Starting school: planning a successful transition

Once you’ve chosen a primary school for your child with disability, it’s time to enrol and start preparing for your child to start.

There are quite a few things to organise before your child starts school. This planning guide can help you keep track of what you need to do. You’ll also need to ask your child’s new school about any important deadlines, like submission dates for funding applications or enrolment.

Term 1 in the year before starting school

Decide which school you’d like your child to go to, and let the school know.

For most mainstream government schools, you can enrol at any time in the year before your child is due to start. Enrolling as soon as possible will give you and the school time for planning, applying for funding and so on.

If you’ve chosen a specialist school, you need to make sure your child fits in with the school’s enrolment criteria. To enrol, you need relevant documentation from your child’s specialists and a cognitive assessment if your child has an intellectual disability.

If you’re enrolling your child at a mainstream and specialist school, you need to do the enrolment procedures for both schools. This is called dual enrolment, and it’s possible in only some states and territories.

Catholic and independent schools have their own enrolment timelines. You might be able to enrol straight away or you might have to wait until the school finalises its enrolment offers. Talk with the school about how you can start planning while you’re waiting to be offered a place.

Applying for support
Ask the school for information about applying for school support and funding for your child.

Making back-up plans
It’s a good idea to have a second choice of school in case you don’t get your first choice.

Discuss building modifications
It’s a good idea to start talking to the school about building modifications as soon as possible. This gives the school time to follow up with your state or territory education department. Later, your child’s student support group (SSG) will discuss the building modifications with the school.

Term 2 in the year before starting school

Gather all the medical or specialist reports that you need for funding applications. If your child needs a cognitive assessment, the school should be able to help you organise one.

Term 3 in the year before starting school

Meet with the school to finalise your applications for disability learning and education support. You need to check specific deadlines with your child’s school.

Term 4 in the year before starting school

Develop a transition plan
It’s a good idea to meet with school staff to develop a transition plan for your child. The meeting might also include your child’s kindergarten teacher and early childhood intervention service staff.

You and school staff could think about:

  • developing an extended orientation program to help your child get to know the school – this would be on top of the orientation program most schools run for children enrolled for the following year
  • getting your child to meet teachers and support staff before school starts
  • visiting the school a few days before the start of term so your child can spend time in the playground and look around the school. He might also be able to visit his classroom, sort out where he’s going to sit, see where his bag will go and so on
  • making a photo album with pictures of the school, your child’s classroom and teachers.

Develop an individual learning plan
An individual learning plan is a document that sets out:

  • your child’s existing skills
  • your child’s learning needs and specific goals expressed in a way that allows progress to be accurately measured – for example, ‘Jo will be able to use full stops accurately’
  • any adjustments or curriculum modifications your child needs
  • personalised strategies and resources to develop your child’s skills and goals
  • targeted strategies to develop your child’s resilience and, if necessary, social skills.

The plan should talk about the learning areas in which your child needs extra support. It might also include information from professionals who work with your child. It should ensure that all teachers are aware of your child’s specific strengths and difficulties so that there are both realistic and high expectations of your child’s progress. Note that plans are called different things in different states and territories.

Your child’s student support group (SSG) will develop her individual learning plan. The SSG is made up of you, representatives from your child’s new school and professionals who work with your child. It should meet regularly (about once a term) to plan, implement, monitor, review, evaluate and adjust your child’s individual learning plan and the support your child needs.

Develop other support plans
If your child needs behaviour support, or has complex medical or personal care needs, this is a good time to develop these plans.

Organise education supports
Talk with your child’s SSG about how to make the best use of any funding your child has been allocated. For example, the funding could be used to pay for therapies, an integration aide, IT support or staff training.

Look at car parking
If you need accessible parking, the school might be able to give you a special space in its car park. Otherwise, the school might need to speak to the local council.

Organise orientation visits
Go along to the transition sessions that the school is running, as well as any extended orientation activities that have been arranged for your child.

It can help to take a friend or another person to SSG meetings. It can be very reassuring to have a second pair of ears, someone to take notes or remind you of things you want to cover, or just someone for extra support.

First few weeks after starting school

It’s natural for you and your child to feel excited and perhaps a little anxious during the first few days of school, just like everyone else.

To help with first-day and first-week nerves, depending on your child’s disability, he might find it useful to have:

  • a visual timetable
  • Social Stories™ about starting school
  • occupational therapy to build independence with shoes, clothing, lunch boxes, school bags and so on
  • a buddy to support him at school
  • a help card as a visual reminder to ask an adult for help when he needs it.

Check regularly with your child’s teacher or other relevant school staff about how your child’s day went and to see whether they have any questions about your child’s support or educational needs.

There are more tips for helping your child settle into school in our articles on starting school and school practicalities.

Settling in at school and doing well

When you communicate, get involved and share information with the school and the wider school community, you and your child can get the most out of the school experience.

Communicating with the school
Good communication and a good relationship with your child’s school can help your child get the most out of school.

It’s a good idea to talk with your child’s teacher about the easiest way for you both to keep in touch regularly. It might be by phone, email or quick catch-ups after school. A communication book in your child’s bag can also work well. Both you and your child’s teacher can use it to check up on tasks, activities or events at school or home.

It’s OK for you to raise any concerns you have with the school and then work together to focus on solutions.

Getting involved with the school
Your family can get involved in the school community in lots of ways.

Many schools have a social event at the start of the year to welcome new families. You might also want to get involved with reading groups in the classroom, canteen, working bees, the school council or the parents and citizens association.

Sharing information about your child
As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. By sharing information and knowledge about your child with the school, you can become a partner in your child’s education.

It can help if the school community understands that your child has interests, likes and dislikes, and will progress and achieve, just like every other child.

Some families choose to write an open letter to other families, briefly explaining their child’s disability. Not everyone is comfortable with this approach. Other families don’t want the school community to know their child has a disability. Your child’s school should respect your choice and work with you.

It’s a good idea to talk with your child’s SSG about ways to share information that might help others understand your situation while keeping a level of confidentiality and privacy that you’re comfortable with.

Your belief that your child will learn and progress at school will build your child’s resilience and expectation of success. It can inspire others to have the same confidence.