Choosing a school: Questions to ask

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Once you are seriously considering one or more schools, make an appointment to tour each school and meet the principal.

On this page:

Introduction

Read school websites and other materials, attend school open days, ask other families and your child’s kindergarten teachers for their views. The section on Choosing a school describes the process of researching schools, and some issues to consider. It also lists key questions to ask, and responses to look out for.

Remember that you are the expert on your child’s needs, and do not hesitate to ask questions.

Below we list some questions that you could:

  • ask the principal or staff
  • explore with other families at the school
  • look up on the school website or other school materials
  • consider based on your observations of the school and knowledge of your child.

You can download this information as a Word document here:
Choosing a school – Questions to ask (DOC 43KB)

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The school’s approach and philosophy

Schools publish information about their vision, philosophy or approach on their website, usually in the ‘About us’ section. Most include statements about what they see as important for children’s learning.

  • Do you like their philosophy? Do you think their approach will suit your child?
  • Do they refer to inclusion of children with disabilities?
  • Do they acknowledge that children have different learning needs and styles?

Explain to the principal why you are interested in the school, and what you are seeking in a school for your child. Ask them to talk about the school’s philosophy and approach, and what it means for students with a disability.

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Inclusion and school culture

Some aspects of inclusion are obvious, while others take more time to investigate.

  • Are there physical signs of inclusion, such as ramps, accessible play equipment, accessible toilets and lifts? Are there education support staff (formerly called aides) in the classrooms?
  • What policies does the school have about the inclusion of students with disabilities?
  • How many children with disabilities are enrolled? How many students receive funding for additional support?
  • Are there lunchtime programs that encourage inclusion, and cater for students who find playground noise or social environment challenging?
  • Are there books and posters that include stories or images of children with a disability? Are there other materials that demonstrate the school’s commitment to inclusion?
  • What programs are there to effectively deal with bullying?
  • Did the principal and staff seem supportive and interested in the specific learning needs of your child?
  • Did you feel that the staff would understand and be willing to meet your child’s particular needs?

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Supports

Be open about your child’s strengths, needs and challenges. Share what you know about their learning needs, including information from their kindergarten teacher or other professionals. This will enable you and the principal to have an informed conversation about how the school might meet your child’s needs. It will also allow them to begin considering any additional funding for which they may be able to apply to help them support your child.

  • What is the school’s general approach to meeting the needs of students with a disability?
  • What’s the school’s experience of supporting students with additional needs? How do they meet the needs of individual students? How do they work with families? Can they give examples of how they have adjusted the environment provided support for other students with disabilities? How do they ensure that students can have access to school activities such as sports, performing arts, excursions and camps?
  • Does the school have access to therapists and programs such speech or occupational therapy?
  • Is there a staff member with particular responsibility for students with additional needs? What is their role?
  • Are there staff in other support roles such as a welfare coordinator? How might they be involved? What other support programs are available to all students?
  • Do staff have training in teaching students with a disability? What kind of training have they done?
  • Is before- and after-school care available? Is it accessible?
  • Is there transport such as a school bus? Is it accessible? How does it work?

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The school environment

Look at the school environment, and consider your child’s needs.

  • If your child requires it for their safety, is the school gated and fully enclosed? If not, ask how they ensure safety.
  • Is the school physically accessible to your child? Is there room and equipment for your child to move and play?
  • Are there areas, facilities, programs or activities that your child would find difficult to access because of their disability? Can this be rectified? How, and how long might this take?
  • Does your child need a quiet area to go to if they are feeling overwhelmed? Ask whether the library, the classroom or other quiet areas are available at recess and lunchtime.

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The classroom and the school day

Tour the school during classes and observe. Ask how classrooms and the school day are organised. Ask about things that might be challenging for your child in the classroom ­– this will depend on their age, development and disability.

  • How many students in each class? What is the student to teacher ratio? Are any classrooms multi-age?
  • Are parents/caregivers welcome in the classroom? In what roles, for how long, and how often?
  • Are the classrooms open, with different areas that students move in between? Are they often noisy? Can children sit close to the teacher if needed?
  • Are students required to sit quietly for long periods? Are they often required to speak in front of the class? Is there flexibility for students who find these requirements challenging?
  • What is the school’s approach to conflict and behaviour issues in the classroom?
  • What is the school’s expectations around homework, and is this flexible depending on student needs?

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The curriculum

Schools have a wide range of approaches to teaching and learning. Some are highly structured and prescriptive about what students do throughout the day. Others are more open ended, and shaped by student interests.

  • Does the school offer transition programs for new students? Do they offer additional support for transition to students with disabilities?
  • What subjects are offered? Do students choose between subjects at different year levels?
  • What specialist facilities are there, for example for music, art, technology, cooking, languages, science?
  • How are computers part of teaching and learning? What access is there to computers during class and at lunchtimes? How is access to computers supported for students with disabilities?
  • Is the curriculum more structured or open-ended? How does this work for students with disabilities?
  • How can the curriculum be adjusted for students with a disability? Can they give examples?
  • How does the reporting and assessment process work? What about for students who have a different curriculum?

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Family-school communication and partnership

Families are important and valued members of the school community, and partners in their children’s education. What this means in practice can vary widely between different schools. Ask the principal and teaching staff about how their school sees the role of families in their children’s education.

  • What input does the school expect or welcome from families?
  • How can parents/caregivers be involved at school? In the classroom? Outside the classroom?
  • How often will you be able to speak with your child’s teachers? For example will you be able to chat at the beginning or end of the day? Are there other ways you can keep in touch with teachers, such as through email? How often are Student Support Group meetings held? How often are there formal parent-teacher interviews? Can you make other times to meet with the teachers?
  • How does the school keep in touch with families about general issues? For example is there an email bulletin, noticeboard, assembly, parental association?
  • Are families involved in fundraising, policy work or other governance of the school?

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Secondary school: flexibility and post-school options

It is especially important to consider what options your child might have on finishing secondary school, and how the school will adapt its curriculum throughout your child’s time at the school to their needs.

  • How flexible is the school curriculum? Ask how the curriculum is adapted for students with additional needs at different levels.
  • What proportion of students leave school at year 10? What do they go on to do?
  • What school leaving qualifications dos the school offer? Do they support alternatives such as VET, TAFE, school-based apprenticeships or others? Do they offer work experience?
  • How does the school support students who are transitioning to further education or employment?
  • How does the school work with students and parents throughout the years at school to help with planning in this area, for example through Managed Individual Pathways (MIPS).

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