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This is the second in a two-part practice series about the Disability Standards for Education (DSE).
- Understanding the Disability Standards for Education I
- The Disability Standards for Education II: Making reasonable adjustments (this practice)
Are you clear about your responsibilities to enable inclusion at your school and in your classroom? Many educators know they need to make reasonable adjustment to support diverse learners, but may not really understand what this means (from a legal or pedagogical perspective).
This practice considers the four aspects of school life that the Disability Standards for Education (DSE) sets out where reasonable adjustment must be made. These include enrolment, participation, curriculum delivery and assessment and finally student support services.
The content in this practice has been developed by Professor Elizabeth Dickson, an expert in education law.
The content presented in this practice is provided for information only. It does not constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.
Before you start
When working out whether an adjustment is reasonable the school will need to consider:
- The student’s disability
- The views of the student, given via consultation
- The effect of the proposed adjustment on the student
- The effect of the proposed adjustment on others in the school community e.g., other students and the student’s teachers
- The costs and benefits of making the adjustment
There may be some situations where a reasonable adjustment cannot be identified.
Refer to the DSE for guidance about reasonable adjustment.
Consultation with students and families
Consultation with a student, and, where appropriate, their parents or guardians, is mandated by the Disability Standards for Education (DSE). It is a mechanism for giving a student with disability a voice in their own education, and, specifically, in the decision-making process around reasonable adjustment.
Consultation must occur upon enrolment and regularly throughout the duration of a student’s enrolment.
Making reasonable adjustments
Planning and implementing reasonable adjustment is difficult because the role of a classroom teacher is hectic. There may be one or more students with disability to adjust for, and many more students without disability whose educational needs cannot be neglected either.
Adjustments cannot be standardised for students with a particular kind of disability, such as autism, a hearing impairment, or a learning disorder. They need to be tailored to the particular circumstances of the student, and this may, of course, be time-consuming.
The DSE provide guidance about the factors relevant to determining whether an adjustment is reasonable.
Requirements for enrolment and participation
If you are a classroom teacher, there may not be much you can do to change enrolment policies and practices at your school, or to implement programs to improve accessibility of school facilities. Nevertheless, it is important you are aware of the impact of the DSE in these areas so you are able to influence policies, practices and programs should the opportunity arise!
You can make a difference, however, when planning extra-curricular activities and excursions by aiming to make them inclusive.
Consider the following example.
A High school refused to take a student who used a wheelchair on an excursion to Tangalooma on Moreton Island, off the coast from Brisbane. The school was concerned the student would be at risk during the ferry trip to the excursion. The Tribunal found that other people had travelled to Tangalooma in wheelchairs without requiring adjustments and the student was awarded $3000 in damages. Essentially, the school had catastrophised the impact of the student’s wheelchair use rather than supporting her inclusion in the excursion.
- Do you take your students on excursions?
- What adjustments do you make for students with disability?
Implications for curriculum and support services
Teachers are in the business of promoting learning for their students. You are experienced in planning and implementing a wide range of learning activities. You are also experienced in administering assessment tasks so that your students can demonstrate their learning.
Implementing and assessing learning consistent with the DSE is the area where you have the most power to influence accessible education for your students with disability. Sometimes students require extra support so they can access learning.
The DSE recognise that specialist extra support may be necessary for some students so that they can participate in classroom learning activities.
Implementing reasonable adjustment in the classroom is a rewarding but challenging part of your job as a teacher. Can you come up with a ‘system’ for managing reasonable adjustment to learning activities and assessment in your classroom?
Areas of consideration:
- Learning activities
- What learning activities have finished that didn’t work well and will need adjustment next time?
- What learning activities are coming up that might need adjustment?
- Can I make an adjustment to an activity so that it works for everyone? For example, could everyone make a video instead of performing in front of the class? Could a science experiment be done in pairs?
- If not, how can the activity be adjusted for the student?
- What would be a reasonable substitute activity?
- What assessment is coming up that will need to be adjusted?
- What assessment has finished that didn’t work well for a student and will need to be adjusted next time?
- Can I make an adjustment to the assessment that makes it accessible for all? For example, more time? Fewer tasks? Answer templates?
- If not, what adjustment can be made to make the assessment accessible for my student
- Have you thought about using speech to text software on your phone to speed up note-making?
Think about whether you need to talk to the student’s parents or guardians about your plans.
- Are you worried about the student?
- Have the parents asked to speak to you?
If necessary, schedule a consultation: face to face or virtual
- Is there any extra information that you need from the parents?
- Keep notes of what was agreed at the consultation
- Share a statement of what was agreed with the parents and student
Talk to other staff, ask for help.
- Can you set up a community of practice at your school? A weekly chat at morning tea to share ideas?
- Colleagues who may be good sounding boards and may help you plan and implement adjustments include inclusion teachers or coaches, advisory visiting teachers and regional coaches, heads of inclusion services who have a sound understanding of the needs of diverse learners, to name a few.
Practice implementation planner template
We know that in the busyness of teaching it is not always easy to keep track of what is working and what is not. So, we have created this template for you to record and reflect on what you are doing to help you create a more inclusive classroom. The implementation planner contains:
- Guidance around goal setting
- Reflection section (What worked, didn’t work and what to change and next steps.)
- Prompting questions
Set your professional learning goal for:
The Disability Standards for Education II: Making reasonable adjustments
Benefits of goal settingSetting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
How to set goalsThe Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.
SMART goals refers to goals that are:
Fact sheet 5: Complaints processes
Fact sheet 4: Effective consultation
Fact sheet 3: Parental engagement
Fact sheet 2: Disability Standards for Education 2005
Fact sheet 1: Disability Discrimination Act 1992
Dickson, E. (2019). Supporting students with communication impairment in Australian schools: Administering the obligation to make reasonable adjustment. Australasian Journal of Special and Inclusive Education, 43(1), 41-53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/jsi.2019.2(link is external)
Dickson E., Cumming J. (2018) Reasonable Adjustment in Assessment: The Australian Experience. In: Trimmer K., Dixon R., S. Findlay Y. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Education Law for Schools (pp. 315-333). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-77751-1_14(link is external)
Dickson E. (2018) The Inclusion and Exclusion of Students with Disability Related Problem Behaviour in Mainstream Australian Schools. In: Trimmer K., Dixon R., S. Findlay Y. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Education Law for Schools (pp. 353-372). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-77751-1_16(link is external)
Dickson, E. (2014). Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Cth): Sword or shield for Australian students with disability?. International Journal of Law and Education, 19(1), 5-19. (open access via www.austlii.edu.au)