New special school ‘will be open to all dioceses’

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The Sydney archdiocese’s first Catholic secondary school for students with moderate intellectual disabilities and complex learning needs, the Eileen O’Connor Catholic College, will open in Lewisham next year.

Its principal, Dr Ian Jackson, said the vision was to support children with moderate intellectual disabilities and other complex learning needs and allow them to grow in their skills, confidence and social capacity.

Dr Jackson has a doctorate in special education and has worked in the education sector for 30 years as a principal, teacher and psychologist.
Dr Jackson has a doctorate in special education and has worked in the education sector for 30 years as a principal, teacher and psychologist.

“We’re here to provide holistic support for our students,” he said. “It’s not just about learning. It’s about living – developing relationships, forming friendships, being able to participate not just in the workplace but as people contributing to their local community.

“When they leave our college, our students will be equipped as young adults to face the outside world.”

Dr Jackson has a doctorate in special education and has worked in the education sector for 30 years as a principal, teacher and psychologist. He said the college would provide families with more choice in addressing and supporting the special learning needs of their children in the Catholic education sector.

“At the moment, some of our parents don’t have a wide range of options in how and where they support their children, so many choose to send their children to Government special schools and support units,” he said. “We believe that Catholic education needs to be in this space as well.

“Many families send their children to Catholic schools until Year 6 and then they leave because there are limited choices available to them.

“The brothers and sisters of these children often attend Catholic schools, so taking up the public school option sometimes dislocates families.

“If your child has a disability we’re now giving you one more option along the way. Our college is a systemic school that will provide for families within the archdiocese of

Sydney and across all dioceses – whether it be Wollongong, Parramatta or Broken Bay, we welcome you here as well.”

The college will open with about 25 students in Years 7 and 8 and grow to include about 80 students from Years 7 to 12. There are plans, too, for a primary school (Kindergarten-Year 6) and an early intervention centre on the Lewisham site.

All students will follow the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards Stage 4 Life Skills curriculum. They will have access to a wide range of other support programs for their learning, including speech therapy, occupational therapy, counselling and targeted transition and vocational education.

“Parents are very keen on, and used to, working with teachers to determine what is best for their children because they typically know what is best for them. Ongoing partnerships with families and the local community and specialist agencies will be foundational for our college,” Dr Jackson said.

“A multidisciplinary approach is a critical for students with special learning needs, as well as the provision of smaller classes of about 10 students with a teacher’s aide, specialist teachers, speech and occupational therapy and technology support. We plan to develop programs that support students through all of their years at schooling.”

The college is currently taking enrolment applications.

An information meeting will be held at the Catholic Education Office, 38 Renwick St, Leichhardt, on Thursday, 10 September, 6-7.30pm.

Inquiries: www.eocclewisham.wordpress.com or call Yasmin Khan on 9568 8150.