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Here you will find a step-by-step guide to navigating secondary 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.
The Disability Standards for Education requires schools to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that students with disabilities can participate in education on an equal basis. As a parent of a child with a disability, it is important to find a secondary school that can welcome your child and help them to build on their strengths so they can realise their future goals.
During the secondary school years young people move into the teenage years. Throughout this time, schools and parents can support young people with developmental challenges and disabilities in making their own choices and becoming independent adults.
Plan for a positive start
Begin planning your child’s move to secondary school towards the end of Year 5. Include your child in this process. This is a good time to find out about potential schools. You can do this by talking with other parents and friends, visiting secondary school websites and attending open days with your child.
Learn about secondary school options
Visit your preferred school choices
You can also ask the principal about
Your child’s move from primary to secondary school gives you a chance to think about which type of school will work best for your child. If your child has been in a mainstream primary school, a secondary specialist school may be able to provide more tailored support for their future education. For other children, it may work better to move from a specialist primary school to a mainstream secondary school.
It is also possible for children with a disability to divide their time between a mainstream secondary school and a specialist school. This is known as dual enrolment. To find out more about secondary school options see FAQs for parents.
Some things to consider when visiting secondary schools:
- The school’s environment—its building and outdoor areas. What adjustments may be needed to the physical environment for your child’s safety and participation?
- The subjects on the school curriculum—Can they be adapted to suit your child’s strengths, interests and abilities?
- The enrolment process and entry criteria
- A tailored primary-to-secondary 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 students 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’ for feedback/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
- Parental participation and engagement
- Students’ wellbeing
Work on a transition plan
Aim to select your child’s secondary school by Term 1 of Year 6.
Once your child has been accepted into a secondary school, their move to their new school can be supported by a transition plan. A transition plan will require communication between teachers from your child’s primary and secondary school. The aim of a transition plan is to make sure your child feels confident about starting at their new school and that the secondary school is fully aware of your child’s strengths and abilities.
Support your child’s journey toward independence
During the teenage years, some students with disabilities may struggle with feeling different from other students. They may reject or try to cover up signs that they need support. For example, a young person who is hard of hearing may not want to wear their hearing aids to school, or they may become self-conscious about needing a teacher’s aide.
If your child rejects their aides or supports, talk with them about how they are feeling. This can be a good time to help your child recognise their uniqueness and their strengths. It may help to talk with their teachers about how your child is supported at school and whether this can be adapted so your child feels more comfortable. Read more about communicating with teachers in our Parent guide to parent teacher meetings.
Secondary schools can offer your child opportunities to develop their own interests through elective programs and through school clubs. You can encourage your child to join a school club to develop their skills and to build friendships with students who like similar things.
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.
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 secondary school students
What are the schooling options for my child with a disability?
- Government schools
All young people of school age have the right to attend a local secondary school in Victoria and all schools have responsibilities for the inclusion of children with disabilities.
Some government schools have designated neighbourhood boundaries. To find out about local government schools in your area, search here.
- 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. To find independent schools in Victoria, search here. For Catholic schools, search here.
- 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 with 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.
- Dual enrolment
Some families may wish to enrol their child across mainstream and specialist schools. Students usually spend part of the week at each school. You will need to work out this arrangement with the staff and the principals of both schools.
- 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.
- Distance education
Secondary school students who cannot attend mainstream schooling can access distance education through the Distance Education Centre Victoria. Eligibility criteria applies.
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.
How do secondary schools support students with a disability? How do I support this?
According to the Disability Standards for Education, all schools need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate students of all abilities. These adjustments can include making changes to the school buildings and amenities, tailoring the curriculum to the strengths and abilities of all students, as well as providing specialised equipment such as adaptive technology. It can also include the provision of support staff.
Schools plan for meeting diverse student abilities using their budgets. Where appropriate, schools will organise applications for additional funding for individual students, and they will work with you to do this. The NDIS may also fund equipment such as hearing aids that support a young person with a disability to attend school, however, you as a parent or guardian will need to apply for this.
Students enrolled in a government specialist school who live within the designated transport area may also receive travel support, usually in the form of a school bus. Students with disabilities attending mainstream schools in rural and regional Victoria may also be eligible for a ‘Conveyance Allowance’ to assist with travel costs or to use the school bus network co-ordinated by Public Transport Victoria. Find out more about transport support here.