Special Needs Plan

As part of the government Special Needs Plan, teachers are now required to build their capacity to teach learners with disability.

This will be part of the 20 hours of PD you are required to undertake to meet annual renewal requirements, and is not an additional requirement.

Teachers must be able to identify the new learning they have gained from their PD and have evidence of attendance or engagement. 

Special needs FAQs 

Who are learners with special needs? 

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 provides a definition of learners with a disability. 

This is quite broad and includes:
  • total or partial loss of the person's bodily or mental functions;
  • total or partial loss of a part of the body;
  • the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness;
  • the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness;
  • the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person's body;
  • a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction; or
  • a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person's thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement or that results in disturbed behaviour.

The definition of disability includes those learners with disability who are supported by general resources available within the school or service, as well as learners who are receiving targeted specialist education services and supports.

The functional impact of the learner’s disability should result in the school or service actively addressing or supporting the learner’s specific individual education needs arising from their disability. This should be done within quality differentiated teaching practice and / or by monitoring the learner, or providing a ‘supplementary’ or higher level of adjustment or support.

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What type of PD can I do?

When you select PD activities that relate to learners with disability, you should consider your teaching context, your learners’ characteristics and needs and your own level of learning and gaps in your professional learning. Therefore, a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be taken and activities will differ from teacher to teacher and from workplace to workplace.

The best learning will involve activities that can be developed and integrated into teaching practice over time. Learning has been shown to be most effective when it is shared with colleagues and this also results in greater levels of practical application of new knowledge.

PD activities about learners with disabilities can take many forms.

PD about learners with a disability can be accessed face-to-face or online and in formal or informal settings. It can include:

  • PD delivered by expert colleagues or other experts in your workplace
  • curriculum days
  • seminars and workshops, online modules, webinars or programs
  • conferences
  • PD program leading to a credential
  • professional reading - if you are learning something and applying it to your teaching
  • online research (website / podcast / 'ted talk') when you apply the learning you do to your teaching
  • coaching and mentoring
  • action or inquiry-based research
  • engagement with a professional learning team or community of practice
  • instructional rounds
  • short courses, VET courses or other postgraduate study

You must be able to identify the new learning you have gained from your PD and have evidence of attendance or engagement.

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Where can I find PD options?

You need to assess the PD that is available to determine what will meet your professional learning needs in relation to learners with a disability. A range of PD activities are currently available for teachers and early childhood teachers.

Victorian government PD options for teachers

PD activities designed for teachers are provided by the Victorian government. Many of these are freely available.

The following options are available for teachers in government, Catholic and independent schools

Disability Standards for Education (DSE) eLearning
Free
online resources about legal obligations under the DSE and Disability Discrimination Act.
Registration key: vic-edu (case sensitive)
Resource: A practical guide for individuals, families and communities

Victorian Deaf Education Institute (VDEI) Professional Learning Program 
A range of professional learning activities catering to all Victorian education professionals supporting deaf and hard of hearing children and young people aged 0-18 years, across a range of educational settings.

Managing Challenging Behaviour 
Online course to support teachers to limit the incidence and impact of complex behaviours in the classroom.
This site is only accessible to users with an email address ending in @edumail.vic.gov.au, @yourschool.catholic.edu.au or @yourschool.vic.edu.au

The following options are only available for teachers in government and Catholic schools

ABLES Online Professional Learning 
Free
online professional learning portal on using the ABLES assessment tools to personalise learning for students who have a disability. 

Inclusion Online
Free blended professional learning focusing on understanding, assessment and classroom support of students with disabilities and learning difficulties in four courses:

  • Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders;
  • Inclusion of Students with Speech, Language and Communication needs;
  • Understanding Dyslexia and Significant Difficulties in Reading; and
  • Understanding Hearing Loss.

Each of the four courses is delivered each term through a combination of online and face-to-face delivery as part of a small network of participants. Access to the courses is through an expression of interest process advertised in the School Update newsletter.

The following option is only available for teachers in government schools

Functional Assessment and Positive Support 
One day face-to-face workshop about how to functionally assess a student’s behaviour and develop, implement and monitor a behaviour support plan.

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Other government PD options for teachers

The Positive Partnerships initiative, delivered by Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training through the Helping Children with Autism Package.

The following options are available for teachers in government, Catholic and independent schools

PL Concurrent program 

Parents and school staff participate in joint sessions during a one-day workshop to focus on shared discussion, planning and working together. 

This 11 hour 45 minute PD activity has two components: 

1. Pre-workshop online learning 

  • Introduction to autism.
  • Introduction to the Planning Matrix.

2. One-day workshop

  • Autism – characteristics, impacts and strategies.
  • Family Perspectives.
  • Working together.
  • Understanding behaviour.
  • Understanding student mental health and wellbeing.

Participation in the program is negotiated through your education sector. For further information please contact professionallearning@autismspectrum.org.au

PL Co-located program

This program incorporates formation of a school team, identification of school priorities through completion of a whole school survey and supporting participants to embed learning in their school context. 

This five-day equivalent program has several components: 

1. Two pre-workshop online learning activities 

  • Introduction to autism.
  • Introduction to the Planning Matrix.

2. Two-day workshop

  • Where are you now?
  • Autism – characteristics, impacts and strategies.
  • Understanding sensory processing.
  • Understanding behaviour.
  • Understanding student mental health and wellbeing.
  • Making adjustments.
  • Working together.
  • Where are you heading?

3. Four post-workshop online learning activities

  •  To embed workshop learning in the school context.

4. Implementation of a Whole School Action Learning Task 

Participation in the program is negotiated through your education sector. For further information please contact professionallearning@autismspectrum.org.au

Introduction to autism

An online learning interactive module that totals 1 hour 45 minutes and covers: 

  • The origins and history of the autism spectrum.
  • Key definitions, facts and figures.
  • Approaches to supporting individuals on the autism spectrum.
  • Characteristics of autism.
  • Diagnosis of autism and the diversity of the spectrum.

Visit www.autismtraining.com.au to register your details and complete the modules. 

You'll find other useful resources at www.positivepartnerships.com.au

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Victorian government PD options for early childhood teachers

PD activities designed for early childhood teachers are provided by the Victorian government. Many of these are freely available.

Disability Standards for Education (DSE) eLearning
Free
online resources about legal obligations under the DSE and Disability Discrimination Act.
Registration key: vic-edu (case sensitive)
Resource: A practical guide for individuals, families and communities

Early ABLES Online Professional Learning 
Free
online professional learning portal on using the ABLES assessment tools to personalise learning for students who have a disability. 

Victorian Deaf Education Institute (VDEI) Professional Learning Program 
A range of professional learning activities catering to all Victorian education professionals supporting deaf and hard of hearing children and young people aged 0-18 years, across a range of educational settings.

Early Childhood Intervention Australia (ECIA) Provides professional development programs in partnership with the Department focused on improving the quality of early childhood intervention.

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PD offered by other PD providers

All activities listed address standard descriptor 1.6 about teaching learners with special needs. VIT doesn’t endorse any PD activities or providers. Teachers are encouraged to make their own decision about which activities they may want to undertake based upon provider information and their particular learning needs. Alternatively, teachers may wish to engage in activities that they source independently or undertake through their school or early childhood service.

Other options for PD (PDF, 231.48 KB)

PD providers who will come to you

Providers who will to come to a school, an early childhood service or another nominated venue and deliver Special Needs PD to a group of registered teachers are listed below.

While we don’t endorse any PD providers or the activities they offer, the list gives schools and services an opportunity to tailor Special Needs PD to their own context and priorities. Alternatively, schools and services may wish to engage in activities that they source independently or undertake in-house.

PD providers who will come to you (PDF, 99.55 KB) 

Relevant standards

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) describe the knowledge and practice of teachers. This should be your starting point to identify the PD you need to improve learning for those you teach with a disability.

Consider your level of expertise in the following aspects of your practice:

  • Design and implement teaching activities that support the learning and participation of learners with disability and address relevant policy and legislative requirements. (Standard descriptor 1.6
  • Develop teaching activities that incorporate differentiated strategies to meet the specific learning needs of learners across the full range of abilities (Standard descriptor 1.5)
  • Establish and implement inclusive and positive interactions to engage and support all learners in learning activities. (Standard descriptor 4.1)

Use this knowledge to help you identify the learning you require in order to improve the educational outcomes of your learners with disabilities.

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How to select the best PD for my learners 

This guide identifies seven principles of effective professional learning that relate to quality PD.

PD should be:

  • focused on improving outcomes for learners
  • relevant to learning needs
  • informed by the best available research
  • collaborative and provides opportunities for reflection and feedback
  • embedded in practice
  • including ways to measure the impact of the new learning
  • ongoing, integrated with other strategies supported and shared

 When assessing PD on offer, use these principles set out below to evaluate the quality of the PD.     

PRINCIPLE QUESTIONS TO ASK
The PD is focused on improving outcomes for learners
  • Who are the learners I teach with disabilities?
  • What is their level of learning in relation to the expected educational outcomes?
  • How can I include them in learning more effectively?
  • How can I meet their individual and collective learning needs?
  • What is their most important learning need?
  • How do I substantiate improvement in learning?
The PD is relevant to my learning needs?
  • What do I know about teaching these learners?
  • What do I need to learn to meet their learning needs?
  • How does the PD allow me to build on my current experiences and knowledge to achieve improved outcomes for the children and young adults with disabilities I teach?
  • Can I implement the learning from the PD in my education setting with my learners?
The PD is informed by the best available research
  • Can I learn form my colleagues who have expert knowledge and practice?
  • Are the local specialist schools and education settings where I can access PD?
  • Does the PD reflect current research and theories? 
  • Is this research accessible, targeted and relevant to my needs, and the needs of my learners?  
The PD is collaborative and provides opportunities for reflection and feedback
  • What opportunities are there for me to collaborate with my colleagues in the PD or when I implement my new learning in my practice?
  • How does the PD support me to engage purposefully with others?
  • How does the PD prompt me to reflect on and examine my practice? 
  • What follow up from the PD is available to allow two-way feedback and discussion? 
  • What structures or protocols are used in the PD to support reflection on practice? 
The PD in embedded in practice
  • How does this PD link theory to practice?
  • Are there opportunities to act on and apply my learning to improve the outcomes for my learners with disabilities?
  • How am I encouraged to apply my new learning and adapt it to my teaching context?

The PD includes ways to measure the impact of the new learning

  • Does the PD build on what I know about the learning and the learning needs of those I teach with disabilities?
  • Does the PD help me to identify tools and measures to evaluate the impact of my new teaching practices on the achievements of my learners with disabilities?
  • Does the PD help me consider and plan for the ways I will monitor and evidence change in learning? 
The PD is ongoing, integrated with other strategies, supported and shared  
  • How does the PD fit with priorities within the strategic plan of my school or sector?
  • Is my PD to improve the outcomes of my learners with disabilities supported by the education leaders in my workplace?
  • How can I work collaboratively and share my learning from the PD with others in my professional community to support their learning about teaching leaners with a disability?
  • How can I apply my learning from the PD beyond my work with my learners with disabilities?

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Why is special needs PD important?

Every learner has a right to the knowledge and skills that will help shape productive and positive lives, regardless of their physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics.

Research indicates that most teachers will be teaching learners with disabilities. A recent study by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission found that 62% of classroom teachers reported they were inadequately trained to teach learners with disabilities.

The requirement for registered teachers to report on their capacity to teach learners with disability will help build professional knowledge and expertise to address this need. It will also support the development of an inclusive culture in schools and early childhood settings.

Registered teachers renewing their registration

When you renew your registration by 30 September 2016, you will be asked to identify the PD you've engaged in since 1 October 2014 to build your capacity to teach learners with disability. Activities selected by you to meet the requirement for PD about learners with disability should reference the relevant standards (descriptors 1.5, 1.6 and 4.1).

This will be part of the 20 hours of PD you are required to undertake to meet annual renewal requirements and is not an additional requirement. You should keep evidence of PD you undertake for renewal, including activities related to learners with disabilities. When you renew your registration you may be selected to provide your evidence to the VIT. 

If you haven’t completed this by your renewal date in 2016 you must report on it by 30 September 2017 to be able to renew your registration at that time.

Provisionally registered teachers

If you apply for (full) registration after June 2016 you will be required to include a focus on learners with disabilities in your evidence of practice. This will be included in the VIT designed evidence-based process. In addition, leaders and principals will complete questions related to the satisfactory teaching of learners with disabilities in the recommendation report you’re required to submit as part of your application

Returning to teaching from non-practising registration

As part of the process of returning to teaching, you will be asked to identify the PD you've engaged in to build your capacity to teach learners with disability. Activities selected by you to meet the requirement for PD about learners with disability should reference the standards descriptors 1.6, 1.5 or 4.1 (described above).

This will be part of the 20 hours of PD required to successfully return to teaching and is not an additional requirement. You will report on this requirement and provide evidence of completion within the period of registration you’re granted to return to teaching.

How does this apply to the next generation of teachers?

It’s imperative that when the next generation of teachers graduate they know how to teach learners with disabilities. Therefore, higher education providers seeking accreditation of their initial teacher education (ITE) programs now have to ensure there is specific focus on the following descriptors of the APST at the Graduate Teacher level:

  • Demonstrate broad knowledge and understanding of legislative requirements and teaching activities that support the learning and participation of learners with disability (Descriptor 1.6).
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of strategies for differentiating teaching to meet the specific learning needs of learners across the full range of abilities (Descriptor 1.5).
  • Identify strategies to support inclusive learner participation and engagement in classroom activities (Descriptor 4.1).

Higher education providers will report to VIT about their ITE programs in the first half of 2016 and this will include information about the component of their programs which address the teaching of learners with disabilities.