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Literacy and numeracy programming within a special school using the Northern Territory Curriculum Framework

Geoff Wilmshurst
Teacher of Exemplary Practice, Henbury School

Henbury School is a special school in the Northern Territory, catering to secondary aged students with intellectual disabilities. The school is currently looking at a whole-school literacy and numeracy plan within the newly implemented Northern Territory Curriculum Framework (NTCF). As part of this process, the school is reassessing the type and range of skills taught.

The outcomes of students enrolled at the school fall broadly within Key Growth Points 1, 2, and 3 that precede Band 1, and continue up to Band level 2. The school meets the specific learning needs of the students by providing learning activities relevant to their individual and cultural backgrounds. Learning experiences are provided across as wide a range of settings as possible, as poor generalisation skills are apparent in students with intellectual disability.

The Literacy and Numeracy plan

The school has a Literacy and Numeracy plan embedded in the overall school organisational structure. The plan is viewed as part of, not separate to, school practice on a day-to-day basis. In order to assist with this process, the structure has been organised into the three inter-related areas of assessment, programming and resources.

Henbury School also has a range of shared common understandings and statements related to its status as a special school within the new curriculum framework. The school's Common Shared Understandings and Statements for literacy and numeracy are based on the following concepts:

  • literacy and numeracy skills are developed and reflected in the original, spontaneous and supported, or augmented, communication practices of individuals
  • literacy and numeracy programs at Henbury School are designed to develop and extend the unique, individual needs of our students across settings, contexts, people and environments
  • students need to be taught effective, functional literacy and numeracy skills to enable them to be productive, happy and contributing members of their local community in both school and post school settings
  • numeracy skills in particular must be taught using relevant, functional activities with practice in the real world.
Prior to the introduction of the NTCF, school planning programs were reviewed and organised into relevant categories of the Key Learning Areas. These included Literacy and Numeracy, which were recorded on yearly review reports of student progress, and were used as the language for the discussion with parents of student I.E.P (Individual Education Priorities). All reporting was systematic and uniform, and the report formats were all modified to suit this emphasis. When the framework was adopted, it was a fairly easy transition in respect of the Key Learning Areas, and the school was able to use the framework quite effectively.

The Essential Learnings components of the framework, adopted while still under development, already assist with enhancing the whole-school approach to the development of appropriate learning pathway, transition and exit plans. By adapting the framework, Henbury has been able to have better shared understandings with schools that may later take its students. Under the new Northern Territory Certificate of Education (NTCE), Henbury's senior students are accessing programs at a local senior secondary college campus.

The School provides both parents and students with a 'plain English' version of their Individual Education Priorities that explains what they are doing. The school also provides a plan of where the students are going in school. The plans, however, are active documents and must reflect the process as well as the practice of the school, and as such must be reviewed and changed regularly. The school is currently in a process of review and analysis of its programs and procedures, looking at the three areas of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment and Review. The whole school community is examining current practices and developing collegiate outcomes for quality future practice. These three areas are expressed in ongoing work around:

  • curriculum renewal
  • renewing and confirming the values that underpin all teaching and learning at the school
  • developing ownership of the essential learnings and additional exit outcomes explicit to Henbury as a special school
  • reviewing and adopting as necessary best practice educational pedagogy based programs including Special School Productive Pedagogies, Multiple Intelligences and the work of DeBono and Bloom.


Special schools are accountable to the same administrative dictates as any school, and as such should regularly audit their practice and ensure they are undertaking their core business, which is providing quality, relevant educational programs, especially within the current climate of wider community expectations of what is perceived as being school business.

Henbury School has been able to show that, within the Northern Territory's new Curriculum Framework, it is possible to express what is being done in special education, and how it is being achieved, in terms that are understandable to educators irrespective of their location.


Subject Headings

Curriculum planning
Northern Territory
Secondary education
Special education