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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Inclusive learning in South Australia

Special report

What the best and wisest want for their own child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is shallow and unlovely and acted upon, destroys our democracy.
- John Dewey, 1902

In South Australia, almost one quarter of families are living in poverty, the effects of which impact on every educator, school and region. Supporting the improvement of learning outcomes for disadvantaged students is a priority for the State’s Department of Education & Children's Services (DECS).

The Learning Inclusion Team within DECS Curriculum Services aims to improve the educational experiences and outcomes of learners from low socioeconomic backgrounds through curriculum leadership, innovation programs, collaborative research and professional learning for educators and leaders.

Programs and strategies

The Learning Inclusion Team employs a number of programs and strategies to support inclusive practices and improved outcomes for students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Some current and recent initiatives are listed below.

  • The Mathematics for Learning Inclusion program, in which six cluster coordinators across the State are improving maths teaching and learning in the primary years and targeting achievement gaps in participating clusters of schools.
  • Gender and Information Technologies, a collaborative project with several research partners, including the University of Western Sydney, funded by the Australian Research Council.
  • The Keeping Boys Connected Strategy, which included support for the Australian Government-funded program, Success for Boys. Learning Inclusion supported the strategy by providing professional learning to support better practice, developing case studies to monitor program effectiveness and establishing networks to share successful initiatives.
  • Support for National Anti Poverty Week through the provision of relevant curriculum materials and professional learning.
  • Learning Inclusion Seminars spotlighting topics of interest and relevance to teachers, often in collaboration with academics or other visiting colleagues.

This article will focus on the first of these areas of activity.

Maths for Learning Inclusion, Phase 2, 2009-11

Maths for Learning Inclusion aims to improve maths curriculum and learning outcomes in clusters of low socio-economic school communities across South Australia. Each cluster has a full-time co-ordinator whose role is to support their colleagues to become more confident, engaging and inclusive teachers of maths, and thereby improve learning outcomes for all students. 

Professional learning for Maths for Learning Inclusion includes maths pedagogy and practice, learning inclusion and equity, learning theories, communities of practice, and the use of data to improve teaching and learning.

Phase 1 of the Program ran from 2005-07. It involved eight clusters, comprising 42 schools. The evaluation of Phase 1 was extremely positive and, as a result, a second phase of Maths for Learning Inclusion has just commenced with six new clusters of schools. The program has been refined in response to evaluation findings and will include an increased focus on local planning for implementation, learner engagement, successful practices for Aboriginal learners, developing local communities of practice and the use of a set of indicators to promote inclusive practice.

The rigorous and concurrent evaluation schedule of Maths for Learning Inclusion will be retained in Phase Two with continued use of the ACER PATmaths test and National Literacy and Numeracy tests as key measures of student achievement.

Some Phase One clusters will continue to be involved as associate clusters mentoring the Phase Two clusters and developing teachers as leaders of inclusive practice.

Clusters of Schools

Like other elements of Learning Inclusion work, Maths for Learning Inclusion is organised by school cluster. Full-time Cluster Coordinators are appointed to clusters of participating schools. These primary maths specialists support teachers in the program schools by modelling a wide range of teaching and assessment practices, working on curriculum planning and programming with school staff and facilitating teacher networks.

Each cluster has a leadership group. The composition of this group varies from cluster to cluster, but generally includes the Cluster Coordinator and a mix of leaders and teachers. While the program is designed and funded at the central level, clusters are encouraged to manage the program at a local level in order to meet the needs of their particular school communities.

Resources offered through the Program

In Phase 1 of Maths for Learning Inclusion, which ran between 2005-07, participating teachers developed a range of resources. These focus on engaging students and community in mathematics learning and include the below.

Family Maths Challenges, a wide variety of interesting challenges (including quizzes, puzzles and problems) for students, the class, the school and the community to do together. In some schools, these were regularly included in the school newsletter to encourage school community involvement. This resource also includes fun holiday maths activities for students.

Maths Learning Trails which encourage students to apply maths beyond the classroom. The trails provide an opportunity for students to explore their mathematical understandings in the wider environment and are designed to raise the profile of maths for students. The trails aim to promote student engagement and encourage peer and cross-age collaboration, mathematical thinking and problem solving.

The Maths Monster, a take-home pack designed to encourage mathematics learning in the home and community. The ‘Monster’ is a delightful soft toy which goes home with the students and encourages them to look for opportunities to both see and engage with the mathematics in the world around them and to bring this learning back to the classroom to share with others.

The Learning Inclusion Number Intervention Kit is designed to discover more about individual students' mathematics knowledge and the strategies they use to improve their understanding and/or address misunderstandings.

Promotion and sharing of the resources has occurred through numeracy co-ordinators networks, the Literacy and Numeracy Expo, the Learning Inclusion website and the journal of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers.

Program evaluation

Maths for Learning Inclusion features a mixed-method evaluation which investigates not just whether but how and in what contexts the program is effective.

This rigorous ongoing evaluation has been in place from the beginning of the Program and has provided the program management team, the Cluster Coordinators, school leaders and teachers, and school communities with valuable ongoing information that has helped shape the direction of the Program. Data sources for the evaluation include ACER PAT Maths, South Australian Curriculum outcomes and National and State Literacy and Numeracy Tests, leader and teacher questionnaires, focus groups and teacher narratives about their experience of change.

For a copy of the Executive Summary of the Maths for Learning Inclusion Phase 1 Evaluation, or for other information about these Learning Inclusion initiatives, contact one of the following:

Ken Lountain: Program Manager
Tel: (08) 8226 0164

Diane Mellowship: Curriculum Manager 
Tel: (08) 8226 1721

Barbara Reinfeld: Curriculum Manager 
Tel: (08) 8226 0163

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Socially disadvantaged
South Australia
Professional development
Mathematics teaching
Inclusive education
Educational planning
Education policy