Challenges with communication, planning and follow-through

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Families who contact us raise a number of questions or concerns about communication with their child’s school, planning to meet their child’s needs, and follow-through by the school on decisions made.

On this page:

1. Challenges with the level or method of communication from school

2. Challenges with having time to respond to school communications

3. Challenges with consultation about your child’s learning and supports

4. Challenges with planning and follow-through of your child’s learning and supports

5. Challenges with your child’s Student Support Group

Introduction

Below we raise some common challenges related to communication, planning and follow-through, and offer some suggestions for dealing with them. However, individual children’s needs and situations vary, and families take different approaches to advocating for their child.

Some general tips on raising a concern with school are:

  • You have the right to raise any concern you have with school or with your child’s education.
  • Understanding your child’s rights will help you to feel confident that your requests are reasonable.
  • Try to focus on one issue at a time. It’s worth taking time to gather all the information you can about the issue, to work out how express your concerns clearly and calmly, and to focus on the outcome you want for your child.
  • You always have the right to a support person or advocate in your dealings with school.

For more information

Follow these links for more about how to effectively raise a concern with school:

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Communication, planning and follow-through in a Catholic or independent school

Most of the content on this page relates most directly to communication, planning and follow through in a government school. However, many of the tips are also relevant to Catholic or independent schools, and all of the links offered also cover information relevant to all three school sectors.

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  1. Challenges with the level or method of communication

Schools are required to have a certain level of communication with you, including Student Support Group meetings once per term (compulsory if your child is on the Program for Students with Disabilities, and highly recommended by DET if they are not) and parent-teacher interviews once or twice per year. However, you need to have a great deal more communication with your child’s school, to make sure that you and the school keep in touch about your child’s needs, and things happening at school or at home that might affect your child.

It is very reasonable to expect fairly regular communication with your child’s classroom teacher, or with their homeroom teacher if they are in secondary school. It’s a good idea to ask the teacher what type of communication would work best for them, to keep in touch with you. Its often difficult for teachers to speak at pickup or drop-off times, and so making a time for a phone-call or meeting after class time is often more useful. There are a range of other communication methods that schools and families can use, including communication books or emails.

Communication with your child’s teachers can be particularly challenging in secondary school. Ask the school who your first ‘port of call’ should be for questions or concerns, and ask that person what their preferred method of communication is. Try to keep your communications straightforward, and not too frequent, if possible.

If you are finding a key staff member consistently difficult to get in touch with or uncommunicative, or if you’d like a different level of communication with school, you can raise the issue at a Student Support Group meeting or seek a meeting with the principal or relevant staff to discuss it. Explain the kind of information you want communicated, and explore different options. You might want to trial an approach for a term, then review it at the next meeting.

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  1. Challenges with having time to respond to school communications.

When the school communicates with you about something important, its very reasonable that they do so in ways that allow you time to prepare your response, or to document what has been agreed. This can be difficult, for example, if a teacher or the principal catches you in the corridor for a spontaneous discussion about an important issue.

You are not obliged to have a discussion on the spot, if you would rather not. This approach on the school’s part gives you no time to think or prepare, does not protect your privacy or confidentiality, and means that you might be asked to make important decisions without a support person with you – which is your right in all meetings with the school.

You can say something like, ‘Thank you for raising the issue. That’s an important decision. I would like to discuss it with you when I am more prepared. Let’s make a time for a meeting’. You can make a time then if possible, or follow up with an email or phone call to arrange an appointment.

If you do end up discussing important issues or making decisions in the course of a less formal conversation, this may not always be a problem for you. But it is usually very useful to follow up such as discussion with an email, for example, such as, ‘Just following up on our conversation today, my understanding was that X was decided’. That way if further issues arise, you have the decision in writing and can follow up.

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  1. Challenges with consultation about your child’s learning and supports.

Sometimes schools are unaware of their legal obligations to meaningfully consult with the parents or carers of their students with disabilities or additional needs. Under the Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education, all schools must consult with the parents or carers of students with disabilities. They are required to consult with you about your child’s disability, and about the impacts of their disability on their learning needs.

This applies to all students with a disability or additional needs, including those who are not eligible for supplementary funding (for example under the Program for Students with Disabilities), and students with complex medical care needs and mental health issues.

It might be helpful to remind a  school of their legal obligations under the Disability Standards for Education. If the school leadership (the principal and assistance principal) are unresponsive, you can contact the regional DET office and seek the advice of their Community Liaison Coordinator or make a complaint. It’s a good idea to seek assistance from an advocacy organisation like ACD in this process.

Standing up for your child’s rights in this way can be daunting for some parents and carers. However, a parent or carer doing this effectively can often be the catalyst for very positive change in a school’s approach to all students with disabilities. Sometimes school are unaware of their legal obligations to work with families and support students with disabilities, or the resources available to them to support this. By taking action, you might well improve not only your own child’s experience at the school, but also the experience of other students with additional needs.

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  1. Challenges with planning or follow-through of your child’s learning and supports.

Your child’s individual learning and support plan is not just a tool to put in place if your child is experiencing particular difficulties at school. From the outset of your child’s time in the school, a plan is essential to ensuring that your child’s needs are understood, their learning goals are appropriate, their adjustments are agreed and a process is in place for monitoring and reviewing their progress. The plan needs to meaningfully reflect your child’s needs, goals and supports, and not be a generic, ‘tick-a-box’ process.

It is mandatory for all students who are on the Program for Students with Disabilities to have a plan, and highly recommended for all students with disabilities. You can refer the school to DET website for the SSG Guidelines, which outlines the DET policy that supports this.

It’s also important that any decisions that are made are followed through in the agreed time-frame. It’s important to acknowledge that schools are under multiple pressures, however, your child has a legal right to the adjustments they need to participate at school on the same basis as students without a disability.

When the members of your child’s SSG are deciding on particular actions, it’s a good idea to decide who is responsible for those actions, and when they should be done by. Ensure this is recorded in the minutes and your child’s plan, and follow up in the next SSG meeting (or earlier, if the issue is more urgent) to make sure actions have been taken.

If not, pursue the person responsible, and seek another meeting. If there is persistent lack of implementation of decisions made in your child’s SSG, raise this as a concern and try to work out what the underlying problems are. Consider seeking advocacy assistance if you are not getting anywhere.

Where you are responsible for taking actions decided on in an SSG, model the approach you want the school to take by following up promptly, and informing the school if there is some issue that means an action is delayed.

Find out more about effectively raising a concern with school, including how an advocate can help.

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  1. Challenges with your child’s Student Support Group.

Your child’s school must hold an SSG meeting for your child at least once per term as stated in the SSG Guidelines, which can be downloaded from the DET website. It might be helpful to refer the school to these Guidelines, which they are obliged to follow, as they are DET policy.

When your child is new to a school, it’s a good idea to spend much of the first meeting discussing how they run SSGs. Get the school to explain their approach, and ask a lot of questions. When will we meet? Can we make dates in advance? Who will be there? Can I request that other staff or specialists attend? How are agendas set? How can I add items to an SSG agenda? Who take the minutes? How are they sent out?

Also ask the school about your child’s individual learning and support plan. Ask how the plan is developed. How can I contribute? How are goals set? When is the plan reviewed? What if my child’s needs change? Who communicates the plan to the other teachers?

If you are concerned that the right staff might not be present, or that the SSG meetings are not working as well as they should, you can refer to the SSG guidelines. They list the staff who should participate in your child’s SSG, and how they should be run. You can refer the school to them, and to the relevant sections of Learning Together.

Make suggestions for effective SSG meetings based on your previous experience and the ideas in Learning Together. Ask the staff to read Learning Together, and to agree on a more effective approach to setting agendas, running meetings and taking minutes. Sometimes, it might help to ask someone from an advocacy organisation like ACD to attend one or two meetings, and assist. Suggest this to the staff, or let them know that you are going to do so. You always have the right to an advocate or support person in your meetings with school.

However the staff members of your child’s SSG approach the role in the SSG, do your best to be organised yourself. Email  staff with the issues you want to discuss at a forthcoming meeting, and take in notes of points you want to make. Ask questions about what will happen, who will take action, when the action should be completed and so on. Take your own notes of discussions and decisions made, and follow up when needed.

It’s a good idea for your child’s SSG members to regularly review how SSG processes are going, and how they can be more effective. You can do this at the beginning of every year, or if it seems to you that SSG processes are not as effective as they should be.

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