There are many ways our schools create inclusive environments for our students. This extends from the setting of inclusive values and expectations; modelling inclusive behaviours; explicitly teaching social and emotional skills and designing and building spaces that facilitate inclusion. The following initiatives and programs are having a positive impact for our students individually and collectively.
The ACT Safe and Inclusive Schools Initiative provides assistance to schools to develop and maintain safe and inclusive environments for all students regardless of their gender presentation/identity, intersex status or sexual orientation.
The Initiative enables schools and education programs in the ACT to seek assistance to develop their practice in areas such as supporting individual student need and welcoming and celebrating community and family diversity. The Initiative also supports schools to build respectful school cultures where prejudice, discrimination harassment and violence on the basis of gender presentation/identity, intersex status or sexual orientation is unacceptable.
We want everyone to be able to be themselves at school and to feel safe and welcomed for who they are.
Schools can choose from a range of supports and strategies that best meet the needs of their school community. This includes:
- Professional learning for school staff
- Guidance on identifying and accessing high quality curriculum resources
- Advice about supporting individual students and their parents/carers within the school environment
- Facilitation of community links and professional networks
- Supportive and inclusive schools can make significant and positive differences to young people’s wellbeing outcomes.
- Children and young people who don’t feel safe at school cannot learn effectively.
- Same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse people report school as a significant site where they experience prejudice, discrimination, harassment and violence.
- The Safe and Inclusive Schools Initiative is different to the former Safe Schools Coalition program.
- The Safe and Inclusive Schools Initiative builds the capacity of the school to be an inclusive environment for LGBTQI students, staff and families. It is not a curriculum on sexuality, gender and relationships education.
- The Initiative is not mandatory and schools do not need to become members. Schools simply access the support they need, if and when they need it.
- The Initiative does not include subjects taught to students in classrooms, it builds the capacity of teachers and school staff to increase their knowledge and skills.
The national award winning Everyone Everyday program is a social and emotional learning program that targets mainstream primary schools, and focuses on the concept of ‘inclusion’. It is based on the premise that ‘inclusion’ needs to be explicitly taught if we are to move from a situation in which children
with complex needs and challenging behaviour including disability are simply present in mainstream schools, to one in which they are welcomed, valued and enjoy full membership of the school community.
The program is supported by a comprehensive professional learning program that is managed through a collaboration of the ACT Education Directorate, Catholic Education, and the ACT Association of Independent Schools after extensive consultation with the Canberra community and the education sector.
Friendly Schools Plus is the first anti-bullying initiative for schools developed through extensive research with Australian children and adolescents. It is recognised nationally and internationally as a comprehensive, evidence-based framework that can reduce bullying behaviour. The Friendly Schools Plus program has been designed to align with both the Australian Curriculum and the National Safe Schools Framework.
These three case studies highlight the impact a number of the initiatives and programs have had for students across primary school, high school and college.
ACT Primary School Case Study
Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL)
A primary school in the ACT commenced its Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) journey in 2015. Working with the Directorate Student Wellbeing team and the PBL coaches, the staff at the school started by developing matrices that described the behaviour they wanted to see in the general parts of the school (playground, canteen, front office, hall etc.). This did not address classroom behaviours at this stage. The staff collaboratively came up with three focus areas:
- We are Safe;
- We are Respectful
- and We are Learners.
The challenge was then to work with all members of the school community: teachers, support staff, students and parents, to clearly and explicitly describe what those behaviours looked like and sounded like. The agreed language was written in explicit, easy to understand and positive terms. Large posters were created which were displayed in the general areas of the school.
As the Principal described “The children own this, they came up with the language and they understand what it means. It has given the whole school a language. 100% of our teachers are on board. It has meant all teachers, including relief teachers can set clear expectations around behaviour and all students understand what is meant by those expectations”.
PBL is one of two focus areas for the school’s strategic plan to make sure it is embedded in everything they do.
The school had a big launch with 200 guests including parents, students, staff, staff from other schools, representatives from the Directorate and former Minister for Education, Shane Rattenbury. As the Principal described “There was a carnival atmosphere to the night. Our community, our staff and our students have been consulted at every step and they feel proud of what we have all achieved together. Celebrating this significant success is a key to recognising what our community has achieved”.
The school still adopts an explicit Social Emotional Learning program that seamlessly fits within the PBL model. Restorative Practices, Circle Time, Friendly Schools Plus, and Bullying No Way programs also fit well within this model.
The School is the first pilot school to work with ‘Uplifting Australia’, receiving a $40,000 grant to implement a school wellbeing program to improve the emotional wellbeing and resilience of students. This program is facilitated by a member of staff and is a Social Emotional Learning Program involving parents as a central element. The Principal describes the program, stating “A key strategy are ‘hang outs’ where our children write invitations to parents to come into the school to hang out, where they participate with their children in welcoming games and getting to know you activities. The children write their parents letters and their parents write them letters telling each other what they are proud about and what they honour about them. Parents and their children then are together in a facilitated talking circle. It is absolutely inspiring to see the joy and positive outcomes of this.” Fifty families from the junior school and twenty families from the senior school attended.
The school has also created a Safe Sensory Space they call the Burrow. As the Principal clearly states “This is not a punitive space, it is a safe calming space that our children can go to when they need support from the executive team or time to cool down. Students can self refer by asking their teacher for a “safe pass” to leave the classroom. It has significantly reduced our absconding rates”. The school is working with an Occupational Therapist from the Network Student Engagement Team from the Education Directorate to design sensory spaces for classrooms and for an outside sensory space for which they have received a grant.
ACT P-10 School
At the heart of this ACT P-10 school is a shared philosophy and values of Inclusion, Respect, Teamwork, Endeavour, Resilience and Integrity. This is evident in the language used in interactions, in the social and emotional skills that are explicitly taught, and in the values that are prominently displayed in every classroom around the school. As the principal states; “Inclusion underpins everything we do. We teach children explicitly what it means to be a community member. This means how you try your very best with your learning, how you are impacted by others and how you impact other people”.
This P-10 School inducts their teachers very carefully into the inclusive philosophy of the school; that everyone belongs and the richness of the school comes from the diversity within it. The school works very hard to ensure that teachers new to the school understand that the school is a place of learning, sometimes that learning involves learning behaviours, sometimes it is learning academically and other times it is learning about values. The Principal is up front with teachers visiting the school to ensure that their philosophy of inclusion aligns with the philosophy of the school.
The school ensures teachers are supported to develop an inclusive vision and inclusive practice through universal practices. All staff train in Team Teach and in differentiation and personalised learning approaches. The school funds specialist teachers including a Student Engagement Coach and a Teaching and Learning Coach to work alongside teachers in the classroom. The school has developed a strong partnership with the University of Canberra for Occupational Therapy students to work with teachers in classrooms to support the needs of students. The school does not advocate for a withdrawal model and specialist teachers work within the mainstream classrooms.
Learning support units are co-located in the learning pods and inclusion into the mainstream classrooms is maximised depending on learning and social needs. Learning Support Assistants belong to a class, not a student and their role is to support the teacher to meet the needs of all students.
The principal is very open with prospective parents that the school is an inclusive school. They acculturate parents into their school values right from pre-school, discussing values and vision and outlining the supports that the school provides to make this successful.
Regular student support meetings are held, involving all staff working with a child to collaboratively discuss the most effective learning plan to meet the child’s needs. This involves teachers, learning support assistants, the school psychologist, executive teacher and deputy principal. The Directorate’s Network Student Engagement Team (NSET), a multidisciplinary support team is engaged by the school to assist them in this process. The students are also involved in developing their Individual Learning Plan (ILP) so they have ownership over their learning goals. The Principal emphasises “Strong communication and collaboration is key to an inclusive school”.
This ACT College uses a Response to Intervention (RTI) approach to support student wellbeing, a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behaviour needs. The RTI process begins with high quality instruction and universal screening of all children in the general education classroom and moves to targeted support as required. This approach is supported by the Student Services Team.
The Student Services Team consists of a School Leader who oversees the team and programs; four Year Coordinators who support student academic, social and emotional wellbeing; School Psychologist; Moving Forward Officer; Assessment Certification Officer and administration staff who manage attendance, files and case notes. The team is responsible for working with teachers and support staff to build capacity and implementing whole school programs such as the Mind Matters mental health framework.
A second team, the Foundations Team manages two Learning Support Units (LSUs), a Learning Support Centre (LSC) and the mainstream Inclusion Support Program (ISP). An executive teacher for the Foundations Program oversees the teachers, Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) and the programs.
Both the Student Services Team and Foundations Team work collaboratively together using a case management approach to ensure that students with additional needs are identified, and supported through the Student Centred Appraisal of Need (SCAN) and Individual Learning Plan (ILP) process. They also build the capacity of teachers and Learning Support Assistants to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of students. The team has developed a strong relationship with the Directorate’s Student Engagement Branch to access programs and specialist support through the Network Student Engagement Team (NSET).
The school has developed a Refugee Bridging Program to meet the specific needs of refugee students. They have developed a partnership with Companion House to support a number of students who have experienced significant trauma. The school has also employed a social worker to work with these students and their families.
KidsMatter is a national mental health and wellbeing framework for primary schools. KidsMatter develops respectful relationships, a sense of belonging and inclusion, and promotes specific social and emotional learning in schools. KidsMatter involves working authentically with parents, carers and families in order to improve support for students who may be experiencing mental health difficulties. The KidsMatter portal and on-line kits have an extensive range of free handouts, PowerPoint presentations, fact sheets, videos and guides for how to run staff and community meetings and training, as well as free and confidential student, staff and parent surveys.
MindMatters is a nationally accredited, mental health framework for all government and private secondary schools. It improves the mental health and wellbeing knowledge, skills and capacities of young people, teachers, school leaders, parents and community members with easy to use on-line modules, special community spotlight topics, and activities to develop your school’s social and emotional learning programs. The MindMatters site and on-line modules have free handouts, ICT presentations, fact sheets, videos and guides for how to engage in individual, small team, school and community professional development, as well as free and confidential student, staff and parent surveys.
MindUP™ teaches social and emotional learning skills that link cognitive neuroscience, positive psychology and mindful awareness training utilising a brain centric approach.
MindUP™ is a research-based training program for educators and children. Students learn to self-regulate behavior and mindfully engage in focused concentration required for academic success. MindUP™ nurtures optimism, enhances perspective taking, empathy and kindness as well as fostering complex problem solving skills which help resolve peer conflicts and eliminate bullying and aggression.
The PATHS program is a comprehensive Social Emotional Learning curriculum that is evidence-based and has been developed and refined through nearly 30 years of research. The PATHS curriculum is used around the world. It offers a common framework for effective SEL instruction from preschool through kindergarten and the primary grades. The PATHS program is grounded in the science of children's brain development, which has determined that children experience and react to strong emotions before developing the cognitive abilities to verbalise them. The program develops social and emotional learning which helps children resolve conflicts peacefully, handle emotions positively, empathise, and make responsible decisions. This improves well-being, academic outcomes, and school climate.
School Design and Infrastructure
School design and infrastructure significantly contributes to providing an inclusive environment for all students. The design and use of space must be carefully considered and monitored to ensure consistency with human rights and discrimination legislation and support students’ learning and positive behaviour.
Universal design involves the creation of accessible buildings and infrastructure that can be used by a diverse range of students, reducing the need for individual adjustments, through the removal of physical and other barriers to participation and inclusion.
The Functional Design Brief for New Schools follows principles of universal design, and includes an appropriate range of learning areas and facilities to meet the needs of students with complex needs and challenging behaviour. These may include flexible classroom areas with adjacent small group learning spaces, an inclusive playground, as well as safe, calming sensory spaces.
It also ensures the design of a classroom is flexible to allow Learning Support Units to work seamlessly with mainstream classes to maximise the inclusion of students with disability.
Safe Sensory Spaces
Schools and classrooms are busy places. Positive learning experiences occur when students feel safe, calm, and relaxed in their environment. Sensory withdrawal spaces are important to support students who may be feeling overwhelmed by the school environment and/or who need a safe need place to help them relax or reduce anxiety and regulate their sensory needs.
Withdrawal spaces are available for all children and young people to access. Their aim is to help students feel able to return back to the classroom learning environment.
Building teaching excellence through quality professional learning for both our teaching and learning support staff is key to building system capability to better meet the learning and wellbeing needs of all children and young people, including those with complex needs and challenging behaviours, including disability.
Essential Skills for Classroom Teachers
ESCT is a training package in ten Essential Skills defined and explained as essential for good classroom management. The skills include:
- Establishing expectations
- Giving instructions
- Waiting and scanning
- Cueing with parallel acknowledgment
- Body language encouraging
- Descriptive encouraging
- Selective attending
- Redirecting to the learning
- Giving a choice
- Following through
Team Teach is a whole school professional learning to support schools in safely responding to challenging and aggressive student behaviour. Team Teach promotes a holistic approach to behaviour supports and interventions through the delivery of school wide skills to support positive teacher-student interactions. Team Teach promotes de-escalation strategies and the reduction of risk and restraint. It supports teaching, learning and caring, by increasing staff confidence and competence in responding to behaviours that challenge, whilst promoting and protecting positive relationships. Positive Behavioural Learning (PBL) approaches are entirely compatible with Team-Teach.
Restorative practices promotes inclusiveness, relationship-building and problem-solving, through such restorative methods as circle time for teaching and conflict resolution to conferences that bring victims, offenders and their supporters together to address wrongdoing. Instead of punitive measures such as detention and suspension which aggravate issues such as bullying, violence, poor academic performance and parental apathy, restorative practices encourage students to reflect on and take responsibility for their actions and come up with plans to repair harm. Restorative approaches can transform student behaviour and build healthy school communities.
Second Step provides instruction in social and emotional learning with units on skills for learning, empathy, emotion management, friendship skills, and problem solving. The program contains separate sets of lessons for use in preschool through to Year 8 implemented in 22 to 28 weeks each year. The Early Learning Program in Second Step also includes a unit for transitioning to kindergarten. Second Step uses four key strategies to reinforce skill development: brain builder games (to build executive function), weekly theme activities, reinforcing activities, and home links.
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which students develop and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, understand and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive respectful relationships, and make responsible decisions.
Durlak et al.'s (2011) analysis of 213 rigorous studies of SEL in schools indicates that students receiving quality SEL instruction demonstrated:
- better academic performance: achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction;
- improved attitudes and behaviours: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behaviour;
- fewer negative behaviours: decreased disruptive class behaviour, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals;
- reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.
The ACT Education SEL approach is informed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s (http://casel.org) approach, which identifies the following five areas that effective SEL strategies should cover:
- social awareness;
- relationship skills;
- responsible decision making.
The Directorate endorses the following SEL programs that have been independently evaluated with positive student outcomes.
The Education Directorate is committed to the provision of effective support for at-risk and disengaged students, through partnerships with community agencies and options for flexible learning options for high school students at risk of disengaging from secondary school.
The Directorate has developed a Continuum of Support (CES) model that provides a holistic framework for best practice approaches to the learning engagement of all high school students in the ACT.
The CES is an evidence based model that addresses the diversity of need for students at risk of disengagement and enables each and every high school to respond flexibly to meet this diversity of need within their school community.
The model forms a continuum as it responds to individual student needs through:
- identifying core elements important for all high school students,
- identifying supports for some students who are at risk of disengaging,
- providing intensive targeted support for a small number of students who have disengaged from learning.
For further information please contact Student Wellbeing via email at ETDStudentWellbeing@act.gov.au
- Access Criteria: The Connect10 program (Years 9-10) is for students who are struggling to engage in mainstream high schools.
- Program Offered: Each program develops an Individual Learning Plan aligned to the Australian Curriculum for each student to enhance their academic and social skills.
- Location: Connect10 programs are situated at Dickson College and Lake Tuggeranong College.
- Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday 8:30am – 3:30pm. Students enrol in the Connect10 program with an open ended timeframe.
Youth Education Program (YEP)
- Access Criteria: The Youth Education Program is for students aged 14-19 years. Enrolment in the program is through application and interview with YEP, the student and supporting adult.
- Programs Offered:
YEP provides structured, individualised case management to assist young people towards further education, or preparation for work. The case management approach incorporates pathway and learning plans to support young people reach their educational goals. YEP have two case managers to assist young people with their individualised plan and support them reach their full potential.
Along with enhancing essential literacy and numeracy skills, YEP provides other learning experiences to promote personal resilience and problem solving skills.
- Location: Club 12/25, Corner of Cooyong and Scotts Crossing, Civic ACT 2601
- Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday. YEP operates two sessions per day, morning and afternoon session, to provide students with more flexibility and independence.
The Cottage: Adolescent Day Program
- Access Criteria: The Cottage is open for young people aged between 12-17 years as part of the CAMHS Recovery Plan. Young people who access this program must be a CAHMS client first and are referred to the program by CAHMS.
- Program Offered:
The goal of clients attending the Cottage is to reduce the severity of mental health symptoms and to achieve functional gain in the areas of schooling, social functioning and fostering life skills. The group program (which is divided into four streams including, the therapeutic sessions; rehabilitation sessions; creative arts sessions; school sessions) and individual clinical management support the young person to achieve their recovery goals. Staff work closely with parents/carers, schools, community team clinical managers and other service providers to ensure the best possible outcomes for the young person.
- Location: Mary Potter Dr, Bruce
- Hours of Operation: 8:30am-3:30pm Monday to Friday. The Cottage Adolescent Day program is offered initially for ten weeks with entry to the program primarily occurring in parallel with the school term.
Most participants access 1 semester.
PCYC-Intensive Diversionary Program
- Access Criteria: The PCYC Intensive Diversionary program (IDP) is for young people from 12-17 years. Referrals is through the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Child Youth Protection Services (CYPS) and acceptance process is by a joint committee of AFP,CYPS and Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC). Maximum of 9 young people per program.
- Program Offered: 20 week program. The target group for the IDP is young people who are at high risk of committing property crime and who are engaged with justice services. The IDP combines a mix of skills-based recreational activities, educational programs and/or vocational pathways; intensive case coordination facilitated through weekly meetings between Canberra PCYC, AFP, CYPS, and secondary partners as required; links into weekend activities such as team sports and interest groups. The goals for students in Year 7-8 is to re-engage them with school.
The goal for young people in years 9/10 goal may include employment/vocational training rather than re-engaging with school.
- Location: PCYC Erindale, 17 Grattan Court, Wanniassa ACT 2903
- Hours of Operation: Tuesdays – Fridays 9:30-2:30pm
- Access Criteria: The PCYC Project Booyah is open to young people. Interested young people and their parents/carers complete a referral form and have an entry interview to determine eligibility. There is a maximum of 10 young people in the program at a time.
- Program Offered:
Project Booyah is an established 20-week early-intervention program for disadvantaged young people. Built on an evidence-based framework, the program incorporates adventure based learning, social development, skills training, mentoring, case work, literacy/numeracy education and vocational qualifications.
Participants engage in attaining a Certificate Level I or II qualification and trade skills that will assist them in their pathway to employment. Participants are also supported through the program by caseworkers, with a strong emphasis on addressing causal factors associated with participants’ disengagement and/or behavioural issues.
Participants attend a structured three-day outdoor educational camp focused on team-building and leadership exercises that is intended to enhance self-confidence and build knowledge sharing between peers.
- Location: PCYC Erindale, 17 Grattan Court, Wanniassa ACT 2903
- Hours of Operation: Project Booyah runs from 10:00am-2:30pm Tuesday-Thursday With case management on Mondays and Fridays as needed.
Information about support and education options for students at risk in the ACT Public School system is currently available to schools and the school community through the Education Options (other than school) procedure. This will be reviewed and updated following the development of the Continuum of Educational Support model.
The Directorate recognises that for some children, enrolment with an education provider or registration for home education is not the best option post-Year 10. To cater for these individuals, the Director-General has the authority to issue an Approval Statement, enabling the child to engage in one of the following three alternatives:
- full-time work-related training (such as an Australian Apprenticeship);
- full-time employment; or
- any combination of work-related training and/or employment and/or education to the extent that is equivalent to full-time participation in an education course.
Further information about work-related training and employment alternatives is available in the ACT Education Directorate (the Directorate) Post Year 10 Alternatives (work- related training and employment) procedure on the Directorate’s website at: https://www.education.act.gov.au/publications_and_policies/School-and-Corporate-Policies/student-administration/enrolment-and-attendance/education-participation-enrolment-and-attendance-policy.