Families who contact us raise a number of questions or concerns about their child’s supports at school, and how best to ensure that all of their child’s support needs are met.
On this page:
Below we raise some common challenges related to meeting your child’s learning needs and offer some suggestions for dealing with them. However, individual children’s needs and situations vary, and families take different approaches to advocating for their child.
- Find general information about supports for students with disabilities in A guide to the support system.
- Find information about how school should work with you to meet your child’s learning and support needs in Education planning for your child.
- Find information about communicating your child’s learning needs and building a positive relationship with their teachers in Building a partnership with school.
Some general tips on raising a concern with school are:
- You have the right to raise any concern you have with school or with your child’s education.
- Understanding your child’s rights will help you to feel confident that your requests are reasonable.
- Try to focus on one issue at a time. It’s worth taking time to gather all the information you can about the issue, to work out how express your concerns clearly and calmly, and to focus on the outcome you want for your child.
- You always have the right to a support person or advocate in your dealings with school.
Follow these links for more about how to effectively raise a concern with school:
Meeting your child’s support needs in a Catholic or independent school
Most of the content on this page relates most directly to meeting your child’s support needs in a government school. However, many of the tips are also relevant to Catholic or independent schools, and all of the links offered also cover information relevant to all three school sectors.
- For more specific information about the approach in Catholic and independent schools, visit the relevant pages in Choosing a school, A guide to the support system, and A guide to the complaints process.
Challenges with ensuring your child has the right supports to learn and participate at school.
Under Commonwealth law and Victorian government policy, your child has the right to an education that gives them the opportunity to learn. The relevant wording of the Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education is that your child has the right to an education program that is ‘designed to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding, including supplementary programs’.
To deliver this, school are required what are called ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable students with disabilities to participate in their programs ‘on the same basis’ as students without a disability. This includes both adjustments to their learning goals and learning plan if needed, and adjustments that give them access to school facilities and activities, including things like excursions, camps and specialist classes.
Most school facilities and activities can be made accessible to students with disabilities, with the right adjustments. If there is an activity that cannot be adjusted to be accessible for your child, the school must offer them an alternative activity that is of equal educational value, in the context of the broader curriculum. This would not, for example, include playing games on a computer for significant periods of time, while their classmates learn.
School can provide a very wide range of adjustments and supports, depending on the particular needs of your child. These should be discussed in your child’s Student Support Group (SSG) meeting, and documented in your child’s individual learning and support plan. SSG meetings and plans are compulsory for every student on the Program for Students with Disabilities, and highly recommended by DET for those who are not.
Providing the right adjustments and supports for every student with a disability can be a challenge for schools, but it is one that they are legally required to meet. There are many resources that can help them do so, including assessment tools, staff professional development, curriculum embedded in the AusVELS (the Victorian curriculum) specifically for students with disabilities, experts in the regional DET offices who can advise the school, and so on.
- Links to all of these resources are in Education planning for your child, as well an explanation of the processes for assessment, planning, implementation of adjustments and review of your child’s learning and supports.
If you are concerned that the school is not providing the right supports for your child, you can call an SSG meeting. Prepare for the meeting carefully, and consider taking an advocate or support person with you.
- You can find many tips for effective advocacy, including tips for preparing for and discussing your concerns meetings, in the section Raising a concern with school.
In the meeting, or beforehand, you can draw the school’s attention to the relevant parts of the Disability Standards for Education as noted above (a direct link is provided in our Tools and Resources section).
You can suggest that the school request advice on suitable adjustments for your child from a relevant specialist in the regional DET office; for more information about these staff, see the relevant page in A guide to the support system. Alternatively, if your child is already in contact with a therapist or other specialist who can attend an SSG meeting in a consultant role, suggest this to the school.
- For information about how specialists can contribute to your child’s learning and support plan, see the relevant page in A guide to the support system.
- For tips on how to make the suggestion about inviting your child’s therapist to have input, see the relevant page in Building a partnership with school.
Challenges with obtaining adjustments or support to meet the full range of your child’s support and learning needs.
Its important that school understand that your child might require a range of supports or adjustments to feel comfortable in the classroom, to engage with school and to learn. Learning Together does not provide prescriptive information about what kind of adjustments a school should make to meet an individual student’s learning and support needs. This depends entirely on the child, their disability or additional needs, their individual needs and strengths, and their school environment and approach.
We do offer some examples of adjustments in the section Education planning for your child, but these are only provided in order to give a sense of the range of adjustments that can be made, and the range of needs that should be considered.
Most importantly, Education planning for your child sets out the process that schools are required to use, to consult with you to understand your child’s needs, to plan their supports and to implement and regularly review adjustments made.
School needs to be aware of the importance of providing support for social learning, emotional wellbeing and mental health. Schools should also be aware of the need to support students’ communication (for example if they require interpreters or the use of communication aids) outside of specific learning activities, such as literacy activities or English class. Communication is crucial for students to be engaged with their school community.
Many adjustments are quite straightforward for schools to make, and often they can also benefit other students in the class, including those with undiagnosed additional needs; examples might include social learning activities, visual timetables or explanations of upcoming activities, quiet areas, relaxation exercises or movement breaks. Where possible, schools should try to use ‘universal’ approaches to meet your child’s needs, such as choosing excursions or activities with your child’s access needs in mind, or planning class locations that enable your child to easily reach all of the main facilities without having to travel great additional distances to the other side of the school.
Consider what prompted you to visit Learning Together. What concerns you? What outcome are you seeking for your child, to address the particular issue they are facing? You might not have a clear solution to the issue concerning you, but its important to be familiar with the process available for you and the school to investigate the issue, and come up with solutions together, and in consultation with your child. Together, and with input from experts as needed, schools and families can often come up with creative ways of meeting students’ support needs.
- Visit the section Raising a concern with school. This will take you, step-by-step, through the process of how to identify, express, investigate, seek advice on, and hopefully resolve your concern. It includes information about how an advocate or support person can help, and where to find this kind of support.
Challenges with obtaining adjustments or supports to meet needs arising from a mental health issue or behavioural ‘disorder’.
Many schools do not understand that they have the same legal obligations to a student whose additional needs are primarily due to mental health issues or a behavioural disorder, as to a student whose disability affects their sight or mobility, for example.
The Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education apply to all students with a disability or additional needs, including mental health issues, illness, injury or any other ‘impairment’, if they experience discrimination as a result of that impairment. This includes students who are not eligible for the Program for Students with Disabilities (students on the PSD account for only around one in four students with additional needs in government schools). A very small number of students with mental health issues or behavioural ‘disorders’ are eligible for the PSD, but this only applies to those with a ‘severe behaviour disorder’ – at a level that applies to only very few students.
Schools obligations to provide support to students with additional needs due to mental health issues or a behavioural disorder is also supported by the DET Student Engagement Policy, which obliges school to provide support to students ‘at risk of disengagement’ from their education.
The Victorian government’s approach to student engagement includes supporting students to engage socially, emotionally and academically, with their learning and with their school community. If students with these kinds of additional needs are not supported, this can result in social conflicts, behaviour problems or disengagement from school (such as school refusal or, for example, and anxious student being unwilling to participate in school activities).
- For more about the Victorian government’s approach to student engagement and expectations on school to support students at risk of disengagement, see Education and your child’s rights.
There are many ways in which a school can adjust its programs and provide a range of positive supports to students with mental health issues or behavioural disorders. The school should use the same approach to learning about your child’s needs, planning and monitoring their supports as for any other student with a disability or additional needs – regular SSG meetings, partnership and consultation with you, input from DET specialist staff or exernal consultants, an individual learning and support plan and so on.
- See Education planning for your child for more on how this should work.
If possible, it is much better to work with the school from the outset to discuss how your child’s additional needs will be met, and monitored. However, often, schools will not properly address these needs until a ‘crisis’ occurs, or their parent or carer raises a concern or makes complaint.
- If this is the case for your child, visit the section Raising a concern with school, for a step-by-step guide to thinking through, raising, investigating and hopefully resolving your concern in partnership with the school.
Challenging responses to input and ideas about your child’s support needs.
You have a key role to play in helping the school understand what adjustment your child might require; under the Disability Standards for Education, schools are legally required to consult with the parents and carers of all students with disabilities or additional needs about their child’s disability, and its impact on their learning needs. The most important forum for this is SSG meetings.
If your child’s school is unresponsive to your input, you can draw their attention to the relevant section of the Disability Standards for Education that outlines their legal obligation to do so, and suggest that they look at Learning Together for ideas about consulting with parents and carers. The support system for students with disabilities is designed to encourage input from parents and carers.
It is also designed to encourage input from DET specialist staff and external professions in meeting the needs of students with disabilities, and DET provides specialist staff who can do this in their regional offices. This is reflected, in particular, in the role of the ‘consultant’, outlined in the SSG Guidelines, which can be downloaded from the DET website. You can draw the school’s attention to this, but also look at the tips in Building a partnership with school about how to tactfully and effectively raise the issue.
If your child’s school has not sought input from DET specialist staff or from your child’s therapists, you can draw their attention to this aspect of the SSG guidelines, and suggest that they look at Learning Together for ideas. The school might feel that they know everything about how to meet the needs of your child due to previous experience, but new research about special education is always emerging.
- See the relevant pages in A guide to the support system for the many ways that DET and external specialists can support schools and students.
- Find much more information about the requirement to consult with families, and examples of adjustments, in Education planning for your child.
You are concerned that your child is refusing school, not participating in class, or misbehaving because they are struggling at school.
The Victorian government uses the language of ‘student engagement’ to talk about the way that your child takes part in – and feels a part of – what happens in their school. Student who are ‘disengaged’ from school, or ‘at risk of disengagement’ will show this in a range of ways, including school refusal, not participating in learning activities, or through challenging behaviours. If your child is facing these issues, it is worth learning these terms, and about how DET expects school to support students who are at risk of disengagement. This will help you to speak up for your child at school, including if your child is facing suspension or expulsion.
The government requires schools to respond to students at risk of disengagement in supportive ways, that:
- encourage your child to stay at school and not ‘disengage’ further (e.g. suspension or expulsion is not allowed except as a very last resort, and only under particular conditions for students with disabilities)
- explore and address the underlying reasons for their behaviour, including by with you and developing a plan to support positive behaviour. This should feed into your child’s Individual Learning Plan.
- Consider changes to the environment, teaching approaches or other supports
- Offer support to your child and family such as student welfare or referral to community agencies
School are also allowed to ‘discipline’ students according to DET guidelines, provided that the school has addressed the underlying issues, including providing adjustments that meet a student’s needs. For example the school might provide additional support to help the student understand expected behaviour, a quiet space the student can retreat to if they are overwhelmed, or other adjustments that meet their individual needs.
If your child has a disability, the school is not allowed to suspend or expel them unless the school has made all ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support the student to manage their behaviours, where this is related to their disability. This rule is not limited to students who are eligible for the PSD, but applies to all students with a disability.
- Learn more about student engagement and how DET requires school to respond to behavioural issues in discipline in Education and your child’s rights. See also Concerns about discipline and behaviour management.