Primary schools in Australia
In Australia, all children aged 6 years and over have to go to school.
School options for children with disability include:
- mainstream government schools
- mainstream private schools
- specialist government and private schools
- distance education
- community schools
- dual enrolment.
You can decide which option you think is best for your child and your family.
No matter what school your child attends, your child has a right to the same educational opportunities as all other children. In Australia, educational rights are protected by the Disability Standards for Education in the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The Standards also say how education providers, like schools and universities, must support these students.
Mainstream government schools for children with disability
All Australian children have the right to go to government schools. Government schools are also called public or state schools.
Many children with disability go to their local mainstream government primary schools.
In many schools children with disability are in classes with typically developing children.
In other schools children with disability have some lessons together as a group, and go to other lessons with their regular class group.
Some mainstream government primary schools have specialist programs for children with disability. These programs have their own staff, learning areas and facilities.
The curriculum in mainstream schools must be based on the Australian curriculum, but it can be adjusted to suit children’s needs.
Most government schools have enrolment zones. This means that for your child to be able to enrol, your family must live within a certain area around the school. Out-of-zone enrolments are sometimes possible.
Mainstream private schools for children with disability
Private schools include independent and Catholic schools. They have their own ways of supporting children with disability while still meeting the standards of the Australian curriculum.
If you’d like your child to go to an independent or Catholic school, keep in mind that it might have a waiting list and that you’ll need to pay fees.
Specialist government and private schools for children with disability
There are specialist schools for children with disability, including children with intellectual disability, physical disability, deafness, vision impairment and autism. Most of these schools are government schools, but there are also specialist schools in the independent and Catholic systems.
To enrol in a specialist school, your child must meet the school’s eligibility criteria. This means there are some rules that your child’s disability must fit in with.
Some specialist schools also have enrolment zones. This means that for your child to be able to enrol, your family must live within a certain area around the school.
Class sizes at specialist schools are usually smaller than at mainstream schools.
Some of these schools have specialists like speech pathologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists on the staff.
If your child has multiple disabilities, your child might be eligible to go to several specialist schools. You can talk about this with the professionals who work with your child and with staff at the schools that interest you.
Home-schooling for children with disability
By law, you’re allowed to home-school your child.
Home-schooling can give your child an environment and curriculum that meets their academic or behaviour needs. Home-schooling can also give you the flexibility to work around your child’s medical, personal care or other needs.
If you choose home-schooling, you take on responsibility for educating your child. You’ll need to register with your state or territory education department.
Distance education for children with disability
Distance education programs are designed for children who can’t go to school or take part in regular classes. This might be because they have a chronic condition, live remotely, can’t travel to school, or find school difficult.
Teachers often do distance education classes online, but they can also send printed material and visual aids to your child.
There are rules that say who’s allowed to enrol in a distance education program.
Community schools for children with disability
There are government community schools for families who want something different from mainstream schooling. These are usually small schools that cater for students who have particular types of social or behaviour support needs.
Dual enrolment for children with disability
In some states children can split their weeks between different types of schools. For example, they might spend part of the week at a government specialist school and part of the week at a mainstream school or home-schooling. This is known as dual enrolment.
Some parents choose dual enrolment so that their child can benefit from the range of experiences and resources that different types of schools offer.
Dual enrolment works best if your family and the two schools all work together. Ideally people from both schools should go to any meetings about your child, agree on goals and strategies, and communicate openly.
If you’re interested in dual enrolment, here are some things to think about:
- Will your child and family be able to settle into this routine?
- Will your child be able to have daily access to any equipment they need?
- Can the school or schools support the arrangement?
- Can you communicate effectively with the school or schools?
- Can the schools communicate and work well with each other, if your child is going to more than one school?
- Can the school or schools put together a suitable timetable for your child?
For more information about schools, you could contact your state or territory education department or Catholic or independent school association.