The original SWANs project was funded by the Australian Research Council, and conducted as a collaborative endeavour between the Assessment Research Centre, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET), and the Centre for Advanced Assessment and Therapy Services. That research recognised the diversity of learners in Australian schools and classrooms, and set out to answer the following question:
What do schools and teachers need to know and be able to do to support every student's right to learn?
The work drew on the Salamanca Statement (PDF 203KB) and Framework for Action's (UNESCO, 1994) 'recognition of the need to work towards "schools for all" – institutions which include everybody, celebrate differences, support learning, and respond to individual needs' (p. iii).
Australian teachers work in classrooms in which students can typically be learning across at least four or five age-equivalent levels of skill and understanding (Howes, 2012), regardless of whether or not a student with a formally diagnosed disability is included in the class group.
To meet the requirements of the Disability Standards for Education (DSE) (2005), schools and teachers must ensure that all students can participate in education without experiencing discrimination. The expectation is that students with disabilities are provided with educational opportunities and choices on the same basis as students without disabilities.
To explain what is meant by offering opportunities and choices on the same basis for all students, the DSE (2005) states in Section 2.2.3 that:
A person with a disability is able to participate in courses or programs provided by an educational institution, and use the facilities and services provided by it, on the same basis as a student without a disability if the person has opportunities and choices in the courses or programs and in the use of the facilities and services that are comparable with those offered to other students without disabilities.
Note 2 to this Section explains that:
In some cases, students with disabilities will not be able to participate on the same basis as other students if all students are treated in the same way, or if all students with disabilities are treated in the same way.
This supports a flexible, differentiated, and personalised approach to provision of learning experiences and choices, an approach which has formed the basis of the SWANs research. In other words, all students have a right to participate in educational experiences without experiencing discrimination. But to ensure this, teachers must know how to adapt and adjust learning experiences, opportunities, and choices to meet the needs of individual learners. To do this, they must have ready access to high-quality, research-based materials to support them in their professional practice.