Whether they attend mainstream or special schools, children with disability have the same education rights as all other children. In Australia, the right to educational opportunities is protected by law.
Education rights at mainstream schools
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, it’s a good idea to contact the school well before the enrolment date.
You’ll need to discuss how the school can support your child, and you might need to complete application forms for additional support. You might also need to provide medical or therapist reports about your child’s disability. The school will use this information to make an assessment about the services your child will need to function well at 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, also have policies and programs to support children with disability. You can contact these schools directly to find out about their programs.
Meeting with schools
When you’re talking to schools you’re considering for your child, it’s a good idea to discuss:
- 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.
At the end of the discussion, ask the school to send you a written summary 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 for getting this information from the school.
Special schools generally have accessible environments and curriculums for their students. Some special schools have programs and services that aren’t available in mainstream schools. These programs and services might suit your child’s needs best.
Special schools have eligibility criteria that your child must meet before enrolling. Contact the special schools you’re interested in for more information.
Disability Standards for Eduction 2005
The Disability Standards for Eduction 2005 are part of the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992. These Standards 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 Disability Standards for Eduction?
The 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 Disability Standards for Education?
The 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 obligations do education providers have?
The Disability Standards for Education say that education providers must consult, make reasonable adjustments
and get rid of harassment and victimisation.
An ‘adjustment’ is something the provider does to make sure a student with disability has the same opportunities as other students to take part in the provider’s programs. ‘Reasonable’ adjustments balance everyone’s needs – the student with disability, other students, staff and the education provider.
If an education provider can show that making an adjustment is unjustifiably hard, it’s not against the law for the education provider not to make that adjustment.
When do the Disability Standards for Education apply?
The Standards cover the entire time that a person goes to the school or education or training course – from the time she applies to enrol right up to the time she finishes.
The Standards say it’s against the law to discriminate against someone 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.
Discrimination in education
The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act says it’s against the law for education providers to discriminate against students 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. You could get more advice or get an advocate to support you.
If an education provider doesn’t carry out its obligations to a person with disability in line with the Disability Standards for Education, that person (or someone on his behalf) can make a formal complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
More information about the Disability Standards for Education