Doing your research

acd resource learning together 5

Start early and gather information.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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