Secondary school options for children with disability
There are different secondary school options in Australia. They include:
- government schools, also called public or state schools
- private schools, which include Catholic schools and independent schools
- home-schooling and distance learning.
There are also some specialist schools that cater specifically for children and teenagers with additional needs like intellectual disability, physical disability, deafness and vision impairment. These schools might be government schools or private schools.
These schools often have specialists like speech pathologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists on the staff. They also usually have accessible environments and curriculums.
To enrol in a specialist school, your child must meet the school’s eligibility criteria. Some schools also have enrolment zones. This means your family must live within a certain area for your child to go to that school.
All children have the right to a place in their designated government secondary school. The Disability Standards for Education in the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 set out the rights of students with disability. The Standards say how education providers, like schools, must support these students.
When to start thinking about secondary school options
It’s a good idea to start thinking about secondary schools when your child is in Year 5.
You can gather information about schools you’re interested in from their websites, other parents and your child’s primary school teacher.
Many schools hold open days, information evenings and tours in April or May each year. Going along to school information evenings or open days will give you a general feel for schools and some idea of their facilities. These are also good opportunities to meet the principal, year coordinator and special education coordinator.
You can also make private appointments at any time to visit schools and talk to key staff about support programs and policies.
By the end of Year 5, you could aim to have a short list of schools. And when your child is in Year 6, visit the schools on your short list and listen to your child’s feedback.
Note that different schools have different application and enrolment timelines, so it’s important to check when paperwork is due.
It’s good to involve your child in making decisions about big issues like secondary schools. Involving your child will help you choose an option that both you and your child are comfortable with.
Things to consider when choosing secondary schools for children with disability
When you’re choosing a secondary school for your child, many of the things you need to think about are the same for all children. They include:
- school facilities
- your child’s strengths and interests
- your child’s preferences
- your family’s broader needs.
In addition, it’s a good idea to find out about the resources and programs that schools can offer to support your child’s specific needs in relation to learning, social relationships, independence, wellbeing and so on.
Our school selection checklist and school choices guide take you through the key things to consider when you’re choosing secondary schools.
Finding out about secondary school support for children with disability
Here are some questions that can help you get a feel for how schools might include and support your child.
- How do you communicate with parents?
- How do teaching staff share information with each other?
- How does the school engage parents and students in decision-making and planning?
Complex care needs
- Who would manage my child’s medical or personal care needs?
- How many staff would be trained in managing my child’s needs? Will there always be someone available?
- How would my child be included on school excursions, camps and other co-curricular activities like student council and school clubs?
- What resources and facilities are available for students with disability? For example, is there a supervised room open at lunch time for children to have some quiet time?
- How would my child with mobility needs be included in physical education lessons?
- What does the school do to help build social connections among students?
- How many children with disability does the school have? What types of additional needs do they have?
- What adjustments can you make to the curriculum to accommodate my child’s needs?
- What vocational education and training do you provide?
- How would you adjust things so that all areas of the school are accessible for my child?
- What support is available to help my child move between classrooms?
- How long will the adjustments take?
- How does the school monitor students leaving the school grounds at the end of the day? For example, do teachers supervise students at the school gates or students getting on to school or public buses?
- What policies does the school have to support students with disability?
- What does the school expect from students with disability? For example, what is the school attendance policy for students with disability?
- What’s the school’s bullying policy, and how is it enforced?
- What’s the school’s policy for allowing external professionals like therapists and clinicians to advise staff and/or participate in programs?
Schools might not have all the answers to start with. But schools should be able to find ways to include your child in all activities, including extracurricular activities like camps and excursions.
The school you choose should meet the needs of your child and your family and be committed to educating children with disability. If your circumstances change over time, you can explore other school options.