Challenges related to enrolment

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Families who contact us raise a number of questions or concerns about enrolment and how to advocate for a place for their child in a preferred school.

On this page:

1. Challenges with communicating with your local neighbourhood school

2. Challenging responses to enquiries about enrolment

3. Challenges related to attendance expectations

4. Challenges with finding a specialist school to meet your child’s needs

Introduction

Below we raise some common challenges related to enrolment 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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Enrolment in a Catholic or independent school

Most of the content on this page relate most directly to seeking enrolment in a government school. However, many of the tips are also relevant to Catholic or independent schools. No school can discriminate against your child on the basis of their disability, although many schools have selective entry. Contact individual schools to find out about their enrolment criteria.

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  1. Challenges with communicating with your local neighbourhood school

Every Victorian child has the right to a place in their local neighbourhood school. This is usually the closest applicable government school to your child’s usual home address, except if that school has a limited enrolment zone approved by DET. Or in the case of specialist schools, it is the closest specialist school for which your child meets the enrolment criteria.

There are real advantages for students and families if they can attend their local neighbourhood school. Travel is much less of a burden on the family, students can often attend the same school as siblings, and it’s often much easier for students and their families to participate in the school community, including to organise playdates and take part in events. You need to make the right decision for your child, but at the same time, it is worth pursuing enrolment at your local neighbourhood school unless you are certain that it isn’t the best available option for your child.

  • Contact your DET regional office to find out about your child’s local neighbourhood school, and the zones and enrolment criteria of any mainstream or specialist schools you are interested in.

To decide whether a school will suit your child, you will need to have one or more meetings with the principal. Often you need to requests appointments through office staff, who can sometimes be reluctant to pass on your request. Be persistent, as this does not necessarily reflect the principal’s attitude to new enrolments or students with disabilities.

If you cannot obtain an appointment this way, write to the principal directly, expressing your interest in the school, your request for an appointment, and indicating that you’ve had difficulty obtaining an appointment. Flag the need to have a meeting well before enrolment, indicate your availability and request a response within the week.

If you receive no response, write again acknowledging that it’s a busy time, and suggesting that you are wondering if the process might benefit from some support from the regional DET office. State that you’ll be in touch with the regional DET office shortly, and that you look forward to hearing from them soon. Be polite and pleasant, and keep copies of all letters.

If you get no response, contact the Community Liaison Coordinator in your regional DET office and let them know that you are interested in the school, that you are zoned for the school, and that you’ve requested an interview twice in writing.

If you are interested in enrolling in a school that you are not zoned for, and your child meets their other enrolment criteria, the school must consider your child’s application on the same basis as any other potential student outside the zone. They must not discriminate on the basis of your child’s disability.

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  1. Challenging responses to enquiries about enrolment

It’s important for you to gather information about a school’s environment or educational approach, so you can decide for yourself about whether the environment would suit your child. However, if you are concerned that the school staff might be feeling some reluctance  to enrol your child, its important to treat this as an ideal opportunity to open up a discussion about how happy you are, as your child’s parent or carer, to work closely with the school on adjustments to make sure the environment does work for your child. The school staff are likely to find this very reassuring.

When choosing a school, your sense of how welcoming the school is of you and your child is an important factor. But at the same time, don’t take an initial response as a definite indication that they don’t want your child in their school. The response of the staff member involved might come purely from a lack of knowledge or experience about working with students with a disability like your child, or a negative experience with a former student with special needs.

You can address such concerns by indicating how positive your contribution will be, and (if possible) sharing your previous positive experiences partnering with your child’s kindergarten or previous school to make things work. Also, the attitude of one staff member (such as an assistant principal) might not be indicative of the principal’s attitude, or that of the other key staff or teachers.

If you decide to pursue enrolment after this initial conversation, write to the principal asking for a meeting to progress your child’s enrolment and discuss their particular needs. Follow the steps outlined under issue 1 above in writing again, and contacting the DET regional office if needed to progress the enrolment.

Always keep your communications with the school succinct, courteous, reasonable and unemotive. Put timelines on your requests for meeting or responses, and follow up as you have indicated that you would do. If the school finally indicates that they are not prepared to enrol your child because of their disability despite it being your zoned school, that is illegal discrimination you can contact the DET regional office for assistance or follow the complaints process outlined in Learning Together.

Some parents or carers become concerned if a mainstream school principal offers them information about the local special school, and wonder if this means they do not want their child at the school.

All children and young people are entitled to a place in their local neighbourhood school, or in the nearest government specialist school for which they are eligible. The principals and school staff are obliged by government policy to offer parents and carers of potential students with disabilities information about the range of school options available to them; this does not necessarily indicate that they do not want your child at their school.

If you were unaware of the options they mention, thank them and take the information. If you already knew about those options, also thank them. Either way, then say something like, “Now, let’s talk about what it would look like if we did choose your school for our child”.

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3. Challenges related to attendance expectations

Some families are concerned about expectations from prospective schools their child should only attend school part-time; for example when an education staff member is present to support them in class.

This is not allowed. The law and Victorian government policy clearly state that all students are expected to attend school full time. In some circumstances, for example because of the particular needs of a student, the school and family might agree on a specific ‘adjustment’ of the school program that might include part-time attendance. But this should only be for a limited time, and the school should work towards supporting your child to attend full time.

If this happens to you, indicate to the school that you are aware that Victorian government policy does not support this, and follow the tips outlined under issue 2, above, in reassuring them that you will work closely with them to help them make the right adjustments for your child’s learning and support needs.

  • There are options for partial enrolment of a registered home-schooled student, and dual enrolment in mainstream and special schools. See the relevant pages in Choosing a school for details.

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4. Challenges finding a specialist school to meet your child’s needs.

Your child has the right to enrol in the nearest government specialist school for which they meet the enrolment criteria. If the principal or their representative is unwilling to offer your child a place, follow the basic approach outlined under the first issue on this page.

Strive to be polite, unemotive and reasonable in all your dealings with the school, put your requests for meetings in writing, and keep a copy of all correspondence.

If the principal outright refuses your child a place when they are eligible, write to them to asking for a meeting to discuss the issue, or confirmation in writing that they are unwilling to offer your child a place. Contact the regional DET office for advice and support if they do not respond, or if they confirm that they are unwilling to enrol your child.

If the principal does not refuse you child a place, but expresses doubt as to whether the environment would suit your child, use this as the opportunity to have a conversation about how closely you would work with the school, to ensure that your child’s needs can be met. Follow up your initial contact with a letter requesting a meeting (or another meeting) to progress the enrolment and discuss your child’s supports. Follow this with a second letter if they do not respond. Be reasonable, and put a timeframe on when you would like a reply.

If you are still experiencing difficulties and your child has the right to a place in the school, as the nearest specialist school for which they are eligible, you can contact the regional DET office.

As discussed in the first section on this page, one of the factors in your choice of school for your child is how welcoming the school is. However, it can create a huge strain on families having to travel long distances, or even move house, to take their child to a school other than their most local specialist school. In addition, your child will not be eligible for the specialist school bus if you do not live in the school zone. Therefore it is worthwhile stronglyadvocating for a place for your child, and communicating a positive approach to working with the school to meet your child’s needs, before you “take no for an answer”.

If your child has an intellectual disability, they are likely to have to undergo testing to determine their IQ score, and thus their eligibility for particular school settings (special school, or special development school). Some families interviewed for Learning Together report that because of their child’s particular disability, the testing process is not always an accurate reflection of their child’s capacity to learn.

Some schools are more flexible in their enrolment policies than their official criteria indicate. If you are interested in a school, it is worth contacting them to request a meeting to discuss your child’s needs, and whether the environment and curriculum would suit your child, even if they do not quite meet the official enrolment criteria.

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