How We Can Disrupt the Status Quo


Leanne Woodley, a senior education consultant at the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales, reflects on research on inclusive education policies and its practical implementation. 

In my work as a special education consultant I believe part of my role is to disrupt the status quo and traditional ideas and ask the hard questions about what is stifling fresh thinking and attitudes around inclusive practice.

I ask myself such questions daily, and they underpin how I approach my work with schools.

Do we want to settle for just ‘good’ inclusive practices? 
How do we make it better? 
What is the best for the young people in our care and their educational outcomes?

What do we need to do to bring about effective and sustainable change?

In response to the the Australian Government’s Students First reform agenda, and the New South Wales Government’s Great Teaching, Inspired Learning initiatives, the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales (AIS NSW) launched a Partnerships in Education program which encompassed the Developing Whole School Practices in Inclusive Schooling.

The Inclusive schools project set me off on an unknown direction to find out what the most current and evidence-based school-wide framework for planning is to evaluate the effectiveness of inclusive practices.

I went looking for tools to measure inclusivity and guide schools to:

  • reflect on their current practices
  • ask the hard questions of themselves
  • disrupt the status quo
  • move forward to develop strong inclusive practices.

My search led me to the United States of America and the University of Kansas’s Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) Education Centre which was established in 2012.

The work of Professor, Dr Wayne Sailor, and Associate Professor, Dr Amy McCart, is a collective contribution of 30 years of rigorous and extensive research into the field of ‘special education’ and the essential elements for an effective inclusive school.

The Centre has a reputation for excellence and ongoing contributions to scholarship, knowledge mobilisation, and teaching. In 2016 the SWIFT Centre was recognised as the number one special education program in the United States.

In 2015 I was granted an AIS academic scholarship to visit the Centre and train in the ‘Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation Framework (commonly known as SWIFT) and visit schools in two states that have been using SWIFT to reframe and transform into places where inclusivity for all students, particularly those with the most challenging needs, is front and centre.

Dr Loui Lord Nelson–author of the top selling book Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning–and Dr Carol Quirk a member of the KU SWIFT Center’s Executive Team at Kansas University were my SWIFT mentors and continue to provide me with support as we move ahead in adopting SWIFT in the Australian school context.

So what is SWIFT?

Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) is a reflective process that supports schools to examine their inclusive practices to create powerful learning environments and promote active, engaged partnerships among families and community members.”

The SWIFT Center, is committed to eliminating silos in education by bridging general and specialised educational structures and resources. These bridges lead to powerful learning opportunities for students and teachers; promote active, engaged partnerships among families and community members; and ensure every child is a valued member of their school and given the support they need to achieve academic and social success.

The SWIFT Center’s work has resulted in a focus on five key domains that support transformation of schools into places of true and authentic inclusion for students.

Using SWIFT in the Australian School Context

Currently AIS NSW is the only organisation outside of the United States using the SWIFT framework and the SWIFT centre is closely following our work to see how the tool is translating into a different educational context.

The Five Domains

Leadership:  A strong and actively engaged leadership team with a commitment to improving inclusive teaching & learning by creating a system that empowers educators and school personnel.

Multi-tiered systems of support: A continuum of research-based, system-wide practices based on data-driven decision-making processes used to meet the academic and behaviour needs of all students.

Integrated educational frameworks: An integrated educational framework encompassing all students, personnel and stakeholders within a positive school culture ensures full access for all students to participate in curriculum appropriate to their age and stage of schooling, including all co-curricula activities.

Family and community engagement: Families, community members and schools form a partnership where each benefits from, and supports the other.

Inclusive policies and practices: In consultation with Professor Wayne Sailor and University of Kansas staff, this SWIFT domain is tailored for the Australian school context where Schools reflect on their inclusive policies and practices to ensure they are meeting requirements under Australian disability legislation and state and territory curriculum advice including ACARA and NESA guidelines.


SWIFT also utilities six Technical Assistance practices that support the initial process to help schools build system capacity to sustain and scale their equity-based inclusion programs.

SWIFT Centre developed tools that support evaluation of inclusive practices.

The SWIFT Fidelity Integrity Assessment (SWIFT-FIA) is a self-assessment tool used by School Leadership Teams to examine the status of schoolwide practices demonstrated through research to facilitate successful inclusion for all students within a school community.

School-based teams administer SWIFT-FIA through a structured conversation accompanied by a review of evidence to substantiate the ratings assigned.

Assessing the extent of the implementation of SWIFT Core Features during the school year, teams can monitor progress over time.

SWIFT-FIA was chosen to align to the ways AIS NSW works to support schools.

The process of reflection fits well with the AIS NSW Developing Whole School Practices for Inclusive Schooling project (Inclusive Schooling Project).

  • Facilitated discussions with principals, school leadership teams, teachers, students, family members and community members
  • Baseline for implementation of the SWIFT domains and features.
  • Identification of areas to include in cyclic strategic plans that build on strengths and further develop inclusive practices.

How does AIS NSW use SWIFT?

Surveys: students, parents, all staff, school leader. Survey questions align to the SWIFT domains and features

Focus groups: students with and without learning needs, parents of children with and without learning needs, selection of classroom teachers and learning support staff and school leaders

Data: Qualitative and quantitative data is compiled into a report for schools so SWIFT can be implemented and measured. The report highlights areas for celebration and identifies areas for improvement. Schools score themselves on a rubric against each domain and feature.

Planning: Strategic plans are developed for inclusive practices in the relevant domain.


Working with the SWIFT framework has enabled us to work with schools in a positive, non-judgemental way to influence school leaders to develop and implement a common vision of inclusive practices.

SWIFT has enabled AIS NSW to take action in a collaborative way, where we walk alongside schools during their inclusivity journeys.

We have discovered that leaders can emerge from anywhere within a school community and that the leader ‘title’ does not necessarily constitute effective leadership. Sometimes it takes just one classroom teacher to seize an opportunity, change one of their classroom practices, make an adjustment, design an assessment experience differently, become aware of potential learning barriers and plan around them, read a recent journal article or ask a hard question in the staff room to bring about positive change.

I will continue to challenge the status quo and work towards making what seems impossible, possible.

This article is an iteration of the presentation Leanne delivered at the 2017 National Symposium on Inclusive Education.



The promotion, adoption and implementation of inclusive practices, which involves changing policies, practices and attitudes within schools.


Inclusive classrooms and schools embrace universal design as the foundation for cultivating inclusive attitudes and practices.


Bringing about change one mind at a time is integral to improving the lives of people with disability.


Exemplar inclusive educational practices are happening in Australia. See the possibility and potential of Inclusion here and now.


All children have the right to be included, to be represented in, to have access to and to receive high-quality education and supports.


All classroom teachers have a role in creating schools & learning environments where all children can learn and feel they belong.



The promotion, adoption and implementation of inclusive practices, which involves changing policies, practices and attitudes within schools.


Creating inclusive classrooms & schools starts with vision, policy, systems change, curriculum design and teaching practice.


High quality education & supports enable all students to acquire success in their education and is the basis of an inclusive life and society.


All classroom teachers have a role in creating schools & learning environments where all children can learn and feel they belong.


Whole school transformation requires courage, leadership & honest reflection to identify the need for change and set about making it happen.


Exemplar inclusive educational practices are happening in Australia. See the possibility and potential of inclusion here and now.


This site is edited and maintained by the Advocacy and Leadership Development team.
Image attributions: Photos supplied and screenshots from Access Symposium videos.

Contact   Privacy Policy   Terms of Use