Principal encourages schools to adopt special-needs strategies

Ballarat High School principal Gary Palmer has urged more schools to adopt inclusion strategies to support special-needs students.

“These children belong in this environment and it’s about supporting them and all students in their learning,” Mr Palmer said.

Ballarat High School is one of 15 schools and one of just four secondary schools in Victoria to receive government funding for an inclusion program, empowering them to better support the needs of their students.

Professional development, three integration aides, a one-on-one supported study centre and chill-out space are just some of the ways the school has benefited from the program 18 months into the initiative.

“Even just confidence, completion of work and interaction with peers. If they’re feeling better about school, they’re ultimately going to go further in their education,” Mr Palmer said.

“The program’s funding only lasts until the end of the year and I think, in time, the government will say it falls under the equity of the Gonski model.

“But at the moment, the Gonski funding hasn’t hit schools and it needs to.”

Inclusion program co-ordinator Karen Lee spends some of her time sharing their practices with other schools.

“I developed a small regional network in Ballarat, Supporting Secondary Students on the Spectrum, and we discuss how we could best support teachers,” Ms Lee said.

But not all mainstream schools are as embracing of such initiatives, as Autistic Family Support Association committee member Meredith Ward pointed out.

“I’ve been to some training sessions where teachers have said these kids don’t belong in mainstream schools. And that attitude exists,” Ms Ward said.

Minister for Education Martin Dixon said he trusted principals to make the best decisions for their students’ needs.

“As a former school principal, I understand how important autonomy is to provide the best opportunities for a diverse student body,” Mr Dixon said.

“I trust schools to manage their resources as benefits their school community.” 

Ballarat Specialist School principal and Ballarat councillor John Burt expressed his concern for a lack of resources for mainstream schools to meet such needs.

“I feel very much for those teachers because they certainly don’t have the same degree of experience and training, but that’s not to say they can’t do it,” Mr Burt said.

“The state needs to look into specific training courses because more and more people are requiring special needs.”

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