A brief introduction to how Victoria’s schools cater for the very diverse needs of students with disabilities.
On this page:
- Planning to meet your child’s needs
- Individualised teaching and ‘reasonable adjustments’
- Other supports and resources
- Out of school hours care programs
There are an estimated 100,000+ students in Victorian government, Catholic and independent schools who have a disability that affects their learning. These students’ learning and support needs vary enormously, and can be met in a range of different ways.
You can approach your child’s school about their support and learning needs at any time. You might be aware of your child’s disability before applying to a school, whether they are starting prep or year 7, or transferring schools. Or your child’s additional needs might emerge or change while they are in school. Some children are diagnosed with a disability or additional needs during the process of enrolling at school.
“So what has helped my boys have a successful experience at school? First, I think it was an inherent belief by the school that all children deserved an education that suited their individual needs. This belief was matched by a commitment to work hard to achieve that.
Second, it was the school’s willingness to work together with parents. There was respect for what I knew as a parent and consideration of my suggestions about possible improvements to the educational programs. This was also extended to specialists I invited to consult with teachers.
Third, there was good communication. Both aides and teachers communicated regularly. Little issues were dealt with in the early stages before they escalated. There was also a willingness to try new things and to make changes. The school listened to my suggestions and they were prepared to learn new skills and ‘give it a go’.
Student Support Group meetings have usually been well run and useful. I had input into setting the agenda and deciding which of my son’s specialists would attend each meeting. I have made a point of taking time to give positive feedback to teachers and aides. One of the reasons we have a good relationship is because they know I appreciate their efforts. I guess it works both ways.
I can’t say that it has all been smooth sailing. There have been some difficult times but overall I have been very happy with what has been put in place for my two boys. From speaking to other parents, I know that my positive experience at the school is considered to be the exception rather than the rule, and I feel very lucky to have such a committed group of individuals supporting my sons.” – Parent
Planning to meet your child’s needs
All students benefit when their parents or carers get involved in supporting their education. This is especially important if your child has a disability. Indeed, under the Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education, schools are legally required to consult with you about your child’s disability and its impact on their learning needs.
The main way this should happen is through what is called a Student Support Group (SSG) (or its equivalent in the Catholic or independent school systems, the Program Support Group). This is a regular group meeting that includes you, your child’s teacher/s, the principal, assistant principal and/or other staff such as an integration coordinator. Your child can attend, and you can bring a support person to assist you. Other professionals can also be invited to attend when useful.
The SSG’s role is to gain a good understanding of your child’s needs, and with information supplied by you and others, plan how to meet those needs. This should all be documented in your child’s individual learning plan. The SSG then looks at any funded or other resources needed to support your child’s plan; it makes recommendations about these to the principal, who makes the final decisions. You can raise a concern with the school if you feel that your child is not receiving the support they need.
All students with a disability can benefit from regular SSG meetings – not only those whose schools receive supplementary funding to support them, for example through the Program for Students with a Disability (about one in four students with a disability). SSGs are compulsory for those students.
- Student Support Groups and how they work
- Read plain language explanations of key terms, and professionals that can help you and your child.
Individualised teaching and ‘reasonable adjustments’
The needs of many students with a disability in mainstream schools can be met though individualised teaching approaches and ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the classroom and to school programs. Part of this is about teachers using the right tool in their existing ‘toolbox’ of teaching techniques to suit your child’s learning needs. School staff can get training, support and resources to help them tailor their teaching, and to build their skills in meeting students’ needs.
School can make a range of adjustments to meet your child’s communications or mobility needs, manage their medical or personal care, or bring aspects of their therapy into their learning. Or schools can adjust the presentation of information or learning materials, or tailor your child’s assignments, homework or assessment. Support and adjustments should focus not only on your child’s academic learning, but also on their communication, social learning and inclusion in the school community.
If there is no way that an activity can be adjusted to be accessible for your child, the school must provide your child with an alternative activity of equal educational value, in the context of the broader school program.
- Read more about Education planning for your child, find out about your child’s rights at school, and tips for dealing with concerns about your child’s learning and supports.
Other supports and resources
Government schools can draw on a range of resources to support your child, including:
- input from therapists including DET specialist staff, services and programs
- support for your child’s care needs, travel support, building modifications and equipment
- support staff within schools including general and specialist staff, and
- the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD)
Part of every school’s general funding should be used to support students with additional needs. Some students require bigger adjustments and more intensive assistance. Their school can access various types of funding to help support them, including through the PSD and other programs outlined in this section of Learning Together.
According to Department of Education and Training (DET) policy, funding should not limit or define the support that your child receives at school. Legally, the reasonable adjustment of school programs and the provision of additional support should not result in additional costs to you as parent or carer, whatever type of school your child attends.
Out of school hours care programs
Many families need to use before- and after-school care and vacation care options, so that parents and carers can work or study. Most mainstream primary schools have programs available at the school, although those in government school are often run by local councils or community agencies (especially vacation care programs). Federal funding is available to help out of school hours care programs meet the needs of students with a disability, for example by funding extra staff, resources, training or equipment.
Most secondary schools do not have before or after-school care or vacation care programs, although there is a federally-funded program called ‘Outside School Hours Care for Teenagers with a Disability’, available at some specialist schools and community agencies.
For more information about out of school hours care programs, ask your school, your local council or disability service provider or your regional DET office.