ACT Government moves to avoid children in cages

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JOY BURCH says the ACT Government has committed $7 millionin 2016/17 to support teachers, families and the community to understand and deliver the best for students with complex needs and challenging behaviour.

Joy has released the ‘Schools for all Children and Young People’ Report, the Expert Panel’s review of Complex Needs and Challenging Behaviour in ACT Schools.

“I’d like to thank the Expert Panel; Tony Shaddock, Sue Packer and Alasdair Roy, for their work, their commitment to thorough consultation and delivering a report which will set the pace for ongoing improvement,” Joy said.

“The Expert Panel recognised that while the ACT has excellent school systems and achieves outstanding results on many measures, there are challenges for schools in supporting students with complex needs and challenging behaviours. This is a challenge faced by schools across Australia.

“The ACT Government has agreed or agreed in principle with all 50 of the Panel’s recommendations and will respond through a suite of initiatives.”

Key initiatives include:

  • $430,000 for innovative approaches to support students in primary schools with complex needs
  • $3 million program to support the enhancement and development of sensory spaces in schools
  • Additional Allied Health professionals in the Network Student Engagement Teams
  • $250,000 to implement the School-Wide Positive Behavioural Support program
  • Targeted scholarships of $100,000 for teachers and staff working with students with complex need to increase professional expertise
  • $90,000 towards professional learning and online training for teachers in complex needs and challenging behaviour
  • $50,000 towards additional material to support parental engagement in schools

“We have great schools in the ACT and a solid foundation is there, but we want to build on this and strive to achieve more. This will involve work from all school sectors in Canberra – collaboration between the sectors and with services will provide the best support for students.”

An oversight group will be established to oversee and report to Ms Burch on implementation of the recommendations. To view the report and the Government response visit

Meanwhile the Liberal’s Steve Doszpot has expressed his concerns.

“Today the report released by Professor Tony Shaddock into students with complex needs and challenging behaviours, paints a worrying picture for Canberra’s schools,” Steve said.

“Now more than ever, support for teachers should be paramount.

“According to the report, nearly 70 percent of teachers surveyed said that they had not received support. 69 percent said they had not received support from the Network Student Engagement Teams (NSET) and 68 percent said they had not received support from the Target Support Team. 48 percent said they didn’t feel they had adequate training.

“Furthermore, 20 percent reported extreme violence to teachers while 52 percent reported verbal abuse towards teachers. It’s obvious teachers are facing an increasingly difficult task in the classroom.

Steve says key findings from the report include:

  • There are too few specialists like psychologists and counsellors to provide support to students, staff and parents.
  • Students in mainstream classes that have students with challenging behaviours say that it affects their ability to learn.
  • Most teachers indicated that they couldn’t manage and support students with complex needs and challenging behaviours (CN&CB) alone.

    “The report also highlighted the belief of parents and teachers that special needs enrolments in ACT schools are growing. So problems will not go away without action,” Steve said.

    “These are huge issues that need to be prioritised. Now more than ever I want to focus on support for teachers, so they can continue to carry out the noble role they have in Canberra’s schools,” Mr Doszpot concluded.

    UPDATE: The Education Union has also weighed in:

    The ACT Branch of the Australian Education Union today welcomed the report of the Expert Panel on Students with Complex Needs and Challenging Behaviour.

    AEU ACT Branch Secretary, Glenn Fowler, said “The AEU thanks the Expert Panel for their work. As educators, we believe the report of the Expert Panel has the potential to make a positive difference in the lives of many young Territorians. For the report’s potential to be realised, the ACT Government needs to support the recommendations with the resources and budget required to make a real difference on the ground.”

    “A highlight of the report is the recommendation to professionalise Learning Support Assistants through Certificate 4 qualifications in School-aged Education and Care and in Education Support. We anticipate that the Government will want to implement this without equivocation. If teachers are to meet the expectations raised by this report, they must have fully qualified education support staff in the classroom” Mr Fowler said.

    “The Government appears to be dancing around the expert panel’s crucial recommendation that there is a school psychologist for every 500 students in ACT schools. This ratio is best practice as acknowledged by a recent coroner’s report, the Australian Psychologist and Counsellors in Schools Association and now Professor Shaddock and his eminent panel. At the moment, the ratio is significantly higher than that. This inevitably limits the support that some of the most vulnerable young people in our schools receive. The Government needs to back the Expert Panel’s recommendation with more than words” Mr Fowler said.

    “The AEU has said for some time that multi-disciplinary teams are a worthwhile initiative that warrant continuing and comprehensive evaluation. However, Network Student Engagement Teams are no substitute for fully qualified psychologists in schools.” Mr Fowler said.

    “The recommendation to establishment an advisory group to oversee implementation of the report is the glue that will bind all of the Expert Panel’s good work. The AEU is currently seeking clarification about the place of educators in this process. It would be unthinkable that the voice of the profession through the AEU, and the teachers who work every day with our most high needs students would be excluded from this important quality assurance mechanism. The Minister needs to make her position clear on this immediately.”

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