Challenges in meeting your child’s learning needs

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Families who contact us raise a number of questions or concerns about their child’s learning, or about how to help the school to better understand their child’s learning needs.

On this page:

1. Challenges related to your child’s learning progress

2. Challenges with communicating your child’s learning needs

3. Challenging responses to input and ideas about your child’s learning needs

4. Challenges related to your child refusing school, not participating or misbehaving because they are struggling at school

5. Challenges related to your child’s assessment or reporting

Introduction

Below we raise some common challenges related to meeting your child’s learning needs 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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Meeting your child’s learning needs in a Catholic or independent school

Most of the content on this page relates most directly to meeting your child’s learning needs 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 related to your child’s learning progress

Under Commonwealth law and Victorian government policy, your child has the right to an education that gives them the opportunity to learn. The relevant wording of the Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education is that your child has the right to an education program that is ‘designed to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding, including supplementary programs’.

To deliver this, school are required what are called ‘‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable students with disabilities to participate in their programs ‘on the same basis’ as students without a disability. This might, for example, include adjustments to teaching approaches or the classroom, or access to a range of student support services.

You have a key role to play in helping the school understand what adjustment your child might require; under the Disability Standards for Education, schools are legally required to consult with the parents and carers of all students with disabilities or additional needs about their child’s disability, and its impact on their learning needs.

Most school programs, facilities and activities can be made accessible to students with disabilities, with the right adjustments. If there is an activity that really cannot be adjusted for your child, the school is required to offer them an alternative activity that is of equal educational value, in the context of the broader curriculum. This would not, for example, include playing games on a computer for significant periods of time, while their classmates learn.

All children and young people can learn, given the right learning goals, learning plan and adjustments. Creating such a program and providing adjustments can be a challenge for schools, but it is one that they are legally required to meet. There are many resources that can help them do so, including assessment tools, staff professional development, curriculum embedded in the AusVELS (the Victorian curriculum) specifically for students with disabilities, experts in the regional DET offices who can advise the school, and so on.

  • Links to all of these resources are in Education planning for your child, as well an explanation of the processes for assessment, planning, implementation of adjustments and review of your child’s learning and supports.

If you are concerned about your child’s progress, or believe that the school has low expectations of your child’s ability to learn, you can call an SSG meeting. Prepare for the meeting carefully, and consider taking an advocate or support person with you. You can find many tips for effective advocacy, including tips for preparing for and discussing your concerns in meetings with school, in the section Raising a concern with school.

In the meeting, or beforehand, you can draw the school’s attention to the relevant parts of the Disability Standards for Education as noted above (a direct link is provided in our Tools and Resources section).

You can suggest that the school request advice on the right adjustments to meet your child’s learning needs from a relevant specialist in the regional DET office; for more information about these staff, see the relevant page in A guide to the support system. There are many ways in which these staff can help.

Alternatively, if your child is already in contact with a therapist or other specialist who can attend an SSG meeting in a consultant role and provide similar input, suggest this to the school. This is provided for in the SSG Guidelines, which you can download from the DET website. For tips on how to effectively raise the suggestion with school, see the relevant page in Building a partnership with school.

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  1. Challenges with communicating your child’s learning needs

The Commonwealth Disability Standard for Education require that your child’s school consult with you about your child’s disability, and its impacts on your child’s learning needs. This means that within the support system for students with disabilities, you have an important role to play in helping the school to understand your child’s disability and learning needs. So you can be confident about communicating this to the school, and sharing your knowledge of what will help your child to feel comfortable at school, and to reach their learning potential.

For information about how this works, see Education planning for your child. For more tips about effectively communicating your child’s needs to school, see Building a partnership with school.

The primary forum for consultation with you about your child’s disability and needs is through regular SSG meetings (compulsory if your child is on the Program for Students with Disabilities, and highly recommended by DET if not), and seeking your input to create an individual learning and support plan for your child. This is a plan that sets out their learning goals and adjustments to school programs to help them meet those goals. As explained in the section above, schools are legally required to make such adjustments, to give your child the opportunity to learn ‘on the same basis’ as students without a disability.

SSG meetings and an individual learning and support plan are a central part of how schools are required to meet the needs of students with disabilities, and not an ‘add on’ or something that only occurs if your child is having problems. If your child’s school does not have these things in place for your child, you can ask for them. If needed, you can draw the school’s attention to relevant parts of the Disability Standards for Education, and the relevant DET policies such as the Guidelines for the Program for Students with Disabilities (if you child is on the PSD) and the Guidelines for Student Support Groups (relevant whether or not your child is on the PSD).

DET supplies a range of resources to schools, to help them assess a student’s learning strengths and needs, and gain insight into what kind of adjustments might be most effective in supporting their learning. This includes assessment tools, curriculum content and guidelines, professional development and expert advice from specialist in the DET regional office. You can refer the school to the relevant sections of Learning Together, or suggest that they request advice from a specialist DET staff member. Alternatively, if your child is already in contact with a therapist or other specialist who can attend an SSG meeting in a consultant role, suggest this to the school.

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  1. Challenging responses to input and ideas about your child’s learning needs.

You have a key role to play in helping the school understand what adjustment your child might require; under the Disability Standards for Education, schools are legally required to consult with the parents and carers of all students with disabilities or additional needs about their child’s disability, and its impact on their learning needs. The most important forum for this is SSG meetings.

You can draw the school’s attention to the relevant section of the Disability Standards for Education that outlines their legal obligation to consult with parents and carers, and suggest that they look at Learning Together for ideas about consulting with parents and carers.

The support system for students with disabilities is designed to encourage input from DET and external specialists in meeting the needs of students with disabilities, and DET provides specialist staff who can do this in their regional offices. If your child’s school has not sought input from DET specialist staff or to involve your child’s therapists, you can draw their attention to this aspect of the system, and suggest that they look at Learning Together for ideas.

The school might feel that they know everything about how to meet the needs of your child due to experience with other students, but every child is different, and new research about special education is always emerging.

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  1. Challenges related to your child refusing school, not participating misbehaving because they are struggling at school.

The Victorian government uses the language of ‘student engagement’ to talk about the way that your child takes part in – and feels a part of – what happens in their school. Student who are ‘disengaged’ from school, or ‘at risk of disengagement’ will show this in a range of ways, including school refusal, not participating in learning activities, or through challenging behaviours. If your child is facing these issues, it is worth learning these terms, and about how DET expects school to support students who are at risk of disengagement. This will help you to speak up for your child at school, including if your child is facing suspension or expulsion.

The government requires schools to respond to students at risk of disengagement in supportive ways, that:

  • encourage your child to stay at school and not ‘disengage’ further (e.g. suspension or expulsion is not allowed except as a very last resort, and only under particular conditions for students with disabilities)
  • explore and address the underlying reasons for their behaviour, including by consulting with you and developing a plan to support positive behaviour. This should feed into your child’s Individual Learning Plan.
  • consider changes to the environment, teaching approaches or other supports
  • offer support to your child and family such as student welfare or referral to community agencies.

School are also allowed to ‘discipline’ students, but only according to strict guidelines, and only provided that the school has addressed the underlying issues, including providing adjustments that meet a student’s needs. For example the school might provide additional support to help the student understand expected behaviour, a quiet space the student can retreat to if they are overwhelmed, or other adjustments that meet their individual needs.

In very serious cases where suspension or expulsion of a student is being considered, the principal has a legal obligation to ensure that the suspension or expulsion is appropriate having regard to any disability of the student.  This decision will take into account what reasonable adjustments have been made for the student and any other adjustments that may be available to address the student’s behaviour.  It is necessary for the principal to take such considerations into account, whether or not the school receives PSD funding for the student.

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  1. Challenges related to your child’s assessment or reporting.

Your child is legally entitled to adjustments that meet their learning and support needs, including adjustments to testing, exams and other assessments. For more information, see the relevant page in Education and your child’s rights. This page includes information about adjustments to NAPLAN, VCE and other exams and assessments, and links to the DET website with information that you can print and show the school. It’s important to do this in plenty of time to allow the school to apply for (in the case of VCE) and organise supports or adjustments for your child.

All students who have a modified learning program must also be given individualised school reports, which accurately reflect their progress against their learning goals, rather than against expected learning goals for classmates without disabilities. Accurate reporting also requires ‘baseline testing’ at the beginning of each year, so that the school can get an accurate picture of where your child is at, and can report progress during the year.

DET provides resources to help schools assess your child’s learning strengths and needs, as well as templates for modified reporting. The AusVELS (the Victorian curriculum) incorporates an excellent Guide for Students with Disabilities and curriculum materials for diverse learners.

You can draw the school’s attention to these resources, or to the relevant parts of Learning Together, especially in Education planning for your child. If you are concerned about these issues, you can request an SSG meeting to discuss them.

  • See the section Raising a concern with school for information and tips on preparing for meetings, and effectively advocating for your child in meetings.

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Published June 6, 2015 - Updated October 14, 2015