Verney Road School (VRS) is a state government educational facility in the north eastern Victoria regional city of Shepparton. Students at the school are funded under the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) and have been assessed with a mild to profound intellectual disability. Many students have multiple diagnoses of disability which may include Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Down Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), associated impairments such as sensory and physical impairments and/or challenging behaviours.
Students’ ages range from three to eighteen years of age. The school has an Early Education Unit and three school aged sections, Early, Middle and Senior Years. Current enrolments are 199 which include 18 Early Education students. Consistent population growth is already reducing play space and creating the need for split recess and lunch times.
The student family occupation (SFO) density remained relatively stable over the period and is currently 0.74. The school has a low range socio economic profile. The ratio of boys to girls is approximately 3 to 1. The proportion of families that have English as an additional language (EAL) is 11%, and 15% indigenous.
Both teaching and Education Support Staff (ESS) have had to increase quite rapidly to accommodate the increase in student enrolments. In 2017 there is a total staff number of 71. The three school aged units are led by a non-teaching leading teacher and each classroom is staffed with a teacher and education support staff member. There are 21 classes with an average class size of 9.2 students. The school maximises its staffing resources in many ways including distributing leadership and also employing trainees who are trained to work in Early Education, the Foundation rooms and in ICT.
The school was purpose built in 1999 for 74 students and although buildings are modern, space is at a premium as six portable classrooms have been added to house the increasing enrolment and the school is landlocked. Three new classrooms were added in 2010 under federal government Building Education Revolution (BER) funding.
Most students access transport to and from school that is funded by the Department of Education (DET) although families that do choose to pick up and drop off must alternate with bus times for safety due to car park congestion.
The school has a strong and strategic school improvement focus, with high expectations that all students can learn. The school has various rigorous teaching and learning programs to meet the complex individual needs and ages of students. It provides music, physical education and art as specialist programs. The Early Education program has been reframed to follow DET guidelines and includes the expansion of the teacher’s role to include outreach. In 2017 the school has changed from using the Hume Region Web based curriculum to the Victorian Curriculum. The curriculum for senior students includes Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Independent Living Skills.
Furthermore, to ensure there is a whole school balanced approach to the teaching of literacy the school has focused on improving literacy outcomes through a rigorous approach to the application of the Four Blocks Model. In 2017 VRS employed two 0.5 Science and Mathematics (STEM) teacher leaders. These leaders support classroom teachers in the planning, modelling, team teaching, assessment and goal setting in Maths and Science. The school has a strong focus on ensuring every student can access the curriculum and have a voice in their learning through the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) approaches and devices where needed.
The school has further developed high expectations and accountability through the Performance and Development process for teacher practice. The school has readily adopted the new process of Performance and Development that is clearly linked to Strategic and Annual planning.
Key elements of an instructional model for teaching practise are utilised to clearly identify expectations. Established routines are a vital part of daily teaching at VRS and a timetable of the day is displayed. Visual cues are used and every lesson is to have a learning intention or purpose and the teacher explicitly teaches using modelling. Learning is to be anchored to real world experience or previous learning with student to practice feedback and reflection. Wait time is given to allow processing for learners and teacher feedback is to be task or process based rather than only praise. Planning is comprehensive and teacher language is to include the four school expectations – Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible and Be a Learner.
Classroom observations are a routine part of the school culture and are based on the Instructional Model and the Elmore model (2010) of evidence based observation. Teachers receive feedback on their teaching every term. Peer observations are also conducted termly, again using the Elmore model.
A goal has been to embed a common language and behavioural expectations for the whole school community and to provide a safe and orderly environment to enhance learning, through Positive Behaviour Support. Additionally, the school has sought to use evidence based decision making using data, to provide a common teaching base in the form of a behavioural matrix and to embed a culture of positive behaviour through explicit teaching.
With Equity funding in 2017 a ‘Tier 3 classroom’ has been developed for students who have suffered environmental trauma and are the most challenging in terms of behaviour. Three staff members, support these students in their learning and behaviour in a very individualised ‘wrap around’ approach. This has had a very positive rebound effect also on the Middle Year’s classes with less distraction and interruption to teaching and learning.
Also in 2017 a ‘Therapeutic Program’ has been trialled to support the learning of our most complex, often non-verbal students with high sensory needs. The program is highly individualised, uses multiple forms of AAC, is intensely goal based and aims to meet the learning needs of students through sensory engagement.
A digital tracking system provides collection of data to assist with triangulation, cohort growth and individual growth over time. It contains all SSG minutes and reports are also prepared on this system.
VRS is a learning environment. Professional Learning occurs weekly and there are no staff meetings. All administration items occur at morning briefing at 8.45.
The leadership team consists of three non-teaching leading teachers who each lead a Unit / Team, the AP and the Principal. This team meets weekly from 2-3 pm Tuesdays. The leading teachers all have an Instructional role in leading the teaching and learning across their team.
Staffing appointments have been made using merit based panels and as many staff as possible have been selected to sit on panels, for the professional learning opportunity. This together with distributive leadership and staff placements has enhanced school improvement.
Transition programs are thoroughly planned and developed to support students as they move between sub schools and from other schools and on to post school options. Students have pathways opportunities and the more recent change to a project based integrated VCAL program and hands on programs such as work experience, woodwork and the Advance Program have increased student decision making for all students about post school options. Students who may choose to attend adult training centres benefit from work experience at these centres. The school has increased opportunities for students to participate in Work Experience and the Senior Team leader spends one day weekly negotiating pathways and preparing students for supported work and work in the mainstream environment.