Challenges with inclusion and participation

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Families who contact us raise a number of questions or concerns about their child being excluded from activities or facilities at school, or extracurricular activities, or about being asked to reduce their child’s attendance to part-time or frequently pick them up early.

On this page:

1. Challenges with support for your child to participate equally in learning activities in the classroom.

2. Challenges with ensuring that needs related to a mental health issue or a behavioural ‘disorder’ are met, to support your child’s participation at school.

3. Challenges with inclusion in specialist classes or extracurricular activities including excursions, camps, sports or performing arts activities.

4. Challenges related to frequent early pick-up requests, or expectations of part-time attendance.

Introduction

Below we raise some common challenges related to including and participation 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.

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

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Inclusion and participation in a Catholic or independent school

Most of the content on this page relates most directly to inclusion and participation 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 support for your child to participate equally in learning activities in the classroom.

Schools are legally obliged to ensure that their students with disabilities can participate in all school programs on the same basis as students without a disability, and to provide adjustments that enable this to happen. They are also legally obliged to consult with you about your child’s disability, and its impact on their learning needs.

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  1. Challenges with meeting needs related to a mental health issue or behavioural ‘disorder’, to support your child’s participation at school.

Schools have the same legal obligations to a student whose additional needs are primarily due to mental health issues or a behavioural disorder, as to a student whose disability affects their sight or mobility, for example.

The Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education apply to all students with a disability or additional needs, including mental health issues, illness, injury or any other ‘impairment’, if they experience discrimination as a result of that impairment. This includes students who are not eligible for the Program for Students with Disabilities (students on the PSD account for only around one in four students with additional needs in government schools). A very small number of students with mental health issues or behavioural ‘disorders’ are eligible for the PSD, but this only applies to those with a ‘severe behaviour disorder’ – at a level that applies to only very few students.

Schools obligations to provide support to students with additional needs due to mental health issues or a behavioural disorder is also supported by the DET Student Engagement Policy, which obliges school to provide support to students ‘at risk of disengagement’ from their education.

The Victorian government’s approach to student engagement includes supporting students to engage socially, emotionally and academically, with their learning and with their school community. If students with these kinds of additional needs are not supported, this can result in social conflicts, behaviour problems or disengagement from school (such as school refusal or, for example, and anxious student being unwilling to participate in school activities).

  • For more about the Victorian government’s approach to student engagement and expectations on school to support students at risk of disengagement, see Education and your child’s rights.

There are many ways in which a school can adjust its programs and provide a range of positive supports to students with mental health issues or behavioural disorders. The school should use the same approach to learning about your child’s needs, planning and monitoring their supports as for any other student with a disability or additional needs – regular SSG meetings, partnership and consultation with you, input from DET specialist staff or exernal consultants, an individual learning and support plan and so on.

If possible, it is best that the school work with you from the outset to discuss how your child’s additional needs will be met and monitored, and not wait for a crisis or a complaint from you.

  • If this is the case for your child, visit the section Raising a concern with school, for a step-by-step guide to thinking through, raising, investigating and hopefully resolving your concern in partnership with the school.

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  1. Challenges with inclusion in specialist classes or extracurricular activities including excursions, camps, sports or performing arts activities.

The legal obligations of school to ensure access for students with disabilities to the curriculum and the opportunity to learn also apply to all other school activities and facilities.

Most school and extra-curricular activities can be adjusted to enable your child to participate, but this usually requires additional work and planning, on the school’s part, and often on yours. Where an activity really cannot be adjusted or support provided that enables your child to participate, the school is obliged to provide an alternative activity of equal educational value in the context of the broader curriculum.

Sometimes your child will be well supported by their classroom teacher in primary school, but will have more trouble with specialist classes such as physical education and sports activities, art, music or languages other than English, or with special activities such as participation in a school concert or musical.

Different students require different kinds of adjustments to support their participation in various activities. The following examples are provided for illustration only – the particular adjustments your child needs are a matter for you and the school to determine, in line with their individual learning and support plan, or perhaps with additional input from DET specialist staff or an external consultant.

Thus, for example, students who have a physical disability might require ramps or lifts, or for an activity to be held in a different area, for them to have access. Students who have sensory issues or physical disabilities might require a physical education activity to be adjusted. Students who require communication support might need specialist teachers to have training in using their communication device. And many different students might require support from an education support worker (aide) to participate in a range of activities.

It is worthwhile seeking a meeting with the relevant teacher, giving them information about your child’s disability and their learning and support needs, and discussing possible adjustments to their teaching approach or environment that will support your child’s participation. See the section Building a partnership with school for information on communicating your child’s needs to school staff. You can also seek advice from your child’s therapist or DET specialist staff about how particular classes or activities could be made more accessible to your child.

The same approach can be taken to communicating with subject teachers in secondary school. See The challenges of secondary school and the relevant pages in Education planning for your child for ideas on how to work with subject teachers in secondary school.

Also, one of the responsibilities of the staff members of your child’s SSG is to communicate your child’s plan and adjustments to other relevant staff. Discuss how this will work in your child’s SSG meeting, and review it regularly to ensure it is happening. Suggest that particular subject teachers be invited to attend an SSG meeting if this is useful.

Depending on your child’s needs, excursions or special activities such as swimming might require accessible transport options, support for transport (for example if your child is unable to walk longer distances) or perhaps additional supervision (for example from an education support worker/aide) to support your child’s safety and participation. Your child might also need to be prepared for what will happen on the excursion, for example through the use of social stories.

All of this will require some planning in advance on the school’s part. Consider including planning for upcoming excursions as a standing item on the agenda for your child’s SSG meeting. If you see that an excursion is planned, made a meeting time to discuss it with your child’s teacher well in advance. Review approaches that have worked previously to support your child’s participation, and try to think of creative and practical options for doing so in upcoming activities. Excluding your child from such activities is not supported by DET policy.

Advance planning is certainly required to support your child’s participation in school camp. Flag the issue for discussion in the first SSG meeting of the year, and ensure that enough resources will be available to support your child to attend camp, and participate in the activities offered.

If you have a concern about your child’s lack of participation in a particular activity, but found out about it too late to find a solution this time, you can  raise this issue in the next SSG meeting (or request a meeting to discuss it), and use this as an opportunity to plan for next time.

  • Visit the section Raising a concern with school for a step-by-step guide to thinking through, raising, investigating and hopefully resolving your concern in partnership with the school.

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  1. Challenges related to frequent early pick-up requests, or expectations of part-time attendance.

Your child has the right to attend school full time, and is required to do so from the year they turn 6 until they are 17, unless an available exclusion has been granted. Indeed, Victorian law requires parents and carers to ensure that their children of compulsory school age enrol at and attend school full-time.

Sometimes your child’s school might ring and ask you to pick your child up early. Many children occasionally need to come home early, for example if they are unwell. However, this should not happen often. If there are behavioural issues or issues with availability of education support staff, these should be dealt with appropriately by the school; in the case of behavioural issues, the proper processes are discussed extensively in Learning Together.

Sometimes, families might feel pressure from school to only bring their child to school part-time, for example during the hours that there is aide support available. This is not allowed. Unless there are special medical reasons, Victorian government policy requires all children to be in school full time.

Part-time attendance may, in some circumstances, be a ‘reasonable adjustment’ for your child, depending on the nature of their disability or other temporary or ongoing health issues. Such part-time attendance should be temporary, and the school and family should have a plan to gradually increase to full-time attendance if possible.

If this is an issue for your child, you can raise it in an SSG meeting, or make a complaint.

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