.
Currently, there is a mix of confidence, skills and knowledge in delivering the best education to students with disability. School leaders who have benefitted from evidence-based training to support students with complex behaviours consistently report that it has helped them improve learning outcomes and create calmer, more positive learning environments for all students.
Through dedicated face-to-face training tailored to the NSW school context, we are going to ensure all our leaders receive the opportunity to work with experts to equip them with evidence-based, practical approaches to meet the needs of their diverse students and communities. This training will be designed and led by academics, practitioners and high-performing school leaders with expertise in supporting students with disability.
Initial training will include evidence-based approaches to support students with complex behaviour, such as trauma-informed practice and positive behaviours for learning. It will be developed and piloted in 2019 with over 1,000 staff, and delivered to all leaders from 2020.
2. Increase resources & flexibility
2.1 Launch an innovation fund for schools to trial and evaluate new resourcing models to give schools greater resourcing and flexibility to tailor education to students’ needs.
Our funding mechanisms aren’t always flexible for individual students who may need to move through different types of support in their schooling. We will review the way we resource schools to enable them to respond to students’ needs quickly, and to effectively support the best outcomes for each child and young person.
For example, schools have asked for additional flexibility to:
- share staff skills and expertise between specialist and mainstream schools. There may be a specialist teacher who has expertise in managing challenging behaviour who could work with a mainstream high school, while a maths teacher from that mainstream high school could work on programming and teaching approaches with the specialist school.
- employ specialist support staff to work between a preschool and a primary school to assist in planning for and providing support to students during points of transition.
Our innovation fund will support schools to pilot and evaluate new approaches. We will provide support and resourcing to help schools plan, implement and evaluate a number of different approaches. Successful approaches will be showcased so that other schools can adopt and adapt them, and will inform future resourcing decisions.
3. Improve the family experience
3.1 Create a one-stop online resource with information for families and carers.
We want families to have better and easier experiences when they engage with our system and access advice.
We understand that some parents feel isolated when they are experiencing our education system. Information can be difficult to find, and some parents are unsure of where to start or where to seek advice. Often the local school will have the answers, but not every parent feels comfortable or confident approaching a school. Improving the information and advice available online for parents will enable them to understand what they can expect, and find the support they need. Examples include information on enrolling their child in school and accessing additional support for their child.
We will start by creating a single place online where parents can find information. The information will be in plain English, accessible and co-designed with parents. We will also establish a tool to connect families, carers and teachers of students with similar needs, so they can share their experiences and expertise.
3.2 Provide new resources for local use to educate school and local communities about disability.
We are committed to promoting a better understanding of disability across schools and the broader community. Attitudes and behaviours of staff and parents are key to ensuring all students feel welcomed and are learning to their fullest capability.
We will provide resources to our schools to help increase awareness about disability across their school community. We will recognise champions, highlight examples of good practice and promote inspiring stories that demonstrate good outcomes across different settings. We will also gather and act on regular feedback from families and schools.
We will start by working with partners that are highly-regarded in the sector to create the resource material and pilot it in up to 20 schools, before rolling it out across our system.
4. Track outcomes
4.1 Initiate a ground-breaking approach, developed in NSW schools, to track and report the learning progress of all students with disability.
We will build a better understanding of how all students are progressing in relation to their learning, wellbeing and independence, so we can build an evidence base for what works. We will share this information with parents, so we have a joint understanding of their child’s progress. At a system level, we will use the data we collect to establish baseline measures, set targets for system improvement, and continually connect our policy to practice.
There is a lack of consensus internationally on how to consistently measure outcomes for students with disability. As in many other jurisdictions, current tools in use within the department don’t cater for the full range of children and young people. We are committed to developing consistent outcomes tools and measures, are appropriate and accessible for all students that will let us gauge the most effective approaches to education.
Our immediate priorities are to:
- develop an approach to track and report the learning progress, wellbeing and independence of students with disability
- ensure that our tools to measure wellbeing and independence can be accessed by a broader range of students
- support specialist and mainstream schools to adopt the tools, and to analyse the results.