New Partnership Project seeking to develop a model of preventative healthcare for people with intellectual disability

The Minister today announced that our NHMRC Partnership Project led by Prof Julian Trolller on Developing a model of Preventative Healthcare for People with Intellectual Disability has been funded. It has an incredible team of Investigators and includes an impressive range of industry partners:

  • Agency for Clinical Innovation
  • Department of Health
  • Inclusion Australia
  • Aruma
  • Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care
  • Northcott
  • Down Syndrome Australia
  • Cancer Institute of New South Wales
  • NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission
  • Achieve Australia
  • Western Victoria Primary Health Networ
  • National Disability Services
  • NSW Ageing and Disability Commission
  • Central and Eastern Sydney Primary Health Network
  • Cancer Council
  • NSW Council for Intellectual Disability.

This project is exciting but I’m also conscious that it’s urgently needed because people with intellectual disabilities experience:

  • more than twice the rate of avoidable deaths
  • twice the rate of emergency department and hospital admissions
  • significantly lower rates of preventive healthcare, especially in primary health care.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more about this project in the coming years, but if you have ideas about relevant projects and activities I’d greatly appreciate hearing about them.

Teaching Heroes with Dr Joanna Winchester

It was such a delight to chat with Dr Joanna Winchester for her Teaching Heroes podcast.

We had a pretty wide-ranging discussion about health equity, how the COVID response could be exacerbating health inequities, vaccination for teachers, and how the return to classrooms might play out – including the role that HEPA filters might play.

We also briefly spoke about the early 20th-century movement for open-air schooling, and how some of these design ideas may make a comeback

Thanks Jo!

The letters in coloured circles problem: Student evaluation lets us improve, but only the things we can change

Five faces ranging from smiling to frowning, representing a scale

I found this post about student evaluations deeply affecting (CW: self-harm, general realness). The author’s experience resonated.

Every class, as we waited to start, I would ask my students (blue squares on the video conference screen) if they had any gossip. “I need something,” I said. “Any catfights? Anyone get really drunk and moon their neighbors? Anyone’s roommate cheat on their boyfriend? I am desperate here.”

Sometimes there would be a “no :(” in the chat.

Usually just silence.

Response to Student Evaluations, Sarah E. Smith

Online meetings and tutorials where nobody else turns on their screens have been the leitmotif of the past eighteen months. Online discussions that end up becoming discussions only between the teaching assistant and I, while some letters in coloured circles look on.

It’s not dehumanising exactly. It’s… nothing?

Why don’t they turn on their cameras? I don’t know. They might find it emotionally draining to meet via Zoom constantly. They might have a crappy internet connection. They might be doing other things. They might be self-conscious.

It’s not just students. Most meetings with staff are the same. A shared screen and a sea of letters in circles.

Connection seems to be missing. It’s not the medium, and it’s not solely the COVID pandemic. It’s something else.

Elaina Nguyen from Canada and fellow students from Australia, Hong Kong and Malaysia have argued that the values underpinning effective learning partnerships – respect, reciprocity, shared responsibility, authenticity, honesty, responsibility, inclusivity, reciprocity, empowerment, trust, courage, and plurality – all need to renegotiated not just for virtual environments, but also for our COVID world . They’re onto something.

Reading Sarah E. Smith’s post reminded me that some universities in Australia plan to publish subject evaluation metrics. There are proposals that students should be able to see aggregated subject evaluations, which are usually mean agreement scores with statements along the lines of “this subject enabled me to develop an understanding of the subject matter” or “this subject made me feel like part of a community”. Fair enough questions and useful information for teachers.

Student evaluation is unequivocally a good thing. It one of the main ways we can learn about what courses are like for students, and improve the way we teach.

The challenge is that often it’s not solely the teaching, the assessment activities or learning materials that students are evaluating.

Jenna Price captured the challenge at the heart of this in an article yesterday:

When students fill out those forms, they don’t answer the questions before them. La Trobe University lecturer Troy Heffernan has published widely on what students really mean when they rate subjects and the teachers who teach them. It’s about gender, race, accent. It’s also about institutional practices.

What goes wrong when uni students mark their teachers

Evaluation is only helpful if we’re able to act on the insights it offers. If students are using them to express dissatisfaction with student-to-teacher ratios, institutional policies, or have unacknowledged gender or racial biases , their usefulness evaporates. Similarly, evaluation scales become less useful for ongoing improvement if used as proxy metrics for poorly defined staff performance outcomes.

The way forward is clearly to develop more collaborative pedagogies based on students as partners , including co-creation of subjects and recognising students as consultants in that process.

At this time, what we need to improve as teachers probably isn’t captured through an agreement scale, valuable as that could be in the proper context. It’s solving the letters in coloured circles problem. It’s figuring out what’s really going on for the humans behind the circles.

I’d like to add one question to the student evaluation forms: why don’t they turn on their cameras?


Ntem, A., Nguyen, E., Rafferty, C., Kwan, C., & Benlahcene, A. (2020). Students as partners in crisis? Student co-editors’ perspectives on COVID-19, values, and the shift to virtual spaces. International Journal for Students as Partners, 4(2), 1–8.
Mercer-Mapstone, L., Dvorakova, S. L., Matthews, K. E., Abbot, S., Cheng, B., Felten, P., Knorr, K., Marquis, E., Shammas, R., & Swaim, K. (2017). A Systematic Literature Review of Students as Partners in Higher Education. International Journal for Students as Partners, 1(1).
Heffernan, T. (2021). Sexism, racism, prejudice, and bias: a literature review and synthesis of research surrounding student evaluations of courses and teaching. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 0(0), 1–11.

As schools open up, could HEPA air filters play a role in making them safer?

Associate Professor Donna Green and I had a chance to speak with Cassie McCullagh on ABC Radio Sydney’s Focus about high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in schools, based on our earlier piece at The Conversation.

Cassie McCullagh – HEPA filters in schools – 1 September 2021 Download MP3

Interestingly, I noted that a US academic has also written for The Conversation US about HEPA filters in schools, and sums up some of the equity considerations and limitations quite well:

In-room HEPA filtration is a long-term investment that supplements existing ventilation systems. And though COVID-19 was the impetus for the installation of many HEPA filters, they are effective for far more than just reducing exposures to airborne viruses. Well-maintained and properly functioning filtration systems also reduce exposure to wildfire ash that can penetrate buildings, as well as allergens and other unwanted particles like automobile exhaust, tire detritus and construction dust. 

But even the best indoor HEPA filtration cannot guarantee protection from airborne respiratory threats in schools. HEPA filters are effective only as part of an integrated approach. Ultimately, masks, distancing and reducing the number of students packed into tight spaces will determine how well students are protected from COVID-19.

COVID-19 has spurred investments in air filtration for K-12 schools – but these technologies aren’t an instant fix

The end of cigarettes?

There’s a very interesting letter in the MJA, describing a survey undertaken by the Cancer Council Victoria. They asked 2,774 people if they’d favour phasing out cigarette sales. They found support for phasing out sales of cigarettes in retail outlets from:

  • 52.8% of all respondents
  • 31.7% of smokers participating
  • 53.8% of respondents under 30
  • 53.4% of respondents over 50 .

It’s important to note that while more than half the respondents might be receptive to phasing out cigarette sales, this might actually be lower than it was twelve years ago .


Hayes, L., Wakefield, M. A., & Scollo, M. M. (2014). Public opinion about ending the sale of tobacco in Australia. Tobacco Control, 23(2), 183–184.
Brennan, E., Durkin, S., Scollo, M. M., Swanson, M., & Wakefield, M. (2021). Public support for phasing out the sale of cigarettes in Australia. Medical Journal of Australia, Online first.

Twelve sounds better than 2.3 million

In the discussion about the twelve NSW local government “areas of concern” that are under tighter restrictions, I’ve noticed that the number of people affected is never mentioned. So I looked it up and there are more than 2.3 million people living in the twelve LGAs (table below).

About 1 in 10 people in Australia live in a NSW Local Government Areas of Concern, which means they’re under curfew and need permits to leave their LGAs

Local Government2019 population estimate
Bayside 170,089
Blacktown 357,479
Burwood 39,310
Campbelltown 164,508
Canterbury-Bankstown 368,045
Cumberland 231,443
Fairfield 208,468
Georges River 156,293
Liverpool 217,586
Parramatta 243,276
Strathfield 43,803
Penrith suburbs of Caddens, Claremont Meadows, Colyton, Erskine Park, Kemps Creek, Kingswood, Mount Vernon, North St Marys, Orchard Hills, Oxley Park, St Clair, St Marys~100,000
TOTAL 2,300,300

Promoting the Get Healthy information and coaching service in Australian-Chinese communities: facilitators and barriers

My colleagues Dr Cathy O’Callaghan, An Tran, Nancy Tam, A/Prof Li Ming Wen and I published an article on a pilot telephone health coaching program for Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking communities, which uses bilingual coaches and translated materials. The study found that:

The bilingual program was culturally and linguistically appropriate and addressed risk factors for chronic conditions. Participants formed positive relationships with bilingual coaches who they preferred to interpreters. They felt the program promoted healthy eating, weight and physical activity. Although Chinese stakeholders had concerns about participants’ ability to goal set, participants said they met their health goals and were committed to the GHS program. Strategies to enhance the program included promoting the bilingual GHS to the communities and stakeholders. Factors to consider beyond language in adapting the program to the Australian Chinese communities include meeting the heterogenous needs of the older population, ensuring community engagement and addressing cultural beliefs and practices.

The aspects of the study that I found interesting were that:

  • translation alone definitely isn’t enough to make a program culturally appropriate and relevant (which we knew but was good to have confirmed)
  • there were a broad range of health beliefs, priorities and attitudes amongst participants, highlighting that even within a relatively narrowly defined population such as this pilot, there is considerable diversity
  • bilingual staff were clearly preferred to interpreters. 

These points are all relevant to other bilingual and culturally targeted health programs. If you have any trouble accessing the article please let me know.


O’Callaghan, C., Tran, A., Tam, N., Wen, L. M., & Harris-Roxas, B. (2021). Promoting the get healthy information and coaching service (GHS) in Australian-Chinese communities: facilitators and barriers. Health Promotion International, daab129.

Chasing vaccine records

I was quoted in yesterday’s Herald in a piece about people whose COVID vaccination records have gone missing. I’ve been whingeing about this to anyone who’ll listen for the past few months. For a while, it seemed like the easiest thing would be to get another vacination. It’s good to hear that I’m not alone.

The issue seems to have been that the Immunisation Register doesn’t like hyphens or apostrophes in people’s names (seriously). Even if this only affects one percent of people, that’s 60,000 in NSW alone.

Anyway, the story was tweeted by Bill Shorten, which is a pretty good sign I’ve made a mistake by complaining about it.

I’ve made a terrible mistake.