ERO’s 2010 report Including Students with High Needs [1] found that half of schools demonstrated mostly inclusive practices for students with high needs, 30 percent had some inclusive practices, and 20 percent had few inclusive practices. Subsequently, the Government, through the Success for All policy, requires all schools to demonstrate inclusive practice by the end of 2014, with a goal to have 80 percent of schools doing a good job, and none doing a poor job, of including and supporting students with special education needs.

This report, Including Students with Special Needs: school questionnaire responses presents the findings from a questionnaire completed by schools reviewed in the first two terms of 2011. It is based on schools’ own views of how well they include children with special needs.

The questionnaire defined special education students as those who have learning, communication, emotional or behavioural difficulties, or intellectual, sensory, or physical impairments. However, schools’ responses indicated that many used a broad definition of special needs and some included gifted and talented students, students for whom English was a second language and boys. On this basis, approximately 90 percent of schools reported having at least some students with identified special needs and/or requiring an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

A majority of schools (88 percent) reported having mostly inclusive practices, 12 percent said they had some inclusive practices, and one school said they had few inclusive practices. Some schools said they integrated students with special needs as much as possible, some provided in-class support so that students could be mainstreamed, and some withdrew students for targeted support.

Most schools (81 percent) had a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO). A majority of these SENCOs have had extensive teaching experience with many having special education qualifications or experience.

Almost all schools had accessed some form of professional and learning development or support to help staff include students with special needs. Two-thirds of schools had undertaken special property projects to cater for students with physical disabilities, such as ramps, bathrooms and sound systems.

Schools used a wide range of approaches and programmes to support the learning and inclusion of students with special needs. Systems included:

  • clear roles and responsibilities for SENCOs, teachers and teacher aides
  • processes to identify the specific needs of students
  • prioritising students with the greatest needs
  • providing professional learning and development
  • staff sharing effective strategies
  • IEPs
  • transitions processes
  • reviewing the effectiveness of programmes to support students with special needs.

A majority of schools provided literacy programmes, and smaller numbers provided programmes to support students numeracy, communication, physical and behavioural needs.

The main challenges schools identified were funding, access to specialist advice and support, students with behavioural needs or high needs, and employing appropriate staff.

When asked about outcomes for students, most schools did not report on the actual gains made by students. Instead, most schools reported general progress, improved attitudes, or described the contribution they had made to the inclusion of students with special needs.

Most schools reported that they gave the Board self-review data about the achievement and inclusion of students with special needs. However, the comprehensiveness of the information varied. Reports to the Board tended to list the types of special needs identified and describe the school’s actions in areas such as staffing, special programmes, resourcing, property and access to specialists. Only 15 percent of schools provided their Boards with any achievement information regarding students with special needs. The lack of achievement information limits a Board’s ability to understand how effectively the school is including students with special needs.

The lack of specific information about the academic outcomes for students also suggests that schools’ ratings of themselves as inclusive are not well supported by evidence that these students have actually been achieving their potential at school.