Whether they attend mainstream or special schools, children with disability have a right to the same educational opportunities as all other children. In Australia, this right is protected by law.
All children over six have to go to school. Families of children with disability can choose where their child goes – the local government school, a special school or separate classes (if available).
If you’re thinking of enrolling your child at the local government school, you need to contact the school well before the enrolment date. You’ll need to give the school documented evidence about your child’s disability, such as information from your doctor or a specialist who was involved in your child’s diagnosis. The school will use this information to make an assessment about the services your child might need to function well in school.
Services and resources might include:
- teacher aides
- special equipment to improve physical access
- occupational therapy or speech pathology services.
Non-government schools, such as private schools and Catholic schools, help children with disability through policies and programs like those used in government schools. You can contact these schools directly to find out about their programs.
Talking with schools
When you’re talking to schools you’re considering for your child, it’s a good idea to talk about:
- your child’s strengths and abilities
- your child’s needs, and any challenges or barriers he might face at school
- adjustments the school could make to deal with these challenges and barriers
- whether these adjustments are reasonable.
At the end of the discussion, ask the school to send you in writing an outline of what you’ve talked about and what decisions were made, including whether the school can make any of the adjustments you discussed. It will also help to make a specific date that you expect to get this information from the school.
It’s not always possible for children with disability to attend mainstream schools – it might be too hard for some mainstream schools to make the necessary adjustments for students with particular disabilities, or a special school might be better suited to your child’s needs.
Disability Discrimination Act – Education Standards
The Education Standards in the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 set out the rights of students with disability and how education providers, such as schools and universities, must help students with disability.
The main aim of the Education Standards is to give students with disability the same educational opportunities and choices as all other students.
Who is protected under the Education Standards?
The Education Standards protect any person with disability who is enrolled in, has been enrolled in, or who has approached an education provider about enrolling in, a preschool, school, college, university, TAFE or any other organisation that educates people.
Who has obligations under the Education Standards?
The Education Standards cover the following education providers:
- preschools and kindergartens (but not child care centres)
- public and private schools
- public education and training places, such as TAFE
- private education and training places, such as private business colleges
- organisations that prepare or run training and education programs.
What are the obligations?
The Standards say that education providers must consult, make reasonable adjustments
and get rid of harassment and victimisation.
But it’s not unlawful for a school to discriminate against a child who needs special services or facilities if providing these would impose an unreasonable hardship on the school.
When do the Education Standards apply?
The Education Standards cover the entire time that a person attends the school or education or training course – from the time she applies to enrol right up to the time she finishes.
The Standards make it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of disability at any of the following times:
- when an education provider is deciding what will be taught in a course
- when a person is enrolling in school or a course
- while a person is taking part in school or a course
- if a person needs support services to take part in school or a course
- when a person finishes school or a course
- if a person is suspended or expelled from school or a course
- if a person is harassed or victimised while taking part in school or a course.
The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act stops mainstream schools from discriminating against children with disability. If a school suggests it might be better for your child to go somewhere else, the main thing is to negotiate what would be best for your child.
If an education provider does not carry out its obligations to a person with disability in line with the Education Standards, that person (or someone on his behalf) can make a formal complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
More information about the Education Standards