Starting secondary school: what to expect for children with disability
Starting secondary school is a big change for children, and all children need support for this change.
The way you prepare your child with disability for secondary school will depend on your child’s particular needs. But there are strategies that will help many children with disability make the transition. These strategies include:
- transition plans
- student support groups
- individual learning plans.
Transition plans for children with disability starting secondary school
A transition plan for secondary school is a tool for sharing information about your child with secondary school staff. This information helps staff understand your child’s abilities, disability or condition, and learning and other needs.
Transition plans can include:
- a profile of your child, including health, medical and therapy reports, and your child’s current medical and therapy needs
- school reports, including your child’s learning preferences, strengths and challenges
- school-based supports and adjustments to help your child cope and be included
- key dates, like orientation days or student support group meeting dates
- practical strategies to help your child cope with this transition
- timelines for each step of the transition process
- processes for sharing information about your child among secondary school staff.
It’s a good idea to put together the transition plan when your child is in Year 6. It’ll be most useful for the secondary school if you and the primary school staff develop it together. For example, you can supply the medical reports and diagnostic assessments, and school staff can describe your child’s learning and classroom needs.
Student support groups for children with disability starting secondary school
A student support group (SSG) is a partnership between you and school staff. It can also include therapists or medical professionals who work with your child. The idea is to ensure coordinated support for your child’s educational needs.
It’s a good idea to ask your child’s primary school to convene an SSG meeting with the secondary school support teacher or other staff before your child is due to start secondary school.
This will enable the secondary school to plan for things like staff training, medication storage, medical emergencies, movements between classes, absences from school, the Year 7 school camp and so on.
It’s also a chance for you to find out how you and school staff will work together once your child starts secondary school. For example, at secondary school, your child will probably work with many teachers. You can ask how all these teachers will know about and contribute to your child’s individual learning plan and care needs.
Individual learning plans for children with disability starting secondary school
Your child’s SSG will work with you to develop an individual learning plan for your child. This plan outlines learning goals for your child for the coming year and explains how the school will help your child achieve these goals.
Note that individual learning plans and SSGs are called different things in different states and territories.
Practical preparations for children with disability starting secondary school
Your child’s secondary school is likely to organise an orientation day for all students. It’s important that your child goes along to this orientation. You can also ask for additional orientation visits for your child and arrange to meet key staff. This can help your child feel more comfortable with the surroundings and teachers.
Together with your child, think about any other strategies that might help your child to prepare, like practising the transport route, learning to use a locker combination lock, or getting to know the school timetable and classroom locations.
It can also help to ask whether your child can visit the school for a short time the day before other Year 7 students start. Your child can bring books, find their locker, see where the toilets are, and meet the year coordinator or special education coordinator.
Talking with children with disability about starting secondary school
It’s natural for you and your child to have mixed emotions about your child starting secondary school.
In the weeks and days before starting, it can help to talk with your child about what they’re looking forward to and what they’re worried about. Actively listen when your child shares their feelings and worries about secondary school. You can reassure your child that it’s OK to have mixed or negative feelings.
It’s also a good idea to talk with your child about how much information they want to share about their disability or condition with peers. For example, do they want to share this information with all their classmates at the start of the year, tell friends individually, or keep it private?
Early weeks at secondary school: children with disability
It’s a good idea to ask for an SSG meeting in term 1 of Year 7 to check how your child is settling in.
The SSG can recommend a staff member you can talk to about your child’s progress after the early weeks. This person might be your child’s home-room teacher, the year coordinator or the special education coordinator.
You’ll probably be less involved in your child’s day-to-day life at secondary school, but the SSG and your contact person can help you get to know the school and the staff who are working with your child. Going to school information evenings and parent-teacher interviews can also help.
By getting to know staff and going to school events, you’re building a relationship with your child’s school. This relationship will help your child get the most out of school.