Many students with disability go to mainstream schools

Increasingly, schools and teachers make decisions about any additional support and adjustments these students may require. We know little about how these decisions are made.

Current research suggests there is an overreliance on teacher assistants (called school learning support officers – SLSOs – in NSW public schools) and perhaps a lack of consideration of alternative supports and adjustments.

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This project

This research project will be the first to examine the ways in which schools make decisions about the adjustments provided for students with disability. It aims to provide:

  • a better understanding of decision-making processes, leading to support for schools in making optimal, effective decisions that personalise learning and support
  • a pilot professional learning package to support schools to make better informed decisions.


Researchers and participants are active within this project:

  • The researchers are a collaborative team from Macquarie and Wollongong universities, partnering with the NSW Department of Education
  • The participants are students in primary and secondary schools in urban, regional and remote NSW, accessing extensive of substantial adjustments (as described by the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data framework).
Chief investigators
  • Associate Professor Mark Carter (Macquarie University)
  • Associate Professor Jennifer Stephenson (Macquarie University)
  • Dr Amanda Webster (University of Wollongong)
Partner investigators
  • Dr Robert Stephens (NSW Department of Education)
  • Ms Melissa Clements (NSW Department of Education)
  • Mr Neale Waddy (NSW Department of Education)
Research officer
  • Dr Talia Morris (Macquarie University)

Project phases

The project will involve three linked phases.

  1. An in-depth qualitative study will gather perspectives from key stakeholders including parents, students, teachers, special educators, SLSOs, principals and school counsellors. Decision-making processes, goals for adjustment for specific students, resources provided to support students, and satisfaction with current processes will be investigated.
  2. Analysis of interviews results will be used to conduct a large-scale survey of NSW schools regarding decision-making processes.
  3. A pilot project to develop and evaluate a professional learning resource package aimed at improving decision-making in schools.