It’s important to try to resolve your concerns with the school first. But you have other options if, in the end, you are unsatisfied with the school’s response to your concerns.
On this page:
- Why things can get stuck
- Taking your concerns ‘up the ladder’
- The role of DET in helping resolve complaints
- Is this the best available school for your child?
Why things can get stuck
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you and the school will be unable to reach agreement on a resolution to your concerns. There are many reasons why this might happen. Perhaps the school is not fully aware of their obligations to students with disabilities, or of the resources available that can help, for example through the regional DET office.
Perhaps staff are unwilling to change how they work, or do not have strong skills in handling conflict or responding effectively to concerns from parents or carers. Schools can get training from DET in the skills needed to respond to concerns from parents and carers, and can get support to do so from the regional office.
And of course, you need to feel confident that what you are asking for is reasonable, and within your child’s rights. All the information you need to check this is available in the various sections of Learning Together, including:
- Education and your child’s rights
- Supports for students with disabilities
- Education planning for your child
“In the end, it came to the point where I was like – you know what? I need to contact the department, because we’re not moving forward. So I drafted a letter to the education department.
That was hard for me. I think I wrote the letter maybe six times. And I did send it off to Gina to proof-read for me, and ‘What do you think about this?’ and ‘How can I say this better?’ and, you know, “Does this sound alright?’There were a lot of [emails] backwards and forward about how I could say it better.
I didn’t know how it was going to be received. And even when the school heard about it, I wasn’t sure if they were going to be happy. But then, they were fine! Because I think it came from above, that they had to have those negotiations … somebody from the department had been out to the school, and discussed things with the school, and discussed what the expectations are of the school, with the school.
I wasn’t confident [about what would happen] until I actually had that next student support group meeting, and all of a sudden it was like there was different people in the room – they just got it! It was like, ‘Yep, what can we do? What would you like us to do? How can we allocate this funding more appropriately to support Xavier?’”Christel
Taking your concerns ‘up the ladder’
Whether you are in a government, Catholic or independent school, a key principle of the complaints system is that you start at the ‘local level’ to try to resolve your complaint first, for example with the teacher, the SSG or the principal. There will occasionally be issues where this is not appropriate – for example if your complaint is in relation to the school principal.
Different concerns should be raised first with different people. This varies in different schools, and school’s complaints policies will often list whom to approach with different issues. Here is a general guide:
But in general, you would begin with your child’s teacher first (or with their homeroom teacher in secondary school), or by raising the issue in your child’s SSG. If that does not resolve things, you would go to the SSG (if you have not already) or to the principal. Only if this does not work would you approach the DET regional office (or the equivalent for Catholic or independent schools). It’s a good idea to seek support from an advocacy organisation like ACD at this point, if you have not already.
The section A guide to the complaints process includes a detailed explanation of the complaints system for government schools, including approaching DET and external complaints mechanisms such as the Ombudsman, and options such as mediation. It also includes a general guide to the system for Catholic and independent schools.
“We had an issue with an aide in his junior years. When it came to issues she’d just put it all straight back on me. For instance when they were doing the swimming program, she came up to me and she said, ‘I don’t go in the pool’. And I said, ‘Okay, what are you telling me here?’ You know? Like, ‘Are you expecting me to go with him, and get in the pool with him?’, or ‘Are you expecting me to say, “Okay, he doesn’t have to do the swimming program”?’
When she would be like this, I needed to go and talk to the principal, and say, ‘Hey this is happening, can you at least explain to me what the policy is? Then I can understand what rights I have, and what you’re expecting of me, and what I’m expecting of you. Because it’s not going to work, at that level with the aide, because she’s not negotiating.
I think the thing is, if its not working, go and sort it out with somebody else. Don’t be intimidated by just one person. Because Ethan had rights as well as she had her rights as well, you know. They both needed respecting, not just hers, but Ethan’s too.” Marie
The role of DET in helping resolve complaints
If you take your complaint to the DET regional office, their main role will be to provide information and support to the school. The aim is to help the school better understand the department’s expectations on them, and to give them resources to better support students with disabilities, and better respond to families’ concerns.
In the experience of parents and carers in Learning Together, this can often lead to resolution of their issue. It also has the benefit, often, of helping schools be more informed and supported in their work with students with disabilities.
If, after the regional office has attempted to resolve your issues, you are still unsatisfied, you can then take your complaint to the central DET office, or seek support from an external complaints mechanism like the Ombudsman or the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
- Read more about the complaints process and supports available to you in A guide to the complaints process.
Is this the best available school for your child?
Also remember that if things really aren’t going to work at your child’s current school, there are usually other options, although these often more limited in regional or outer metropolitan areas. Some families end up moving house in order to access new options, but this is not an choice available to everyone. Bear in mind that there might be more viable local options than you think. It’s important not to make decisions based only on what other people tell you. We encourage you to contact and visit other schools, and see for yourself.
The decision to change schools is a momentous one, and there are usually pros and cons of every option – including the option of not changing schools. The section Choosing a school includes detailed information about all schooling options, and positive stories from many families – some of whom worked things out in the child’s current school, and some who moved to a school setting that was a much better fit for their child.
Whether or not to change school is a very personal decision. Many families seek support and advice in making the decision, but in the end, only you can decide what is best for your child.
- Read more about the options, and issues to consider if you’re thinking of changing schools in Choosing a school.