Welcome to the 3rd SPED Conference. It’s a wonderful opportunity to gather as one fraternity to reflect on improvements that have been made to special education, learn good practices from one another, and celebrate the achievements of SPED educators and our schools.
Important Role of Educators
I have been inspired by reflections of our SPED educators in today’s conference theme. Your views affirm the vital role that educators play and I share your convictions in the mission to realise the potential of our students, and continuously seek better ways to help them lead independent and dignified lives
Over the years, much has been done to improve Affordability, Accessibility and Quality of SPED. We talk about these three key elements very often.
Now this looks like a busy picture. Let me take us through bit by bit on what has happened in the SPED landscape, and put it back all together again.
We know that the cost of educating a student with special needs is high. We also recognise that parents of children with special needs are more likely than not to face additional financial outlay, such as increased medical expenses. As such, not only does the Government provide SPED schools with higher per capita funding than in mainstream schools, we have also put in place various measures to make SPED more affordable to parents. These include:
- the extension of the Edusave Scheme through our SPED schools;
- the introduction of Financial Assistance Schemes to help parents with SPED-related expenses; and
- the School Breakfast Programme to ensure that our children start their day in school with a good meal.
We will continue to ensure that no child will be denied access to quality special education.
When we talk about accessibility, it is really about making it easier for children who need special education to be placed in the right schools.
First of all, this means regularly updating our school infrastructure and, very importantly, making more places available. Today, we have 15 purpose-built SPED schools with customised facilities and five refurbished schools. We have also expanded the capacity of SPED schools to meet rising demand for places by constructing Campus 2 for Pathlight School, constructing a new wing for Metta School, and completing the new campus for Delta Senior School.
Accessibility also means helping parents make the important decision of placing their child in the right school, and simplifying the process of enrolment. We have introduced the Post-Diagnosis Educational Guidance, which aims to provide accurate information and advice as well as emotional support to parents whose child has been recommended a SPED school placement. We have also introduced a Parent’s Guide for Children with Special Educational Needs. We have also introduced the Multi-Agency Advisory Panel, comprising professionals from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, the National Council of Social Service, and various SPED schools, to improve the coordination and efficiency of admission processes to SPED schools.
We will continue to work closely with SPED schools to ensure appropriate and timely access to SPED.
We know that every one of our SPED schools wants to be a good school. MOE shares this vision and we are here to help. Over the years, we have introduced many initiatives to uplift the quality of special education, and this is the core of our work.
We have directed more resources to support this important work, such as introducing:
- the Teaching and Learning Fund;
- the Curriculum Enhancement Fund;
- the High Needs Grant for students who need more help, and
- the MOE-Tote Board ICT Fund, which seeks to make it easier for schools to purchase and utilise info-comm technology in order to teach their students more effectively.
I know that many of our schools have made good use of these funds.
We also recognise that a mark of a good school is one where families are engaged in supporting the education of the child. To this end, we have also established the Parent Support Group (PSG) Fund for schools to build and sustain home-school partnerships.
Our schools have been working tirelessly to bring the SPED Curriculum Framework to life and to enhance the learning of our students. Many things have been done in terms of improving curriculum, but two things stand out. First, we are placing a greater focus on curriculum across all of our SPED schools; and second, there will be more teachers leading curriculum development.
Greater Curriculum Leadership in Schools
It is very encouraging that there are Curriculum Leadership Teams (CLTs) in every SPED school today. The CLTs are led by school leaders and include the Heads of Programmes. Their aim is to drive efforts to implement the Curriculum Framework to serve each school’s unique profile of students and the CLTs play a key role in cascading the curriculum to every classroom.
Greater Curriculum Ownership by Teachers
Curriculum only comes alive when it is being utilised in the hands of every teacher. Every teacher can take the lead and take ownership of curriculum development. And over the months, I have noticed very good progress in how our schools have customised the curriculum, particularly in the form of growing Professional Learning Teams (PLTs). These PLTs are made up of educators as well as Allied Health Professionals, who collaborate to discover better ways to teach and improve the learning outcomes of our students. This has resulted in more teacher-led curriculum innovation.
Now, let us take a look at the experiences of some of our teachers working together on curriculum development.
We can see from the video that there has been considerable progress made in curriculum development. We see more leadership, ownership and the involvement of different groups of educators in curriculum design, development and delivery.
Curriculum improvement is a long-term undertaking, and MOE will continue to walk hand-in-hand with schools to best serve our students.
Teachers are key to quality special education. At the Ministry, we are committed to enhancing professional development opportunities for all our SPED teachers. We will continue to work with all our SPED teachers to build a quality SPED teaching force.
As schools further explore how to customise the curriculum, they have requested for more opportunities to deepen learning in specific domains based on the profiles of their students. We have responded by creating multiple learning platforms for teachers to share and network across schools, such as in terms of applied training, prototyping projects, special interest workshops, Character and Citizenship Education Champion Networking Sessions, and so forth. These platforms work on a sign-up basis, for educators or PLTs with a strong interest in the given topic. These give our schools greater flexibility in how they customise the curriculum.
I am very heartened by the progress we have made. There has been a steady increase in the number of teachers who have completed milestone courses. This includes the Diploma in Special Education (DISE) to help prepare teachers for a teaching career in SPED, and the Management and Leadership in Schools (MLS) course, which aims to build effective middle leadership.
We have also launched the Advanced Diploma in Special Education, which provides more professional upgrading opportunities for experienced teachers. We have received very positive feedback about the Advanced Diploma. Educators have found it meaningful, enriching and appreciated the research-to-practice approach taken by the course. I strongly encourage SPED schools to nominate more teachers to attend.
We have also provided generous funding in the form of training votes to enhance professional development opportunities enjoyed by our teachers. We know that our schools have made good use of the additional Training Vote, to purchase professional learning resources, conduct training workshops, send teachers for local and overseas conferences and learning journeys and so on.
Charting our teachers’ professional growth is a journey that we are committed to travelling together with our SPED schools and we will continue to source for more and better professional development opportunities.
This is a very important concern for our parents and SPED educators, and that is: what will my child or student do after they leave school?
We know that some of the students can work with varying degrees of support and when they receive appropriate training and exposure. Other students will require different forms of care after they leave school. To this end, our colleagues at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) continue to lead in efforts to develop more post-school options for our SPED students.
We want to play an active role in guiding schools in preparing students to be work-ready, and this is why we introduced the Vocational Education Framework in 2010, and facilitated the development of quality vocational education programmes in SPED schools serving our Mild Intellectual Disability (MID) students. These educational programmes lead to national certification in selected industry areas. To date, this particular pathway has enabled 1 in 4 SPED graduates to be successfully employed.
But we did not stop there. We recognise that there are students who may not benefit from the certification programmes, but nevertheless have the potential to work. This is why in April this year, we announced a School-to-Work Transition Programme. This is the result of collaboration among several agencies namely the Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable, as well as SPED schools. We have worked very closely with SG Enable to identify students with the potential to work, and to customise appropriate training pathways to meet their preferences and abilities.
The School-to-Work Transition programme will be prototyped over a 2-year period in five SPED schools, catering to students of different disability profiles. These are:
- APSN Delta Senior School
- Grace Orchard School
- Metta School
- MINDS Woodlands Gardens School; and
- Pathlight School
The aim is to offer more training as well as work options for students, particularly those who may not benefit from the existing vocational certification pathways. We want to ensure that every child in the School-to-Work Transition programme is assured of a pathway to employment upon leaving school and provide a ‘bridge’ to transit from school to the world of work. The programme aims to foster strong collaboration between schools and students and their families, and have conversations to develop appropriate post-school Living, Learning and Working goals so that every student can live meaningful and dignified lives after they leave school.
Let us take a closer look at how the S2W programme is taking shape in our schools.
The School-to-Work Transition programme represents a whole-of-government effort to ensure seamless support for our students at a very critical transition point in their lives. Our intention is to scale it up to more SPED schools from 2016, as our prototype matures.
Recognise contributions of SPED teachers and schools
Now, I come to a very important part of today’s proceedings, which is to recognise the contributions of our SPED teachers and schools. Our SPED educators are acknowledged for their passion and dedication in different ways. This year, we were very honoured that President Tony Tan hosted an inaugural tea in honour of our SPED teachers.
Outstanding Special Education Teacher & Innovation Awards
We continue to honour the stellar work of our SPED teachers. I wish to offer my very sincere congratulations to the three Outstanding SPED Teacher Award winners. They embody professional excellence, the spirit of lifelong learning, as well as care for their students with special needs. At the same time, four schools this year will also receive the MOE-NCSS Innovation Award. Well done to all our schools for having discovered new and meaningful ways to address the diverse needs of our students!
2014 MOE Postgraduate Scholarship Awardees
I also wish to offer my heartiest congratulations to the three MOE Postgraduate Scholarship Award recipients who will be furthering their studies in special education, and no doubt bringing back with them a lot of new knowledge and ideas which can be applied to our day-to-day teaching and learning.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to express my sincere gratitude towards all who have worked alongside our Special Education Branch in MOE to make today’s conference possible. It requires the continued dedication of VWO leaders, members of the School Management Committees, principals, and all school staff to make events like today’s possible.
Let us take another look at the picture we have assembled over the years. Right in the middle is our SPED journey, and supporting it are our initiatives in terms of improving the affordability, the accessibility, and the quality of special education. We do this to ensure that our students are future-ready, and this is a particularly exciting part of our work.
This picture is still very much a work in progress, and we will work together with all of our SPED schools and educators to keep adding to this picture over the years and to make sure to do whatever we can to ensure that our students are in very good position to lead dignified and fulfilling lives.
We have built a momentum of continuous improvements, and we are committed to sustaining this journey towards excellence. We want to continue to leverage on strong partnerships with our VWOs, families, and community to deliver quality special education, providing hope and opportunities to all our students.
It is my great privilege to stand with all of you united on this front. Let us continue this important work together to embrace new possibilities and future challenges. Thank you.