Start early and gather information.
On this page:
- Visit schools, including during school hours
- Meet the principal
- Talk to other staff and families at the school
Whether you are exploring primary or secondary schools, start your research early, allowing time to weigh up the options. Begin by reading school websites or ringing schools to request information. Ask your child’s teachers or other staff at their school or kindergarten for their views on how your child learns best, and what type of school might suit them.
Also seek the views of any therapists or other professionals involved with your child. If your child attends an early childhood intervention or disability support service, talk to your key worker/family support worker, or ask to speak with a staff member with expertise in education. Disability-specific associations might also point you in the direction of schools with resources to help meet your child’s specific needs.
Other families can be a great source of information, including families of children with a disability or additional needs. Ask families in your networks about their experiences, but bear in mind that children’s experiences within the same school can vary widely, and that schools can change a great deal in just a year or two.
In the end, you’re the best judge of what will work for your child and family. Many parents and carers also involve their child in the process of choosing a secondary school – talking with them, taking them to open days or school tours, and to meetings with the principal.
- Find contacts and details for all Victorian schools on the Australian Schools Directory, where you can search by area, special needs, age and type of school.
“My son’s paediatrician gave me what I felt was good advice. He told me to find a school that had a curriculum that suited my son’s needs. He said it was important to choose a school that focused on teaching the things that I thought it was important that he learn.
I thought it was also essential that the curriculum be taught in a way that was interesting and engaging. Every child is different, has different interests (or motivators) and different strengths and weaknesses.
My child needs lots of repetition to learn a new concept but at the same time, he can get bored. I needed to know that the teachers were up to date with the latest teaching techniques and had a good repertoire of teaching methods. I needed to know that they would be motivated to motivate my child and that they had lots of creative ideas for teaching new concepts in different and interesting ways.” – Parent
Visit schools, including during school hours
It’s worthwhile visiting a few schools, to get a sense of the different environments. Information evenings are a good place to start, but if you are really interested in a school, make time for you and your child to visit during school hours, whether during an open day or on school tour. This will give you a chance to see the school in action and get a sense of whether the teachers and students seem engaged and happy.
Look out for things like the quality, care and accessibility of the school grounds and facilities, displays of students’ work, and how the staff and students interact with each other, and with parents and carers.
For primary school, start exploring options a year or more before your child is due to start school. All Victorian children must start primary school (or be registered for home schooling) in the year that they turn six. A child is eligible to start school if they are to turn five before 30 April in the year that they commence prep.
For secondary school, start exploring options when your child is in Grade 4 or 5. Talk to other families, and go to information evenings, open days and tours of any schools you are considering. Early in Grade 6, revisit the schools you are interested in, with your child.
- See Education planning for your child for more about the transition process and getting supports in place early, as well as the transition planners in our Tools and Resources
Meet the principal
The next step is to meet the principal of any school you are seriously considering. Principals have a big influence on their school’s approach, including to inclusion and the needs of students with a disability. Talking to them will give you a good sense of how responsive the school will be to your child’s needs. You should feel comfortable to ask as many questions as you like.
If you are finding it difficult to make an appointment to see the principal, keep trying. Principals are busy, and administrative staff can sometimes be protective of their time. But it is extremely important that you have the opportunity to get the information you need, to make the best decision for your child.
- Choosing a school: issues to consider
- Questions to ask school and responses to look for
- Tip sheet: Choosing a school – questions to ask
- Tip sheet and planner: Kindergarten to primary school
- Tip sheet and planner: Primary to secondary school
Talk to other staff and families at the school
Although the principal leads the school culture, the skills and approaches of other staff will also determine how well a school will work for your child. Some mainstream schools have a special needs or integration coordinator, or another staff member with responsibility for students with additional needs. Talk to them and other staff, if you get an opportunity.
It’s extremely useful to talk to other families at the school if you have an opportunity, especially any who have a child with a disability. Ask around and pursue any connections you might have to such families, and ask them about their experiences at the school.
- Find out more about enrolment procedures and funding applications, as well as supporting successful school transitions, in Education planning for your child.