The challenges of secondary school

acd resource learning together 108

Families who contact us raise a number of questions or concerns about the particular challenges of secondary school.

On this page:

1. Challenges with support for transition from primary to secondary school.

2. Challenges with communicating your child’s learning and support plan to subject teachers and ensuring the right adjustments across all classes

3. Challenges with meeting your child’s support needs without ‘singling them out’

4. Challenges with planning for your child’s senior secondary years or ensuring the right support for them in VCE or other senior secondary programs


Below we raise some common challenges related to secondary school, 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 support your child’s transition to secondary school, and tailoring your child’s learning and support needs in Education planning for your child.
  • Find information about school options and finding the best available school to meet your child’s needs in Choosing a 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:


Catholic and independent secondary schools

Most of the content on this page relates most directly to government secondary schools. 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.


  1. Challenges with getting enough support for transition from primary to secondary school.

It’s important that your child’s primary school, and in particular the members of your child’s primary school Student Support Group, understand that they have a major role to play in planning for and supporting your child’s transition to secondary school. A key part of this is the transition statement ­– a summary of your child’s learning and support needs written by the primary school, with your input.

The primary school SSG is the main forum for the coming together of everyone who can contribute to transition planning and support for your child: your child’s primary school teachers, key staff from both the primary and secondary schools, and other professionals (such as therapists or DET specialist staff) who can support your child and contribute to planning.

The steps for planning for, preparing for and making the transition are laid out in detail in the section Education Planning for your child. This includes processes such as the Year 6–7 review (for many students on the PSD), and for planning and funding applications to ensure supports are in place from day 1 of secondary school. We summarise the steps for transition, along with the timeframe, in our Tip sheet and planner: primary to secondary school, which you can download from the Tools and resources section.

A detailed guide to choosing the best available secondary school for your child is provided in Choosing a school, including key questions to ask. The section Education planning for your child details processes for enrolment, planning your child’s learning and supports, and applying for supplementary funding for the school to support your child.

If your child is in Grade 5 or 6, raise transition planning in your child’s Student Support Group, and get a sense of the school’s approach. If you are concerned that the approach might be inadequate, encourage the school to read the relevant sections of Learning Together.


  1. Challenges with communicating your child’s learning and support plan to subject teachers, and ensuring the right adjustments across all classes.

Many students and their families find one of the main challenges of secondary school to be that of communicating your child’s learning and support needs to six or so subject teachers, rather than just one classroom teacher each year.

Often SSG meetings might include only your child’s year level coordinator and home room teacher, and perhaps the integration coordinator (if the school has one). Part of their role is to communicate decisions of the SSG and your child’s learning and support plan to relevant staff, so that everyone teaching or supporting your child has a consistent approach. Different schools have different systems for doing this, but the results can sometimes be inconsistent.

In your first SSG meetings with the school, try to establish a common understanding of how SSG meetings will work. See the suggestions under Challenges with communication, planning and follow-through for suggestions about the range of questions you might ask, and see our Tools and resources section for top tips on effective SSG meetings.

One family we interviewed for this project would make a list of their child’s subject teachers each year, and make a document that they require all of those teachers to read, sign and return to them. The family also provided their contact details on the document, and encouraged subject teachers and other staff to contact them directly if they had questions. The document was a summary of key information about their child, their child’s learning needs and adjustments. The school was keen to implement this approach, and it was very successful – it also resulted in many subject teachers contacting them for conversations that resulted in better support for their child in each class.


  1. Challenges with meeting your child’s support needs without ‘singling them out’.

It is important that your child can feel proud of who they are, and to not be embarrassed about their disability or needing additional support at school. At the same time, it is your child’s decision as to whether the information about their disability is publicly known. This is a very personal and sensitive issue for which each family has their own approach. Different people use different language to talk about disability or special needs; this often varies with people’s cultural background and life experiences.

Whatever your child’s sensitivities, it is important that key staff at school have information about their additional needs, to inform education planning and ensure they have the right adjustments to meet their needs. You and your child can convey the importance of confidentiality of this information to teachers and other staff in your communications with school.

This issue is also likely to inform what kind of supports or adjustments might work best for your child. It is very worthwhile, in this context, to support your child to be involved in discussion about their adjustments and supports, if appropriate. There are youth advocacy organisation such as the Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS), who can provide direct support and advocacy for young people with many different kinds of disabilities, and help them to work through what kind of adjustments and supports they want, and how they want them delivered.

Schools can often take different approaches to meeting a support need, such as implementing universal strategies (like visual timetables, planning excursions and activities that are already accessible to your child), or providing support in a more indirect way. Often, for example, education support workers (aides) for older students will ‘float’ in a classroom and provided support where needed, rather than sitting beside the student, or a student might be offered extra tutoring, rather than direct support in class.


  1. Challenges with planning for your child’s senior secondary years, or with ensuring the right supports for them in VCE or other senior secondary programs.

Education pathways in the later years of secondary school are an important issue to discuss when choosing a school. We provide a number of questions to ask secondary schools about this in the section Choosing a school, and in the Questions to ask sheet in the Tools and resources section.

Planning for post-school options must begin by year 10, but DET is increasingly encouraging schools to begin planning as early as year 7. It is certainly worthwhile to help your child start early with exploring their options and working towards their long-term goals. If your child is in the early years of secondary school, raise the subject of their education pathways in SSG meetings, and discuss a timeframe for when planning should begin. If your child is in year 10 and you are faced with the school suggesting that they can no longer meet your child’s needs, you need to have an urgent SSG meeting, and explore the issues and options.

Explore questions such as:  does the school think that your child could  attempt VCE at the school? Are they aware of the adjustments that are allowed for VCE exams and other assessments? How might your child’s learning and supports need to change in the VCE years? What are the different options for meeting these needs? Could a dual enrolment with another school (for example one that supports VCAL, VET in schools or school-based apprenticeships) be an option? Might there be other mainstream, alternative or special schools that offer a more appropriate range of pathways for your child’s later secondary years?

  • Visit the section Choosing a school for information about the range of schooling options, and issues to consider if you need to decide whether or not to change schools.
  • Visit the section Education planning for your child for information about options in the later years of secondary school, tips for exploring and planning for your child’s post-school options, and information about the supports available.