Choosing a school: Issues to consider

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Give yourself time to explore, to find the best education setting available for your child.

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Every school is different, just as every child is different. There are many different types of education settings you might be able choose from. Even within types of settings, schools vary enormously, including in their experience supporting students with a disability.

The main types of educational settings are:

Every child has the right to a place in their local neighbourhood school, or appropriate specialist school for which they are eligible – the schools they are ‘zoned’ for.

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Issues to consider

In choosing a school for their child with a disability, families often consider factors like location, costs, transport, the subjects or resources offered, and perhaps where their other children – or the children of relatives or friends – go to school. Before- and after-school care options are also a consideration for many families, as they make it much easier for parents and carers to work. Most primary schools have programs, and there is funding available to help these programs increase their accessibility in a range of ways. Most secondary schools do not have before or after-school care programs, although there is a federally-funded program called Outside School Hours Care for Teenagers with a Disability, available at some specialist schools and community agencies.

Families often also consider how welcoming a school is, its reputation for supporting students with a disability, its size, its educational approach or philosophy, whether the classroom and school environment will suit their child, the care needs of their child (including complex care) and the school’s particular resources, staffing and programs. For some families – for example many Aboriginal or migrant families – the cultural background of other families at school might also be a factor. Sometimes there might be limited choices due to distance, school zoning or living in a remote area.

Whatever choice you make, its important to take into account not only your child’s needs, but also those of you as parent or carer and your broader family, for example in relation to costs and the logistics of transport. The choice ultimately needs to be sustainable for all of you.

If your child is at a specialist school and you live in the school zone, they should be able to use the supported transport. Ask the school about pickup and drop off arrangements and times. There is also an extensive school bus network supplying free transport to regional Victoria and some outer metropolitan suburbs. Ask the school if this service applies to them. Some students in rural and regional Victoria might be eligible for the DET Conveyance Allowance, to cover some of the costs of travel to and from school.

Also remember that if your child’s needs or family circumstances change, or the school is no longer meeting your child’s needs, you can always consider changing schools.

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Your hopes for your child’s education

Many parents and carers find choosing a school difficult – there are so many factors to weigh up. One idea is to list your main hopes for your child’s education, then reflect on how well these might be met by each school you are considering. This is a very personal decision. These are hopes that some other families have expressed for their child:

  • positive experiences of learning and being taught
  • feeling comfortable and able to work in the classroom
  • feeling included in the school community
  • regular contact with students with a range of abilities and backgrounds
  • learning language and social skills from students their age in a mainstream setting
  • connections and friends in their local community
  • the best academic outcomes they can achieve
  • curriculum and subjects in their areas of interest and strength
  • resources and programs designed to meet their child’s particular needs
  • teaching and specialist staff experienced in special education
  • a range of positive choices when nearing the end of their secondary schooling.

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Considerations for secondary school

Many families involve their child in the process of choosing a secondary school, and take into account their feedback on different schools and issues that are important to them, such as primary school friendships groups.

Consider which schools might best engage your child’s interests and strengths, and support your child to reach their potential. Most schools offer a broad range of subjects, but some have a more academic focus, while others might specialise in music or other performing arts, visual arts and design, maths, science or sport. Other schools focus on providing an individualised program to meet each student’s needs.

When it comes to secondary school, it is also important to reflect on the choices and career paths you and your child hope will be available to them, when they leave school. Another factor in choosing a school is the range of options that might be available to your child, including a range of leaving certificates or support for transition to TAFE.

Most students travel further to secondary school than to primary school, so daily travel time is another consideration. With support, many older students can learn to travel independently to secondary school. So even if you are likely to drive your child to school at first, look at the public transport options available if you think this is a possibility.

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