Victorian independent schools include a small number of specialist schools, alternative and community schools, and non-Catholic religious-based schools of various faiths and denominations.
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Independent schools vary widely in their fees, selection criteria, entry procedures and approach to education, including in relation to students with a disability.
Families might choose an independent school because they like its culture, philosophy or educational approach, its approach to students with a disability, its programs, curriculum or resources, or because they prefer a single-sex school environment for their child.
Some specialist independent schools offer long-term schooling for children with a disability or additional needs. Others offer short, medium or long-term placements for students needing additional support, before returning to their usual school. Alternative approaches in some non-specialist independent schools can work well for some students with a disability or additional needs, including some who might struggle in a mainstream school but for whom, perhaps, a specialist setting is not an option.
Many independent schools have waiting lists, including specialist schools. Some families register their child’s name on waiting lists for several schools many years in advance, to give them a wider range of options when their child is older.
“In looking for the next step, I called a range of different, alternative settings, most of which I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to afford. But I just tried to get a sense of what was available.
I looked at places like community schools. I considered – is he old enough to do school at TAFE yet? What other pathways might there be?
I was often motivated by Patrick’s interests. So thinking about, ‘What end goal might he want?’, and asking him questions about what he might like. He didn’t really know at 14 and 15 what he wanted. But I’d try to keep that in the back of my mind at all times. Knowing that he loved sport, it has to be a place that allows him to run around, and to be a kid. And that helps him show his strengths that way.” – Tania
Independent schools set their own enrolment criteria and procedures, although they must comply with the Disability Standards for Education and other anti-discrimination legislation, which give students and prospective students with a disability the same right to education and training opportunities on the same basis as students without a disability. Legally, no school can refuse your child a place solely because they have a disability, or because they are ineligible for additional targeted funding.
If a school offers a place to your child, it must be on the basis that ‘reasonable adjustments’ will be made to accommodate their needs. It is important to have discussions with the school to clarify what this would mean with you, to help you make your decision.
Standards and complaints
Independent schools are bound by the standards for registration set by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA), the peak accreditation, registration, certification and quality assurance body for Victorian schools. The VRQA also oversees home-schooling in Victoria. The VRQA has an official complaints process for any school or other education provider that has breached these standards, including with regards to enrolment.
- Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority
- Complaints processes in the independent schools system
- Find out more about the rights of students in all schools.
- For a full listing of specialist and mainstream independent schools, visit Independent Schools Victoria.
- Find contacts for all specialist schools and units on the Australian Schools Directory, where you can search by special needs.
Funding and fees
The Disability Standards for Education protect your child’s right to ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their school’s programs, whichever school sector they are in.
The Commonwealth and Victorian governments fund independent schools to support students with a disability. This includes targeted funding, equivalent to but funded at a lower level than the PSD in government schools, which is administered by Independent Schools Victoria.
Independent schools are fee-paying, although fees vary a great deal. In some limited cases, fees might be covered in whole or in part by government funding, depending on your child’s eligibility and the fee level. Some schools also offer bursaries to low-income families. By law, enrolment of students with a disability must be ‘on the same basis’ as other students – so school fees must not be higher for students with disabilities. Nor can the cost of ‘reasonable adjustments’ be passed on to families in any school.
- Find out more about the support for students in independent schools
- Find out more about the rights of students in all schools
Specialist independent schools and units
Andale School (Kew)
Co-ed school (pre to year 8) for students with language and learning disorders.
Berry Street schools
Berry Street runs an independent co-ed school with campuses in Noble Park, Morwell, and Shepparton, and outreach, re-engagement and training programs in other locations. The schools are for students aged 12 to 16 years who have ‘disengaged’ from mainstream education for a variety of reasons.
Cheshire School (Glen Waverley)
Best Chance runs services including kindergarten, early childhood intervention and the coed Cheshire School, for students (prep to grade 4) who have demonstrated significant social, emotional and behavioural problems in a mainstream school environment. Minimum 12 month placement.
The Currajong School (East Malvern)
Co-ed school for students (prep to year 8) with social, emotional and behavioural issues. Usual placement is up to three years, or longer if needed.
Coed secondary school (Box Hill North) and Pathways Program (Chadstone) for students with an ASD and/or with a range of behavioural, social, emotional and mental health issues. Usual placement is six months to two years.
Coed chool for students aged 11 to 18 with emotional, medical or developmental conditions or learning difficulties.
Frank Dando Sports Academy (Ashwood)
School for boys (aged 12 to 16) who have been unable to learn in mainstream schools for a variety of reasons. The curriculum emphasises building confidence through phys ed and intensive academic tuition.
Insight Education Centre for the Blind and Vision Impaired (Berwick)
Co-ed primary school and ‘Centre for Excellence’, including curriculum coaching for secondary students, child and family support services, professional development for educators, and visiting teacher program.
Kamaruka (South Yarra)
School for boys (years 5 to 10) including students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and/or behavioural, emotional and learning difficulties. Emphasis on phys ed, including outdoor education.
Mansfield Autistic Centre
Mansfield Autism Statewide Services run co-ed schools in Mansfield and Dookie, as well as early intervention, family and education support services. Students aged 6 to 18 can attend Mansfield School for a term and stay at its residential facility. Dookie is a secondary school for students with ‘high functioning’ ASD. The curriculum emphasises phys ed and social skills.
Rossbourne School (Hawthorn)
Coed school for students who have difficulty progressing or adapting to the demands of mainstream education – who usually have a learning disorder, but are ineligible for other specialised settings.