Here you will find a step-by-step guide to navigating primary school for your child with a disability or developmental challenge. There are also frequently asked questions and other resources to help you support your child at school.

As a parent of a child with a developmental challenge, you will be considering different areas when it comes to planning for your child starting at primary school. Your decision may be affected by your family’s circumstances and preferences for education programs, your home location, school zoning, transport options, and the availability of before/after school and holiday care programs.

The Disability Standards for Education requires schools to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that children with disabilities can participate in education on an equal basis. You can also work with the school so they are ready to meet your child’s access, learning and support needs. These steps can guide your process when choosing a primary school that will support your child’s schooling experience.

Plan for a positive start to school

Start investigating, planning and getting organised around 10 months before your child starts school. Learn about primary school options, visit your preferred choices and seek advice to find the most suitable school for your family and child.

  • All children in Victoria have a right to go to their local government primary school. There are also other types of schools which your child can attend. These include independent schools, Catholic schools and specialist schools. For a child with a disability, there is the possibility of dual enrolment. This means your child may divide their time between a mainstream school and a specialist school.
  • To find out more about school options see FAQs for parents.
Most schools have open days, information evenings and tours. During these visits families and students can learn about the school’s facilities and educational programs and meet the staff. Some schools may offer days for your child to see a classroom ‘in action’.

Parents of children with developmental challenges can also make an appointment with the principal to find out more about the school and to discuss their child’s needs and the support available.

Some things to consider when visiting a school:
  • The school’s environment including buildings and playgrounds: What adjustments may be needed to the physical environment for your child’s safety and participation?
  • The school curriculum: Are there particular subjects or activities that will need to be adapted to suit your child’s strengths and abilities?
  • The enrolment process and entry criteria
  • A kinder-to-primary transition plan for your child
  • How the school staff will meet your child’s medical and/or personal care needs
  • How the school manages student behaviour
  • How the school can work with specialist teachers and allied health professionals on site (e.g. speech pathologist, occupational therapist, psychologist etc.) to support your child
  • The school’s previous experiences with children with disabilities, in general, but also with your child’s type of disability
  • How the school includes students with disabilities on excursions and camps
  • Communication practices used between school and home. For example, some schools employ a ‘communication book’ to convey information between home and school.
  • The school’s guidelines for homework and assessment and what adjustments can be made for your child if needed

Many schools publish their policies online. If you cannot access these policies, ask the school to provide a copy. Some good policies to review include:
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Bullying
  • Parental participation and engagement
  • Students’ wellbeing
Once you have a good idea of your preferred schools discuss these with your child’s support team including medical and allied health professionals and kindergarten teacher. Re-visit the schools as many times as needed to make sure you feel comfortable with your final decision.

Build a positive partnership with the school

Build a partnership with the school you have chosen for your child. Work with your child’s teacher and school staff to identify evidence-based strategies for including your child in all aspects of school life, such as those found on AllPlay Learn.

As a parent your knowledge about your child’s learning preferences and strengths will be an important element in helping the school staff understand the best ways to work with your child in the classroom and playground. For example, you can let the school staff know that your child likes to sit and listen quietly to stories but can become agitated in large, noisy groups.

In some cases, you may be unsure about your child’s developmental challenges or disabilities. If you notice that your child has some developmental or learning challenges at home or in another setting, you may wish to discuss these with your child’s teacher. You can work together to develop effective learning strategies and modifications for your child and monitor and/or receive advice. You can learn more about indicators your child may need further support and the process of identification and referral.

Get ready for starting primary school

Starting school is a significant milestone for children and their families. You can learn more about supporting your child with the transition to primary school.

Keep track of how things are going

Some children may find they need extra support with particular aspects of school life. For example, a child may become anxious or upset at ‘drop-off time’ when their parent or carer leaves. Other children may experience anxiety when there are changes to the school routines such as when there are excursions, incursions and fire drills. If your child has challenges in these areas, you can work with the school to develop strategies to help them cope with daily transitions and changes to regular routines. View daily strategies for supporting your child at school.

You may also need to be alert to changes in your child’s attitude to school or changes in their moods and behaviour. These changes may indicate that they are experiencing difficulties at school. If you notice these changes, have a conversation with them and/or their teacher about how things are going at school and if they might need more support.

The Victorian Curriculum F-10 including the Towards Foundation Levels A-D is specifically designed so that learning tasks can be tailored to the strengths and abilities of all students. Find out more here.

Keep the lines of communication between you and your child’s school open. Monitor your child’s progress regularly. Work with the school as your child grows to optimise their learning opportunities and to maximise their happiness and success at school.

Learn more about disability strategies at school

AllPlay Learn uses a strengths-based approach and provides evidence-based strategies for educators in early childhood education and care settings, and teachers in primary and secondary schools. You can also learn more about the strategies and resources your child’s teacher may be using with your child.

Resources for home and school

AllPlay Learn has a range of resources that you can use with your child. These are designed to help your child prepare for school and to support their well-being both at home and school.

Consider opportunities outside of school

Consider activities beyond school for your child such as those that encourage socialising and physical activity. Check out the AllPlay Footy and AllPlay Dance resources to see if these types of activities might work well for your child. The AllPlay Dance directory has lists of inclusive programs in Australia for children and young people.

Frequently asked questions for parents of primary school children

Schooling options for my child with disability
There are different primary school options in Victoria for children with disabilities. Contact your regional DET office for additional information on a school’s location, entry criteria, and enrolment information, or for additional support to understand the Victorian school system.

  • Government schools
    All children of school age have the right to attend a local primary school in Victoria and all schools have responsibilities for the inclusion of children with disabilities.

    Some government schools have designated neighbourhood boundaries. Search local government primary schools in your area.

  • Independent Schools and Catholic Schools
    There are many independent and Catholic schools in Victoria. Waiting lists may apply and entry criteria and enrolment processes vary. Find independent schools and Catholic schools in Victoria.

  • Specialist schools
    In Victoria, there are government specialist schools that provide specialised education for eligible students with specific disabilities. These include specialist schools for students with autism, for students intellectual disabilities, for Deaf students and hard of hearing students and students with a physical disability or significant health impairment.

    There are criteria for enrolment in a specialist school setting. Regional approval is required for admission to a specialist school. Contact the schools you are interested in to discuss options and processes that may apply.

    If your child has multiple disabilities, they may be eligible to attend a number of different types of specialist schools. Contact the schools that you are interested in and discuss options with your child’s allied health professionals to guide your decision.

    Specialist schools are available for a range of disabilities and developmental challenges. Eligibility criteria applies. Search specialist schools in your area.

  • Dual enrolment
    Some families may wish to enrol their child in both a mainstream and a specialist schools. Children usually spend part of the week at each school. You will need to negotiate enrolment, programming and communication with the principals of both schools.

  • Distance education
    Primary school students who cannot attend mainstream schooling can access distance education through Virtual School Victoria. Eligibility criteria applies.

  • Home schooling
    Home schooling is a recognised alternative to attending school. You must register with the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA). VQRA provides support but you will assume responsibility for the education of your child.
How do schools support children with disability at primary school? How do I support this?
Schools are required to support students with a developmental challenge or disability to participate fully in education.

The specific ways a school will support a child with a disability to learn and succeed is usually worked out between the child, their family and the school at the time of enrolment.

According to the Disability Standards in Education, all schools need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate children of all abilities. These adjustments can include making changes to the school infrastructure and amenities, as well as providing specialised equipment such as adaptive technology and assistive devices. It can also include the provision of support staff.

Schools plan for meeting diverse student needs using their budgets. Where appropriate, schools will organise applications for additional funding for individual children, and they will work with you to do this. 

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will also fund equipment such as hearing aids that support a child with a disability to attend school, however, you as a parent or guardian would need to apply for this.
What should I do if I suspect my child has a disability or behavioural challenge?
If you think your child may be experiencing learning or social challenges at school, you can discuss these with the teacher or a health professional such as your general practitioner. Access AllPlay Learn's parent information to diagnosis to find out more.