I never thought a year ago that I would have the knowledge and insight I have now into the placement panel process to give a student with a disability specialist support. As a Learning and Wellbeing Officer, my colleagues and I have all been teachers, assistant principals, head teachers and deputy principals in mainstream and special schools.
We assist with the placement of students but also provide many more services such as Integration Funding Support, Itinerant Hearing and Vision Support, Early Intervention, changes needed to support students with a variety of disabilities, equipment and emergency funding. Placement panels are a small part of what we do as so many students are catered for in mainstream classes.
Many of us have worked in support units or special schools and have been, like our colleagues in the classrooms, the contact who submits the Access Request for students who are looking for a support class or special school placement. Most of us have had that difficult conversation with parents to explain that their child has not received a placement as yet and the application will be presented at the next panel. From the other side of the process, the Learning and Wellbeing Officers live with the anticipation of assisting these students when panel dates approach.
I have attended several panels where every place is filled and there are very happy principals, teachers, parents and, of course, students. There are many times a student is placed in a supported setting at their first panel but we always remember those who don’t get placed immediately or have their application presented at a future panel.
I am fortunate to have a very positive working relationship with the principals and staff at the schools I work with. Many will ring and arrange visits to see the students we are presenting to the panel and this gives us more information about the student and their needs. It is also a valuable time to discuss with parents and teaching staff, the variety of services we can provide.
Often I am asked, “Why don’t we just put some more classes in”, but the answer is not that simple. The first thing we have to know is whether there is a need for a specific class in the area. We must have enough Access Requests to support establishing a new class. Often this calls for regular dialogue with principals in the area about the type of classes that are needed in the future. Next, we need to have a school that is willing to have a support class. This requires open conversations with the staff and the community before it can be agreed upon. We are also looking for schools that have space to put these classes. As you can see, all these factors need to align, so it doesn’t happen overnight.
I was recently privileged to have a new class established in the area I work and to offer places to students. It was very rewarding to speak with parents who had accepted an offer of a place in the newly created support class.
There are constant conversations at schools about why a child has not been offered a support place. Having been in this job for 12 months, I have a greater understanding of the process, the opportunities available other than a support class and, like all of you, always want the best for our students.
Joanne Ferns works from the Public Schools NSW Nirimba Office