School Based Research Project in Central West NSW Measuring Effectiveness of OTs

Skillset Senior College is an independent senior school for students in Years 10-12, with campuses in Bathurst and Dubbo. Their mission is to partner with young people who may be experiencing barriers to their education; including mental health issues, bullying, homelessness, trauma, substance use, disability and family instability, and to support them to complete their secondary schooling.

Abbey Barrett, Head of College says “Through our approach of promoting ‘engagement through relationship’ in a small school environment, we have successfully transformed the school experience for a growing number of young people across the Central West. Our dedicated and passionate team of staff take a strengths-based, solution-focussed approach to education, and the results speak volumes. Many of our students are the first in their family to attain a school qualification, and students themselves will often tell us that they didn’t realise how highly they could achieve until they found the support of Skillset Senior College. In attaining a RoSA (Year 10) or HSC (Year 12), our students gain significant traction on the pathway to employment or further education.

In the words of our students:

“Skillset Senior College helps every single individual no matter who or what they are… our school is more like family.”

The school is conducting research to support their approach, and is dedicated to becoming a leader in the field through:

  • developing strategies to promote student and staff wellbeing
  • partnering with other evidence-based approaches
  • communicating our approach to other educational organisations
  • establishing a pioneering research lab within the school – The Skillset Senior College Research Institute

Why Occupational Therapy?

In August 2019, Skillset Senior College were awarded $100,000 from the AISNSW to conduct a School Based Research Project.

Dr Martin Hughes Head of Research & Development says " Occupational Therapy is a powerful tool that allows students to engage in the classroom and should not be exclusionary. One obvious barrier to OT in a school setting is cost, at Skillset Senior College we decided to have a qualified OT come to our school and deliver Professional Development for our staff. This was immensely useful and allowed staff to try out techniques learned straight away in the classroom. We have found in our preliminary pilot studies that OT can help students across the entire school, not just those who have been identified as requiring additional support. We have trialled simple low impact exercises to activate the core, given students access to weighted blankets and presented lessons on the central nervous systems explaining how the human body works in different ways and how this is important for studying and focusing in class."

"In this study we aim to provide quantitative and qualitative data that demonstrates the effectiveness of OT in a school-wide environment. We will do this by teaching students how to regulate their own heartbeat through breathing techniques every day over 4-week period. In addition to these students will be given additional lessons on sensory integration focussing on the following senses vestibular, proprioception, tactile and auditory. In these classes students will have access to OT equipment and will be able to take these into their classrooms."

"We will collect quantitative data in the form of salivary cortisol before and after the 4-week period and qualitative data in the form of self-report questionnaires on anxiety, depression and wellbeing."

"We believe the results will show OT can benefit many students and that different OT strategies and equipment can be deployed within a whole school setting. We hope our results will help add to the literature which demonstrates the importance of OT in educational settings."

The study begins in early 2020 and is expected to take two years.

Dr Martin Hughes can be contacted at E:

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