Taskforce on Students with Learning Difficulties

In August 2012, the then ACT Education Minister, Chris Burke established a taskforce to consider education and support for ACT students with learning difficulties. Minister Joy Burch has continued to be supportive of the Taskforce and their findings.

Council President Vivienne Pearce represented ACT parents on the Taskforce by Vivienne Pearce said “Initially I thought the taskforce might be a lot of talk but no action on the massive problem of students with learning difficulties in our schools.


“I was wrong. The hard work of the Taskforce, in particular Chair Irene Lind, has lead to some sound recommendations on how to improve the outcomes for these students. The Taskforce’s recommendations are fully supported by myself, parents and Council.


“The support of the Education Minister Joy Burch and Education and Training Directorate has meant there is a real chance for real improvement in this area. The worry has always been, that no money had been allocated to the recommendations from this taskforce. However, the advent of Gonski funding for additional needs students means there should be.”


Terms of Reference


The aim of the Taskforce was to consider how to improve the assessment of, and support to students in ACT public schools with learning difficulties. This included, but was not limited to students effected by language disorders, comprehension and processing disorders, dyslexia related issues and significant difficulties in general numeracy and literacy.


The taskforce took the role of an advisory body, established to provide the Minister for Education and Training with recommendations.




In September 2012 the taskforce was formed, and lead by experienced school principal Irene Lind. The taskforce was comprised of government and community members with either personal or professional experience with learning difficulties.


Taskforce process


The taskforce met repeatedly across the last twelve months. Consultation was held with the Directorate, specialist groups, teachers, students, parents and carers in early 2013.


Issues identified


During consultation and discussion, several key issues were identified by the taskforce.


Inconsistent terminology

There is significant debate over the definition of Learning Difficulties around the world. Australia does not currently have a consistent definition of learning difficulties. Learning difficulties is an all-inclusive label that can be used to refer to students who experience difficulties for a variety of reasons.


The lack of a common understanding or consistent terminology added complexity to the work of the taskforce. Until the terminology issue can be resolved, there will be implications for support available to students.


Data collection

Inconsistent terminology has resulted in inconsistent data, making it very difficult to identify how many students are currently effected by learning difficulties. National data in 2000 estimated that between 10-30% of students were effected by learning difficulties.


Wide range of learning difficulties

Learning difficulties are multi-faceted and multidimensional. There is no information readily available on the entire range of individual learning difficulties; areas such as dyslexia had greater resources, information and research available than several other learning difficulties.


Scientific Research

Research into the brain and learning is a rapidly progressing area. Any new knowledge in this area needs to be incorporated into the ongoing support for students with learning difficulties.

Final Report


In June 2013, the taskforce presented current ACT Education Minister Joy Burch with a final report.


The final report recommended that a whole Directorate approach to address education and support for students with learning difficulties be employed. The report presented the Minister and department with three key messages


Consistent Systemic Approach

There needs to be a consistent and systemic approach to maximise the specific learning outcomes of students with learning difficulties.


To achieve a consistent systemic approach, there needs to be a high-level of understanding across the Directorate as a whole.

Building Staff Capacity

A strategy must be developed to build the capacity of staff to meet the needs of students with learning difficulties. A comprehensive professional learning pathway is required to increase the levels of specialist knowledge amongst schools and the Directorate.


The taskforce proposed targets for completion of training and extra support for teachers. Classification and extra support for all learning assistants was also encouraged.


Partnerships with Family

Families and educational institutions need to work in partnership to address learning difficulties; this requires constant communication and support between families, schools and the Directorate.


The taskforce recommended that multiple communication mechanisms be engaged by the Directorate to communicate with and support families; such as flowcharts of support, booklets, and online information. Partnerships are also encouraged with therapists and other professionals to improve the outcomes of students.


Response from ACT Minister for Education and Training


On 16 August 2013, ACT Education and Training Directorate published a media release responding to the Taskforce’s final report.


ACT Minister for Education and Training Joy Burch said the Government had agreed to all the recommendations from the Taskforce.

“I have asked the Education and Training Directorate to action the recommendations, with a focus on reviewing and simplifying the information available to the community and teachers on the assessment of—and support of—children with learning difficulties,” Ms Burch said.


In their response document, the Directorate has stated it supports the fourteen strategies under the three key recommendations.


This article was published in ParentACTion 3.2013, August 2013.