Students with disability

Overview

The purpose of this advice is to support teachers in meeting their obligations under the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Commonwealth of Australia, 2006) (the Standards) to ensure that all students with disability are able to participate in the Australian Curriculum on the same basis as their peers through rigorous, meaningful and dignified learning programs. It builds on the general Student diversity advice and applies to all educational settings and contexts, including specialist schools and support classes.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Standards are intended to give students with disability the same rights as other students, including the right to education and training ‘on the same basis’ as students without disability.

The Standards apply to education providers, including principals, schools and teachers. Principals and schools can meet their obligations under the Standards by giving consideration to ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that students with disability are provided with opportunities to participate in education and training on the same basis as students without disability. Before any adjustments are made, ‘consultation’ takes place between the school, student, and parents or carers.

What does ‘on the same basis’ mean?

  • ‘On the same basis’ means that a student with disability should have access to the same opportunities and choices in their education that are available to a student without disability.
  • ‘On the same basis’ means that students with disability are entitled to rigorous, relevant and engaging learning opportunities drawn from the Australian Curriculum and set in age-equivalent learning contexts.
  • ‘On the same basis’ does not mean that every student has the same experience but that they are entitled to equitable opportunities and choices to access age-equivalent content from all learning areas of the Australian Curriculum.
  • ‘On the same basis’ means that while all students will access age-equivalent content, the way in which they access it and the focus of their learning may vary according to their individual learning needs, strengths, goals and interests.

What is ‘consultation’ and who is involved?

  • Schools need to comply with the Standards, in regards to the Disability Standards for Education 2005, in regards to consultation, ensuring that there is a team of people who have significant knowledge and understanding of the student, including the student and their family members or carers.
  • ‘Consultation’ can involve the principal, class teachers and support teachers, and can include the professional expertise of therapists and other community service providers.
  • The purpose of the ‘consultation’ is to identify the barriers to a student’s learning and any adjustments that could be made.
  • ‘Consultation’ should take place regularly and changes made to adjustments if needed.
  • ‘Consultation’ should continue for the whole time that the student is involved with the school.

What are ‘reasonable adjustments’?

When describing or referring to adjustments, ACARA uses the definition in the Standards while acknowledging that states and territories may use differing terms.

  • An ‘adjustment’ is a measure or action taken to assist a student with disability to participate in education and training on the same basis as other students. Examples of adjustments are listed in the section Personalised learning.
  • An ‘adjustment’ is reasonable if it achieves this purpose while taking into account the student’s learning needs and balancing the interests of all parties affected, including the student with disability, the school, staff and other students.
  • The process of consultation outlined above is an integral part of ensuring that schools are meeting their obligations in relation to ‘reasonable adjustments’.

It is important to consider that:

  • many students with disability are able to achieve educational standards commensurate with their peers’
  • not all students with a disability will require adjustments to the curriculum, instruction or environment
  • not all students requiring adjustments to the curriculum, instruction or environment will have a disability
  • students with disability requiring adjustments to one aspect of their learning may not require the same adjustment, if any, to another
  • to comply with the Standards, consultation includes the student and parent as part of the process to personalise learning
  • students with the same disability may not require equivalent adjustments
  • not every student with a disability will require ongoing adjustments
  • students with disability may also be gifted and talented and/or have English as an additional language or dialect
  • to comply with the Standards, adjustment reviews occur regularly, and are changed or withdrawn where necessary.

Planning from age-equivalent content

The following points elaborate on the process outlined in the flowchart using the Australian Curriculum to meet the learning needs of all students, found under the "Meeting diverse learning needs" menu. The process starts with learning area content that aligns with students’ chronological age — in this instance, Year 6 Science:

In Year 6 Science, students learn about electrical circuits [Year 6 Science Understanding ACSSU097] and plan and conduct an investigation making decisions about variables [Year 6 Science Inquiry Skills ACSIS103; ACSIS104].

The Year 6 Science content provides the starting point for developing the teaching and learning program. The program can be personalised in relation to individual student need through curriculum adjustments which may include the following:

  • Drawing from learning area content at different levels along the Foundation to Year 10 sequence to personalise age-equivalent learning area content. For example:

    An adjustment may be that a student or group of students take part in a guided investigation using electrical circuits [Year 6 Science Understanding ACSSU097] to explore and answer questions [Year 1 Science Inquiry Skills ACSIS025].

  • Using the general capabilities learning continua to personalise age-equivalent learning area content. For example:

    An adjustment may be to teach targeted literacy and numeracy skills, identified for an individual or group of students, through the science lesson. These may include following pictorial instructions to build an electrical circuit [Numeracy: Using spatial reasoning Level 1b]; and developing the knowledge of how to structure an information text [Literacy: Text knowledge Level 2] to present a report on the findings of the investigation of electrical circuits [Year 6 Science Understanding ACSSU097].

  • Aligning individual learning goals with age-equivalent learning area content.

    Adjustments made in response to a student’s unique learning needs can affect not only how they access age-equivalent content but also what the focus of that learning will be. This might involve, for example, a greater emphasis on Literacy, Numeracy and Personal and social capability, which represent the essential skills that all students need in order to become successful learners at school and in their lives beyond school.

    Teachers can use these capabilities to align with individual learning goals such as communication or social skills and plan for multiple opportunities to develop these skills across the school day. In the context of this Science example, the goal may be for a student to take part for a short period of time [Personal and social capability: Self-management Level 1b] in a guided investigation using electrical circuits [Year 6 Science Understanding ACSSU097]. The student explores the electrical circuit and may respond to questions [Year 1 Science Inquiry Skills ACSIS025], using their developing communication skills [Literacy: Comprehending texts Level 1b].

Although there is greater focus in the last point on the general capabilities, the learning still takes place through a Year 6 Science context with an expectation that some Science learning can be achieved.

Detailed Illustrations of personalised learning have been developed to promote equity and excellence for diverse learners, including students with disability. The illustrations demonstrate access to age-equivalent learning area content from the Australian Curriculum. There are also many sources of advice about planning quality teaching and learning programs that are inclusive of students with disability. The websites of state and territory education authorities are a good starting point.

It is important to consider that:

  • the general capabilities are an integral part of the Australian Curriculum
  • the general capabilities are not an alternative curriculum to the learning areas but can support access to and progress through the learning areas
  • through a focus on the general capabilities of Literacy, Numeracy and Personal and Social Capability in particular, students with disability can access teaching and learning programs drawn from age-equivalent learning area content that is relevant to their individual learning needs
  • additional levels were developed at Level 1 for Literacy, Numeracy and Personal and Social Capability to be inclusive of all students. One additional level was developed at Level 1 for both Numeracy and Personal and Social Capability, and four additional levels for Literacy. The Literacy capability begins with a description of the skills and understanding of students with an unintentional level of communication, and this description does not need to be repeated in the other capabilities.

Using the Literacy capability to personalise learning

Literacy involves students:

  • developing the knowledge, skills and dispositions to interpret and use language confidently for learning and communicating in and out of school, and for participating effectively in society
  • listening to, reading, viewing, speaking, writing and creating oral, print, visual and digital texts, and using and modifying language for different purposes in a range of contexts
  • understanding how the English language works in different social contexts, and critically assessing writers’ opinions, biases and intents, assisting the students to make increasingly sophisticated language choices in their own texts.

Literacy is important for students with disability because:

  • a focus on literacy is considered essential for all students, regardless of ability
  • the ability to communicate enables learning across the curriculum, the school day and life outside of school
  • language, verbal or non-verbal, is critical for the development of literacy skills
  • in many cases, developing literacy skills supports the development of communication skills and vice versa; this is the case for students who use augmentative and alternative communication as well as for students who use speech to communicate.

The Literacy continuum is organised in six elements:

  • Comprehending texts through listening, reading and viewing
  • Composing texts through speaking, writing and creating
  • Text knowledge
  • Grammar knowledge
  • Word knowledge
  • Visual knowledge.

The elements of Comprehending and Composing represent the processes of receptive and expressive language which can be applied across the whole curriculum.

The Comprehending and Composing elements of the Literacy continuum describe early literacy skills in the first four levels of the learning sequence (Levels 1a–1d), with a particular focus on communication. Level 1a begins with unintentional communication, progressing to intentional symbolic communication at Level 1d. Level 1e begins to focus on the application of literacy skills.

Considerations when using the Literacy continuum:

  • Each level on the Literacy continuum can apply to students at any point in their schooling.
  • Any literacy skills, knowledge, behaviours and dispositions identified as focus learning for a student with disability must be delivered through teaching and learning programs drawn from age-appropriate learning area content.
  • The focus of teaching for students operating within Levels 1a – 1d is to extend the range of communication functions the student can consistently express with increasing independence across the curriculum and school day, and to create literacy opportunities that are appropriate to students’ communicative abilities.
  • Although literacy is presented as a continuum of learning, some students move slowly between levels or may remain at one level of the continuum throughout their entire schooling. This must not restrict their entitlement to progress through the Australian Curriculum by accessing rigorous, relevant and meaningful teaching and learning programs drawn from age-appropriate learning area content.
  • The presence of a disability does not by itself mean that a student needs adjustments that specifically emphasise the Literacy continuum.
  • Some students who have a disability may be communicating at a level that is commensurate with their year of schooling even if their mode of communication is not speech.
  • Students who cannot rely on speech to communicate require augmentative and alternative communication strategies to access and participate in the curriculum and meet their literacy needs, as well as their learning needs in other areas across the curriculum.
  • Principals, schools and teachers, in collaboration with the student and their family, should seek specialised advice, including speech pathology, in determining how best to support a student’s communication skills.

Using the Numeracy capability to personalise learning

Numeracy involves students:

  • recognising and understanding the role of mathematics in the world
  • developing the dispositions and capacities to use mathematical knowledge and skills purposefully
  • increasing their autonomy in managing everyday situations.

Numeracy is important for students with disability because:

  • calculating and estimating and the development of number sense enable students to deal with numbers encountered in everyday life
  • understanding patterns and relationships helps students make sense of and describe change
  • using fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and rates helps students understand practical matters such as fuel consumption, mobile phone packages and mortgages
  • using spatial reasoning helps students learn to navigate and make sense of their surroundings
  • understanding statistical information helps students to develop skills supporting self-determination, including setting goals and using graphic means to show progress
  • measurement assists with time management, estimating capacity of containers and following a recipe.

The Numeracy continuum is organised in six elements:

  • Estimating and calculating with whole numbers
  • Recognising and using patterns and relationships
  • Using fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and rates
  • Using spatial reasoning
  • Interpreting and drawing conclusions from statistical information
  • Using measurement.

Each element of the Numeracy continuum begins at Level 1a, which describes the beginning of numeracy development with a focus on the language of numeracy in everyday contexts. Level 1b begins to focus on the application of numeracy skills.

Considerations when using the Numeracy continuum

  • The Numeracy continuum does not replace the role of the Mathematics learning area for students with disability.
  • Teachers can identify specific numeracy skills, knowledge, behaviours and dispositions that a student needs to develop in relation to their individual learning needs and plan for opportunities to develop these across the curriculum and throughout the school day.
  • The skills, knowledge, behaviours and dispositions at the beginning of the Numeracy continuum assume that students are able to communicate with intent. For students who have an unintentional level of communication, teachers should refer to the beginning of the Literacy continuum to identify a focus for learning. This does not exclude the student from the Numeracy general capability, but rather places the learning focus on communication.

Using the Personal and Social Capability to personalise learning

Personal and Social Capability involves students:

  • recognising, understanding and labelling their own emotions, values, strengths and capacities
  • managing and regulating their own emotions and behaviour, and persisting in completing tasks and overcoming personal obstacles
  • perceiving and understanding other people’s emotions and viewpoints, and showing understanding and empathy for others
  • forming strong and healthy relationships, and managing and positively influencing the emotions and moods of others.

Personal and Social Capability is important for students with disability because students with well-developed social and emotional skills:

  • find it easier to manage themselves
  • relate to others
  • develop resilience and a sense of self-worth
  • resolve conflict
  • engage in teamwork
  • feel positive about themselves and the world around them.

The Personal and Social Capability continuum is organised in four interrelated elements:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Social management.

Each element of the Personal and Social Capability continuum begins at Level 1a, which describes the development of awareness of self and others. Level 1b moves on to describing the skills or actions to accompany those understandings about self and others.

Considerations when using the Personal and Social Capability continuum:

  • Teachers can use the Personal and Social Capability continuum to identify particular skills, knowledge, behaviours and dispositions that a student needs to develop in relation to their individual learning needs and plan for opportunities to develop these across the curriculum and throughout the school day.
  • The Personal and Social Capability continuum does not provide the context for learning. Teaching and learning programs are developed from age-equivalent learning area content through which teachers may specifically target the development of personal and social capabilities.
  • Each level on the Personal and Social Capability continuum can apply to students at any point in their schooling.
  • The skills, knowledge, behaviours and dispositions at the beginning of the Personal and Social Capability continuum assume students have a sense of self and are able to communicate with intent. For students who have an unintentional level of communication, teachers should refer to the beginning of the Literacy continuum to identify a focus for learning. This does not exclude the student from the Personal and social capability continuum, but rather places the learning focus on communication.

Illustrations of Practice - St Francis of Assisi Catholic PS - NT

Illustrations of Practice - The Woden School - ACT

Illustrations of Practice - Taroona High School – TAS

Illustrations of Practice - Harrison School – ACT

Ahlgrim-Delzell, L., Knight, V., Jimenez, B. & Agnello, B., 2009, Research-Based Practices for Creating Access to the General Curriculum in Mathematics for Students with Significant Intellectual Disabilities, Chief Council of State School Officers, Washington, DC, www.ccsso.org/Documents/2009/Research_Based_Practices_Math_2009.pdf  

(accessed January 2017).

Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, 2005, Disability Standards for Education 2005 plus Guidance Notes, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. http://www.education.gov.au/disability-standards-education-2005 (accessed January 2017)

Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, 2004, Gifted and Talented Education: Professional development package, https://docs.education.gov.au/collections/gifted-education-professional-development-package    (accessed January 2017)

Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, 2005, Planning for Personalised Learning and Support: A National Resource https://docs.education.gov.au/documents/planning-personalised-learning-and-support-national-resource-0 (accessed January 2017)

Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, Students with Disability  https://www.education.gov.au/students-disability (accessed January 2017)

Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Education and Training, 2017, Early Years Learning Framework. https://www.mychild.gov.au/agenda/early-years-framework (accessed September 2017)

Bloomberg, K., West, D., Johnson, H. & Iacono, T., 2009, The Triple C: Checklist of communication competencies, SCOPE Victoria.

Browder, D. & Spooner, F., 2011, Teaching Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities, Guilford, New York.

Cook, B., Tankersley, M. & Landrum, T., 2009, ‘Determining evidence-based practices in special education’, Exceptional Children, vol. 75, pp. 365–83.

Howell, K. & Nolet, V., 2000, Curriculum-Based Evaluation: Teaching and decision making, 3rd edn, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), 2008, Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne. http://www.curriculum.edu.au/verve/_resources/National_Declaration_on_the_Educational_Goals_for_Young_Australians.pdf (accessed January 2017)

Wehmeyer, M., Shogren, K., Palmer, S., Williams-Diehm, K., Little, T. & Boulton, A., 2012, ‘The impact of the self-determination learning model of instruction on student self-determination’, Exceptional Children, vol. 78, pp.135–53.

Suggested Journals

Australasian Journal of Gifted Education, Publisher: Australian Association of the Gifted and Talented AUS

Exceptional Children, Publisher: Council for Exceptional Children, USA

Gifted Education International, Publisher: SAGE Journals, UK

International Journal of Inclusive Education, Publisher: Taylor and Francis, UK

Teaching Exceptional Children, Publisher; Council for Exceptional Children, USA

The Journal of Special Education, Publisher: Hammill Institute on Disabilities in association with The Division for Research for the Council for Exceptional Children, USA

State and Territory Websites

For more information on planning and supporting students with diverse learning needs in each state and territory please refer to the links below.

Victoria

http://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/overview/diversity-of-learners

Western Australia

http://det.wa.edu.au/oneclassroom/detcms/portal/

Tasmania

https://respectfulrelationships.education.tas.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/ 

New South Wales

http://www.dec.nsw.gov.au/what-we-offer/education-and-training/disability-support/every-student-every-school

Queensland

http://education.qld.gov.au/schools/disability/index.html

Northern Territory

https://nt.gov.au/learning/special-education/about-special-education-and-disability

Australian Capital Territory

http://www.education.act.gov.au/school_education/disability_education

South Australia

https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/education-and-learning/disability-and-special-needs/learning-difficulties

https://www.decd.sa.gov.au/supporting-students/children-disability-and-special-needs