‘Reasonable adjustments’ and your child’s rights

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Schools are legally required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure your child can access their education.

On this page:

What is a reasonable adjustment?

Schools can make many different kinds of adjustments to meet your child’s needs. Some might be aimed at supporting their academic progress, some at including them in school activities, and others at supporting their social learning and relationship with their classmates and others in the school community.

An adjustment is ‘reasonable’ under the Disability Standards for Education (“the Standards”) if it achieves the aim of ensuring your child can participate in their education on the same basis as other students and if it balances the interests of everyone affected. This includes your child, the school, other students and school staff. An important point to remember – and to emphasise in talking with schools – is that many adjustments benefit not only the student involved, but also other students, future students, and other members of the school community.

Depending on your child’s eligibility, some of their adjustments might be supported by supplementary funding through the Victorian Government’s Program for Students with a Disability or its equivalent in the Catholic or independent schools systems. However, these programs do not define or limit the support that your child’s school should give them, or the adjustments that the school should make to meet their needs.

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Who decides what is a reasonable adjustment?

The principal makes the final decision on adjustments to meet your child’s learning needs. However, the Standards DET policy say they must do so based on consultation with you and your child. This consultation should take place before and after your child enrols, through conversations between you, your child, the principal and other staff as required. Once your child is at school, it occurs primarily through the Student Support Group (SSG) or its equivalent in the Catholic and independent school systems.

Some families require an advocate or support person and/or an interpreter, to fully participate in consultations – having that support is your right.

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Supporting your child’s input

As your child grows and matures, they might well be able to have much more of a say in planning their own learning and supports, and in raising issues that matter to them. This is an important part of their learning, to speak up and advocate for themselves. There are processes to support this in many secondary schools, in particular, and you can consult with your child before and after attending SSG meetings.

Students are also entitled to come along to their SSG meetings, in primary or secondary school. You can raise this with the other members of the SSG, and discuss whether your child could attend all or some meetings, or part of each meeting. Also consider when it might be appropriate for your child to attend other meetings with staff. This might more often be the case into the middle and later secondary years.

In some cases, the student’s age or particular disability may impact on their level of participation, however, their preferences and interests, regardless of how they are expressed, should always be actively considered.

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What the school should discuss with you

When planning a particular adjustment, the school should assess and discuss with you:

  • your child’s abilities and learning needs
  • how these affect their ability to participate in the school program
  • whether the proposed adjustment is reasonable
  • whether the adjustment will achieve its aim, and
  • whether any other adjustment would be more suitable.

Consultation, assessment, planning and re-adjustments should take place regularly, to ensure that the ever-changing needs of your growing child are met. The school should keep in regular touch with you, and should conduct major reviews of your child’s needs and supports a number of times during your child’s school life.

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When does a school not have to make an adjustment?

Even if a proposed adjustment is ‘reasonable’, the school is exempted (that is, does not legally have to make it) if doing so would impose an ‘unjustifiable hardship’ on the school. Examples of unjustifiable hardships might include the very high cost of providing an adjustment, or a risk to the safety of others if the adjustment is provided.

To assess whether an adjustment would impose an unjustifiable hardship, school are obliged to undertake proper research and consultation into how a proposed adjustment would benefit or negatively affect everyone concerned. If it wishes to use the unjustifiable hardship exception in order to not provide a particular adjustment, it must be prepared to show proof that this is fair, for example through financial records and impact statements.

  • For more information, see the National Disability Coordination Officer Programme website guide to the Disability Standards For Education.

Other exemptions to the Standards are if a school’s actions are required to protect public health or comply with other legal requirements, or if the actions are being taken to benefit students with a disability. Exemptions can apply to all rights guaranteed by the Standards except those relating to protection from harassment or victimization.

If a school decides not to make an adjustment, the Standards require them to explain why not, and how this decision is an exception allowed under the Standards. They should be able to explain their reasons to the student, their family and to DET – if a complaint is lodged – and to a tribunal or court if necessary. According to research cited on the University of Canberra’s e-learning tool on the Standards for schools, claims for exemptions due to unjustifiable hardship are rarely upheld in court.

In most circumstances, families, students and the school can work together to find a solution that balances everyone’s interests.

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Find out more

  • Find out about the supports available to students with a disability.
  • Read about the processes for planning, implementing, monitoring and reviewing your child’s supports in Education planning for your child.
  • Read ideas for dealing with concerns about your child’s learning, support and adjustments in Tips for dealing with common challenges.
  • The National Disability Coordination Officer Programme has produced a website guide to the Standards, which can help people with disabilities, parents and carers, and education providers to understand the most important parts of the Disability Standards for Education.
  • The University of Canberra in partnership with all states and territories have produced e-learning tool on the Standards, which can help school leaders and educators learn more about their obligations under the standards, and how best to support the needs of diverse learners.

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