Students with disabilities in mainstream schools

acd resource icsr students with disabilities in mainstream schools main

Hear some teacher perspectives about teaching students with disabilities in mainstream schools.



 Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do parents choose a school for their child?
  2. What are the Disability Standards for Education?
  3. What practical things do I need to consider when teaching a child with a disability?
  4. What is the Student Support Group?
  5. What is an Individual Learning Plan?
  6. How can therapy be managed at school?
  7. How are complex medical needs managed at school?
  8. What resources are available to support students with disabilities at school?
  9. How can I best utilise education support staff in my classroom?

 1. How do parents choose a school for their child?

Parents consider many things when choosing a school, such as location, finances, where siblings go to school and existing friendship groups.

All children of school age in Victoria have the right to go to their local school. In addition to the range of school choices available to all children, children with a disability may also be eligible to attend a specialist school.

Parents may feel that attending their local school supports their child’s inclusion in the local community and may lead to greater acceptance and community support. There may also be more opportunities for their child to be exposed to typical language and social interaction.

Parents may choose a specialist school because there are specific resources that may benefit their child. Some parents choose ‘dual enrolment’, where their child spends part of each week at a local school and part of the week at a specialist school.

As for any family, parents of children with a disability are entitled to choose a school that they believe best suits the needs of their child and family.



2. What are the Disability Standards for Education?

The Disability Standards for Education set out the rights of students with a disability in the area of education. They also set out the obligations that education providers, such as schools and universities, must meet in order to support students with a disability.

Under Section 32 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, education providers must comply with the Disability Standards for Education.

To comply with the Standards, an education provider must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate a student with a disability. A reasonable adjustment takes into account the student’s learning needs while balancing the interests of the student, school, staff and other students.

Information about the Disability Standards is included in Section 4.6 of the 2010 Program for Students with Disabilities Guidelines and Handbook.

The main aim of the Standards is to give students with a disability the right to participate in educational programs on the same basis as students without a disability. This means having the same educational opportunities and choices as other students



3. What practical things do I need to consider when teaching a student with a disability?

Supporting the needs of a diverse group of students requires a positive approach, good planning and a willingness to engage with the student and their family.

Each child in your class is a unique individual with different strengths and challenges.
If there are a number of professionals working with the student, you may be able to ask them for support and advice.

Teaching a child with a disability may mean allowing more time to plan, collaborate and learn new skills. This means being even more efficient with your time and energy.

Practical things that you can do to include a child with a disability will depend on the individual needs of the student, and may include:

  • physically re-arranging the classroom
  • working together with other professionals, such as therapists
  • working with a broader team at school
  • working closely with parents
  • learning how to use a communication device or system eg. Makaton or COMPIC
  • modifying activities, be it sports, maths or an excursion

While it may seem like a challenge, many teachers find teaching a child with a disability to be a rewarding experience.



4. What is the Student Support Group?

The Student Support Group (SSG) is a group of people who come together to form a co-operative partnership to support students with additional needs. The roles and responsibilities of the group are outlined in the Student Support Guidelines.

Members of the Student Support Group must include:

  • parent/guardian/carer
  • class teacher
  • principal or nominee
  • a parent advocate (if requested)
  • the student (where appropriate)
  • consultants as agreed by the group

An SSG is strongly recommended to any student with additional learning needs, irrespective of whether they are eligible for support through the Program for Students with Disabilities.

The focus of the SSG is not limited to the academic needs of the student. The group can also develop care plans for safety, access, behavioural, medical or personal care needs.

It is best to hold an SSG meeting early in the year and then regularly, such as once per term. Minutes of SSG meetings should also be recorded on the Program for Students with Disabilities Management System (PSDMS).



5. What is an Individual Learning Plan?

An Individual Learning Plan (ILP) is a working document for the planning, provision and evaluation of a student’s education. The main purpose of an ILP is to link the student’s specific learning needs to the curriculum.

A good place to start is to refer to the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority Victorian Essential Learning Standards Progression Points.

An ILP only needs to be developed for those learning areas where the student requires additional support. The plan should include information about the student’s entry (or baseline) skills, goals and teaching strategies.

There is no one-size-fits-all design or template for the perfect ILP. It should be easy to understand by all who use it and flexible enough to allow for changes. As a working document, it should be frequently referred to and updated.

Any student with additional needs can benefit from having a Student Support Group and Individual Learning Plan, even if they are not eligible for funding from the Program for Students with Disabilities. The ILP is developed in conjunction with the Student Support Group and is usually written up by the teacher.



6. How can therapy be managed at school?

Physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech pathology are often an essential part of a student’s educational program.

Therapists may be DEECD professionals who work under the Student Support Services Program. If the student needs professional support that is not offered by the SSSO group (such as occupational therapy), or if there is limited availability, the Student Support Group can discuss the possibility of purchasing that professional support as part of the Program for Students with Disabilities, and then make this recommendation to the principal.

Therapists can work directly with the student and school staff to give advice about modifications to the environment and the curriculum. Therapists may also be able to contribute to support plans for personal care, behaviour and safety.

While teachers are not expected to be therapists, there may be aspects of a child’s therapy that can be incorporated into their learning. For example, an occupational therapist might suggest specialist seating, a sloped writing board and pencil grips to optimise the student’s positioning for writing. A speech pathologist might recommend an alternative communication system for a non-verbal student, and a physiotherapist might advise on mobility issues.

The Royal Children’s Hospital Education Institute publishes a School Guide: Occupational therapy and physiotherapy service delivery in schools.

The Speech Pathology Australia website includes a ‘Find a speech pathologist’ search function on their home page.



7. How can complex medical needs be managed at school?

All complex care needs should be discussed with the Student Support Group and lead to the development of a management plan. Conditions that require complex care can include epilepsy, percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy feeding (PEG) or tube feeding, and tracheotomies.

Management plans should identify:

  • staff training needs
  • responsibility for tasks
  • storage of medication and care supplies
  • a private area for personal care

Management plans for complex care needs are often developed together with the child’s doctor. These management plans can sit alongside the ILP.

While managing complex care needs may seem like a daunting task, with support and training school staff can gain confidence by learning these skills. Parents can also feel reassured that their child is in good hands.

For more information about Complex Medical Care Support see Section 4.5.9 of the Schools Reference Guide.

The Better Health Channel website includes general information about disabilities and medical conditions.



8. What resources are available to support students with disabilities at school?

Student Support Services Officers (SSSOs)
Student Support Services Officers are a group of DEECD professionals who provide specialist support to students and schools, and may include:

  • Guidance officers or psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Visiting teachers
  • Speech pathologists
  • Curriculum consultants

Program for Students with Disabilities
The Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) is available to Victorian government schools to support the education of eligible students who have moderate to severe disability.

The PSD funding allocated to the school may be used for a variety of supports including teacher professional development, specialised equipment, education support staff, specialist support such as occupational therapy, or a special needs co-ordinator. The Student Support Group may provide advice to the principal on the appropriate use of this funding.

Language Support Program
The Language Support Program is a framework for teaching oral language to students requiring additional support. Professional development is provided to teachers to develop skills to support students in the classroom. The Language Support Program also provides schools with resources to support the delivery of teaching and learning programs for students with language disorders.

Schoolcare Program
The Schoolcare Program is a joint project between DEECD and the Royal Children’s Hospital that provides additional support to teachers and school staff who teach students with complex medical needs.

Visiting Teacher Service
Most regions have a Visiting Teacher Service with expertise about specific disabilities, including hearing loss, physical and health disabilities and visual impairment. Check with your region for details about services and availability.



9. How can I best utilise education support staff?

The teacher has overall responsibility for the student’s educational program, which may be implemented with assistance from education support staff.

Education support staff work under the direction of the teacher and may perform a variety of duties, including:

  • Support with class work, including literacy, maths, art and sport
  • Assistance with personal care
  • Supervision if there are safety concerns
  • Attending therapy sessions with the student so that therapy can be applied in the classroom if appropriate. This might include learning how to use aids or equipment, or to support speech therapy goals and strategies.
  • Preparation of teaching materials

Education support staff can work with children individually or in a small group. Under the direction of the teacher, education support staff might spend some time working with the student with a disability and other time supervising students while the teacher works with the student with a disability.

Increasing independence is a goal for all students. As a student with a disability progresses with a particular task, consider whether the assistance can be decreased.

When working with education support staff, make sure they are included in the educational team. Specify clear roles, responsibilities and daily tasks. Utilise their strengths and work to develop and maintain good communication.


Parent story: More than just breathing the same air

To me, inclusion involves much more than just breathing the same air. It involves making sure children are active participants in their daily lives. Just being there isn’t enough.

Despite using a wheelchair and requiring full assistance with transfers, toileting and personal care, my son is an independent, confident and happy student. The whole school recognises the characteristic sound of the spokey-dokies on his wheelchair, but just as much, they recognise his happy personality and smile.

The fact that my son has cerebral palsy means that he needs to learn skills which able-bodied children spontaneously develop. The development of peer-to-peer relationships and social skills can be interrupted by the need for an adult carer nearby.

Other children learnt very quickly that my son only speaks about himself and they would run off, leaving him to his own devices. Fortunately, we were able to pick this up early and avoid any significant issues by specifically teaching him to ask about, and show interest in, other children.

So too, finding aides with sufficient skills to know when to support my son and when to step away is an important factor in the success of my son’s inclusion. The school has been able to manage all of these issues well.

I really appreciate the enthusiasm, and often ingenuity, of the staff and students, who always begin with the assumption that excluding my son is not an option. As an example, when the notice came home about line-dancing at school, I didn’t expect him to be included, but the photos showed otherwise. There he was, a happy and engaged student, doing just the same as everyone else, albeit in a wheelchair.

Funding is essential to provide the supports that my son needs at school, but just as important is a positive attitude that flows through from the principal to all staff and students. I want my son to have equal access to the same opportunities as his peers. His school has taken this in their stride, which is a credit to the whole school community.



Parent story: What a fantastic school

Our son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at the age of four. Living in the country has made it hard to access services but thankfully, we have found a wonderful primary school with dedicated staff and a school environment that is extremely positive and caring.

After much soul-searching, we decided to send our son to a small rural school that was half-an-hour from our home. What a fantastic school we found! The school environment was one of total support for both my son and our family.

Being a teacher, I always had the feeling that my son would not be funded for an aide, as his needs are not high enough. Even though this was the case, the school still employed an aide to work in the classroom. My son’s teacher is always open to suggestions and is as jubilant as we are when he learns a new concept. The aide is always enthusiastic and focused on presenting all the children in her class with every possible opportunity to learn.

All the staff see my son for who he is and not ‘that autistic child in prep’. They realise that he sees things a little differently and that his needs are different. The support we have received from the school and their willingness to listen to any ideas we have has been wonderful. The principal is very down to earth and I know I can approach him any time with any concerns.

The school environment allows our son to learn to the best of his ability at all times. By tapping into my son’s obsessive behaviour, the teachers are able to get him to work and then reward him using one of his obsessions, for example, having time on the computer.

It is because of the nurturing school environment that my son has persisted in trying to write. He has poor muscle tone in his wrists and hands and finds writing extremely difficult. But with much positive reinforcement and encouragement, his writing has improved and he wants to write.

Of course, there are days when my son is tired or everything is just too much. This is recognised and he is able to have quiet time. Each staff member and child at my son’s school needs to be recognised for the fantastic way they have supported him. The school commitment to our son is always positive and so the experience he is having at school is the best he can possibly have.