Transitioning to inclusion
Teachers are currently denied resources available to them to support students with disabilities because verification for students is not maintained.
This is particularly damaging at points of transition – either a student transferring between schools or transitioning from primary to secondary school. As a result of the failure to maintain appropriate verification and information, classroom teachers are placed under unnecessary pressure to differentiate for students’ needs without appropriate support. More importantly, students with disability and their families are placed under unnecessary stress. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to this problem.
Queensland has a world-class education system that promotes inclusion. Skilled classroom teachers, with the support of special education support staff, are able to differentiate learning activities to both meet the needs of students with disability and maximise the value of diversity for all students.
Verification is the critical step in effective inclusion programs. Through verification, students with disability are professionally assessed to establish their level of disability and hence, their support resource entitlements. Without verification there are no resources. Verification kick-starts processes of planning, program differentiation, review and continuous improvement that create the vital resource of information that ensures that each teacher builds on the foundations of knowledge and support already established. Without verification being maintained, inclusion fails.
This is what often happens. As some students with disability progress through primary schooling, excellent teachers are increasingly able to address their needs through general classroom and school management processes. This is a positive thing – it frees-up support staff to give priority to students with the greatest needs. However, too often it results in verification and other documentation not being maintained for students with less-severe disability.
The problem occurs when students transition, particularly from primary to high school. Staffing levels for teachers and teacher-aides are determined by Day 8 numbers. Special education services staff start preparing their applications for resources well in advance of Day 8. Nonetheless, the first week of a new year is hectic, as new enrolments occur, information is collated and submissions revised. There is no opportunity during this period to update disability verifications.
Transitions are often more disruptive for students with disability, especially disabilities such as autism that have social and behavioural consequences. Hence, what has been an easily-addressed need in a primary school can rapidly become a major challenge for students and teachers at the high school. Almost every day in a large high school, classroom teachers contact special education services staff seeking support for students with needs that have not been verified and for whom there is no information flowing from the primary school. Invariably these are students who, had their verification been maintained, would have received a support teacher and/or teacher-aide allocations.
Maximising support for classroom teachers for students with disability can be easily addressed if:
- teachers are made fully aware of policies and resourcing models for inclusion and differentiation
- communication is active between schools regarding the transition of students with disability, even those verified in the lowest quartile of disability
- information systems and terminology are consistently used – the AIMS system must be maintained and appropriate terminology used to document students’ disabilities and strategies.
Inclusion is important for all teachers. This is an issue where working together as a profession will have significant benefits across the sector as well as for students and parents.
Editor’s note: The QTU has recently raised this issue with the Department of Education and Training (DET) and requested an extension of the period of a current verification by a year, particularly for students in year six. DET is considering the request. If you have other suggestions to address the issue outlined in this article, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org and mark it for the attention of the QTU’s Special Education Committee.
Thomas McKenna (Special Education Services) and Michelle Mortimer (HOSES) The Gap State High School
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 1, 9 February 2018, p26
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