School support for children with disability: why it’s important
All children have the right to learn and develop in their school communities. School support ensures that children with disability have the same opportunities to do this as all other students.
The Disability Standards for Education in the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 say that schools must make reasonable adjustments to give children with disability these opportunities. Schools can get funding for adjustments like building ramps, adapting teaching methods, training staff, or developing learning and support plans for individual students.
It’s important to work closely with your child’s school to decide on supports and adjustments for your child. You could also consider working with a disability advocate, who can support you and your child through the transition process.
Learning support at school for children with disability
Here’s a guide to the learning support your child with disability might be able to get at school.
Student support group
A student support group (SSG) is a cooperative partnership between you, school representatives and professionals who work with your child. If your child is older, they might be included as part of the SSG too.
The aim of an SSG is to make sure everyone works together to support your child’s learning goals and needs. The group should meet regularly (about once a term) to plan, put into action, review and adjust your child’s individual learning plan and the support your child needs.
Note that SSGs are called different things in different states and territories. For example, they might be called student support teams or individual education planning teams.
It can help to take a support person or a disability advocate 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.
Individual learning plan
An individual learning plan is a document that sets out:
- your child’s existing skills, strengths, interests and motivations
- your child’s learning needs
- specific, measurable learning goals for your child
- any adjustments or curriculum modifications that your child needs
- strategies and resources to develop your child’s skills, meet your child’s needs, help your child reach their goals, and support your child’s wellbeing.
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.
Your child’s SSG will develop your child’s individual learning plan.
Note that individual learning plans are called different things in different states and territories.
Other support plans
Your child might have other needs. These might include:
- medical needs – for example, tracheostomy care, tube feeding or medications
- personal care needs – for example, help with toileting or help at mealtimes
- other needs – for example, behaviour support needs or help with social interaction.
The school should develop plans for managing these needs. The plans should be clear about what needs to be done, when, by whom and where. Very importantly, it should also make sure that your child’s needs are managed in a safe, dignified and respectful way.
Integration or teacher aides
Integration or teacher aides are school staff who support students with additional needs. They work under the direction of the classroom teacher and do things like:
- supporting your child with classwork, including reading, writing, maths, art or sport
- helping with personal care
- supervising your child if there are safety concerns
- going to therapy sessions with your child so that therapy can be used in the classroom – for example, your child’s aide might learn how to use aids, equipment or speech therapy techniques
- preparing teaching materials like social stories.
An aide can work with your child individually or in a group. The aide can also work with other children in the class when the teacher is working with your child.
Not all children with disability need an aide. It will depend on your child’s individual circumstances, needs and goals.
Non-teaching professionals might visit the school or be employed by the school to work with your child. These professionals might include psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
Home-based education support for your child
Most children with disability can go to school. But sometimes the severity of a child’s disability or the changing nature of the child’s health means they can’t go to school or they have long periods away from school.
Some states and territories have home-based education support programs for children with severe disabilities for the times when they can’t get to school.
If your child is eligible, you and the school can work together to develop a program that suits your child’s needs.
All schools need to have a written policy of inclusion, which shows that difference is valued and accepted and that there are high expectations of all students, including those with disability.
Practical support at school for children with disability
Many schools are accessible by local bus routes, or have a relationship with a bus company that serves their area.
In some states and territories special school transport can be arranged for children with disability if other transport options aren’t appropriate.
Many specialist schools have bus or taxi services that your child might be able to use.
In most states and territories the government has a school bus network to supply free bus transport to students living in regional areas. Some independent and Catholic schools have bus services for all students.
Your child might also be able to get a travel allowance from your state or territory education department.
Outside of school hours care
Outside of school hours (OOSH) care programs can get support and funding through the Australian Government’s Inclusion Support Program to help with creating an inclusive environment for children with disability. This funding can cover extra staff, resources, training or equipment.
Your state or territory education department or Catholic or independent school association can give you more information about school support and funding for your child.
Funding for children with disability at school
Schools get funding for children with disability through a program called the National Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD).
Schools have to apply for funding each year. To get funding, schools need to provide data about the adjustments they make so children with disability can fully participate in school.
Your child might have an NDIS plan that includes funding for services, support and equipment outside school. This funding can’t be used to fund support at school except to address mobility, feeding or personal care needs under certain circumstances.