There are many mainstream Catholic schools, as well as some specialist schools and programs.
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Mainstream Catholic schools are inclusive of all children and young people, including those with a disability. They are provided for Catholic families, but are also open to non-Catholics.
There are a few Catholic specialist schools and programs, including for Deaf and hearing impaired students, students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and students experiencing social, emotional or behavioural challenges (see below). Some provide long-term schooling and some provide placements for children needing a break and additional support before returning to their usual school. There are also a number of ‘flexible learning’ education centres for children and young people who have dropped out of school (‘disengaged’) or are at risk of doing so.
Families might choose a Catholic school because they like its culture, philosophy or educational approach, its approach to students with a disability, its particular programs, curriculum or resources, or because they prefer a single-sex school environment for their child.
“I didn’t really know what school to pick for Charlie, because I didn’t know initially if he was intellectually impaired or not. I got a lot of support from kindergarten teachers and experts, to help me pick the right school. And I really listened to the people I trusted on that, rather than throw him into a school where he was out of his depth.I had a friend who had a child with a mild disability. And she was really well supported at the [local Catholic] school. And when I was at the school, I met some children who were a bit further down the track, who also had disabilities. And they were really happy, so that was a good sign.
One of the reasons I chose the school was because I had friends at the school. School friends, school parents are a big part of our social life, and that’s really important to our family. And when there has been issues with him socially, I’ve been able to ring up a friend, instead of ringing the school, and deal with it that way. Some weeks Charlie will just want to play by himself, and he doesn’t quite know how to break into social interactions again with other children. I just pick up the phone and ring a friend, and then they tend to include him again.” – Janet
Fees and funding
Catholic schools receive government funding, and also charge student fees. Fees vary from a level comparable with voluntary parent contributions at government schools for many smaller Catholic schools, to much higher fees at other schools. Many schools have fee structures and bursaries to support enrolment by students from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.
The Commonwealth and Victorian governments also fund Catholic schools to give additional support to students with a disability. This includes targeted funding through the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs (Students with Disabilities) program, which is broadly equivalent to – but funded by the government at a lower level than – the PSD in government schools. This program is administered by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria.
By law, enrolment of students with a disability must be ‘on the same basis’ as other students – so school fees must not be higher for students with disabilities. Nor can the cost of ‘reasonable adjustments’ be passed on to families in any school. For more information, see Education and your child’s rights.
- Find out more about support in Catholic schools in A guide to supports for students.
Enrolment and eligibility
Catholic schools set their own selection criteria and procedures, informed by the policies of their local diocese – although all schools must comply with the Disability Standards for Education and other anti-discrimination legislation, which give students and prospective students with a disability the same right to education and training opportunities on the same basis as students without a disability. Legally, no school can refuse your child a place solely because they have a disability, or because they are ineligible for additional targeted funding.
Catholic schools have catchments based on parishes, similar to government school zones. Children from a parish are given priority for enrolment in one or more schools. You can also apply to Catholic schools for which your parish does not have priority. Talk to the school you are interested in about their enrolment policy. Living in a school’s priority parish does not guarantee your child a place. This also depends on the school’s enrolment policy and student numbers. Contact individual schools to find out more.
If a school offers a place to your child, it must be on the basis that ‘reasonable adjustments‘ will be made to accommodate their needs. It is important to have discussions with the school to clarify what this would mean, to help you make your decision.
If you feel that you have been discriminated against in applying for a place for your child, or you have any other complaint in relation to a Catholic school, you can ask for a copy of the school’s complaints handling policy. The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria provides the template for such policies, which lays out who you can complain to, what procedures should be followed, how and where to appeal if you are unsatisfied with the outcome.
- Find out more about complaints processes in Catholic schools.
Specialist Catholic schools
Co-ed non-residential school and centre offering placements for children experiencing social, emotional and/or behavioural difficulties.
MacKillop School (Whittington)
Specialist co-ed programs for children and young people under 16 who have disengaged or are at risk.
St Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre (North Melbourne )
Edmund Rice Education Australia. Co-ed supportive education centre for secondary students who have left school or at risk of leaving mainstream education.
St Mary’s College for Hearing Impaired Students
Multi-campus college working in partnership with four mainstream Catholic schools to teach students and support their learning within classes at the partner schools. It has a primary campus at Wantirna South, and secondary campuses at Dandenong, Ringwood and South Morang.
St Paul’s College (Kew)
Coed school for students (aged 5–18) with intellectual, multiple and sensory disabilities including autism, and with complex medical needs, and a bridging program for prep-aged children to support transition to mainstream school.
Doxa School (Bendigo)
Co-ed school for students (aged 12–18) struggling in mainstream school, with the aim of providing supported transition back to mainstream school, or supporting work readiness and a pathway to employment.
Notre Dame College: McAuley-Champagnat Campus (Shepparton)
Co-ed program for students with learning difficulties, multiple behavioural problems or severe anxiety, including students who are homeless or in out-of-home or DHS care.
Borinya Wangaratta Community Partnership (Wangaratta)
Co-ed alternative education setting for young people whose needs are not met by mainstream education, those with social or emotional challenges, and those at risk of disengaging from education or at risk of disengaging.
- Download an annually updated directory of all Catholic schools and programs on the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria website.
- Find contacts for all specialist schools and units on the Australian Schools Directory website, where you can search by special needs.