Thuringowa SHS’s goal is that when entering a classroom you cannot tell which students are students with disability, or which staff members are employed under the Special Education banner. This means that supports are effective, but as invisible as possible, and that there are no special students, no special staff, no special curriculum, and no special places.

Thurignowa State High School is situated in the city of Townsville, North Queensland in the suburb of Condon. It is one of three State High Schools that serve students in Years 7 to 12 from the broader electoral division of Thuringowa, which has a population of around 60,000 residents. Thuringowa SHS has a history of providing academic excellence, sporting and cultural achievement, and a vibrant community spirit.

In 2019, the school caters to over 780 students. 43% are Indigenous, 7.5% have a disability verified under the Department of Education’s Education Adjustment Profile process, a total of 25% have a disability under the broader Nationally Consistent Collection of Data, 9% have a language background other than English, and 63% of students come from homes that sit in the bottom quarter of the socio-economic scale, contributing to the schools total ICSEA value of 844.

In 2002 the school met the requirements for appointment of a Special Eduction Program – resulting in the designated, self-contained teaching space known as the Special Education Unit. The Unit was serviced by an allocation of Special Education Teachers, Special Education Teacher Aides, and a Head of Special Education Services. Although students with disability were very welcomed into the school environment and participated in broader extra-curricular events and activities alongside their peers, up until the closure of 2014 their education was delivered in segregation, with some small pockets of integration co-existing. Students accessed partial exposure to the regular curriculum and were streamed into lower ability level curriculum junctures – no commensurate Year level rigour was delivered. Access to specialised subjects such as Science and Health and Physical Education in purposeful environments with specialist staff was limited, as to was exposure to information and digital technologies. Ad hoc Life Skills and Social Skills programs replaced other key learning areas, a fenced lunch space was provided solely for their occupation, and students were very heavily Case Managed.

When asked about their experiences, students with disability described it as:

“Feeling dumb,” “feeling weird,” “bored,” “missing out,” “not fair,” “no real friends,” “not real work,” “like a baby,” “lonely,” and “less than everyone else.”

In mid 2014, the Head of Special Education Services role was open for application, and Loren Swancutt was successfully appointed as the new substantive holder. Loren was a young, enthusiastic leader with a strong commitment to inclusive schooling. Her path crossed with the Principal, Grant Dale who was eager for change and who possessed a refreshed and current perspective as a result of engaging in the Quality Schools, Inclusive Leaders professional development package delivered state-wide by Dr Loretta Giorcelli. Together they identified the need for change and therefore spent the second Semester of 2014 engaging in research and evidence-based practice, and planning out a thorough Inclusive Schooling model.

Throughout 2015, Thuringowa SHS implemented a deliberate and gradual roll out of their Inclusive Schooling model. To begin with, they invested heavily in developing staff capacity in Years 7 and 8, and with pre-existing Special Education staff. They engaged in an action research project focused on Co-teaching and Differentiation which saw the development of a weekly Professional Learning Community to build capability. They engaged in regular cycles of inquiry, tracking data, and ironing out problems of practice as they arose. They sort feedback from parents, students, staff, and broader Department representatives and continued to evolve their practice.

Over the course of 2016 Thuringowa SHS scaled their capacity, and utilised their lessons learnt to impact classroom practices across all year levels and to develop and implement further operational policies and procedures. This resulted in the eradication of the temporary integration responses, and greater emphasis on not only access and participation, but on social and curriculum outcomes as well. The former Special Education Program/Unit was entirely disbanded.

In 2017 the model reached its intended representation.

  • All students are welcomed at enrolment, and parents and students are supported to engage with and undertake enrolment procedures.
  • Students are timetabled into heterogeneous classes, and students with a disability are proportionally placed across all classes in the Year level.
  • Students are provided access to year level curriculum that is supported by quality, differentiated teaching and learning processes.
  • Students requiring access to alternate year level junctures do so with the support of a unique curriculum alignment process which sees the variation in complexity of content descriptors and achievement standards being matched to regular, year level units of work – resulting in rigorous, full participation and engagement with age appropriate contexts within the general education classroom 100% of the time.
  • Explicit Instruction, cooperative learning, peer tutoring, and station teaching methods are regular pedagogical approaches.
  • Learning environments are organised and managed to be accessible by all, and teachers adopt a variety of strategies to support attention and sensory regulation.
  • Positive Behaviour for  Learning is implemented school-wide, and strategies from the Berry Street Education Model are being implemented across classrooms in the junior school.
  • Teachers and students are supported through the appointment of authentic Co-teaching partnerships that result in two teachers being assigned to one, regular sized class, with both having complete parity over the educational experiences of all students in the room.
  • Teacher aide appointments from various allocations are pooled, and disseminated to support the classroom teacher and the whole class; not individual or marginal groups of students.
  • Students are seated sporadically within classes and not clustered together based on ability.
  • Labels are not used to describe students, and students no longer receive ongoing, Special Education Case Management. Classroom teachers are the experts on student performance in their particular contexts; and in collaboration with support staff and parents they identify what supports and strategies work best and modify these through ongoing, real-time analysis of student response and performance.
  • Blanket strategies that are based on perception and past performance are no longer supported.
  • The micromanagement of a student’s every move is nonexistent, adult proximity has been removed, and Special Education staff are no longer the gate keepers of information, communication, or intervention.
  • Investment in maintaining inclusive culture and its shared beliefs and understandings occurs through regular professional development, and through regular highlighting and sharing of best practice by members of staff.
  • Staff capacity is supported through the application of Instructional Coaching – a job-embedded, highly responsive form of professional learning that focuses on building quality teaching and learning through the application of inclusive principles and practices.
  • The School Improvement Hierarchy from the current Every Student Succeeding – State School Strategy is used in combination with a Circle of Practice as a means of recognising current successful practice, and as a guide on what needs to happen next in the inclusive school improvement journey – this has the school aiming for the target of at least 90% of people, 90% of the time.
  • Components of the Inclusive Schooling model can also be found within the school’s Strategic Plan and subsequent Annual Implementation Plans.

Thuringowa SHS’s goal is that when entering a classroom you cannot tell which students are students with disability, or which staff members are employed under the Special Education banner. This means that supports are effective, but as invisible as possible, and that there are no special students, no special staff, no special curriculum, and no special places.

The following is visual representation of the inclusive schooling model at Thuringowa SHS from 2015 – 2019:


Source: Thuringowa SHS Inclusive Schooling

Loren has presented the case study of Thuringowa SHS’s inclusive school reform process at a number of national conferences. A recording of one of those conferences can be viewed below: