A range of staff is employed in schools to support the additional needs of students.
On this page:
- Education support staff (previously known as School Support Officers or integration aides)
- Supporting your child’s independence
- Special needs coordinators and other specialist staff
- Welfare and school nurse staff and support programs
Education support staff (previously known as School Support Officers or integration aides)
Education support staff are employed by your child’s school to support students with additional needs and facilitate their learning. Education support staff work in the classroom under the direction of the teacher. A skilled and valued education support staff member can be a critical member of your child’s education and support team.
They can undertake a variety of roles and tasks according to your child’s needs and the teacher’s directions, such as:
- Assisting your child with their personal or medical care (with the necessary training)
- Supporting your child with their classwork, including reading, writing, maths, art and sport
- Supporting a variety of your child’s learning and therapeutic goals, including supporting your child’s communication and social learning with their peers
- Assisting the teacher to prepare your child’s learning materials
- Supervising your child if there are safety concerns, including in the playground, on excursions or in other extra-curricular activities, according to the needs identified in your child’s Student Support Group
- Attending therapy sessions with your child, so that therapy can be applied in the classroom if appropriate, and to support your child’s learning. For example, they might learn from the therapist how to use communication aids or other specialist equipment, or how to best support your child’s speech therapy goals.
Education support staff may work with your child individually, or can work with a small group of children with similar skills or needs. Sometimes, education support staff might work with the rest of the class for a time, to free up the classroom teacher to work more intensively with students with additional needs.
If your child is on the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD), the resources allocated to the school through that program are not specifically intended to fund education support staff. This is just one option for meeting your child’s needs. Your child’s Student Support Group should carefully consider the best way to meet all of your child’s learning and support needs. If your child does receive support from education support staff, the SSG should consider when, and for what activities their skills can most effectively be used to support your child.
“[The education assistant] was very new at the role when she first met Casey. This is a bonus in its own way. It scares a lot of people, but [it means] you can actually inform them – I used the word mold them – into the way that you would hope that they would work and treat your child. It worked quite well, if you get the right person that’s able to listen and learn and understand, and have the empathy, and never make a judgement.
I wanted the assistant to write in his communication book what she saw occur through the day – obviously positives, but if there were any challenges, I would like to know them too, so that I could offer ideas and solutions to achieve better outcomes for everyone. Although if it was a challenge that couldn’t be helped, like his ongoing humming, I didn’t want to keep reading about it every time I read his book.
I’d say, ‘Well, that’s Casey, so we don’t have to keep mentioning that. Let’s talk about the extra challenges that happen, that we can work through together to change, or share anything that comes about that’s really fantastic.” – Rhonda
Supporting your child’s independence
An important goal for all students is to increase their independence in a variety of ways. Thus, as your child progresses at school, they might be able to do more work on their own, or with minimal supervision or assistance from education support staff.
In addition, it’s important to be aware that older students, in particular, are often not keen on having an adult by their side, or ‘being different’ from their peers by having education support staff assist them directly in the classroom or the school grounds. In many secondary schools, education support staff are present in the classroom and provide assistance to a number of students, as required.
Special needs coordinators and other specialist staff
Some mainstream secondary schools, in particular, choose to employ specialist staff such as a special needs coordinator. These staff can be an invaluable support to students and families, especially in secondary schools, where the planning required to meet your child’s additional needs and communicate these to all of their subject teachers each year can be a challenge. Many specialist schools (in which all students are eligible for the PSD) have therapists and other specialists on staff.
If your child requires therapy that is not available through their school or through their DET Student Support Services Officers (SSSO) Program, you can discuss the purchasing of this support through PSD funding. If a number of students require similar support (such as occupational therapy), or there is limited availability through that program, the school might consider funding such support to be shared, for example in small group sessions, by students with similar needs.
Welfare and school nurse staff and support programs
All government secondary schools employ student welfare coordinators, whose role includes assisting all students to handle issues such as truancy, bullying, drug and alcohol use, family conflict and family violence, relationship problems and mental health issues.
Student welfare coordinators can work with other youth and health professionals in community agencies to help meet complex student needs. Many secondary schools also participate in the School Focussed Youth Service Program, partnering with youth and health agencies to provide programs and supports for students at risk of disengaging from school. Talk to your school’s student welfare coordinator to find out more.
Many secondary schools and some primary schools also have a school nurse. Secondary school nurses work to promote better health (including mental health, friendships and healthy relationships, and sexual health) amongst students, and provide direct support and advice to students on a variety of health issues.