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Supporting diverse learners at secondary school

Read about how Kurnai College has created a welcoming, supportive and inclusive culture to support its diverse learners.

Kurnai College is a four-campus secondary school in the Latrobe Valley, catering for 1174 students from Years 7 to 12. The college has created a welcoming, supportive and inclusive culture to support all students to be the best learners they can be.

College Principal Anthony Rodaughan says inclusive education is ‘everyone’s business at Kurnai’. This year (2023) the college transitioned to Disability Inclusion, the Victorian Government’s new approach to inclusive education. It’s a strengths-based model that provides extra support for students with disability in government schools.

Kurnai College has appointed Sarah Eccles as Assistant Principal of Disability Inclusion to lead school-wide inclusive practice. Her role includes boosting the staff’s skills and knowledge to make inclusion a focus of every aspect of their work. This includes a focus on diverse learners – those students with characteristics associated with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyscalculia.

Sarah says inclusive practices benefit all students and are essential for diverse learners. “Teaching practices that consider the needs of diverse learners, such as explicit instruction, differentiated teaching and brain breaks, are good for all students. For example, all students get tired and need a brain break, particularly our diverse learners who need regular brain breaks.”

Sarah says the school has developed an explicit teaching program to build student’s reading and literacy skills called TR@K – Targeted Reading at Kurnai. It’s for all Year 7 and 8 students and is based on the work of Dr Carol Christensen, a literacy consultant and cognitive psychologist. Sarah says the college found that many of its students were coming into year 7 with big gaps in their decoding skills. “TR@K helps all our students build those critical literacy skills that are the backbone of learning and life. TR@K is particularly important for our students with learning difficulties and has been very successful for our school.”

Kurnai College has always had a strong focus on student wellbeing, as Sarah says: “wellbeing and learning are intertwined”. She says the school has adopted a trauma-informed approach that helps students ‘be ready to learn’ and engage in their work. The school also has student welfare officers as well as ‘go to’ staff members called ‘advocates’ who students can reach out to if they need help with any day-to-day issues.